Biggest Winners and Losers from 2014 MLB International Free Agency
Though the 2014-15 international signing period officially began only last Wednesday, a majority of the top prospects in this year's class have already signed or agreed to sign with a major league club.
While most teams played by the rules and stayed within their allotted bonus pools, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox opted to ignore spending limitations (at the cost of a future penalty) in order to sign many of the top-ranked prospects in this year’s class.
Based on the quality of players they've signed thus far, it’s hard to criticize either team for having the means to exploit a loophole in the current collective bargaining agreement. At the same time, there also were plenty of teams that landed promising young players without exceeding their bonus pools.
Yet, while the Yankees and Red Sox have both enjoyed a rewarding start to the current international signing period, there are several teams that, for one reason or another, have made lackluster signings, while others that have been kept off the board entirely.
With that in mind, it simply isn’t fair to declare teams as either “winners” or “losers” less than one week into the signing period; remember, we’re talking about 15- and 16-year-old kids who have minimal experience and will need numerous seasons to develop in the minor leagues, if they’re even so lucky to reach a stateside level. However, that doesn’t mean teams’ international strategies aren’t worth analyzing.
Here are the early “winners” and “losers” of the 2014-15 international signing period, with an emphasis on clubs that have fared well over the last week.
Winner: New York Yankees
|Dermis Garcia||SS/3B||Dominican Republic||$3.2M|
|Nelson Gomez||3B||Dominican Republic||$2.25M|
|Juan De Leon||OF||Dominican Republic||$2M|
|Hyo-Joon Park||SS||South Korea||$1.1M|
|Frederick Cuevas||OF||Dominican Republic||$300K|
The New York Yankees were widely expected to exceed their $2,193,100 bonus pool during this year’s international signing period, with Kiley McDaniel of Scouting Baseball suggesting back in February that the team could spend upward of $15 million at the cost of a stiff penalty. Well, we’re only one day into the signing period and the team’s singing bonuses quickly are adding up.
The Yankees gave a $3.2 million bonus to Dominican shortstop Dermis Garcia, whom I profiled at Prospect Pipeline last week. The organization also signed Dominican third baseman Nelson Gomez for $2.25 million. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required), Gomez "generates some of the best raw power in the class from his strong 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame."
As for their other seven-figure signings, the Yankees landed outfielders Juan De Leon ($2 million) and Jonathan Amundaray ($1.5 million) while also grabbing shortstops Wilkerman Garcia and Hyo-Joon Park for $1.35 million and $1.1 million, respectively.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com praised Garcia’s offensive potential, stating that he “has a good feel for hitting and should be able to hit for average,” but also noted that “some scouts believe he is better suited for second base or even third base because of his versatility and arm strength."
Sanchez also had good things to say about 18-year-old Park, who hails from South Korea: “A legitimate shortstop prospect, Park has the tools to stay at the position as he develops. What's more, some scouts think he has the potential to be above average in every facet of the game, except for power.”
The Yankees also gave a $1.1 million bonus to catcher Miguel Flames, who was tabbed as the best catching prospect in this year’s class by Badler:
Flames, a 16-year-old righthanded hitter, had been a third baseman until the end of last year, when he moved behind the plate. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, there are questions about whether Flames will stick behind the plate, but some scouts felt Flames was one of the better hitters available in Venezuela this year, especially after he dominated a national tournament last summer.
On top of their high-profile signings, the Yankees also handed out numerous six-figure bonuses last week, giving $750,000 to Venezuelan shortstop Diego Castillo, $600,000 to Venezuelan outfielder Raymundo Moreno, $300,000 to Dominican outfielder Frederick Cuevas and $200,000 to Venezuelan right-hander Servando Hernandez.
While the Yankees now have spent $15.35 million based on confirmed signings, per Badler, it’s hard to fault the club for having the financial resources necessary to exploit the current international spending system. After all, there’s no denying that New York has already landed the finest collection of talent among all teams.
Loser: Miami Marlins
|Christian Capellan||OF||Dominican Republic||$500K|
It was surprising that the Marlins didn’t try a bigger splash to begin this year’s international spending period, especially considering they had the second-highest bonus pool ($4,622,400) among all teams.
However, the organization's strategy became more obvious on Monday when it sent its second, third and fourth bonus slots, which carry a combined value of $1,000,080 to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for right-hander Matt Ramsey, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (h/t MLB Trade Rumors).
As for their signings, the Marlins have landed four mid-range prospects so far, a group highlighted by Venezuelan outfielder Anderson Castro ($600K) and shortstop Andres Villalobos ($350K). The team also is said to have a deal in place with Dominican outfielder Christian Capellan for $500K, according to Sanchez. Miami also signed Panamanian right-hander Alberto Guerrero for $300K.
Having only used $1.75 million of their bonus pool, the Marlins still have room to add more talent during the current period, though they're unlikely to shell out as much money as they did on the players listed above. That said, they could have afforded to go all-in on some of the bigger names in this year's class.
Winner: Chicago White Sox
|Felix Mercedes||IF||Dominican Republic||$950K|
|Amado Nunez||SS||Dominican Republic||$900K|
|Ricardo Mota||SS||Dominican Republic||$750K|
With the third-highest bonus pool among all teams ($4,273,000), the Chicago White Sox have quietly thrown around some money since last Wednesday en route to signing four promising up-the-middle prospects.
The organization gave a $950,000 bonus to Dominican infielder Felix Mercedes, who has “impressed some scouts with his righthanded power and arm strength,” per Badler. It also shelled out $900,000 to sign Dominican shortstop Amado Nunez, who stands out for his “medium-frame build, his bat speed and his power potential,” per Sanchez.
