When it comes to acquiring amateur talent, the MLB Draft gets the bulk of our attention. That’s probably fair, given the volume of prospects that the Draft generates, but good organizations have long availed themselves of the other primary avenue: the international free agent market.
Unlike in the U.S.-based Draft, international players – historically, this segment of player acquisition has focused on Latin and South American countries, as well as the Pacific Rim, more recently – are eligible to sign with professional baseball organizations at age 16. Signing periods occur on an annual basis, beginning July 2 each year, and you typically see a flurry of signing activity on and around that date.
Prior to the most recent CBA, teams were free to spend as much as they’d like internationally, and the smart organizations went wild. Now, teams are limited to spending pools dictated by their record the prior year. Fortunately for the Cubs, they were terrible in 2012, and now have the second largest pool to spend internationally (about $4.66 million).
And, according to Baseball America’s Ben Badler, the Cubs will be focusing the bulk of those dollars on two of the top international prospects: big outfielder Eloy Jimenez from the Dominican Republic, and shortstop Gleyber Torres from Venezuela. Each is considered by many to be the top prospect in this class in his own country, and the Cubs are heavily in on both. Indeed, Badler calls the Cubs the “heavy favorite” to land Jimenez, and the “frontrunner” on Torres.
Badler’s piece includes scouting reports on the players, as well as eight other top prospects in this year’s class. Jimenez is projected to get the biggest bonus in this class – as much as $2.6 to $2.8 million, which is an enormous amount in the new environment – which suggests to my untrained eye that he is, commensurately, the best prospect in the class. Torres’ figure projects to be around $1.6 million, which is more than the Cubs gave their top international prospect last year (Juan Carlos Paniagua, who received $1.5 million). The Cubs can fudge their pool sufficiently to spend closer to $5 million total in signings (you can go over by 5%, and you can exclude six signees who sign for $50,000 or less), but if they land Jimenez and Torres at these figures, they may have just $500,000 or so to work with for all of their other signings.
Keeping in mind that these youngsters are just 16, and are subject to a wildly high bust rate, it would be great to see another couple top prospects injected into the farm system, even if they come at a steep price.