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07/02/09 7:56 PM ET
Cardinals sign touted Dominican teen
Deal is highest-profile by club in major Latin America push
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals continued their recent push into Latin America with a major signing Thursday, as they announced a deal with 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Wagner Mateo. The club believes that Mateo is a polished player for his age, with the potential to move relatively quickly through the St. Louis system. "He's very advanced," general manager John Mozeliak said Thursday. "You look at someone at 16 being able to handle a wood bat like he has, and this is a young man who was showcased extensively through Spring Training camps in Florida as well as Arizona. He was well scouted, and he performed at a high level. Being able to watch what he did and have so many different people see him, that helped our confidence level in trying to aggressively pursue this." Once all but a non-factor in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, the Cardinals have increased their efforts in those areas in recent years. Mateo is the highest-profile fruit of that labor to date. According to multiple reports, he will receive a bonus of $3.1 million. That would be the second-largest bonus ever paid to a Latin American free agent, and the largest to a hitter, trailing only the $4.25 million the A's gave pitcher Michael Ynoa last year. "The one thing that made myself and ownership feel this made a lot of sense was the overall conviction our scouting department had on this young man," Mozeliak said. "We've all been in meetings where people talk highly about a player, but this was just across the board as far as how people looked and evaluated this young man. That's why we decided to be aggressive and try to get something done." Mateo is listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds and swings left-handed. He turned 16 on March 30. He participated in Major League Baseball's RBI World Series in 2007 and 2008, representing the Dominican Republic. If all of the details of the signing can be completed in time, the Cardinals hope he can begin playing in the Dominican Summer League this year. "I do think he'll be a quick mover for someone that is physically mature," Mozeliak said. "He still has some work to do, but he's advanced for 16." Along with infielder Miguel Sano, Mateo is widely considered one of the top two talents in this year's pool of amateur free agents from Latin America. Thursday marked the beginning of the signing period for those players. Mozeliak said that the signing of Mateo will have little bearing one way or another on the club's efforts to sign first-round Draft pick Shelby Miller. "My guess is players are going to take their time in the first round," Mozeliak said. "About a third have signed [from] the first round. I suspect it's going to be an 11th-hour type decision. My time of late has been focused on the big club and of course I've spent some energy on this as well. But I don't think any of that had to do with not addressing Miller at this time."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.