Today is the start of the international signing period for players who have turned 16 years old, and the Royals have locked up Baseball America’s #12 prospect in the player pool, 16-year-old shortstop Marten Gasparini from Italy.
Obviously, Italy isn’t usually a hotbed of baseball talent, and Gasparini didn’t grow up playing the game, but he’s played in multiple youth World Championships when not training at the Italian Baseball Academy.
Gasparini is a 6 foot tall 175 pound switch hitter who has earned a reputation as the best prospect to arrive from Europe at his age (he turned 16 less than six weeks ago) with athleticism that should keep him in a premium position. Some scouts think he can stick at shortstop, though some think he may end up in center field. He’s a gap to gap line drive hitter but some pop but doesn’t project to be a home run hitter.
The Royals signed Gasparini to a $1.3 million bonus, so they have about $1.7 million left in their initial international spending pool. Baseball America has even more information on him – noting in their scouting report that he may not have the arm for short but that he was playing there until it was completely clear he needed to be moved off. There’s also a quote that he’s more of a leadoff hitter but may be able to hit 20 homers a year, too.
At 16, he’s still developing and growing, and if the reviews about his athleticism are true, he could have a lot of upside and, considering he’s fluent in English, many think the transition to American baseball should be easier for him since he won’t have the culture shock many other prospect run into at his age. If I were to guess, I’d think he’ll end up in Arizona to work with Royals trainers but it’s probably going to be a while before he gets into games.
He’s even on Twitter at @MartenGas97.
UPDATE: Found this link from an Italian site. If you have Google Chrome, it should automatically translate it. There’s more information on his family and some of his early exposure to baseball and some of his awareness of other Italian players. He says his role model is Derek Jeter.