The first day of the 2015-16 International Free Agency period is almost in the books, and, as expected, the Chicago Cubs already appear to have blown their bonus pool to smithereens.
Yonathan Sierra Estiwal, 16-year-old OF from Dominican Republic – $2,500,000 (MLB.com only)
Right off the bat, the Cubs’ signings underscore the imprecise nature of scouting, ranking, signing, etc., teenage prospects. Estiwal was the 16th-ranked prospect to MLB.com, but didn’t even make the top 30 for FanGraphs or Baseball America. Yet he’s the priciest Dominican signing in the Cubs’ class, and gets the 4th highest bonus for a traditional IFA prospect that has thus far been reported. Even when other reports come in and Cuban players are accounted for, he’s likely in the top 10. Clearly, the Cubs really liked him.
Estiwal is already 6’3″ 205lbs with a strong lefty bat, and plus makeup according to MLB.com’s report.
Aramis Ademan, 16-year-old SS from Dominican Republic – $2,000,000
Ademan fell into the 10 to 20 range to most of the rankers (at 12, he’s the highest-ranked Cubs signee to BA), and that’s where his bonus will ultimately land, too. At 5’10” 150lbs, he could stand to get bigger – but, you know, he’s sixteen – and he’s described by observers as very smooth with the glove and a good bet to stick at shortstop. BA notes that Ademan, who bats lefty, has a line-drive swing.
Yonathan Perlaza, 16-year-old SS from Venezuela – $1,300,000
Perlaza is the highest-ranked reported signee for the Cubs so far at MLB.com, coming in at 13. Each of BA and FanGraphs had him a touch lower, but all agree that he’s one of the best prospects in Venezuela this year. At 5’8″ 175lbs, Perlaza sounds well-built. It appears that the switch-hitting bat is the carrying tool, though he may be able to stay in the middle infield.
Miguel Amaya, 16-year-old C from Panama – $1,250,000
In an age of increasing interest in a catcher’s non-bat value, it’s hard to read the reports on Amaya (for example, at MLB.com and BA) and not get very excited. The polish and upside as a defensive catcher sounds extremely promising, and it also sounds like there is consensus that he’s the best defensive catcher in the class. Catching skills usually come much later to prospects, but the small handful of guys who are raved about as teenagers tend to stay very, very good throughout their careers. Even if that means Amaya maxes out as a career back-up, that’s great value (um, you know, 10 years from now).
Christopher Martinez, 16-year-old 3B from Dominican Republic – $1,000,000 (MLB.com only)
Martinez slipped into the top 30 at FanGraphs and MLB.com, but not at BA. Multiple reports (example from BA) mention the possibility for a lot of power down the road, but questions about his swing-and-miss potential.
Yunior Perez, 16-year-old RHP from Dominican Republic – $600,000 (MLB.com only)
Not ranked among the top 30s, I don’t have a whole lot on Perez, save for this report from BA. He’s a projectable 6’3″ 16-year-old, which is about all you can really expect in these types of signings. That tends to be, by the way, why the biggest bonuses (and top rankings) go to the positional players – they’re slightly more predictable (but still wildly unpredictable). Kiley McDaniel was projecting Perez to get the sixth highest bonus this year among pitching prospects (and that includes the $16 million going to Yadier Alvarez), so don’t let the number fool you – Perez is a big prospect.
It’s just the nature of the beast makes it really hard to predict his future. Consider that each of BA, FanGraphs, and MLB.com had only two traditional IFA pitching prospects in their entire top 30. When you hear people poo-pooing the Cubs’ efforts this IFA season, take a step back and see how many of the top, say, 15 pitching prospects, specifically, that the Cubs signed. I bet we’re going to find that they grabbed a bunch of them, even if they came in at lower overall rankings and bonuses.
There are likely to be many more signings coming over the next few days/weeks/months, and this is just the first set of reported signings. Some players aren’t yet available, and others haven’t yet totally agreed to deals. I suspect the Cubs will continue to be very active, but even if they stopped here, the investment is already right up there with what they spent back in the first blowout in 2013-14. Those six players, alone, put the Cubs up at about $8.65 million in commitments. There are rumors connecting them to several more seven-figure types who could push that up over $10 million.
And then there’s still the top positional prospect out there, Cuban Eddy Julio Martinez, who is still deciding what he’s going to do.