Last year around this time, I went looking for some unknown Mariner prospects in the Summer Leagues. I found Gabriel Guerrero (Digging in the DSL) who has since become a legitimate listed Mariner farmhand. Building on that success, I thought I'd try it again. This year we turn to the VSL.
Where last year I found one interesting name, this year I want to focus on two. First, we have Curacao native Gianfranco Wawoe. He turns 19 today (Happy Birthday!), and after 2 poor seasons from 16-18, has had a serious breakout year as he goes from 18 to 19. A switch-hitter, Wawoe is putting up extremely encouraging numbers thus far in 2013: .344/.438/.547/.985, 15 Ks to 32 Walks, 19 stolen bases, 27 XBH in 73 Hits, and acceptable L/R splits (he's mashing lefties at 1.354 OPS but still hitting well against righties at .885). He was signed as a 3rd Baseman and was moved to SS,but is now listed as a 2nd Baseman, but says he can play any position other than catcher. At 5'11" and 170 lbs he's got OK size, and his speed would suggest that if he can't stick at 2B he may have CF possibilities.
Despite low OPS numbers his first 2 years, he did show improvement and at this point you could grade his batting eye in the plus to plus-plus range. In 3 seasons he's walked 69 times in 538 PAs, for a 12.8% walk rate. At the same time, his ability to make contact is very good, striking out just 54 times (10.0% K). Keep in mind that these stats are all from ages 16-18. With the track record of Ms international free-swingers, its refreshing to see a kid who understands the value of a walk and knows how to leverage that. After the season he's having, and assuming he keeps it up, I would expect a similar path to Guerrero last season, with him landing in the US late this season and marking towards A-ball for 2014.
Wawoe would be my favourite international Ms prospect if it weren't for his teammate: Yordi Calderon. A 6'2", 185lb (listed, probably more by now) corner infielder from Valencia, Venezuela (now, who else is from there?), Calderon signed for about a half-million in 2010 and played his first season of VSL ball in 2011 at the age of 17. He was impressive for a 17 year old, with a .794 OPS and 14 steals while showing good patience (11.1% walk rate) despite questionable contact (21.6% K rate). Unfortunately, in 2012 he had a dreadful year, batting just .210 and striking out 27.5% of the time. HIs walk rate was still very good (10.4%) but in general it was a very disappointing year for the 18 year old, where great progress was expected.
Well, it just took a year longer than most had hoped. At 19 this season, Calderon is murdering VSL pitching. Talented teenage Venezuelan pitchers are probably seeing Yordi Calderon-shaped monsters stalk through their nightmares. In 253 PAs, the right-handed Yordi is batting .340/.443/.590/1.032 with 33 walks to 40 Ks. His walk rate is up over 13%, and that doesn't include his 7 HBPs. His K rate is down to 15.8%. His ISO is a robust .250 and 30 of his 72 hits have gone for extras. Add in 13 steals for good measure, and you've got a tantalizing package of speed, power, size, production, and patience. He leads the VSL in OBP, SLG, XBH, and TB. He's mashed lefties and righties alike, and has actually been better against righties (1.058 to .952 OPS).
He's been splitting time in 2013 between 3B, 1B, and LF. I think the outfield would be the best place for Calderon long term, but at this point you play him wherever you can to get the bat into the lineup. Calderon should be on the same plane as Wawoe, headed to Pulaski or Arizona to finish out 2013 stateside.
Of course, it will be interesting to see how these two transition to American ball, but the walk numbers for both are encouraging. Wawoe's contact skills, speed, and switch-hitting and Calderon's power should give each of them a chance to succeed against superior pitching, but only time will truly tell. I'll be keeping an eye on these two, and now hopefully you will be too.