Board Update: 2023 International Amateur Prospects

Michael Chow-Arizona Republic

The final installment of this week’s set of international player updates revolves around the amateur prospects who will begin to sign a month from now when the new international signing period begins on January 15. An overview of the rules that govern signing international amateurs can be found on MLB’s glossary here, while more thorough and detailed documentation can be found starting on page 287 of the CBA (forgive the 2017-21 version – the full text of the latest agreement isn’t publicly available yet), and page 38 of the Official Professional Baseball Rules Book. I pulled out portions of these documents for reference in the pieces published earlier this week and have done so again here, but I suggest readers familiarize themselves further. The international amateur arena is a procedural and ethical mess that has undergone wholesale structural changes several times during my time as a writer, most recently because of what the pandemic did to shift the timeline of each signing period.

Projected signing teams, scouting reports and tool grades on just over 30 players from the 2023 class can now be viewed over on The Board. Because the International Players tab has an apples and oranges mix of older pros from Asian leagues and soon-to-be first-year players, there is no explicit ranking on The Board, but I’ve stacked the class of anticipated 2023 signees in a table below with a ranking for reference should you need it. As has been the case with past classes, after these players sign, they will be pulled off the International Players section of The Board and warehoused in a ranking of their signing class for record-keeping purposes.

As always, the FV grade is a more important measure for readers to focus on than the ordinal rankings here. Because these players are so close in age to the younger prospects who participate in any given domestic draft, I like to use theoretical draft position as a barometer by which to grade the international amateurs. Scouting and comparing international players’ tools and athleticism to those of recent and upcoming domestic amateurs helps me to triangulate approximately where they’d go in a given draft, and assign them a FV based on that approximation. Players with a 40+ FV grade or above tend to be prospects who I think would go in the first two rounds of a draft, while the teenage 40 FV prospects are the sort I’d ballpark in the $700,000 to $1 million bonus range as draft prospects, basically the slot amounts just after the second round.

I’m starting from scratch every time I rank an international class, and I have to begin somewhere just to generate the list of available and relevant names. As I’ve honed a process for this over the years, my first step is to source rumored bonus amounts, often hopping on the phone with people who are involved with international players or scouting to see who they know will be receiving $1 million or more. This is also when I start to collect biographical data like dates of birth, height/weight, position, and handedness, all of which later finds its way on The Board. There isn’t an official source from which to draw that info early on. Once I have a fairly complete picture of the players set to garner meaningful bonuses, I start to make more scouting and evaluation-centric calls and inquiries to augment the initial, bonus-based list. Combine that with notes from in-person looks (there are sometimes workouts and showcases in Arizona or in close proximity to big MLB events like the Winter Meetings) and supplementary video analysis of my own, and the list is pretty much baked.

2023 International Amateur Prospects
Rank Name Position Age Proj Team FV Country
1 Ethan Salas C 16.5 SDP 45+ Venezuela
2 Brandon Mayea CF 17.3 NYY 45 Cuba
3 Felnin Celesten SS 17.3 SEA 45 Dominican Republic
4 Joendry Vargas 3B 17.1 LAD 45 Dominican Republic
5 Welbyn Francisca 2B 16.6 CLE 45 Dominican Republic
6 Luis Guanipa CF 17.0 ATL 45 Venezuela
7 Hendry Chivilli SS 17.3 MIN 45 Dominican Republic
8 Alfredo Duno C 16.9 CIN 40+ Venezuela
9 Jesus Starlyn Caba SS 17.0 PHI 40+ Venezuela
10 Brailer Guerrero RF 16.5 TBR 40+ Dominican Republic
11 Enmanuel Bonilla RF 16.9 TOR 40+ Dominican Republic
12 Luis Danys Morales SP 20.2 OAK 40+ Cuba
13 Derniche Valdez SS 16.7 CHC 40+ Dominican Republic
14 Camilo Diaz 3B 17.3 HOU 40+ Dominican Republic
15 Rainel Arias RF 16.6 SFG 40+ Dominican Republic
16 Sebastian Walcott 3B 16.8 TEX 40+ Bahamas
17 Kevin Ereu SS 16.6 MIL 40 Venezuela
18 Yoelin Cespedes 2B 17.3 BOS 40 Dominican Republic
19 Gian Zapata CF 17.3 ARI 40 Dominican Republic
20 Ariel Castro RF 16.8 MIN 40 Cuba
21 Junior Arias RF 16.2 TOR 40 Dominican Republic
22 Yerlin Luis LF 17.3 CLE 40 Dominican Republic
23 Andy Acevedo CF 17.1 WSN 40 Dominican Republic
24 Reiner Lopez SP 16.7 STL 40 Venezuela
25 Emil Valencia LF 17.2 HOU 40 Dominican Republic
26 Jun-seok Shim SP 18.6 PIT 40 South Korea
27 Daiverson Gutierrez C 17.3 NYM 40 Venezuela
28 Ludwig Espinoza SS 17.0 CHC 40 Venezuela
29 Jeremy Rodriguez SS 16.5 ARI 35+ Venezuela
30 Arnaldo Lantigua RF 17.0 LAD 35+ Dominican Republic
31 Tony Ruiz OF 17.0 BOS 35+ Dominican Republic
32 Robert Galaz DH 17.1 COL 35+ Dominican Republic
33 Janero Miller CF/SP 16.9 MIA 35+ Bahamas