The White Sox also signed a pair of prospects for $750,000 in Columbian catcher Jhoandro Alfaro, 16, the younger brother of Rangers catching prospect Jorge Alfaro, and Dominican shortstop Ricardo Mota. More importantly, the team has already announced the signings of all four players, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune.
Having already spent $3.35 million of their pool money, the White Sox could still potentially squeeze in another player for $750,000 or possibly several players in the $100,000 to $250,000 range without surpassing their spending limit.
Either way, the South Siders have made a haul since the beginning of the international signing period, as they added a slew of potential high-end talents to a farm system already on the rise.
Winner: Boston Red Sox
|Christopher Acosta||RHP||Dominican Republic||$1.5M|
|Elwin Tejada||SS||Dominican Republic||$300K|
Like the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox already have spent more than their allotted bonus pool ($1,881,700), though that was expected based on a previous report by Badler.
The team signed Dominican right-hander Chris Acosta to a deal worth $1.5 million.
According to Sanchez's scouting report of Acosta:
Scouts like Acosta's tall and lean body along with his loose and easy arm actions on the mound. His fastball hovers in the 88 to 92 mph range, but his changeup might be his best overall pitch, and he can throw it in any count. Acosta's curveball has good rotation with bite, and he uses it in the strike zone early in counts and as a strikeout pitch.
Scouts like Acosta's command of all of his pitches and his overall feel for pitching. Some scouts believe he can look disinterested at times, and his delivery could use some work, but there is no denying his potential.
The Red Sox came back later in the day to sign another high-profile arm, as they landed Venezuelan right-hander Anderson Espinoza with a $1.8 million bonus.
Badler contends that the 16-year-old is the best pitcher in this year’s class, also noting that "at 6 feet, 175 pounds, he has a loose delivery, a fastball up to 94 mph with advanced secondary stuff and pitchability."
Lastly, the Red Sox capped their first day of the 2014-15 international signing period by grabbing Dominican shortstop Elwin Tejada for $300,000, according to the Dominican Prospect League.
With their trio of signings Wednesday, the Red Sox now have spent $3.6 million—nearly $2 million more than their bonus pool. However, while they’ll incur a penalty during next year’s signing period, the fact that they landed two of the premier arms in this year’s class makes it justifiable.
Loser: Chicago Cubs
|Yelier Peguero||SS||Dominican Republic||$250K|
|Wander Cabrera||LHP||Dominican Republic||$250K|
|Tony Rijo||3B||Dominican Republic||$100K|
Despite having the fourth-highest bonus pool ($3,962,700) among all 30 teams, the Chicago Cubs have been quiet through roughly the first week of the 2014-15 international signing period.
Last year, the organization willingly exceeded its bonus pool by more than 15 percent, singing such high-profile prospects as Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez ($2.8M), Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres ($1.7M) and Taiwanese right-hander Jen-Ho Tseng ($1.625M).
As a result of overspending, the Cubs incurred a penalty for the 2014-15 signing period and aren't allowed to spend more than $250,000 on a single player, which explains the team's three signing thus far.
According to Badler, "Peguero is an above-average runner with an average arm and should be able to stay in the middle of the infield. He’s a switch-hitter with a line-drive approach." Meanwhile, he notes Cabrera, a 6'2", 190-pound left-hander, has shown "solid arm strength" but "his delivery and strike-throwing ability will need to take a step forward."
Lastly, Badler describes Rijo as "a right-handed hitter with quick hands, a line-drive stroke and occasional power."
However, with a bonus pool just south of $4 million, the Cubs presumably will continue to target a wide range of international talent moving forward, even if that means signing a bunch of players for $100,000, as suggested by Badler.
Winner: Houston Astros
|Ronny Rafael||OF||Dominican Republic||$1.5M|
|Hector Martinez||OF||Dominican Republic||N/A|
The Houston Astros certainly have made the most of having this year's largest bonus pool ($5,015,400), as the team already has signed three different players for at least $1 million.
Houston's biggest signing thus far came Monday when the team landed Dominican outfielder Ronny Rafael for $1.5 million, per Badler.
Sanchez offered a glowing report on Rafael, praising his potential on both sides of the ball:
On offense, Rafael has a good swing path and makes hard contact. He has impressed evaluators with his raw power and his ability to use that power in games. What's more, Rafael is also a plus runner and is aggressive on the basepaths.
On defense, Rafael has the ability to play all three outfield positions, partly because he takes good routes to fly balls and tracks balls off the bat well. His superb closing speed is another reason he could stay in center field as he moves up the Minor League ranks.
The Astros also signed Venezuelan right-hander Franklin Perez for $1 million, as reported by Sanchez on Twitter.
According to Badler:
[Perez] throws 88-91 mph but has the big, physical frame that leads scouts to believe he will throw in the mid-90s or higher within a few years. He delivers his fastball with strong finish and steep downhill plane. Perez’s fastball is his best pitch, but he already shows feel to spin a curveball with top-to-bottom action that could be a weapon when he’s able to harness it in the zone.
The Astros' other big signing was Venezuelan shortstop Miguel Sierra, whom they inked to a $1 million deal, per Sanchez.
According to Badler, “Sierra is 16 but has instincts and fundamentals well beyond his years. A righthanded hitter, Sierra is 6 feet, 160 pounds and projects to stick at shortstop, with steady tools that play up in games because of his high baseball IQ.”
The team also has signed four other players thus far in Venezuelan catcher Brandon Benavente, Dominican outfielder Hector Martinez, and Panamanian shortstops Juan Pineda and Ozziel Sanchel, though the specific bonuses given to each player haven't been made available.
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