Archive for International

What Do You Get for Your International Bonuses?

With the likely winner of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes becoming a bit more clear, 23 teams now find themselves in an interesting situation. Before Ohtani had narrowed his list, many of those clubs had hoarded their international bonus money for the big moment. Following the announcement of Ohtani’s seven finalists, however, they were left with the capacity to offer free-agent bonuses, but few actual players in whom to invest that money.

Fortunately for them, a fresh set of prospects emerged thanks to the Braves’ indiscretions on the international market. Some teams — including the Angels, Phillies, and Royals — pounced quickly, using funds from the 2018-2019 pool to sign some of the top ex-Braves. Other teams will assuredly put their remaining bonuses to use in this way, taking a chance that these players will thrive in a new system.

There is, of course, one other way in which teams can put their bonus dollars to work, and it’s one that seems to have increased in popularity during this year — namely, by trading the bonus money. The rules for this have changed a few times. Under the terms of the most recent CBA, however, a team can trade away its entire international bonus pool or acquire additional funds up to 75% of their initial pool through trades.

Some teams have taken advantage of this rule to trade substantial portions of their bonus pools, to varying levels of public approval. The last few days, specifically, have seen the remaining teams in the Ohtani sweepstakes make trades to augment their pools.

Is this a smart strategy? Before we disparage or praise teams for using their bonus pools in this fashion, it’s worthwhile to look at what teams are getting with this particular kind of asset.

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Will Otani Change the Game?

TAMPA, Fla. — Even if Shohei Otani is not the next Babe Ruth, even if baseball has to settle for welcoming the next Madison Bumgarner some time in the not-too-distant future, some team will be quite happy.

You’re probably familiar with Otani. In case you’re unfamiliar with the Japanese star, however, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the resume.

As a 21-year-old last season, he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA over 20 starts in the NPB. He struck out 174 and walked 45 in 140 innings. Oh, he also OPS’d 1.004 with 22 home runs over 323 at-bats in 104 games. He was named the league’s best pitcher and best DH.

The following exhibits from 2016 are visual evidence of this player’s existence.

Let’s start with the fastball that sits in the mid- to upper 90s and that has touched 102 mph…

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Nelson Cruz Wasn’t Out by a Mile

The Dominican Republic hadn’t lost a game in the World Baseball Classic since 2009. They’ve been a juggernaut, an unstoppable force barreling through immovable objects. That ended last night when Puerto Rico beat them 3-1 in a game that was much wilder than its score would indicate. One of the more dazzling plays was Javier Baez putting a no-look tag on Nelson Cruz on an ill-advised steal attempt.

When we say ill-advised, we really mean it. For one, Yadier Molina was behind the plate, and Yadi has been of the best in the business at throwing out baserunners. Cruz can only really be called a baserunner because of the fact that he does, in fact, technically run between the bases, even if “lumbering” may be a better verb for this scenario. Cruz is a large, 36-year-old adult human being. He hasn’t recorded a positive baserunning figure since 2010. Whatever speed he once possessed (24 steals in Triple-A in 2008!) is almost entirely gone.

There’s also the factor of Baez, who has revealed to the surprise of many that tagging is a real skill. So, yeah, we’re not sure why Cruz was running here, especially with two outs and an 0-0 count on Adrian Beltre. But run he did, and well, this happened.

Baez didn’t even look at Cruz. He was pointing to Molina and grinning like a kid on Christmas before he even caught the ball. You silly, silly man, he’s probably thinking to himself. Thanks for the free out. Cruz is out by a mile, and Peurto Rico gallops off to the dugout. Goddamn, Javy Baez. Goddamn, Yadi. Jeez, Nelson Cruz.

But hold on a second, here. Slow-motion video affords us the chance to take a closer look at plays like this. It also affords us the chance to make complete and utter fools of ourselves, as I may be about to do here. But I’ve been writing here long enough for all of you to get used to that by now, so hang with me here for a second. Let’s roll the film again.

