WBCQ Projected Rosters: Panama

Panama lists a total of 57 players on its World Baseball Classic Qualifier ‘dream team’ and, even with three its best-known players declining—Johan Camargo, Jaime Barria, and Dario Agrazal—should have high enough calibre players for a realistic shot at advancing to its first WBC. In many ways, it mirrors its neighbour Colombia, which rode strong pitching and an average lineup to World Baseball Classic success. Even without the above trio, there is the potential for some name recognition on the final roster, with Randall Delgado, First-Round Draft Pick Daniel Espino, and young Rangers’ righty Ariel Jurado.

Panama is in quite an unusual position among qualifying nations in that it has a deep stable of pitching and catching, but a limited pool of hitters. Of the national pre-selection, a whopping 32 were pitchers and eight were catchers. Long a power in Central and Latin America, Panama could take the next step thanks to a rotation with only major league pitchers and an incredible deep bullpen as well.

Rotation
To do so, its rotation will need to lead the way and has the talent to do so. Jurado will likely be in line for a start and, although his major league numbers are lacking, his talent is legitimate and will be facing much easier lineups than in the big leagues. Paolo Espino and Harold Arauz will also likely claim one. Davis Romero, who has been pitching in Panama only after his early career in the U.S., could be another option.

The final candidate, however, is much more interesting. Daniel Espino was electric in the Under-18 Pan-American Championship in November of 2018 and was then ranked the No. 4 high school prospect in the U.S. by Perfect Game and its top overall pitcher. Espino hit 99 mph at 17 years old and has a wipeout slider as well. Whether Cleveland permits him to throw multiple innings or restricts him to single frames is the important question, however.

Pos Name Team Current/Peak
RHP Jaime Barria Angels MLB
RHP Ariel Jurado Rangers MLB
RHP Dario Agrazal Tigers MLB
RHP Harold Arauz Cardinals AAA
RHP Paolo Espino Nationals MLB
LHP Davis Romero LPBP MLB

Bullpen
The bullpen will likely boast multiple players with major league experience as well, with Delgado, a veteran of 271 MLB appearances, leading the way. Other options include Enrique Burgos, Manny Corpas, Severino Gonzalez, and Manny Acosta. None have played in the big leagues in the last three seasons, but their experience could make a huge difference against most of Panama’s opponents.

In addition to Daniel Espino, Panama features an impressive number of young pitching prospects. In 2019, 11 Panamanian pitchers finished with an ERA below four, and most had impressive peripheral numbers. Two are ranked in their organisation’s Top 25 prospects: Steven Fuentes and Humberto Mejia.

Fuentes is ranked No. 21 in the Nats by MLB Pipeline, though he was suspended last season for a banned stimulant. Only 22, the right-hander served as starter and reliever in 2019 and recorded an impressive 2.23 ERA in 80.2 innings, with excellent control numbers (4.05 K/BB ratio).

Also 22, Mejía is No. 24 in the Marlins, according to Prospects 1500 [link]. The righty had a very similar season, featuring mostly as a starter and compiling a 2.09 ERA and 3.71 K/BB mark. Mejía has permitted only 218 hits in 277.1 career innings.

Of the other prospects, several showed dominant control numbers in the lower minors, like Edisson Gonzalez, who had 11.1 strikeouts and only 1.9 walks per nine innings. González had a 2.45 ERA in his 13 games, including 11 starts, for Tampa Bay’s NYPL team. Meanwhile, Luis Barroso had a 67-to-9 walk-to-strikeout mark and allowed only a hit per frame for the AZL Royals. Carlos Luna had 70 Ks and a mere 10 free passes in 70.1 innings for the Brewers’ Pioneer League squad. Ever Moya, on the other hand, whiffed a whopping 43 in 29.1 frames for the Grand Junction Rockies, but walked 17.

Five short-season and Single-A pitchers to watch for bullpen depth are the Rangers’ Abdiel Mendoza (Single-A, 3.15 ERA in 85.2 IP), the Marlins’ Alberto Guerrero (Single-A, 3.13 ERA in 132.1 IP), Arizona’s Kenny Hernandez (Single-A, 1.88 ERA in 96 frames), the Nationals’ Gilberto Chu (Low-A, 2.68 ERA in 43.2 IP), and Colorado’s Enrique Saldana (DSL Rockies, 2.28 ERA in 51.1 innings). All are under 23 years old and have peripherals to match their ERAs.

