The Atlanta Braves made a splash in the international market Monday when they announced the signings of 12 free agents, including infielder Jose Perdomo. The Braves gave Perdomo, who was rated as a top 3 talent in the class, a $5 million signing bonus. That was a record amount for a player from Venezuela and is also the highest bonus ever given out by Atlanta in the international market.
Atlanta’s director of Latin American scouting Jonathan Cruz spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon and naturally had a lot of glowing things to say about Perdomo. Especially when it comes to his potential at the plate. He also said that the first time they saw Perdomo was when he was just 12 years old.
“Perdomo, first of all, I think the most important thing to talk about here is his bat. Obviously these kids are very young,” Cruz said. “We think the hardest thing to teach, if you can teach at all, is to hit and that’s his calling card. Perdomo we saw early in Venezuela. Our scout saw him pretty early at the age of 12. Then he bounced around to the United States, he went to the Dominican, and then he went back to the United States and had a couple showcases there.”
“He had a big showcase side by side with Ethan Salas, prospect with the San Diego Padres, and the competition was well above their talent levels,” Cruz added. “They were throwing pitchers that had been in Double A and Triple A. 97, 96 mph fastballs, hard breaking balls. With our whole process, I think that’s where we were kind of blown away with the adjustments he was making and the performance, and we said, this is the guy we have to go after.”
When dealing with very young prospects, there is nothing that is for certain. In recent years, the Braves have seen many highly regarded international signings flame out while some less heralded like Ronald Acuña Jr. went on to superstardom. Cruz discussed the many factors and complications with scouting young kids, but then discussed why he thinks Perdomo has the makeup to succeed.
“I don’t like to use the term lotto tickets, but no one can tell me with a straight face that they know what they’re getting into with a 13 and 14 year old,” Cruz said. “You just don’t know if they’re going to keep growing. You don’t know if they’re not going to grow. There’s a lot of factors that you have to consider that might go wrong. With that said, like I said earlier, the floor on the bat is just incredibly high for his age. He exudes confidence when he’s hitting. We got plenty of information. We try to overmatch the kid all the time and he showed the ability to adapt and overcome which is something we haven’t seen in a long time in a kid that young.”
This is the third international cycle where the Braves are operating free of sanctions. Last year they signed Venezuelan outfielder Luis Guanipa, but spread most of their money around. This time, they were willing to spend big to acquire Perdomo. Cruz discussed how Alex Anthopoulos views the international market and how he impacted their pursuit of Perdomo.
“First, it’s exhilarating. Alex is pretty passionate about international free agents,” Cruz said. “He’s really good at it as well. That $5 million price tag doesn’t come without competition. I think most people could kind of appreciate that there were other teams involved early, in the mix. When Alex wants the top guy, he’s going to get the top guy. We felt tremendous support from him. He was well involved, and that’s how we landed our guy.”
The Padres signed Ethan Salas last year and pushed him aggressively to as high as Double A as a 17-year old. Cruz said that the Braves will take a less aggressive approach with Perdomo, at least initially.
“We’re not going to rush him. We don’t like to rush kids,” Cruz said. “He is mentally prepared to play at a higher level, but we’re going to take our time. We have a pretty supportive player development staff that’s in the Dominican every month. We don’t go a week without seeing one of our guys from the US. Rovers, farm director, assistant GM. We’re not going to take unnecessary moves this year. We’re going to let him play, we’re going to let him enjoy the process. Then I think the following year if he’s just blowing everyone away, we might hit the acceleration on him. But I think the first year is more about him being comfortable. There’s a lot of pressure. He feels the pressure, but, he’s mature, he’s very calm about it. So we’re just going to have him play in the DSL this year and take it from there.
While Perdomo was clearly one of the biggest names available, the Braves also reportedly gave a $440,000 bonus to outfielder Juan Espinal who is from the Dominican Republic. Cruz said that Espinal needs work, but has a lot of tools and compared him to Mets outfielder Starling Marte.
“Interesting enough, he comes from the same program as Starling Marte and he kind of reminds me of Starling Marte,” Cruz said. “I don’t know if it’s because he looks up to him and he kind of models his game around it. Espinal, he’s a physical specimen. He’s strong. He’s big. He’s fast. He’s got a lot of power. It’s the type of power that blows you away. He’s got a lot of arm strength. The bat is in progress. It’s not a below-average bat, but obviously with the size and the levers, there’s a couple things we gotta work on with the direction and all that. The upside is through the ceiling. He’s going to be exciting when we get our hands on him.
Signing Perdomo and Espinal used up a big chunk of the $5,925,000 pool that the Braves had available. However, Cruz says that they still have some money left and they aren’t finished signing players. Most likely Atlanta will be looking for pitchers who pop up throughout 2024.
“We’re not done for this class yet. We have a little bit of money. Obviously, Perdomo took a big chunk of it, but there’s always guys that pop up on the radar later on,” Cruz said. “It’s going to cost less money. Most notably, arms. We’ve had pretty recent success with some of those guys in the farm that have created some value, Jhancarlos Lara, Royber Salinas. Roddery, Rolddy Munoz, all those guys were signed later on. This year’s not going to be any different. There’s going to be guys that are going to pop up, and we have something set aside for those type of guys.”