Nats OF Vaquero brings ‘Alabama WR' skillset to farm system


For the second-straight year, the Nationals have given a record contract to a top international prospect joining their farm system.

Washington signed Cuban outfielder Cristhian Vaquero to a $4,925,000 bonus Saturday, according to a source familiar with the deal. The signing bonus eclipses the $3.9 million that the Nationals gave to both Armando Cruz and Yasel Antuna to represent the largest financial commitment the franchise has ever made to an amateur international free agent.

Vaquero is ranked the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2021-22 international class by MLB Pipeline. The 17-year-old is a five-tool player who can play all three outfield positions and hit from both sides of the plate. He’s a natural left-handed hitter but picked up switch-hitting after leaving Cuba for the Dominican Republic. MLB Pipeline ranks his tools with grades on the 20-80 scale as running (65), power (60), hitting (55), throwing (55) and fielding (55).

“He’s a very good athlete, he’s got five-tool potential, very good makeup, he works his butt off, his bloodlines include an Olympic swimmer [and] a Judo guy in Cuba so there’s athletic makeup behind him,” Nationals Assistant GM of International Operations Johnny DiPuglia said in a phone interview. “He’s definitely going to look really nice in a Washington Nationals uniform.

“You go around the world scouting players, you don’t see guys that are 6-foot-3, 190, switch hitter, center-field profile. He was born a wide receiver at the University of Alabama. That’s the kind of athlete he is…I take that back, I like the University of Miami better.”

According to Baseball America, the Nationals’ bonus pool for the 2021-22 class is $5,179,700, which left the club with only $254,700 to spend on other players. The Nationals gave $250,000 of that remaining bonus pool money to 16-year-old Dominican shortstop Jorgelys Mota, per source. However, contracts signed for under $10,000 don’t count against the spending limit, so they could still sign other prospects at a lower cost.

After taking a similar approach last year with the signing of Cruz — BA’s No. 2 international prospect of 2020-21 — the Nationals have established they’re comfortable with this strategy.

When asked how Vaquero compared to the Washington’s Dominican phenom Juan Soto when he was a teenager, DiPuglia was blunt: “Soto had nowhere near the tools this kid [has].” He does, however, share a similar passion for the sport.

“The tools are remarkably present when you see them on the field,” DiPuglia said. “The most important tool by him, this kid loves to play the game. He’s been trained in a place…it’s like a farm and he’s up every day at 7:00 working on his trade and that’s impressive for a kid that age to wake up at that time of the day and work on something that he wants to do for the rest of his life.”

It will be several years before Vaquero is ready for the majors, but DiPuglia sees his addition to the farm system as the latest of a long string of international signings that have shaped the Nationals into a World Series-caliber organization.

“Our scouting efforts with Vaquero were pretty intense before I saw him so I give a lot of credit to our area guys and our international director Mike Cadahia [and] Fausto Severino, who runs our Latin American scouting,” DiPuglia said. “They’re the ones who did the body of work, so I was fortunate to come down and see that dog that plays checkers.

“We got to consider ourselves one of the elite international departments in baseball. We’ve produced 22 big leaguers since I’ve been here in ’09 and we’ll still continue to find the best talent for the organization so we can win another World Series for the Nationals fans, that’s the plan.”

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