MLB International Free Agency 2014: Preview, Predictions and Prospects to Watch

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

MLB International Free Agency 2014: Preview, Predictions and Prospects to Watch

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Wednesday officially marks the start of the 2014 MLB international signing period, and while the process has become far more regulated with the addition of signing bonus pool restrictions, it remains perhaps the biggest crapshoot in all of professional sports.

    After all, most of these prospects are still just 16-year-old kids who have seen limited scouting exposure playing in Latin America, and teams will soon be shelling out seven-figure bonuses banking on them living up to their potential.

    There is undoubtedly some risk, but these days, teams almost have to get involved on the international market, with so many star-caliber players coming out of the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and, on a smaller scale, Colombia, Mexico, Taiwan and South Korea.

    So as teams look to find the next superstar international free agent, here is everything you need to know about the signing process, the top available prospects and the leading suitors to land each top prospect.

     

    *Prospect rankings reflect a prospect's average ranking position in the top 30 international prospect lists from Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com and Ben Badler of Baseball America.

    *Top suitor predictions also taken from those two sources, as many prospects already have verbal agreements in place prior to the signing period opening.

Explaining the International Signing Process

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Under the new collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect for the 2012 season, new bonus pool restrictions were put into place in both the MLB draft and on the international free-agent market.

    First, some quick need-to-know facts about who is eligible to be signed and when players can be signed:

    • The window to sign players this year runs from July 2, 2014 to June 15, 2015.
    • All amateur players outside of the United States and Canada are eligible to be signed.
    • Players must turn 17 years old by September 1, 2015 (the completion of their first minor league season) to be eligible.

    Here is a quick rundown of everything you need to know about the bonus pool rules:

    • Every team has a different bonus pool, based on the previous season's record.
    • The Houston Astros have the largest pool this year at $5,015,400. The St. Louis Cardinals have the smallest at $1,866,300, according to Baseball America.
    • All signing overages are taxed at 100 percent
    • Exceed the bonus pool by 5-10 percent: team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 the following year.
    • Exceed the bonus pool by 10-15 percent: team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 the following year.
    • Exceed the bonus pool by 15-plus percent: team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 the following two years.
    • The Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers both exceeded their bonus pools by more than 15 percent last year, so they will be limited to signing players for less than $300,000 each.

Notable Catching Prospects

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    Top Catching Prospects

    RankPlayerCountryHT/WTB/TTop Suitor
    21Miguel FlamesVenezuela6'2", 205R/RNYY
    25Ricardo RodriguezVenezuela5'10", 180R/RSD
    31Jhoandro AlfaroColombia5'8", 210R/RCWS

Notable Infield Prospects

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    Top Infield Prospects

    RankPlayerCountryHT/WTB/TTop Suitor
    1Adrian RondonDominican R.6'2", 180R/RTB
    3Nelson GomezDominican R.6'2", 210R/RNYY
    4Gilbert LaraDominican R.6'3", 205R/RMIL
    5Dermis GarciaDominican R.6'2", 185R/RNYY
    9Wilkerman GarciaVenezuela5'11", 170L/RNYY
    11Arquimedes GamboaVenezuela5'1", 160R/RPHI
    12Pedro GonzalezDominican R.6'4", 160R/RCOL
    14Hyo-Joon ParkSouth Korea 6'2", 170L/RNYY
    18Christopher TorresDominican R.6', 170S/RSEA, NYY
    19Kenny HernandezVenezuela6', 160L/RNYM
    20Diego CastilloVenezuela5'11", 150R/RNYY
    22Ricky AracenaDominican R.5'7", 175S/RKC
    23Miguel Angel SierraVenezuela6', 160R/RHOU
    27Amado NunezDominican R.6'2", 175R/RCWS
    29Yeremy RosarioDominican R.6', 170R/RCOL
    32Daniel BritoVenezuela6'1", 140L/RPHI
    33Kevin VicunaVenezuela5'11", 140R/RTOR

Notable Outfield Prospects

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    Top Outfield Prospects

    RankPlayerCountryHT/WTB/TTop Suitor
    2Juan De LeonDominican R.6'1", 175R/RNYY
    6Brayan HernandezVenezuela6'1", 170R/RSEA
    13Jonathan AmundarayVenezuela6'2", 175R/RNYY
    17Antonio AriasVenezuela6'2", 185R/RNYY, COL
    24Ronny RafaelDominican R.6'1", 180R/RHOU
    26Bryan EmeryColombia6'3", 190R/RNYY, SD
    28Julio MartinezDominican R.6'3", 183R/RDET
    30Jesus SanchezDominican R.6'2", 180L/RTB

Closer Look at Top 5 Position Players

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    1. SS Adrian Rondon, Dominican Republic

    Rondon won't turn 16 until July 7, so he won't be eligible to be signed until then, but he may be the best prospect in this entire class. He's one of the most advanced bats of the group and could turn his gap power into home run pop down the line.

