For years, it has been a case a “buyer beware” when major league teams sign international free agents from Latin America.
In countries where baseball offers a way out of extreme poverty, players have been known to misrepresent their real age and their true identity. One of the most prominent cases happened this off-season when the pitcher known as Fausto Carmona was arrested in Santo Domingo and charged with falsifying his name and birthdate so he could play for the Indians.
According to authorities in the Dominican Republic, Carmona’s real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia and he is 31, which is three years older than the Indians believed.
This is relevant to the Red Sox because it was recently announced that they signed Dominican right-hander Simon Mercedes to an $800,000 bonus
According to multiple media reports, the deal is pending as Major League Baseball continues its investigation into Mercedes’ age and identity and his acquisition of a visa.
Over the last couple years, those same media reports indicate that Mercedes changed from presenting himself as 16-year-old Jeffrey Tapia to 18-year-old Simon Mercedes. Not long after Mercedes pitched in the Dominican Prospect League all-star game on Jan. 29, 2011, he agreed to a $400,000 deal with the Giants. That deal fell apart following an MLB investigation into his background.
MLB declared Mercedes ineligible to sign for one year in March 2011. As soon as the ban reached an end, Mercedes agreed to terms with the Red Sox and doubled his previous signing bonus.
If the deal is approved by MLB, it will be a premium move by the Red Sox. Baseball America reported that “Mercedes was one of the top players eligible to sign before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules on international spending kick in on July 2.”
Mercedes is 6-foot-4, 220 pounds with a power arm and a mid-90s fast ball. Scouts have reported that he also features a breaking ball, with refinement and seasoning, has the potential to start at the major league level.
If Mercedes joins the Red Sox organization, he will become the second-best Latin American pitching prospect behind Stolmy Pimentel, the 22-year-old Dominican right-hander who will likely start the season in the Double-A Portland rotation.
Felix Doubront, the 24-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, is highly regarded, but since he is out of options and will open the season in the Red Sox rotation or bullpen, he is no longer considered a prospect.