By John Perrotto
The Pirates proved last year that they were finally willing to pay for top talent in the first-year player draft, shelling out a four-year, $6.335-million major-league contract to first-round pick Pedro Alvarez.
Now the Pirates will try to make the same kind of statement on the international amateur free-agent market.
Teams can begin signing the 16-year-olds on Thursday and the Pirates have their sights on Dominican shortstop Miguel Sano, considered the best player on the market this year.
In fact, some scouts believe 6-foot-3, 190-pound Sano is the best teenager from the Dominican Republic in more than a decade.
“This guy is going to be a big-time hitter in the major leagues, a potential superstar,” said a scout from a major-league club who has watched Sano work out in recent months. “He’s a lot stronger than most Latin American kids and the ball jumps off his bat. He has other tools, too, but the bat is very special.”
Considering he is 16, Sano is likely to continuing growing and be forced to move from shortstop. However, he has superior arm strength, which leads many scouts to believe he could be a Gold Glove-caliber defender at third base or right field. Because he has above-average range, some scouts project him as a major-league center fielder.
The Pirates have been hot after Sano and many Dominican insiders believe they have the edge because Latin American scouting coordinator Rene Guyo has forged a strong relationship with his family.
However, the Minnesota Twins are also expected to make a large offer to Sano, perhaps in excess of the $4.25 million Dominican pitcher Michael Ynoa received from the Oakland Athletics last year. That is the largest bonus ever given to a foreign amateur free agent.
The Pirates, though, want to sign Sano in the worst way in their efforts to become major players in Latin America after opening a new $5-million academy in the Dominican at the end of April.
As Pirates’ front-office type said, “It would make a major impact down there as far as our reputation if we could get this kid to sign.”
*John Perrotto is a contributor to Inside Pittsburgh Sports, covering the Pittsburgh Pirates, Major League Baseball. John covers the Pirates for Baseball America, Pirates report.com and covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com, Baseball Prospectus