- Enrique Rojas, ESPNdeportes
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Less than a month after Major League Baseball's first-year player draft comes the big auction for Latin American prospects. No draft slot is necessary. Just bring loads of cash and make your best pitch.
Starting on July 2, 16-year-old international players who will turn 17 after Sept. 6 may sign with major league clubs. Players who are 17 or older before Sept. 6 may sign at any time
The 2008 sign-off edition features Dominican pitcher Michael Inoa, the crown jewel among the pool of 16-year-old players, any of who may sign with any major league club that meets his desires.
Inoa (6-foot-7, 210 pounds) is a right-handed hurler with a three-pitch repertoire consisting of a fastball (93 mph), changeup and curve.
"His most attractive asset is the fact that he has a lot of control for such a tall guy, and he knows what to do once he gets on the mound," said Ezequiel Sepulveda, a scout for the L.A. Dodgers in the Dominican Republic. "Inoa is every scout's dream. He has it all."
Inoa has been evaluated by every MLB organization. The Yankees' Brian Cashman, San Diego's Kevin Towers, and Oakland's Billy Beane are a few of the major league GMs who made the trip to the Dominican Republic to catch a glimpse of the young gun.
According to data obtained by ESPNdeportes.com, at least seven teams are ready to offer Inoa a $3 million signing bonus. Oakland, however, has the upper hand; the A's are ready to pay up to $4 million for Inoa.
Right behind Inoa, two outfielders and one pitcher also have raised a lot of interest: right-handed pitcher Adis Portillo and outfielder Yorman Rodriguez of Venezuela, and Dominican outfielder Rafael Rodriguez.
Each player will garner signing bonuses of at least six figures.
"Inoa, Rodriguez, Yorman and Portillo would [challenge] the first selection if they were eligible for the American draft this year; I have no doubt about that," said a top AL executive.
Also with high expectations on the prospect list are shortstops Gustavo Pierre and Alvaro Aristy, right-handed pitchers Santo Franco and Elvin Tavarez, left-handed pitcher Swarling Jimenez, and outfielder Julio Morban of the Dominican Republic; Venezuelan outfielders Luis Domoromo and Ramon Flores; Panamanian catcher Christian Betancourt; and Nicaraguan pitcher Jose Valdivia.
Meanwhile, Dominican outfielder Juan Duran (Cincinnati/$2.0 million) and Betancourt (Atlanta/$600,000) already have been signed because they turned 17 before July 2.
Dominican right-handed pitcher Michael Inoa, 16, is the top Latin American player available to sign with any major league team on July 2.