In some ways, I feel the first day of baseball’s international signing period to be the strangest on the baseball calendar. It’s a day we celebrate the signings of the longest of long shots: 16-year-olds from all around the world, who offer us little more than the tiniest of video clips to analyze from. They’ve also agreed to deals, quietly and not-so-secretly, long before signing day; January 15 is merely the celebratory day of putting pen to paper.
But it’s something, and if you’re a diehard baseball fan right now, you deserve something. Let’s dream and imagine and talk about how the Cubs can turn their rumored signees, and their $5,179,700 bonus pool allotment, into an improved farm system down the road.
The best sources for this day are always Ben Badler at Baseball America and Jesse Sanchez at MLB.com, and I love the organization of the FanGraphs Board for days like this as well. While last year the Cubs went the route of one big-name signee in Cristian Hernandez, this season the dollar commitments look more spread out. Neither BA or MLB has the Cubs’ top signee as one of the 15 best available prospects; BA has them signing three of the top 50, at MLB it’s just two.
And while the Cubs class of international free agents will surely eventually include more than a dozen players, we only know three connections right now. More will undoubtedly be revealed on Saturday.
My favorite of the three players is Adan Sanchez, a catcher from Panama, which means he follows in the footsteps of Miguel Amaya into the Cubs farm system. Sanchez was a standout at the 2018 Little League World Series, an early bloomer that has done a fantastic job in the weight room during the strange last two seasons. So many players at this stage in their career are pure projection plays, while Sanchez is closer than most to achieving his eventual power projection.
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Rather than the weight room, I think the most important developmental first steps for Sanchez will be on the defensive end, as the Cubs will need to decide what level of investment they want to put into developing Sanchez as a catcher. For example, I worry a bit if (former IFA bonus baby) Ronnier Quintero’s offensive development was stunted by an over-emphasis on putting in the defensive work. With Sanchez, if the bat is ready to move up the ladder, I wouldn’t worry if it means pushing him to third base (and even ultimately first).
The headline name of the class is going to be Alexis Hernandez, because he is the younger brother of last year’s aforementioned gem, Cristian. While the comparison game is inevitable between the two, both listed at shortstop with the same height, I wouldn’t think of them as similar. To me, Alexis’ shoulders offer a little more potential for strength, but he shows (far) less athletic fluidity.
When I watch the video, the infield actions to me seem like a future outfielder. And then it becomes a question of where he ultimately settles in on the muscle versus speed scale as far as finding a future position (for example, Brennen Davis put on enough muscle to become a big-time power prospect, but lost some speed in the process). Guessing where Alexis’ future power could go is a fool’s errand right now, as the hand path will also need to have better efficiency, but the ceiling is there.
The final prospect rumored to the Cubs, and one who appears only on the BA Big Board, is Dominican shortstop Jefferson Rojas. The 16-year-old is a more traditional middle infield prospect than Hernandez, with a smaller build that will keep him up playing the middle infield. The physical projection similarly limits the offensive ceiling, so the question in five years will be if he’s hitting with enough force to project a big leaguer.
I think the Cubs are smart to always use international free agency to fill up on up-the-middle players, but don’t worry, the class will have outfielders and pitchers as well. We’ll learn their names in the days and weeks to come, and we’ll begin to analyze them as prospects when they arrive stateside in 1-3 years.