Editor's note: The above video is from July 31, 2014.
The A’s struck big Saturday in signing one of the top international players available in 17-year-old outfielder Lazaro Armenteros.
His strong physical build and power potential draw comparisons to another Cuban outfielder the A’s signed a few years ago.
“From a physical standpoint, I think (Yoenis) Cespedes is a fairly good comp,” A’s assistant general manager Dan Feinstein said. “I don’t want to raise expectations too high, but when I first saw him, I saw a young Frank Thomas in him as well.”
The expectations are already out there for one of the most coveted international amateur free agents in recent years. The A’s gave Armenteros a signing bonus of roughly $3 million. But he’s just the centerpiece of a five-player class the A’s signed Saturday, which marked the beginning of the 2016-17 international signing period.
The money they’ll shell out to the quintet is expected to easily surpass their allotted international pool of $3,818,700 for this period. Because they’ll exceed that amount by more than 15 percent, the A’s won’t be allowed to sign an international amateur player for more than $300,000 in either of the next two signing periods.
But the A’s viewed this year’s class as worthy of splurging. And the fact that so many teams are serving their own penalties that limit their spending for this period — including the Giants, Dodgers, Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees — it reduced the A’s competition for the five players they signed.
“We were prepared to go over our pool for the right players, and we felt it was worth it for this level of talent,” said Feinstein, who oversees the A’s international scouting. “We felt it was a unique opportunity for us.”
The other four players Oakland signed are all 16-year-olds from the Dominican Republic — shortstops Marcos Brito ($1.1 million) and Yerdel Vargas ($1.5 million), outfielder Kevin Richards ($600,000) and third baseman George Bell ($500,000), son of the former American League MVP of the same name.
But Armenteros is the headliner. Listed at 6-foot-1 205 pounds, he’s said to have an excellent combination of power and speed, with a USA Today story from December quoting one scout as saying he saw elements of Willie Mays and Bo Jackson when watching Armenteros.
Such enthusiasm obviously needs to be tempered considering Armenteros is only 17. But he’ll eventually arrive in the United States with no shortage of hype, as was the case with Cespedes when the A’s signed him before the 2012 season. Armenteros, known widely by the nickname "Lazarito," reportedly has his own incorporated Lazarito logo.
He defected from Cuba in 2015 before establishing residency in Haiti and eventually settling in the Dominican Republic.
“He’s probably the most physically imposing young player we’ve seen in a long time,” Feinstein said. “A combination of size and strength … tremendous bat speed, a (good) eye. As much raw power as you’ll see, and he also runs very well for his size.”
The difference between Armenteros and Cespedes is obvious however. Cespedes signed with Oakland as a 26-year-old who had played professionally in Cuba and stepped right into the A’s major league lineup in 2012. The 17-year-old Armenteros will take years of seasoning. He and the other four players signed Saturday will take physicals and then report to the A’s academy in the Dominican Republic, where Feinstein said they’ll get tutored about nutrition, take part in a cultural assimilation program and eventually travel to Arizona for the A’s fall instructional league program.
Armenteros was rated the No. 4 international prospect by mlb.com, and Feinstein said the A’s project him as a corner outfielder. But Feinstein also was excited about landing the other prospects. Brito, a switch hitter and gifted defender, was ranked the No. 13 international prospect by Baseball America. Vargas is an advanced hitter for his age. One scout contacted Saturday said Richards was the fastest runner at a February showcase in the Dominican Republic, and Bell has power potential and obviously good baseball bloodlines.
Armenteros’ signing bonus of $3 million is the largest the A’s have given an international amateur player since they paid right-hander Michael Ynoa $4.25 million in 2008.
Feinstein credited Raymond Abreu, the A’s director of Latin American operations, and his staff for being the primary evaluators who targeted the five players.