    Perhaps most importantly, he has the defensive skills to remain at shortstop, and high-ceiling prospects capable of playing that position are few and far between.

     

    2. OF Juan De Leon, Dominican Republic

    With legitimate five-tool potential and what many consider to be the best bat speed in the class, it is no surprise that De Leon is viewed as one of the prizes of this class. He should develop some power as he fills out and could wind up moving to right field, but it's his hit tool that projects as his best. 

     

    3. 3B Nelson Gomez, Dominican Republic

    Gomez has below-average speed and will never contend for a Gold Glove if he does in fact wind up sticking at third base long term. But the hit/power tools alone are enough to make him one of the top prospects in the class. He played in the Under Armour All-American Game last summer, so he's seen more exposure than most prospects in this class.

     

    4. SS Gilbert Lara, Dominican Republic

    Lara doesn't have the quickness to stay at shortstop, but his strong arm should allow him to be a solid defender at third base or in right field. He's a free swinger who will need to refine his approach, but he has as much raw power as anyone in the class, even with an unorthodox approach of sorts at the plate.

     

    5. SS Dermis Garcia, Dominican Republic

    Garcia has the best raw power of any prospect in this class, and while his overall offensive approach needs refining, his ceiling is incredibly high. He will likely wind up sliding to third base long term, and while he will be a project of sorts, the star potential is certainly there.

Notable Pitching Prospects

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    Top Pitching Prospects

    RankPlayerCountryHT/WTB/TTop Suitor
    7Anderson Espinoza (R)Venezuela6', 170R/RBOS
    8Christopher Acosta (R)Dominican R.6'3", 170R/RBOS
    10Juan Meza (R)Venezuela6'3", 190R/RTOR, HOU
    15Huascar Ynoa (R)Dominican R.6'2", 190R/RSD, MIN, BOS
    16Franklin Perez (R)Venezuela6'4", 200R/RHOU

Closer Look at Top 5 Pitching Prospects

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    1. RHP Anderson Espinoza, Venezuela

    With a low-90s fastball that can touch 94 and an easy delivery, Anderson Espinoza has the best arm of any pitcher in the class. He pairs his fastball with a terrific curveball/changeup combination that should give him the three plus pitches necessary to stick as a starter, and his small frame and power stuff have drawn comparisons to Yordano Ventura.

     

    2. RHP Christopher Acosta, Dominican Republic

    Acosta is viewed as a more polished option than some of his counterparts, at least relative to where most 16-year-old pitching prospects are at. His fastball sits in the low 90s and should see an uptick in velocity as his projectable frame fills out, but it's his changeup that is his best pitch right now. If his curveball develops as expected, he should have the repertoire to stick as a starter.

     

    3. RHP Juan Meza, Venezuela

    He may not have the stuff of Espinoza or the polish of Acosta, but Meza may wind up being the best pitcher of this class before all is said and done. He has a strong, athletic build and while his slurvy breaking ball needs some work, he has the tools to be a front-line starter once he reaches his prime.

     

    4. RHP Huascar Ynoa, Dominican Republic

    The younger brother of Oakland A's prospect Michael Ynoa, who received a then-record $4.25 million bonus when he signed back in 2008, Huascar has seen his stock slip a bit this spring. He has the stuff to be the top arm in this class, but inconsistency and a lack of projectability in his frame have hurt his perceived upside. That said, he'll still land a seven-figure bonus, and he still has a ton of upside.

     

    5. RHP Franklin Perez, Venezuela

    Perez already features a fastball that can touch 93 and a biting 12-6 curveball, and both pitches profile as plus offerings long term. He may not have the ceiling of the guys listed ahead of him, but he has shown better command than most pitchers his age and should round into a solid middle-of-the-rotation arm if all goes according to plan.