2013-14 International Prospects Rumors

International Notes: Abreu, Red Sox, Cubs, Nationals

The Red Sox don't yet have a scouting report on Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, GM Ben Cherington tells WEEI's Dennis and Callahan Show (via Alex Speier of WEEI.com). "We just don’t know him well enough yet," Cherington says. "And of course until he’s gone through the process of getting cleared and all that, there’s really not much to say. As with any player that comes out of Cuba and has a chance to help us, we’ll certainly do the work that we need to do." With Mike Napoli set for free agency, the Red Sox could easily clear space for Abreu at first base, and they also have the money to make a competitive bid for a player who's likely to receive the biggest contract ever given to an international free agent, so the Red Sox appear likely to give Abreu a close look. (Since Abreu is 26 and has many years of experience in a Cuban professional league, he is not subject to rules regarding international bonus pools.)

Here are more notes on international signings.

  • Abreu may do tryouts as he moves toward a deal with an MLB team, but he doesn't really need to, Baseball America's Ben Badler tweets. Teams already have access to plenty of information about Abreu, Badler argues.
  • The Cubs decided to splurge on international spending this season because they had the second-largest international bonus pool, MLB.com's Carrie Muskat reports. Another factor in the Cubs' thinking was their belief that there wouldn't be an international draft in 2014. That means they'll be taxed at 100 percent of their pool overage if they go 10 to 15% over their pool value, and they won't be able to sign any international free agent for more than $500K. "Next year, we'll spread our money around with some pitching instead of going after the large investments. We like the large investments this year," team president Theo Epstein says. The Cubs have spent a total of $7.895MM on Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez, Venezuelan shortstop Gleyber Torres, Taiwanese pitcher Jen-Ho Tseng, Dominican pitcher Jefferson Mejia, Colombian pitcher Erling Moreno and Dominican catcher Johan Matos.
  • The Nationals' signing of Dominican third baseman Anderson Franco for $900K is part of an effort to become more aggressive in Latin America, the Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reports. A scandal resulting from the Nationals' 2006 signing of a 16-year-old shortstop named Esmailyn Gonzalez — later revealed to actually be a 20-year-old shortstop named Carlos Alvarez — led to the departures of then-GM Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo. Since signing Gonzalez/Alvarez for $1.4MM, the Nationals had not spent more than $385K on a Latin American free agent, Kilgore notes.

Nationals Sign Anderson Franco

The Nationals have signed Dominican third baseman Anderson Franco for $900K, according to Ben Badler of Baseball America. Badler had ranked Franco as the No. 29 prospect in this year's crop of July 2 international free agents, and MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez ranked him 16th.

The 6'1", 185-pound Franco became eligible to sign today — his 16th birthday. Badler writes that Franco's best tools are his raw power and strong arm, adding that he's shown the ability to be a strong defender at third base. Sanchez writes that Franco has drawn praise for his bat speed, footwork at third base and power displays in batting practice. Some scouts, according to Sanchez, believe Franco to be a sleeper who could ultimately end up as the best player from this year's class. Detractors worry about his pitch recognition and a swing that can get long at times.

Franco is the final player from Badler's Top 30 list to sign a deal, though a few players from Sanchez's Top 30 remain unsigned.


International Notes: Abreu, Hinojosa, Reds

Cuban slugger Jose Dariel Abreu has generated quite a bit of buzz since defecting from the Cuban National team, with some believing he could surpass the contracts signed by Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig. Here's more on Abreu along with some other notes on the international market…

  • MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez spoke with Orioles rookie Henry Urrutia, a childhood friend of Abreu who says that Abreu is "like a brother" to him. Urrutia tells Sanchez that Abreu called him from an undisclosed location recently and is drawing interest from a number of agents who would love to represent him, though he has not yet selected representation.
  • Sanchez also tweets that Cuban right-hander Dalier Hinojosa is currently evaluating offers but has yet to sign a deal. Hinojosa was reportedly granted free agency roughly a month ago and was connected to the Dodgers, Red Sox, Cubs and Yankees at that time.
  • The Reds have signed 20-year-old Cuban outfielder Reydel Medina for a $400K bonus, according to a release from the Dominican Prospect League. Baseball America's Ben Badler confirms the signing, noting that Medina is a left-handed hitter with a quick bat, projectable power and above-average times in the 60-yard dash. Some scouts are concerned about his crude approach at the plate, according to Badler. Medina's signing counts against the Reds' international bonus pool because he is under 23 years of age and does not have three years of professional experience.


