Reds scout abroad to balance field

Reds scout abroad to balance field

CINCINNATI -- To the casual fan, names like Aroldis Chapman, Humberto Valor, Juan Duran and Yorman Rodriguez might sound like international men of mystery.

To the Reds scouting department that often scours foreign lands for players, they are viewed as a fantastic four of prized baseball talent and symbols of the improvements made in international scouting.

As a small-market team with limited financial resources, the Reds have all but conceded any efforts to make major signings on the free-agent market. But in the past few years, the amateur and international signing-bonus budget has increased.

And that has made the Reds as capable as the Yankees, Mets or Red Sox when competing for young talent in countries like Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.

"We have very good international scouts," general manager Walt Jocketty said Monday after the Reds announced the Chapman signing. "We look at it as a way for us, in our market, to compete. We've had to step up on some of these guys. We can't go out and sign the expensive Major League free agents, so we're trying to build with the younger quality players through the Draft and international signings. That's the way we're going to have to do it."

Mark McGwire

In February 2008, the Reds signed Duran as a 16-year-old and gave him a $2 million signing bonus. Duran, a 6-foot-5, 190-pound kid who hails from the Dominican Republic, was to be a top outfielder in the international signing period that year, but the Reds discovered a rule that made Duran eligible to sign earlier. He spent 2009 in the Gulf Coast League.

Another top 16-year-old outfielder from that year, Rodriguez, of Venezuela, was signed in August and received a $2.5 million bonus. Rodriguez, who is 6-foot-3, was rated the sixth-best Reds 2009 prospect by Baseball America in November and rated as having the organization's best outfield arm. He started last season in the GCL and moved on to Billings in the Pioneer League.

Valor, who was also 16 in July when he signed for a $690,000 bonus, was reportedly the best position player prospect in Venezuela.

"Outside of the United States, the Dominican is the No. 1 producer of talent, followed by Venezuela," Reds senior director of scouting Chris Buckley said. "You have to scout these countries hard because there is so much talent. What happens if Cuba opens up?"

The Reds aren't waiting for the Cuban embargo to be lifted. Last weekend, they successfully landed Chapman, a left-handed pitcher who defected last summer and became a free agent. The 21-year-old has a fastball in the upper 90s and has touched 100 mph on the radar gun.

After a fierce bidding process against teams like the A's, Nationals, Red Sox, Angels and Marlins, the Reds came out on top by completing a $30.25 million deal over six years, with much of the money spread out over 10 years.

It was a stunning move, but the bold signing emphasized the Reds' commitment to youth and using all available avenues to get talent.

"I came from a program in Toronto where international scouting was big," Buckley said. "Two-fifths of our Reds rotation is from the Dominican Republic, and our closer is from the Dominican. Our catcher is from Venezuela. It's a lot like that with other teams in baseball."

The Reds' relatively new player academy in the Dominican Republic helps the club be competitive in Latin America. Among the instructors is former star Mario Soto, a special assistant to the GM, who helps develop young pitchers. Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, who was signed in 2004, got his professional start at that academy in his home country.

The Reds are also trying to establish footholds in the Pacific Rim. Other clubs have successfully acquired talent from Japan, Korea and Australia. Cincinnati isn't likely to spend the tens of millions of dollars required to get the veteran Japanese players who could be the next Ichiro Suzuki or Daisuke Matsuzaka. Expect them to pursue younger players who want to begin their professional careers in the United States.

Buckley -- along with Bill Bavasi, vice president of scouting, player development and international operations, and Tony Arias, Latin American scouting director -- was planning to grab his passport again for another trip this week. The three were headed to the Dominican Republic and Venezuela to look for more talent.

"We're still scouting those places very hard," Buckley said. "We're thrilled to have Aroldis, but we're on to the next project."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.