The rules and limitations of international free agency (IFA) have changed a lot over the years, but two things have almost always been true: (1) most of the deals you’ll see right when an IFA period opens up on July 2 are typically determined with a hand-shake long before they’re actually permitted to be official, and (2) a lot of those hand-shake deals are accurately reported well in advance.
The folks over at Baseball America are especially good at sniffing out these deals ahead of time and they’ve identified two top players expected to sign with the Cubs when the 2020-21 period opens up this summer.
The first, Cristian Hernandez, is a 16-year shortstop out of the Dominican Republic. According to BA, the 6’1″ 165lb free agent has “big power, a fast bat and advanced swing mechanics from the right side.” With plus speed and a projected ability to stick at shortstop for the long term, Hernandez is considered by some to be the top overall prospect in this class (though there will be lots of re-rankings in the coming months, as these guys are very young).
I don’t know about you, but that all sounds pretty great to me:
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Who’s going to be the No. 1 international prospect 🥇 in 2020? There’s so much that can happen over the next year and a half, but one of the top 2020 players in Latin America right now is Cristian Hernandez, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic 🇩🇴 with an excellent swing/power combination. Hernandez stood out here in Las Vegas as the best player at the winter meetings showcase this week. And he turns 15 years old today… happy birthday 🎂🎂🎂🎉🎉🎉🎊🎊🎊
He was 15 in that video. 15. Unbelievable.
Obviously, signing him roughly six months before his 17th birthday necessarily means a long marinating time in the minors, but that’s a price any team will be willing to pay. After all, the Cubs waited a long time on Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, Willson Contreras, etc.
Hernandez’s connection to the Cubs isn’t particularly new information – that expected signing was initially reported back in August – but I decided to write it up today because BA dropped news of another deal yesterday.
When the next IFA period opens up, the Chicago Cubs are also expected to sign catcher Moises Ballesteros out of Venezuela (via Baseball America): “Ballasteros has a stout, squatty build that’s strong for his age, producing hard contact from the left side of the plate to go with a strong arm on the defensive side.”
Clearly, the Cubs love targeting catchers out of international free agency.
- Willson Contreras (signed in 2009)
- Miguel Amaya (2015)
- Ronnier Quintero (2019)
- Brayan Altuve (2019)
- Ballasteros (expected 2020)
Quintero, signed just last season, was the top catcher of the last class and received a hefty $3M signing bonus. Bryan ranked him as the Cubs 13th best prospect in the recent Bleacher Nation Top Prospect re-ranking, and he’s clearly got big expectations laid out ahead of him. Altuve, meanwhile, received an impressive $1M signing bonus, which means the Cubs spent $4M of their ~$6M hard IFA cap last year on catchers and are still targeting one of the best catchers of this class.
Ballasteros is still only 15 years old, so he too will take a LOT of seasoning (that kinda goes double for catchers), but it’s nice to see the Cubs amass as much talent as possible.
It’s not yet clear what it’ll take to sign both of these players, but as Bryan has recently pointed out, they are expected to require a majority of the team’s bonus pool, with Hernandez, alone, taking up a huge chunk (as Quintero did last year).