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Though the 2014-15 international signing period began earlier this month, July 2, most teams have already locked up the best players in this year’s class.

As I detailed in a previous article, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are already considered the big winners this year, as both teams blew past their allotted international bonus pools so as to procure a variety of high-end prospects. 

However, after looking at each team’s international class for the current period, today we’ll be breaking down some of the top individual player signings by issuing grades based on the strengths of those signings.

The grade for each signing is based on the player’s pre-signing period ranking (as determined by Baseball America, Scout.com and MLB.com), his reported signing bonus and his potential long-term impact with his new organization.

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We’re now entering the final stretch of the minor league season, and countless prospects continue to open eyes with their performances at each of the four full-season levels. And with the rookie and short-season leagues underway, we have even more prospects to break down each week.

With teams in full-season leagues having played over 100 games since Opening Day on April 3—most starting pitchers have made anywhere from 15 to 20 starts, while everyday players have amassed 400-plus plate appearances—we no longer have to worry about misleading, small sample sizes.

As we did in the series’ previous installments, this week’s list of players once again combines reports on both hitters and pitchers in the same article. However, we’ll only be looking at just the hottest players because, well, there are a lot of them, and they’re all worth mentioning.

Here are the hottest players at every minor league level.

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With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline rapidly approaching, the question on everyone’s mind is whether the Tampa Bay Rays will trade David Price.

Should the Rays deal the Cy Young Award-winning left-hander, they are likely to receive a bounty of young talent (mostly prospects) in return. The team that acquires Price should get a big boost heading toward the playoffs.

However, as you'll see in the case studies below, trades are not always even.

 

Houston Astros Acquire Randy Johnson (July 31, 1998)

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The deadline for signing 2014 draft picks was last Friday, July 18, at 5 p.m. ET. As you probably know by now, the Houston Astros made headlines for all the wrong reasons with their failure to sign highly touted prep arms Brady Aiken, the No. 1 overall pick, and Jacob Nix (fifth round), who had a $1.5 million agreement in place and had already passed his physical.

Not every team struck out with signing its top draft picks, however. In fact, only three teams, including the Astros, failed to sign their selections from the top 10 rounds. The Toronto Blue Jays were unable to reach an agreement with seventh-round pick Zach Zehner, while the Washington Nationals came up empty with second-rounder Andrew Suarez and ninth-rounder Austin Byler.

However, now that we know which players will be beginning their professional careers (if they haven’t already), it’s time to look back at the big winners from this year’s draft.

The rankings were based on two things: whether or not teams were able to sign their top draft picks (primarily players selected in the first 10 rounds as well as those signed to over-slot bonuses in later rounds) and those specific players' impact potential as members of their new organization.

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Not every player gets off to a hot start to begin the season.

Every year, there are countless guys who struggle during the first half of the year, for one reason or another, and are hastily labeled as disappointments. However, it’s easy to lose sight of just how long the regular season is and therefore how quickly a player can turn a disappointing first half into an overall successful campaign.

For example, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons scuffled during the first half of the 2013 season. He had a .630 on-base percentage, .278 wOBA (weighted on-base average) and 73 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) in 90 games. After the All-Star break, however, he posted a .788 OPS, .342 wOBA and 117 wRC+ in 67 games.

This year should be no different, as there’s a long list of guys who seem poised to make up for a slow start with a strong second half.

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The signing deadline for 2014 draft picks officially passed Friday at 5 p.m. ET, and the Houston Astros were not able to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken, according Jim Callis of MLB.com (via Twitter). He also reports that the Astros failed to sign fifth-rounder Jacob Nix and 21st-rounder Mac Marshall.

It wasn’t long after the draft, two days to be exact, that Aiken reportedly agreed to a $6.5 million bonus with the Astros. On June 23, the Cathedral Catholic High (San Diego) left-hander arrived in Houston to make his signing official, which obviously didn’t happen.

After two weeks of speculation as to why Aiken was yet to sign, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the Astros saw something they didn’t like in a post-draft MRI of the 17-year-old’s left elbow. As a result, the team immediately reduced its offer to Aiken from $6.5 to $5 million, well below the $7.9 million slot value for the No. 1 overall pick.

However, it wasn’t until earlier this week that we learned the specifics of Aiken’s elbow issue. According to Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle:

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It’s long been believed the Tampa Bay Rays would trade David Price before the July 31 deadline. As of now, though, the team appears to still be on the fence about dealing its All-Star left-hander.

Despite an overall record of 45-53, the Rays' 9-4 mark in July has them 8.5 games back of the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East, a division that has no clear-cut favorite this season. They’re trailing the Seattle Mariners by seven games in the wild-card hunt.

If the Rays truly plan on making a run at the postseason, they’re obviously better off keeping Price. At the same time, it also makes sense for the team to capitalize on his market and build toward the future, as illustrated by Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:

The 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner, Price is the definition of an ace. The 28-year-old turned in an excellent first half of the season, registering a 3.23 ERA while leading the league in strikeouts (164), innings pitched (147.2) and games started (20).

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The 2014 season has seen a number of notable prospects receive call-ups to the major leagues. Undoubtedly, there are more to comeand soon.

Highly regarded youngsters like George Springer, C.J. Cron, Marcus Stroman, Jonathan Singleton and Gregory Polanco have been starting for their respective clubs for quite some time now. Others like Oscar Taveras, Taijuan Walker and Kevin Gausman (no longer prospect-eligible) have been shuttling up and down between the minors and majors.

With less than a month to go until the trade deadline, there should be plenty of promotions of prime prospects once the wheeling and dealing opens up 25-man roster spots. That's just what's starting to happen with the rebuilding Chicago Cubs, who brought up infield/outfield prospect Arismendy Alcantara and right-hander Kyle Hendricks not long after trading away starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers decided that Marco Estrada had given up enough home runs as part of their rotation—his 27 homers allowed are by far the most in baseball—so they've turned to their top prospect, Jimmy Nelson. The right-hander's outing just before the All-Star break didn't go all that well, but he should get another start to bounce back.

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With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline edging closer every day, trade talks have begun to heat up as teams prepare to address their needs for the second half of the 2014 season and beyond.

For most organizations, their best chance at landing an impact player before the end of the month will depend on both the depth and strength of their farm system. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that every team hoping to make a deal before the deadline is willing to part with its top prospects. In fact, a majority of the game’s current top prospects have already been declared off limits.

To get on this list, a prospect must first have a high ceiling and a chance to be an MLB impact player. Next, he must be the best at his position who will not be dangled in a potential deadline blockbuster.

This is not an all-prospect team based solely on performance; rather, it's a minor league team of the best of the best who you won't see seriously discussed in any rumors. If you do, do not believe them!

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Everything about Reds starter Alfredo Simon’s season has been a pleasant surprise.

Originally expected to open the season in the Reds bullpen, Simon, 33, was given a chance in the starting rotation during spring training due to an injury to Mat Latos. With only 19 career starts in the major leagues under his belt headed into the season, the hope was that Simon would simply hold down the role and stabilize the back end of the rotation until Latos was ready to return.

Instead, the right-hander has relished the opportunity, turning in a breakthrough performance during the first half of the season while arguably serving as the Reds' most consistent starting pitcher.

Simon’s 12 wins headed into the All-Star break tied him with Adam Wainwright for the most in the National League, and he’s currently riding a streak of eight consecutive quality starts. However, Simon’s excellent first half didn’t result in an All-Star selection as many expected, though he eventually earned a spot on the team as a last-minute replacement for teammate Johnny Cueto.