On Wednesday, the first day of the international signing period, the Tigers signed 16-year-old prospect Julio Martinez, one of the top outfielders on the international market, for $600,000, according to an industry source.
"He is a power bat that has the ability to hit to all fields. Great makeup and aptitude," said Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila. "We project him to be an impact bat. We have not decided yet where he will start."
Martinez, who ranks 19th on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list, is a big-bodied (6-foot-3, 183 pounds) prospect who could end up in left field or at first base. The teenager has a decent arm that projects to be a slightly above-average tool, and he is working on improving his overall defensive play.
Martinez succeeds at the plate by keeping his hands inside and driving the ball to all fields. He's also impressed evaluators with his raw power during batting practice and his ability to make adjustments at the plate during games. He's not the fastest runner, but scouts like his overall game.
"The power is the thing that stands out with him, and the ability to hit is going to come in time," Tigers international scouting director Tom Moore said. "But with the makeup of the kid, we feel he's going to have a lot of offensive potential. … Even at the big league level, power is a premium tool, something we couldn't ignore. We always have a certain focus and things we think are successful in terms of producing talent. But at the same time, you always have to go with the best talent."
Martinez is from Santo Domingo Norte, Dominican Republic, and is trained by Christian "Niche" Batista.
In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team's record in 2013 for the international signing period. Detroit's bonus pool total for this year's signing period is $1,946,900.
While Martinez was the one ranked player the Tigers signed to open the international market, their deals were far from done. Four other signings completed a relatively busy first day, including two speedy shortstops and a lanky Venezuelan right-hander with the potential for a power fastball.
In the international market, those are the signings where the Tigers tend to leverage their strength, hoping to use their scouting depth to find more obscure players with upside that might have gone overlooked or undervalued.
"For me, the international market has still shown you can get impact talent if you have good scouts that are going out and seeing the players that are a little bit lower profile," Moore said.
Three of those signings came in Venezuela.
Irwin Chirinos, OF, Venezuela
Like Martinez, the left-handed-hitting outfielder has a strong body for his age (6-feet, 170 pounds) and a bat with some power. Chirinos' outfield arm has the chance to be a strong one as his body fills out, while he should be an average runner.
Adonis Figuera, RHP, Venezuela
Figuera is more of a projection signing, based on what scouts believe he could do once his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame fills out.
"He's a tall, skinny-framed kid," Moore said, "but he's got a real big arm. His fastball is in the mid-80s, but he projects to have a lot more gas in the tank."
He already has a curveball and a changeup, the latter of which is a work in progress.
"The bet on this kid is, as he gains strength, he's going to gain more power," Moore said.
Jose Salas, SS, Venezuela
Initially, Moore said, the Tigers saw Salas as a defense-first infielder, rangy and athletic but not necessarily a great hitter. As scouts continued to watch the teenager learn pitchers and adjust his game, they saw more upside to his bat.
"He's got real quick hands. He's going to be able to play shortstop," Moore said. "The thing that's really come on is his bat speed and ability to make hard contact."
Jorge Ynirio, SS, Dominican Republic
If Martinez represents the Tigers' need for power bats, Ynirio profiles more like the kind of player the Tigers have targeted in past summers, an athletic player with upside who can play a premium position. He can run, Moore said, and he has a plus arm. His bat speed shows the promise for offensive production.
"He's got a little bit of crudeness to his game, nothing moreso than a lot of kids," Moore said. "But really, the thing we're banking on is the athleticism. The tools are there. They're certainly things we can bank on. He's got a good chance to become a good player."