Every player set to receive a bonus of $2 million or more is included in this ranking, with a smattering of players with high six-figure bonuses and up included as well, players who emerged as favorites of mine throughout the process. There are about a dozen players who are expected to receive $1 million or more who didn’t make the cut, either because I had insufficient scouting information to rank them or because I think they aren’t very good. Projected bonus amounts for this group will be published on signing day.

When a team and a player (or the player’s camp) come to a verbal agreement on a bonus (a practice that is commonplace throughout the industry despite its prohibition), other MLB teams are alerted to the agreement, usually by the player’s trainer informing them that they aren’t going to sign the player. Teams keep track of rival clubs’ bonus allocations both to gauge the market and to assess the total amount of money still available, as well as how much each team has promised to players. This is largely how I’m able to efficiently collect bonus information, but it also reveals an unsavory aspect of the current system that might eventually bring about an international draft.

We’ve now had a few years of the current hard-capped bonus pool system, and it’s become clear that some teams habitually over-commit pool space that they neither have on hand nor have the capacity to trade for. Those teams will then triage prospects later in the process and nix whichever verbal deals they see as the least favorable. Again, verbal agreements are sometimes made a couple of years in advance of a player actually being eligible to sign, a phenomena that tends to happen most often with top-of-the-market prospects. Because just a few months of physical development can be quite meaningful for such young athletes, prospects have a tendency to change a lot between when they make a handshake deal with a team and when they actually sign. Teams will sometimes renege on their agreements if they think the player has regressed, or if one of their other commitments has progressed enough that the team feels compelled to up their offer to prevent another club from swooping in with more money “late” in process, closer to signing day. Players have little to no recourse when this happens, though that might change depending on the outcome of a recently-filed lawsuit in the Dominican Republic. According to a source, testimony in that case was heard last week, and we may soon learn more about its outcome and subsequent fallout.

When the most recent CBA was ratified, the league and the MLBPA had until July 25 to agree to a draft, the first of which would have taken place in 2024 had they done so. Those negotiations failed, meaning that the future signing periods of the 2022-26 CBA will continue to operate on the current schedule and under the current rules. And while some of my sources think the league and the PA could come together on a draft format before the next CBA is ratified, there is doubt that it will happen soon enough for it to change the way the 2024 class signs.

Regardless of when it is implemented, most of my sources believe an international draft is likely eventually. If there is a draft, it could remedy some of the exploitative aspects of the current system, namely billion-dollar sports franchises (and the cottage industry of training facilities in Latin America) dealing with, and sometimes leveraging power over, impoverished minors. A draft likely won’t address all of the abuses of the current system, but it should curtail the practice of teams and 14-year-olds coming to multi-million-dollar agreements.

Still, there are complicated issues that surround a potential draft. As I mentioned in my KBO update from Tuesday, when talent acquisition rules change, they tend to do so in ways that are unfavorable to players and increasingly financially favorable to teams. That tendency applies here as well. In the event of a draft, international prospects would lose the agency to pick their employers, an ability they currently enjoy, while North American draft prospects do not. Since bonus pools have become hard-capped, top-of-the-market international players’ bonuses have fallen well below those of domestic draftees, and it’s unclear how that might shift with the implementation of an international draft. Indeed, the size and character of the bonus pool was one of the areas of disagreement during the negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA this past summer. Under the current system, players with verbal agreements often work out at their future team’s complex and have resources available to them there that they wouldn’t have at home in the time between when they come to a verbal agreement and when they actually sign. The financial ecosystem of Latin American scouts and trainers might also be impacted by a draft if MLB starts to seize control of the manner in which players are seen. It’s a complex situation without, so far as I can conceive, a nice, clean solution that perfectly addresses all of the issues surrounding the safety, well-being, and agency of these young amateur players, whose plight I consider the most important issue at stake.

Even though it seems likely there will eventually be a draft, in the immediate-term, teams are behaving as if there won’t be one to avoid being caught flat-footed in the event one doesn’t materialize, or that it takes a while for the infrastructure that would support a draft to be put in place. During the course of working on the 2023 class, I became aware of about a half-dozen players set to sign in 2025 and ’26 who already have verbal deals for north of $3 million. If a draft is put in place before then, it will likely impact how much money those players receive and which team they end up working for.

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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1 year ago

Fantastic write-up as always Eric, thank you! You’ve probably been battered with this question over the past couple months, but any chance the team lists will start rolling out next week? I know I’m not the only one champing at the bit for those sweet prospect lists! Thanks as always, keep up the great work!