The 16-year-old Cuban free agent known as ‘Lazarito’ had a private workout Saturday with the Braves and has been linked to them and at least eight other teams, but he’s not the teen free agent Atlanta seems most likely to sign.
That player is Kevin Maitan, a switch-hitting Venezuelan shortstop who’s been at the center of the Braves’ international radar for more than a year. He turns 16 this week and will be eligible to sign for the first time on July 2, when the next international free-agent signing period begins.
Oh, and a respected scout compared him to a young Chipper Jones.
It’s been rumored for some time that the Braves had a handshake agreement in place for Maitan. Such agreements are neither permitted nor entirely enforceable. So a team would never say publicly if a deal was in place, and it’s not unheard of for deals to get broken when another team swept in late and offered more money.
All the Braves will say is that, yes, they want Maitan. And yes, they did work out corner infielder/outfielder Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros last weekend at the Braves’ academy in the Dominican Republic, and they like him, too.
Armenteros can sign a contract at any time and was initially expected to do so this week. It now appears he might work out an off-the-record deal with a team and wait to sign July 2 in the new signing period.
“We’re going to go hard after Maitan, we’re just not sure where we’re going to be able to go (with a potential offer) for the Cuban kid (Armenteros)” said Braves special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who heads up the team’s international scouting, a point of emphasis since a front office overhaul in October 2014.
Maitan is rated by many — including Braves officials – as the jewel of the international free-agent class that becomes eligible July 2. The Cardinals and Padres are among the many other teams that have heavily pursued Maitan.
“He’s a 6.6 (second) runner in the 60, so he can run,” Blakeley said. “He has power from both sides of the plate; he can hit a ball out of a big league ballpark now. He’s got good hands. He’s probably going to end up 6-3, 215 (pounds).”
And if that doesn’t already get pulses jumping in Braves Country, consider this:
“My comparison when I talked to our people was Chipper Jones,” said Blakeley, an international scout for 30 years who previously worked for the Yankees. “Chipper until he hurt his legs could play short, could play third, could have played center. Chipper could have done anything Chipper wanted to do. Maitan reminds me a lot of Chipper Jones.
“Big time power from both sides, and does it easy. Bat whip. Loves to play, loves to compete.”
Maitan will probably command a signing bonus of more than $3 million and perhaps top $4 million. That’s only a fraction of what Armenteros is projected to receive, which could easily top $15 million and perhaps $20 million.
Some teams are more willing to spend lavishly on Cuban free agents after the recent major league success of Cubans such as Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Iglesias and Yasiel Puig. But Armenteros defected at a younger age than most Cubans, and the scouting reports on him aren’t as thorough as a result.
Armenteros stands to benefit from a perfect storm of sorts, as a group of moneyed teams including the Dodgers, Giants and Cubs already spent more than their annual international signing-bonus allotments, triggering a ban that will prohibit them from signing such players for more than $300,000 beginning July 2. As a result, those teams and others could decide to spend whatever they want to on Armenteros now, even though it would mean paying a 100-percent tax.
Or, a team could elect to sign Armenteros to a contract July 2 that puts that team far over its international bonus allotment for the period that starts that day.
The Braves determined some time ago that this year — the period beginning July 2 – would be the year they make a huge splash in the international market by signing multiple players and spending more than their alloted bonus pool, which will trigger a ban on signing international free agents the following year to bonuses of more than $300,000.
Not only will many players be available July 2 whom they covet, including Maitan, catcher Abrahan Gutierrez and switch-hitting shortstop Junior Severino, the Braves also will n ot have to compete for them against big spenders including the Cubs, Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox — teams that will be restricted from spending more than $300,000 per player in that international free-agent class.