As you probably remember (because of the Shohei Ohtani pursuit), the Chicago Cubs are still in the International Free Agency penalty box until the next period opens up on July 2 of this year.
Indeed, over the last two seasons, the Cubs were restricted to signed IFAs for $300,000 or less (except for when they got *legally* crafty with the rules in Mexico), after breaking the bank in the year prior to the two-year penalty.
But if history is any indication, the Cubs figure once push as hard as they can in the international market once they’re freed from the bonus-limiting shackles in this upcoming period. (Reminder: thanks to the new CBA, the bonus pools are hard capped, with the only caveat being that teams can trade for additional pool space.)
To that end, the Cubs have already been connected to three of the MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 international prospects, including one guy who fell within the top five. When a team is connected to an IFA for these July 2 signing purposes … they tend to get him. So let’s take a closer look.
The #Cubs are considered the favorites to sign RHP Richard Gallardo, OF Jose Lopez and LHP Joel Machado, Nos. 5, 17 & 28 on the Top 30 International Prospects list: https://t.co/z7JWW9hCwV pic.twitter.com/KcyC9MlcpS
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 24, 2018
#5 Right-Hander Richard Gallardo
Gallardo might be the fifth best international prospect according to MLB Pipeline, but he’s the top pitching prospect on their most recent rankings. He’s still just 16 years old, but he’s currently 6’1″ 187 lbs, and evaluators believe he can one day be a top-of-the-rotation type. According to MLB Pipeline, his best pitch is his fastball, but he has the potential for an above-average curveball and changeup, too.
Obviously, at such a young age, it’ll be a LONG time before we would ever see Gallardo in Wrigley Field (if the Cubs wind up signing him), but this is how the process starts. And landing the top pitching prospect in the class? Yes please.
#17 Outfielder Jose Lopez
Lopez, 16, might not be the biggest guy on the field (5’10”, 167 lbs), but he’s a left-handed center fielder who’s already got a plus running tool (6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash) and projects to boast more power in the future. Also, given his age, there’s going to be some projection there that he’ll keep growing.
According to MLB Pipeline, one of Lopez’s biggest strengths is a free and easy swing that generates hard contact to all fields. From the sound of it, scouts can’t wait to get this guy in front of some Major League coaches, who can teach him how to get the most out of what he’s got. He seems like more of a project, to be sure, but with plenty of upside to dream on.
#28 Left-Hander Joel Machado
Also just 16 years old, Joel Machado ranks as the fifth best pitching prospect in this crop of IFAs, according to MLB Pipeline, though he’s the best left-handed pitching prospect on the board. Standing at 6’0″ 165 lbs, Machado is yet another non-giant, but he’s considered both highly athletic and projectable (both in frame and production). In fact, according to scouts, he’s recently grown a few inches and gained close to 20 pounds … which has helped his fastball tick up to the 89-90 MPH range (at 16, that’s very impressive).
Machado also features a changeup at 80-81 MPH and curveball in the 70 MPH range. Both project to be average-to-above-average, though his changeup is ahead in its development.
These three prospects, should they sign with the Cubs as expected, won’t transform the Cubs Minor League organization overnight, but that shouldn’t get you less excited – the Cubs are connected to some of the best prospects on the international market, and it’s been a while since we could say that.