MLB Rumors: The Loudest International Signing Period Chatter
The 2014-15 international signing period, a widely expanding portal for MLB teams to replenish their farm systems with young talent, will officially begin on Wednesday.
Once the door opens, expect numerous international prospects to quickly ink agreements with MLB franchises, many of which will not be frugal with their bonus pool allotment. Although each team is assigned a certain spending amount, a few teams will steamroll the mark and accept the penalties.
Last year, the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers opened their wallets. Expect the same this year from the American League East, where some top spenders will look to strike big on young ballplayers mostly hailing from Latin America.
While U.S. prospects entering though the amateur draft must at least complete high school, the rules are looser outside of the country, allowing clubs to sign foreign 16-year-olds and patiently cultivate them in the minors.
Verbal agreements are reportedly in place, but nothing is certain until teams can make them official starting July 2. Let's take a look at the buzz brewing while waiting for the international signing period to commence.
New York Yankees Set for Massive Haul
The New York Yankees are looking to carry over their free-spending ways to the international market, reportedly securing verbal agreements with this year's top incoming prospects.
After obliterating their self-proposed $189 million payroll limitation with multiple free-agent signings, the Bronx Bombers were left without a first-round selection in June's amateur draft. In need of some fresh blood, New York is turning to the international forum.
According to the New York Daily News' Andy Martino, the Yankees are expected to snag a few of the class' top prizes.
A major league source told the Daily News that the Yankees have in fact already reached verbal agreements with three highly-regarded infielders from the Dominican Republic: Dermis Garcia for approximately $3.6 million; Nelson Gomez for approximately $2.8 million; and Christopher Torres for approximately $2.6 million. Other estimates for Torres' market have been closer to $1 million. The source said that the Yankees were believed to have agreements in place with at least two other players.
Garcia and Gomez are the top two available players in MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez's rankings. Described by Sanchez as a "teenage Alex Rodriguez," Garcia is a 16-year-old shortstop with tremendous bat speed and explosive raw power. At 6'2" and 219 pounds, Gomez wields another enticing bat at third base.
Sanchez also tabbed the Yankees as the favorites to sign outfielders Jonathan Amundaray and Antonio Arias, each slotted in the top 10 of his overall rankings. With an average weighted age of 32.7 years old from their MLB roster, according to Baseball-Reference, Brian Cashman and Co. have realized the importance of planning ahead.
Red Sox Front-Runners to Sign Top Pitchers
As the Yankees load up to make a major splash far from the Big Apple, their longtime AL East rivals are not likely to stay stagnant.
With the Yankees scooping up the best position players, the Boston Red Sox have shifted their attention to Christopher Acosta, the group's most heralded pitching prospect. Sanchez, who rated Acosta as the best pitcher and sixth-best overall player, said the Red Sox "have expressed serious interest" in the righty.
Like the Yankees, Boston is set to throw caution to the wind and surpass its bonus pool, according to Baseball America's Ben Badler (subscription required). He briefly went into the young hurler's repertoire.
"He has good mechanics and throws strikes with one of the best fastballs in the class, ranging from 90-94 mph," Badler wrote. "He has good feel for a potentially above-average curveball and a developing changeup."
Boston also has its claws in another top pitcher, Anderson Espinoza, a 5'10", 150-pound righty from Venezuela. This would give the reigning champions two of the premier right arms if they can seal the deal on both teenagers.
The Red Sox have enjoyed international success in the past, having signed Xander Bogaerts from Aruba in 2009.
Rays Leaders in Chase for Shortstop Adrian Rondon
Not possessing the financial capability to match millions with the Red Sox and Yankees' payroll ledgers, the Tampa Bay Rays instead rely on harnessing young talent. Leaving no table unturned, they figure to be major players in this year's international signing period.
According to Badler (subscription required), the Rays are favorites to sign shortstop Adrian Rondon to a multimillion-dollar signing bonus. Scouting Baseball's Kiley McDaniel reverberated that sentiment earlier in the year.
Although Sanchez ranked Rondon as the third-best international player, he conceded the youngster's candidacy for the top spot.
Rondon was once considered the overall best player in the 2014 international class, and some scouts are sticking to that assessment. Here's why: the 6-foot-1, 170-pound infielder can do it all. He has fluid actions on offense and defense and never seems out of control. He's expected to stay at shortstop when he signs with a Major League team because he projects to be a solid defender with a decent arm, quick feet and natural baseball instincts. He can also handle himself in the batter's box.
As with all international signees, Rondon has a long way to go, but the 16-year-old projects out as a top contact hitter during the early stages of his development. The power could also follow, but he may have to shift over to second base to preserve his defensive chops.
Without the money to lock down many superstars, the onus is on Tampa Bay to continuously ripen new prospects. Rondon could lead a green group of kids fighting for a future spot in the big leagues.
Big Spending Brewing for Brewers
The Milwaukee Brewers aren't regarded as big spenders, but they're willing to toss around some cash in the international landscape.
Badler (subscription required) projects Milwaukee to dole out the most money in signing bonuses during the signing period. They'll lead the way with Gilbert Lara, yet another highly touted shortstop looking to break through with a big bat.
To date, the Brewers have not spent more than $800,000 on a single player. If McDaniels' report comes true, they'll shatter that mark with Lara's rumored $3.2 million bonus, four times more than their previous high.
At 6'3" and 203 pounds, the right-handed hitter could shift to third base during his path to The Show. He'll need to adapt to breaking balls better during his minor league seasoning, but his pure pull power is off the charts.
Besides, no 16-year-old can be expected to be a finished product. The extra time to groom these youngins is one of the advantages teams like Milwaukee seek out when heavily investing their resources into international scouting.
Nationals Looking for Quantity to Yield Quality
Not every team, however, is willing to invest as heavily into the international player pool.
While the Yankees directed their attention to this year's top available international prospects, the Washington Nationals are looking to spread their net wider. Director of international scouting Johnny DiPuglia told The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore that the team decided to "volume shop" this period.
"We're active," DiPuglia said. "We're not going to be on the high-high-high dollar guys. We feel we have comparable talent to what these other clubs have even without spending a ton on one player. We'll spend all the money that we have allocated."
The current National League East leaders are not looking to stray beyond their $2.188 million player pool, but that's not stopping them from assembling as many new names as possible. Among their areas of interest are high-velocity pitchers, speedy position players up the middle and pure power threats.
Quality typically trumps quantity, but no teenagers are sure bets to blossom into MLB superstars. By bolstering their farm system with as many fresh faces as possible, the Nationals are playing the numbers game in hope of striking big on one or two of them.