Pirates Make A Splash: Pittsburgh Begins Signing International Talent

Nate RoseCorrespondent IJuly 3, 2009

Baseball's international signing period has risen from the ranks of obscurity.

Previously, this period was one where teams would make several low-key signings involving small dollar investments.

Occasionally a player from Latin America that signed as a 16-year old would turn into a superstar, but the international signing period was seen as a low risk, high reward crap shoot and largely ignored.

In recent years, however, international signings have become serious business.

All it took was big-money contracts given to players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kosuke Fukodome, and suddenly international scouting was about more than Latin America.

All it took was last year's signings of Michael Ynoa for a $4.25 million bonus and Rafael Rodriguez for a $2.55 million one, and suddenly Latin America wasn't a cheap source of talent anymore.

Considering all the hype built up about international signings recently, it's no surprise that July 2 has become somewhat of a big deal to baseball fans this year.

Today is the day that teams are allowed to officially ink international prospects to deals.

Honestly, this day is a bit over-rated. Today is not a deadline, and the majority of the most highly-touted foreign prospects are unlikely to sign on the first day of official bidding.

None of that stops the fans from being excited, though.

Today the Pittsburgh Pirates opened up the international signing period by inking three Taiwanese prospects to deals.

Outfielder Ping-Hung Chi and RHP Sheng-Cin Hong, both 18 years old, have been signed along with 17-year old 1B/LHP Chi-Wei Hsu.

Obviously, Taiwanese players are not the easiest to find scouting reports on, especially when they're fresh out of high school. Here's what I've managed to find:

Hsu was converted to a pitcher two years ago, throws in the low 80s, and has some power potential. Early indications are that the Pirates plan to use him as a hitter rather than a pitcher.

Hung throws three pitches—a fastball, curve and change—and has the most upside of any of the players signed. He tops out at about 91 MPH, which is not bad for an 18-year old.

Chi is a speedy OF who projects as a leadoff hitter. He can go from home to first in 3.9 seconds. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find anything about his other tools.

All three of the new signees will report to the Autralia Baseball Academy.

None of these signings are the proverbial "big one" for the Bucs, but they do help bolster a presence in a growing far east market. The players also all came cheaply and provide acceptable to above-average upside.

The big focus for the Pirates is on Latin America's top prospect, SS/OF Miguel Angel Sano.

Sano is not going to be signed anywhere for at least a few days and probably a few weeks due to an ongoing MLB investigation into his age.

He claims to be 16 years old, and the Minnesota Twins—one of the teams in the running to sign him—have asked MLB to help verify that. If it turns out that Sano is lying about his age, he'll be banned from signing with any MLB team for a year.

The race to sign Sano is believed to be between three teams—the Pirates, the Minnesota Twins ans the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles have the money to out-spend both clubs, but Pittsburgh is considered the favorite to sign Sano based on his relationship with Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo. It's far from a runaway edge, though.

The Pirates' international signing bonus budget is ostensibly $2 million. However, general manager Neal Huntington has said that the budget could increase for extenuating circumstances.

If the Pirates plan to sign Sano, they'll almost certainly have to spend more. He is projected to receive a $3 million or greater signing bonus.

According to Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic, the Pirates have already approached Sano with an offer and a visit to his home. The offer is for an undisclosed amount, as is customary. Some sources also say that the Orioles have made an offer.

When all is said and done, this could be an interesting international signing year for Pittsburgh. They've just finished building a brand new Latin America baseball academy that many are calling one of the nicest in the Majors.

It would certainly be a waste of money if they couldn't get any quality prospects to put it to use.