Bullpen

Pos Name Team Current/Peak
RHP Randall Delgado Yankees MLB
LHP Alberto Baldonado Nationals AAA
LHP Anfernee Benitez LPBP Caribbean Series
RHP Enrique Burgos Free Agent MLB
RHP Javy Guerra Free Agent MLB
RHP Manny Corpas Free Agent MLB
RHP Severino Gonzalez LVBP MLB
RHP Manny Acosta LMB MLB
RHP Justin Lawrence Rockies AAA
SP/RP Carlos Luna Brewers AAA
RHP Steven Fuentes Nationals AA
RHP Humberto Mejia Marlins A+
LHP Andy Otero LMP Caribbean Series
LHP Oriel Caicedo LPBP Caribbean Series
RHP Abdiel Mendoza Rangers A
RHP Alberto Guerrero Marlins A
LHP Kenny Hernandez Diamondbacks A
RHP Edisson Gonzalez Rays A-
LHP Gilberto Chu Nationals A-
RHP Daniel Espino Indians A-
RHP Luis Barroso Royals AZL
LHP Ever Moya Rockies RK
RHP Enrique Saldana Rockies DSL

Lineup
On the other hand, with its best hitter Johan Camargo pulling out, Panama can hardly field a starting nine. In fact, there is not a single professional 1B of Panamanian descent, with contenders for the position limited to a lifelong Liga Professional Béisbol de Panamá (LPBP, the national league) player, a soon-to-be 21-year old Single-A catcher, or a utility player that last played in the minors in 2012.

The top four in the order could be as good as any other national team, with Ruben Tejada anchoring the middle infield opposite Edmundo Sosa, who had an impressive callup to St. Louis in 2019. Allen Cordoba would play left field in an ideal scenario, but would shift to the infield if Tejada or Sosa were unavailable.

Former Braves’ blue-chip prospect and later San Diego Padre Christian Bethancourt (left) is confirmed, as are two impressive young catching prospects, Miguel Amaya and Ivan Herrera. It is entirely possible that Amaya plays first base the entire qualifier and, with three catchers on the roster, one could serve as DH every game.

Currently, Jonathan Arauz is pencilled in at the hot corner, but considering he is a Rule 5 pick by Boston, which finds itself in a state of transition, it seems unlikely he will join Panama. Assuming he remains with the Red Sox in Ft. Myers, Jose Caballero becomes the new third baseman. If not, Caballero is likely to DH.

The outfield is extremely thin beyond Cordoba, who is more of a super-utility player. Fedebeis only considered seven players for the roster and none are particularly of note beyond him. The likely centrefielder, Jhonny Santos, is only 23, but slashed .241/.325/.356 in High-A, a slight improvement over his previous five seasons. Rodrigo Orozco will likely man right after hitting .274/.350/.369 in the high minors in 2019.

Ramiro Rodriguez should make the roster and could take Santos’ starting spot. He is a 22-year old that put in a .227/.353/.343 line with 19 stolen bases across three levels. Other options include Isaias Velazquez and Edgar Munoz, both of whom can play all over the field.

Lineup

Pos Name Team Current/Peak
SS Ruben Tejada Blue Jays MLB
LF Allen Córdoba Padres MLB
2B Edmundo Sosa Cardinals MLB
C Christian Bethancourt Phillies MLB
RF Rodrigo Orozco Padres AAA
3B Jonathan Arauz Red Sox AA
DH Jose Caballero Mariners A+
1B Carlos Quiroz Never signed Caribbean Series
CF Jhonny Santos Marlins AAA
3B Johan Camargo Braves MLB
CF Luis Durango Retired (?) MLB

Bench

Pos Name Team Current/Peak
C Ivan Herrera Cardinals A+
C/1B Miguel Amaya Cubs A+
2B Gerald Chin LPBP Caribbean Series
SS Nander De Sedas Florida St. NCAA
UT Edgar Munoz LMB Caribbean Series
UT Isaias Velasquez LPBP Caribbean Series
OF Ramiro Rodriguez Astros AA

Overall
Despite the lack of hitting depth, particularly in the outfield, Panama should field one of the strongest rosters in either World Baseball Classic Qualifier. Considering it has a first-round bye and needs only two wins to advance to the WBC, other countries will have a very difficult path to qualify in Pamama’s place. Assuming it plays its maximum of four games, it could throw every pitch for only one-to-two innings and still have enough bullets to ride out the tournament.

In a year’s time, it might very well be possible that Panama follows Colombia’s path and excels with its full complement of major leaguers, pulls an upset or two, and becomes the next international baseball darling. First, however, it will have to escape Arizona.

Articles in this series:
Introduction [Link]
Nicaragua [Link]
Pakistan [Link]
Czech Republic [Link]
Philippines [Link]

All photos of Panama national teams copyright Fedebeis Panamá. All photos of Cristian Bethancourt copyright Extra Innings UK.

About Gabriel Fidler

Extra Innings UK covers baseball around the world, focussing on the sport at the national team level, with features on prominent players, scouting reports, and occasional breaking news. We are fully credentialled by MLB and have covered the World Baseball Classic, continental championships, and the U.S. minor leagues.
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