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Houston Astros Sign Pair of Panamanian Free Agents

Houston Astros Prospect Ariel Lebrón
Credit: Ariel Lebrón

The Houston Astros added two more prospects to their 2023 international signing period class Monday, inking Panamanian outfielder Ariel Lebrón and right-handed pitcher Luis Aguilar to minor-league contracts. Lebrón and Aguilar are 17 years old and 18 years old, respectively.

“For most of the Panamanian players, they develop a little bit later than most kids in the DR and Venezuela,” said Daniel Rodriguez, the Astros scouting assistant for Panama.

Rodriguez tagged Lebrón as a true center fielder, displaying impressive range and ability to track down fly balls. Scouts recorded a 6.3-second 60-yard dash for Lebrón, who is also flashing arm strength of 90-mph throws from the outfield.

“His speed allows him to miss read some fly balls and still get under the baseball with plenty of time,” Rodriguez said.

Lebrón measured out at 5-foot-11, 148 pounds, looking to put more weight into his growing frame. The Astros are looking for him to add 15-20 pounds, once he enters the system this spring. There, the organization is hoping to develop more power in Lebrón’s swing. As more of a contact hitter with the ability to spray to all fields, the righty splits gaps with authority, consistently barreling  pitches and flashing occasional pop.

Aguilar’s best tool is a precise fastball to both sides of the plate, touching 89-90 mph with vertical break. Complementing his first option is a “pretty good-shaped” curveball — which is crossing home plate with 2,300-2,400 rpm. Aguilar profiled as a starting pitcher to scouts, while seen as a late bloomer and as a sleeper pick in his 5-foot-11, 176-pound build.

“He can pitch in difficult situations, in tough situations,” Rodriguez said. “He knows how to keep his composure when in trouble or when infielders make an error or whatever. He’s just a true competitor.”

The Astros also signed 17-year-old shortstop Jesus Mujica and 16-year-old right-handed pitcher Manuel Mendoza to minor-league contracts Tuesday. Mujica, a 5-foot-11, 179-pound righty, hails from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, where he officially signed three days into the 2023 international signing period. Mendoza, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound prospect, is a product of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, drawing a comparison to former San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain.

The Astros’ 2023 international signing class is now up to 13 players with the additions of Lebrón, Aguilar, Mujica and Mendoza. Five of the signings — Lebrón, Aguilar, Mujica, Mendoza and Venezuelan second baseman Sandro Pereira — are not of Dominican descent. The five weren’t present Sunday at the Astros Dominican Republic Academy.

Astros’ Rivera Pitches Off Mound

Right-handed pitcher Jose Albert Rivera pitched off a mound this offseason, after missing the entirety of the 2022 season with an undisclosed injury, following just five outings in 2021. A former top-30 prospect, the 25-year-old pitcher was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the Major League phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft but was later returned to Houston.

In his last full season in 2019, Rivera started 11 of his 18 outings for the Class-A Quad Cities River Bandits. The righty posted a 3.81 ERA in 75.2 innings pitched with 95 strikeouts and 36 walks.

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