Padres land bevy of international talent
Club signs five top prospects from Latin America and Australia
DENVER -- Three days after Christmas in 1994, Randy Smith, then the general manager of the San Diego Padres, helped engineer a 12-player trade with the Houston Astros that landed Ken Caminiti and Steve Finley, among others.
Three seasons later, Caminiti and Finley helped propel the Padres into the World Series, giving Smith a sense of satisfaction unsurpassed until Wednesday, when Smith, now the director of international scouting, helped the team land a haul of top young talent.
"That was an exciting time and a big day for me personally and the organization," Smith said of the 1994 trade. "But it's a totally different challenge. Our international staff was on cloud nine today. I think everyone feels pretty good today."
The Padres have never been so glad to be nearly $5 million lighter in the pocket, after they procured four highly-touted players from Latin America and an Australian outfielder on the first day of the international signing period.
"I was as excited about this today as about anything else in my career," Smith said from the Dominican Republic by telephone Wednesday. "It was a great organizational effort by everyone. To pull them all [the five players] off, it's pretty exciting."
On Wednesday, the Padres announced the signings of right-handed pitcher Adis Portillo (Venezuela), shortstop Alvaro Aristy (Dominican Republic), outfielder Luis Domoromo (Venezuela) and right-handed pitcher Elvin Tavarez (Dominican Republic), as well as an outfielder, Corey Adamson (Australia), reaffirming the Padres' commitment to Latin America.
Three months ago, the Padres cut the ribbon on the opening of their state-of-the-art $8.5 million training facility in the Dominican Republic, a facility that Smith said is "far and away the best in Latin America." Now, they will have some talented players to develop there.
The Padres forked over a franchise-record $4.85 million in signing bonuses to procure those five players, including $2 million to land Portillo, who was considered to be the second-best pitcher in the pool of available players behind 16-year-old Michael Inoa, who signed for a record $4.25 million bonus with the Oakland A's.
Portillo, Tavarez ($1 million bonus), Domoromo ($1 million) and Aristy ($1 million) were listed by ESPN.com as being in the top 10 Latino players who were eligible to be signed on Wednesday. Adamson signed for $500,000.
The Padres fended off late advances by the Texas Rangers to sign Portillo, who Smith said is "one of the most complete pitchers in Latin America, with a fastball that has reached 93 mph."
That other teams made a late push at Portillo or other players that San Diego signed on Wednesday surprised Smith, who likened the process of pursuing players in the international market to recruiting for college sports in America.
Where the Padres made their biggest gains wasn't just on Wednesday but in the weeks and months leading up to it, when Smith and the Padres' primary scouts developed relationships with these players.
Still, there were more than a few moments of trepidation for Smith prior to Wednesday.
"Late last night, even early this morning, we were quite nervous as to how things would turn out," Smith said. "It's cliché, but it's never over until the fat lady sings. Until a guy signs a contract, I don't think you can be too overconfident."
A look at the other four players the Padres signed on Wednesday:
Adamson, 16, is from Perth, Australia. According to Smith, he's an "outstanding athlete, a big-body kid, five-tool outfielder." Smith said Adamson could end up at second base or center field. "This guy is just scratching the surface," Smith said.
Aristy, 16, is a native of Bani, Dominican Republic. Smith said Aristy has "outstanding hands ... You can't take your eyes off him taking ground balls." Smith also said Aristy has a knack for getting the barrel of the bat on the ball.
Domoromo, 16, is a 6-foot-1, 170-pound outfielder from Portuguesa, Venezuela. Smith considered Domoromo "one of the most complete position players available. He has a sound approach at the plate and the ability to hit the ball to all fields," Smith said.
Tavarez, 16, is a 6-foot-2 pitcher from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. "Elvin is a well-built right-hander with a fastball that reaches 90 [mph] and good rotation on his curveball." Smith said.
Smith said the players who signed on Wednesday aren't eligible to begin playing until 2009. All but Adamson will report shortly to the new training facility in the Dominican Republic.
"This is the first time in a long time that we've had this big of an impact in the international market," Padres general manager Kevin Towers said. "We never had a great impact in Latin America. Our hope is the Padre name will be known all over Latin America as well as Australia."
Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.