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ANAHEIM — Kevin Maitan was considered the top international prospect in 2016 when he signed with the Braves for $4.25 million, a Venezuelan bonus record.
The Angels were among the many teams eyeing Maitan back then, but they knew they stood virtually no chance of landing the highly touted teenage shortstop. Since the Angels had doled out nearly $15 million to sign Cuban infielder Roberto Baldoquin in 2014, far exceeding their available bonus pool, they were prohibited from spending more than $300,000 to sign any international prospect for two years.
“We were at such a financial disadvantage for what those players were going to be receiving, there wasn’t much that we could do,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “When you’re talking about that kind of separation between what they’re perceived to get or what their expectations are and what in reality you can give, there’s not a lot of conversations that can take place.”
But in November, the Angels got a second crack at Maitan after he and 12 other Braves prospects were declared free agents as part of the penalties imposed on Atlanta for international signing rules violations. As soon as Major League Baseball sent out a memo informing teams of the group’s availability, international scouting director Carlos Gomez and his staff got to work reconnecting with Maitan and fellow shortstop Livan Soto, another recently released Braves prospect who originally signed for $1 million in 2016, to express the Angels’ interest.
“When they were put back in the marketplace and we were not in a restriction in that moment in time, it allowed us to have a second life to pursuing them,” Eppler said. “We did exactly that.”
The Angels already had scouting reports on Maitan and Soto from watching them play for Braves affiliates in 2017, but Gomez and his team still headed to Venezuela to watch the pair work out and meet with their families. During those meetings, the club outlined its expectations, developmental philosophies and explained why it thought it would be a good fit for the teenagers. Gomez spearheaded those efforts, though Eppler also helped in the recruitment by speaking with Maitan and his father via FaceTime.
The Angels also received an endorsement from former infielder Maicer Izturis, as he and his brother, Cesar, invited Maitan to work out at their baseball academy in Barquisimeto this offseason.
“I do know that Maicer gave us a vote of confidence and spoke very glowingly about this organization in general,” Eppler said. “So I can only imagine that that was a helping factor.”
On Dec. 5, the first day that the former Braves prospects were eligible to join new organizations, the Angels snagged both Maitan and Soto, signing them for $2.2 million and $850,000, respectively. Maitan is ranked as the club’s No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, while Soto is No. 26.
Maitan, 17, has drawn comparisons to Miguel Sano and countryman Miguel Cabrera, though the switch-hitter had a rather lackluster professional debut in 2017, batting .241 with a .290 on-base percentage in 42 games between two Rookie-level affiliates with the Braves. There are also doubts on whether he’ll continue to play shortstop, as some scouts believe he’ll eventually move to third or first base.
“Hard to say,” Eppler said when asked if he envisioned Maitan sticking at short. “We’re going to give him every opportunity to do that, and time will tell.”
Soto, 17, is considered an excellent defender with the potential to become an everyday shortstop in the Majors. He hit .225 with a .332 on-base percentage in 47 Rookie-level games in 2017.
Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.