Hardcore fans will be eagerly anticipating July 2, 2013. That date represents the first day that Major League Baseball teams can sign this year's crop of international free agents, many of whom recently turned (or will be turning) 16 years old and are in line for seven-figure bonuses. No one covers the international market better than Baseball America's Ben Badler, who has been busy compiling information on all the key international prospects. Follow this link to read up on the cream of the crop for the 2013 signing period.
Badler has been following the international free agent market for a number of years now and has educated fans on quite a few Latin amateurs who have gone on to become top prospects in their respective organizations. Much like selecting players in the annual North American amateur draft, dabbling in the international market comes with a great deal of risk — especially given how raw many of these teenagers can be when they sign their first contracts. Not surprisingly, it can take years for these particular prospects to develop.
Like the amateur draft, the rules changed for the international market in 2012 to include a spending limit, which has significantly reduced the bonuses. Taking a look back at Baseball America's top international prospects list from 2011 — the last year that teams could spend freely without restrictions and penalties — we find a number of players that have become top prospects and intriguing sleepers. Below is a look at some of the best 2011 signees, as of this date, and numbered by Badler's original pre-July 2 talent ranking.
1. Elier Hernandez, OF, Kansas City: Despite being given the third highest bonus in the signing class at $3MM, Hernandez struggled in his 2012 debut and hit just .208 with 66 strikeouts in 60 games. He has returned to the same Rookie ball club for the 2013 season and is hitting .308 through six games, but has eight strikeouts and no walks.
2. Ronald Guzman, 1B, Texas Rangers: Texas signed two Latin players in 2011 for a total of more than $8MM, and Guzman received a $3.5 MM payday, good for the second highest bonus overall. Assigned to full-season ball in 2013, the outfielder-turned-first-baseman didn't play until the end of May thanks to an injury. Guzman, 18, came out swinging and is hitting .333 in his first 19 games, although he has yet to tap into his raw power and has walked just two times. Jason Cole of Lonestar Ball interviewed Guzman earlier this month and caught it on video.
3. Victor Sanchez, RHP, Seattle Mariners: The hard-throwing Sanchez has had little trouble with professional hitters to date. He allowed just 69 hits and a 3.18 ERA in 85 Rookie ball innings in 2012. He currently features a 2.43 ERA with just six walks in 40 2/3 innings of work in A-ball. He missed about a month of the '13 season after being placed on the temporarily inactive list. Rick Randall of Lookout Landing took an in-depth look at some of the Mariners' lesser-known prospects in April — including Sanchez.
4. Roberto Osuna, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays: Signed out of the Mexican League for a bonus of $1.5 MM, Osuna has flashed a mature approach on the mound and has been quite reliable when healthy. Unfortunately, he was shut down for a short period of time earlier this year when a small tear was discovered in his throwing elbow. Rather than undergo Tommy John surgery, the organization chose to try rest and rehab — a similar approach that was taken with former Yankees prospect Arodys Vizcaino, which merely delayed the inevitable. Gregor Chisholm and Teddy Cahill of MLB.com took a look at Osuna shortly after he returned from his rehab.
5. Wuilmer Becerra, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: Becerra was given a $1.3 MM signing bonus. His North American debut in 2012 was cut short when he was hit in the face by an errant pitch and required surgery. He was then traded to the New York Mets during the offseason as part of the package for Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. In April, Mike Kerwick provided a piece for Baseball America (subscription required) that detailed the high hopes that the Mets front office has for the young prospect, who's back playing the Gulf Coast League in 2013.
6. Dawel Lugo, SS, Toronto Blue Jays: The third player signed by the Jays for more than $1MM, Lugo is repeating Rookie ball in 2013, although he's moved up to a more advanced league. He's off to a hot start with 11 hits in his first six games in the Appalachian League and is firmly in the conversation for the Jays' shortstop of the future.
10. Nomar Mazara, OF, Texas Rangers: Given the largest bonus among the projected top prospects in the 2011 class, Mazara received a whopping $5 MM bonus. He's now one of the youngest players in full-season A-ball after spending the 2012 season in Rookie ball. The outfielder has flashed some intriguing power at times but he's also experienced some growing pains with a .246 batting average and 75 strikeouts in 71 games.
12. Raul (Adalberto) Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals: The son of former big leaguer Raul Mondesi, the prospect formerly known as Adalberto originally signed for $2MM. He came stateside in 2012 and more than held his own as a 17 year old in Rookie ball by posting a .733 OPS and .290 batting average. It's been a little tougher for him in 2013 at the A-ball level. He's struck out 71 times in 66 games but is warming up with the weather and has a .292 batting average in June. Ashley Marshall of MiLB.com checked in with Mondesi after he hit for the cycle in late May.
14. Dorssys Paulino, SS, Cleveland Indians: Paulino wowed talent evaluators during his pro debut in 2012 and found himself on a number of top prospects lists. Signed for $1.1MM, the teenager hit .355 during his Rookie ball debut and even earned a late-season promotion to the more advanced New York Penn League. Promoted to A-ball in 2013, Paulino has struggled with a .594 OPS in 63 games. On the plus side, his numbers have improved a little bit with each passing month. Guy Cipriano of the Cleveland New-Herald penned a piece on Paulino and his efforts to adjust to life in North America and as a professional baseball player.
16. Manuel Margot, OF, Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox took a more cautious approach with Margot than a number of organizations did with other prospects on this list. He opened his pro career in the Dominican Summer League in 2012 before moving all the way up into the New York Penn League this summer. The teenager has teased talent evaluators with a four-tool approach and outstanding athletic ability. Alex Speier, writing for WEEI.com, looked at the Red Sox difficult decision on where to assign Margot for the 2013 season.