9:31pm: Coppolella and the Braves allegedly agreed to a deal this summer with 14-year-old Haitian Dominican shortstop prospect Robert Puason, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. As Rosenthal points out, Puason isn’t eligible to sign until he’s 16, so the Braves are in violation if they did indeed reach an agreement with him. But the league is also investigating other teams for agreeing to sign underage prospects, per Rosenthal. One international scouting director informed him that up to 15 clubs have reached deals with players who, like Puason, aren’t allowed to sign until 2019. Keith Law of ESPN adds (on Twitter) that there are some prospects who can’t sign until 2020 but already have verbal agreements with teams. The current international setup has led to frustration from baseball officials, meaning there will be another attempt to institute a worldwide draft after the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2021, Rosenthal writes.
As for Maitan, Rosenthal relays that MLB hasn’t found any improprieties in his signing to this point, though that could change.
6:19pm: As part of its investigation into ousted Braves general manager John Coppolella’s alleged violations of its international rules, Major League Baseball is looking into the team’s 2016 signing of prospect Kevin Maitan, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports in a must-read piece. In what would be a stunning development, MLB could declare the 17-year-old Maitan a free agent if it finds improprieties in the signing, according to Passan.
The Coppolella-led Braves inked the Venezuelan-born Maitan to a $4.25MM bonus at the outset of last year’s international free agent period. Maitan was the top free agent in the 2016 class and drew comparisons to Braves legend Chipper Jones, Miguel Cabrera and Miguel Sano at the time of his signing. In the months before Maitan joined the Braves, he lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Florida for “a significant amount of time” with another teenage prospect who also signed with the team, Passan details. It’s unclear, though, whether the Braves funded the prospects’ stay in the U.S., Passan adds.
In 2017, his first season in the Atlanta organization, the switch-hitting Maitan played shortstop at the rookie level and slashed .241/.290/.340 with two home runs in 176 plate appearances. MLB.com ranks him as the No. 5 prospect in the Braves’ deep farm system and the 38th-best youngster in the game. Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs (No. 67) and Baseball America (No. 71) also regard Maitan as a top 75 prospect.
Coppollela may have skirted regulations when signing Maitan, but it seems he also disregarded MLB’s rules domestically. In August 2016, for instance, Coppolella allegedly contacted the representative for an impending free agent wanting to discuss the player well before the market opened in November, which would have violated tampering rules, per Passan. Additionally, Passan explains that Coppolella is alleged to have offered 2017 second-round pick Drew Waters a car in order to get him to sign a below-slot deal. The Braves signed the 18-year-old outfielder to a $1.5MM bonus that came in under the $1.675MM slot value of Waters’ pick, No. 41 overall, but his agent, Keith Grunewald, told sources Passan spoke with that Coppolella’s car offer was only made as a joke. Coppolella met with MLB officials in New York last week to discuss the accusations against him, Passan relays.
While it appears MLB could seriously punish the Braves for their actions under Coppollela, his career in the game may be over. Coppolella’s methods in Atlanta did not win him many fans among either his peers around the league or fellow members of the Braves’ front office, Passan writes. One high-ranking Braves official revealed to Passan that things became toxic with Coppolella around, saying last week that “this place is totally [expletive] up. I just hope when it blows up, it doesn’t take all of us down.”