Cubs Sign Jen-Ho Tseng

August 12: Tseng has officially signed his deal with the Cubs, reports MLB.com's Carrie Muskat (via Twitter). 

July 26: The Cubs have signed 18-year-old Taiwanese right-hander Jen-Ho Tseng for a $1.625MM bonus, according to MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez (on Twitter). Sanchez adds that top international prospect Eloy Jimenez, who agreed to terms with the Cubs earlier this month, will officially sign with the team next week.

Sanchez ranked Tseng as the No. 29 prospect in this year's international crop, noting that his broad frame bodes well for future durability. Tseng's fastball touches 95 mph and sits comfortably in the low 90s, according to Sanchez, who adds that Tseng also has a feel for a curveball and slider. Tseng continued to draw interest from the Twins even after the initial reports that he was nearing a deal with the Cubs surfaced on July 9.

The Cubs have already signed Gleyber Torres for $1.7MM, Jefferson Mejia for $850K, Erling Moreno for $650K and Johan Matos for $270K, and their agreement with Jimenez is for $2.8MM. Despite having acquired additional bonus money from the Orioles and Astros, the Cubs are on pace to vastly exceed their $5.52MM international bonus pool.

I analyzed the Cubs' international expenditures earlier in the month, noting at the time that they were likely facing a strict penalty for exceeding their pool by 10 to 15 percent. The penalty for such an overage would be a 100 percent tax on the overage as well as severe restrictions on 2014-15 spending that would prevent the team from signing a player for any more than $500K. However, given the size of Tseng's bonus, it appears that the Cubs will exceed their bonus pool by 15 percent or more, which would mean they won't be able to sign a player for more than $250K in 2014-15 (in addition to the 100 percent tax on the overage).

Because teams cannot acquire more than 50 percent of their initial international bonus pool, the maximum bonus pool for the Cubs would be $6.836MM. With Tseng signing for $1.625MM, the Cubs have committed $7.895MM to international prospects. That's $1.059MM over their maximum international bonus pool, or a 15.5 percent overage, suggesting that the team is likely facing the maximum penalties for international spending next summer.


International Notes: Portorreal, Phillies

Here are notes on two recent international signings.

  • The Pirates have signed Dominican outfielder Jeremias Portorreal for $375K, Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects reports (and Ben Badler of Baseball America confirms). Badler notes that Portorreal, 16, could become a power bat, although he will likely be limited to first base or a corner outfield spot.
  • Recent signee Luis Encarnacion adds depth to the Phillies' already-large collection of young third basemen, Bob Brookover of the Inquirer writes. The Phillies already have Cody Asche, Maikel Franco and Zach Green at third base. "I hope we have a problem where guys are competing for job," GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says. "These things always have a way of working themselves out, but I hope Maikel Franco becomes the guy we think he can become because he’s the prototypical run producer from the corner." Of course, it will be many years before the 16-year-old Encarnacion enters the picture at the Major League level, and he may well be at a different position once he does.

Red Sox Sign Rafael Devers, Emmanuel DeJesus

AUG. 9: The Devers signing is now official, as the 16-year-old signed his contract today, according to Badler

JULY 2: The Red Sox made an international splash today, signing Dominican third baseman Rafael Devers for $1.5MM according to a tweet from Dionisio Soldevila of ESPN Deportes.  Devers, perhaps the best left-handed hitter on the market, was ranked third among this year's class of international prospects by Baseball America's Ben Badler, and sixth by MLB.com.  The Sox also agreed in principle with Venezuelan lefty Emmanuel DeJesus on a deal worth $780K, tweets MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez.

Devers, 16, has average raw power that could become above-average, according to Badler.  He needs work defensively but has an "advanced feel for hitting," writes Badler.  DeJesus' stuff has some similarities to Felix Doubront, and Badler noted Boston's interest in the past.  MLB.com ranked him 24th, noting that he "could end up in the bullpen one day."

The Red Sox have the seventh-largest international bonus pool at $3,179,900, according to BA.  They appear to have about $900K remaining after these two signings.     


Phillies Sign Luis Encarnacion

The Phillies have signed Dominican third baseman Luis Encarnacion for a $1MM signing bonus, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. Badler ranked Encarnacion as the No. 4 international prospect in this year's class, while MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez ranked him 12th. Earlier in the week, Badler reported that he'd be "shocked" if the Phillies didn't sign Encarnacion, who just became eligible to sign today — his 16th birthday.

