Reds investing heavily in Latin players
Guillon latest signing as part of team's aggressive strategy
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- The Reds have spent years watching other clubs use their financial and scouting muscles to pluck the best and brightest young prospects out of Latin America.
This year, however, it's been Cincinnati doing some impressive flexing.
Last week, the Reds signed hotly pursued 16-year-old left-handed pitcher Ismael Guillon out of Venezuela. He received a $625,000 signing bonus.
It wasn't even close to the highest amount of money the Reds have doled out to Latin teenagers this year. This past summer, they gave outfielder Juan Duran a $2 million bonus to sign and outfielder Yorman Rodriguez received $2.5 million. Like Guillon, both players were 16 years old at the time of their signings, but Duran and Rodriguez hail from the Dominican Republic.
The moves have been part of an aggressive organizational strategy.
"One, we knew going into the June Draft that we'd be missing a second-round pick as compensation for signing [closer] Francisco Cordero," Reds senior scouting director Chris Buckley said. "We tried to be creative and come up with that pick some other way. Ownership was behind this program and supported it and came up with the money, so we got them."
Giving out six- and seven-figure dollars to kids barely old enough to drive a car poses considerable risk. Just like players taken in the First-Year Player Draft for less money, it's possible that none of these three big-bonus players will ever play an inning in the Majors.
"Anything is risky with any guys," Buckley said. "[Giving millions to 2008 first-round pick] Yonder Alonso was a risk. We're in the acquisition business. But we had five or six people see these guys. We're trying to add talent as much as we can."
Several of the organization's scouts had followed Guillon all summer, but he held off signing on the July 2 international signing date. In September, Buckley said he and international scout Tony Arias went to Venezuela to watch Guillon play. Although he is a good hitter who plays first base, the Reds were most interested in his pitching ability.
Guillon, who is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, reportedly throws an 88-92-mph fastball.
"Left-handed pitching is the ultimate commodity in this game," Buckley said. "He's going to get bigger and stronger. A number of teams were in there. We followed him all year and hoped the market would come down a bit. He still signed for quite a lot of money."
It's possible that Guillon, Duran and Rodriguez could be playing rookie-level ball in the Gulf Coast League next season. Duran and Rodriguez came to Sarasota, Fla., this fall and participated in the instructional league.
Duran is currently playing in the Dominican instructional league, while Guillon and Rodriguez are playing winter ball in Venezuela.
Despite the recent big-ticket signing, don't expect the Reds to tighten the purse strings in Latin America. Buckley said the strategy will continue. The organization has tried to ramp up efforts with its Asian scouting, but it has not yielded any signings, yet.
"We're definitely trying to add international talent," Buckley said. "We're trying to build this thing from the bottom up and keep adding talent to the farm system."