Top Latino prospects get major-league deals

Updated: July 3, 2006, 4:52 PM ET
By Enrique Rojas | ESPNdeportes.com

The New York Yankees paid a $2 million signing bonus to Venezuelan catcher Jesus Montero on Sunday, a busy day for the best Latin American prospects.

Dominican shortstop Esmaily Gonzalez received $1.4 million from the Washington Nationals and at least five more deals were signed Sunday, the first day international prospects who turn 17 before September become available to sign with professional teams.

Jesus Montero
ESPNdeportes.comVenezuelan catcher Jesus Montero signs his deal with the Yankees on Sunday.
The Dominican Republic and Venezuela are the two main sources of international talent, and the biggest bonus babies were once again from these two Latin American baseball powerhouses.

Montero, a right-handed power hitter, received the highest signing bonus for a Venezuelan signing his first professional contract. Carlos Rios, the Yankees' scout coordinator in Latin America, announced Montero's signing in a press conference in Venezuela.

"His main assets are his bat and his great arm, but Montero has the complete package and even George Steinbrenner got excited," Rios told Líder newspaper.

"Playing for the Yankees is a privilege," said Montero.

While the Yankees took the lead in Venezuela, the Red Sox signed two Dominican prospects at the same time. Boston paid $600,000 to outfielder Angel Beltre and $550,000 to slugger Moises Tejeda.

"We believed they could have an impact in baseball soon," Boston GM Theo Epstein told ESPNdeportes.com on Sunday.

Epstein did not confirm the amounts given to the players, but Red Sox representatives in the Dominican Republic called a news conference to introduce Beltre and reported that he received the highest signing bonus for a player born on the island.

Gonzalez, a switch-hitter, was introduced by Nationals manager Frank Robinson at a press conference in Washington on Sunday.

"This is a very important signing. Now we are competing for the best prospects in Latin America," said Nationals president Stan Kasten.

Washington's scouts believe Gonzalez, 16, could combine Ozzie Smith's defense with Miguel Tejada's hitting skills, a somewhat optimistic projection.

ESPNdeportes.com learned that Venezuelan third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor reached an agreement with Cleveland for a bonus of around $1 million.

Venezuelan pitchers Larry Suarez ($350,000) and Ricardo Ferrer ($290,000) signed with the Cubs and the Mariners, respectively, while others are still in negotiations.

The most notable among players who have yet to sign is Dominican catcher Francisco Peña, son of Yankees coach and former major-leaguer Tony Peña. The younger Peña, 16, visited with several teams, including the Mets, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Cleveland and Washington.

"We haven't reach an agreement with anybody," said Leo Mercedes, one of Pena's agents.

Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.