Encarnacion's value is all in his bat, Badler writes, as defensive limitations will cause him to move to left field or first base eventually. He has plus raw power from the right side of the plate and has shown that power off to scouts in games already. Over at MLB.com, Sanchez's scouting report notes that Encarnacion hits the ball to all fields with a solid line-drive stroke and already has shown home run power to his pull side. Scouts like Encarnacion's makeup and aggressive approach on the field as well.


International Notes: Devers, Encarnacion, Ruiz

While most of the top international prospects from this year's July 2 crop have signed, a few notables remain unsigned. Here's the latest on some of Latin America's top prospects, courtesy of Baseball America's Ben Badler…

  • The Red Sox are expected to officially sign No. 3 international prospect Rafael Devers on Friday, Badler tweets. Boston reportedly reached a $1.5MM agreement with the Dominican third baseman back on July 2.
  • Badler also tweets that No. 4 international prospect Luis Encarnacion turns 16 on Friday, at which point he will be eligible to sign. Badler adds that he will be "shocked" if the Phillies don't sign the power-hitting third baseman.
  • One more from Badler, who writes that 19-year-old Cuban right-hander Norge Ruiz has cemented himself as a rising star in the eyes of scouts (subscription required). He's just 5'10" and 170 pounds, but Ruiz worked at 89-94 mph and flashed terrific command of two plus breaking pitches against the U.S. College national team last month.

Cubs Sign Eloy Jimenez

The Cubs announced the signing of Eloy Jimenez, who was rated as the top international prospect in this year's July 2nd class  by both Baseball America and MLB.com.  The two sides first reached agreement on a deal on July 3rd and formalized things nearly a month later.

The deal is worth $2.8MM bonus as well as a $250K college scholarship, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com.  That's a signficant payday for a 16-year-old, but he actually turned down an even more lucrative offer to sign with the Cubs (Twitter link).  The Cubs got a lot done on the international market, signing Jimenez, Gleyber Torres ($1.7MM), Jen-Ho Tseng ($1.625MM), Jefferson Mejia ($850K), and Erling Moreno ($800K). In total, the Cubs spent $7.895MM on int'l free agents.

As Steve Adams explained in his analysis of the Cubs' international expenditures, the Cubs have gone far over their alotted bonus pool.  The Cubs will likely face the maximum penalties for international spending next summer, which means that they won't be able to give any player more than $250K in 2014=15.  They'll also have to pay a 100% tax on the overage.

The outfielder is 6'4" and 200 pounds, and Baseball America's Ben Badler says that his average raw power and flat swing produce line drives — a combination that could lead to above-average home run power in the future. MLB.com raved about Jimenez in their Top 30:

"Considered the crown jewel of the Class of 2013, Jimenez has one of the best baseball bodies available this year and is considered to be the total package. The teenager has impressed scouts with his intelligence, plus-speed, and gap-to-gap power that is expected to improve as he grows into his body."

Zach Links contributed to this post.


Yankees Sign Leonardo Molina

The Yankees have signed 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Leonardo Molina for a $1.4MM bonus, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America. Molina, who ranked as the No. 5 international prospect according to both BA and MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, had to wait until August 1 to sign, as he just turned 16 years old today.

Back on July 1, Badler wrote that Molina arguably has better raw tools than top international prospect Eloy Jimenez, praising his plus-plus speed and strong, accurate arm from center field (subscription required). In a separate tweet, Badler adds that some teams actually preferred Molina to Jimenez.

Sanchez agreed with Badler's praise in his scouting report for MLB.com, noting that Molina is arguably the best athlete in this year's international class and had the ceiling of a five-tool center fielder if he can harness his ability. Both agree that his hitting ability isn't as advanced as his defensive game to this point.

Previously, the Yankees biggest international expenditure of this period had been Dominican shortstop Yonarius Rodriguez, who signed for $575K. Those two bonuses add up to $1,975,000 — a number that exceeds the Yankees' allotted bonus pool by $97,100. While that may seem like a small overage, it's actually 5.1 percent above their bonus pool, which would put them into the second penalty bracket for exceeding their pool. Teams that exceed their pool by five to 10 percent must pay a 75 percent tax on the overage and are ineligible to sign a player in the 2014-15 class for more than $500K.

Of course, the reported numbers aren't final, and it seems highly unlikely that the Yankees would overcommit by a margin as small as $3,000. I'd imagine the number comes in under five percent, unless the team isn't done spending and is simply willing to accept penalties by signing more players, as we've seen with the Cubs.