The Boston Red Sox should make plenty of noise on July 2, the first day of the 2014-2015 international signing period.
The international signing phase is always difficult for teams, as they have to evaluate whether a 16-year-old player is worth a multimillion-dollar bonus. These players aren't even old enough to graduate high school and have years of physical maturation ahead of them. Further, these players are much less seasoned than the pool of talent available in the domestic draft due to age and other factors.
According to Baseball America's Ben Badler, that won't stop (subscription required) the Red Sox (and other teams) this season. Badler reports that Boston fully expects to exceed its bonus pool this year, which is $1,881,700. Boston expects to pay the maximum penalty. For every dollar over the assigned bonus pool, the Red Sox will have to pay a 100 percent overage tax (If the team ends up $8 million past their bonus pool, they will have to pay another $8 million in penalties.). Further, Boston will be barred from spending more than $300,000 over the next two signing periods.
That's a lot of talent to give up the next two seasons, so Boston must really like the talent available in the current international signing period.
Look for Boston to sign pitchers after focusing on position players the last few signing cycles. In those cycles, the club shelled out for infielders Rafael Devers, Raymel Flores and Wendell Rijo, along with outfielder Manuel Margot. Two of these players have some of the highest ceilings in the Red Sox system, so serious rewards can be reaped by making the right signings in international free agency.
Devers is already considered Boston's 11th-best prospect, according to SoxProspects.com, with Margot checking in at No. 14 and Rijo at No. 15. Still young, these players are expected to continue rising up the prospect charts.
Here's a look at three key names that could be on Boston's top prospects list in a couple years, all of whom are pitchers.
Anderson Espinoza, RHP
MLB.com believes the Red Sox are the front-runners to sign Espinoza, who is considered to be the best available pitcher on the market. The Venezuelan is fairly short, running 5'10", which evokes comparisons to Pedro Martinez... and that comparison may not be far off. The 16-year-old's fastball ranges from 91-93 mph, which is a fantastic speed for a pitcher as young as Espinoza, and he harnesses it with advanced command for his age. As is common for most pitchers of this age, there isn't a true plus breaking ball or off-speed pitch, although his nascent curveball and changeup show potential.
Despite a lack of projection in adding to his height, his mechanics and ability to add more pounds to his 150-pound frame means velocity could be added to his fastball.
"He’s got a chance to be a superstar," a scout told Badler (subscription required), with the consensus being that the last pitcher of Espinoza's talent to come out of Latin America is Francisco Rodriguez, who has gone on to an All-Star career as a closer. "There’s going to be power to the stuff and he has command of three pitches that have a chance to be plus. He has poise, presence and command, with a loose arm and a projectable body. He’s the real deal."
Christopher Acosta, RHP
The Dominican pitcher has a loose arm, which translates to strong ball movement, as MLB.com writes. It's no surprise, then, that his breaking and off-speed pitches appear to have strong potential. The 6'3", 170-pound athlete can throw a changeup in any count and boasts a curveball with bite to it.
MLB.com states that the Red Sox have shown "serious interest" in Acosta. With such a polished pitcher at a young age and the potential for three above-average pitches, it's no surprise that Boston is eager to sign Acosta.
Negatives on Acosta include mechanics that need to be cleaned up and the need to develop a better attitude on the mound.
Huascar Ynoa, RHP
There is a divisive split regarding the potential of Huascar Ynoa, the other pitcher tied to Boston. The younger brother of Athletics pitcher Michael Ynoa, Huascar has the potential for three quality pitches, but is so inconsistent that he "draws the ire of scouts who have high expectations for the teenager," as MLB.com writes.
Ynoa's fastball regularly sits in the low 90s, adding a cut fastball, spliter, curveball and a changeup. That's a lot of pitches for such a young player, and it's fair to wonder if the volume of pitches is one reason for his inconsistency. Another reason could be his mechanics, as he's still trying to smooth out his delivery.
The Twins are considered to be the favorites for Ynoa per MLB.com, but Badler also links the Red Sox to the right-hander.
Of course, the Sox won't be limited to just these three pitchers. They will sign a whole host of players with a wide range of possible career outcomes. However, look for Boston to sign at least one of the pitchers mentioned. With Boston determined to spend in the market and a need for lower-level pitching prospects, the dollars will be there to snag one of the top prospects in international free agency.