Molina’s throw beats Cruz to Baez. The ball is in Javy’s glove right as Cruz is starting to slide. Nine times out of ten that’s game over, man. But was it? It initially looked like Baez got the tag down on Cruz’s knee, and Cruz was dead on arrival at second base.

This isn’t an episode of CSI, so I can’t tell the lab tech to enhance the video and clean up the pixels. I can, however, tell you that the umpire was on the shortstop side of second base, and that his view of Baez’s glove was obstructed by Cruz’s legs and tookus. And here’s a warning, because this is about to turn into a bad knock-off episode of CSI.

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Why Team Israel Isn’t a Surprise

If nothing else, Team Israel looked like a nice little story for the World Baseball Classic. It was their first time qualifying for the event, but they lacked the name recognition on their roster to be considered a serious threat. Being thrown into a pool with Chinese Taipei, the Netherlands, and South Korea — teams that feature players from high-level professional leagues — felt nearly insurmountable. But here we are, with Israel already having qualified for the next round following wins over Korea and Taipei. Their showdown tonight with the Dutch team’s loaded infield may be something of a reality check. Nevertheless, Team Israel’s success shouldn’t be a surprise. They’re legit.

There isn’t a prototypical star on Israel’s roster. They weren’t able to bring in a top-tier Jewish talent like Ryan Braun. But what Team Israel does boast is the benefit of having more than a few big-league players in the lineup — and some of the best players in the minors, as well. Ike Davis isn’t hitting 30 homers in the big leagues anymore, but he’s still better than most of the professional players in the world. Cody Decker, Nate Freiman, Sam Fuld, Ty Kelly, Ryan Lavarnway, Jason Marquis, and Josh Zeid are better than most of the professional players in the world. They’ve reached higher highs than most of their competition.

It’s important to remember this one, all-important thing: baseball is hard. Being good enough to play in the leagues in Korea and Taipei is really hard. Being good enough to get even a single plate appearance in Major League Baseball is probably even harder. The teams from Korea and Taipei are largely All-Star teams, the best of the best of highly competitive leagues. But they’re not fully stocked, either.

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The New Brazilian Flamethrower

This is Kate Preusser’s first piece as part of her month-long residency.

In Molloy, Samuel Beckett tells us: “There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature, and freaks are common.”

Thyago Vieira is a freak. I mean this in the nicest, but also the meanest, way. The Mariners prospect and Brazilian native has been turning heads across the league after blazing through the California League and the AFL this past year, victimizing hitters with his triple-digit fastball and newfound slider and just generally looking like a Brazilian golem looming atop the mound with his cold stare and imposing stature. And that’s before he throws 104 at you. Vieira is officially listed at 6-foot-2, but his height is often given offhand by manager Scott Servais or GM Jerry Dipoto as 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4. The average Brazilian male, meanwhile, is 5-foot-7. There is a little of everything in nature but, as the fifth-most populous nation in the world, a lot of everything in Brazil.

Perhaps part of the height inflation is Vieira’s frame. He’s listed at 220 pounds but looks bigger than that in person, with a Bunyan-esque lower half fueled by daily workouts and a newfound love of American food like the Cheesecake Factory. Having grown up with a single mother who often gave up her own meals so Thyago and his brother could eat, his love of Instagramming his food with heart and praise hands and cake emojis comes into clearer focus.

I first became interested in Vieira last year, when he moved into a closer role with the Bakersfield Blaze, the Mariners’ Low-A team. His picture showed a kid with a big, easy smile and thick black-framed glasses, a la Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn. Unfortunately, his command had also emulated Charlie Sheen’s character, leading Vieira to have been stuck in the Mariners’ system since he was drafted in 2011, never making it past A-ball. Brazilian prospects, maybe more so than any other group, are raw, lacking the kind of resources teams pour into talent powerhouses like Venezuela or the Dominican Republic.

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So Much Talent in the WBC

The World Baseball Classic is scheduled to begin early next month. This will represent the fourth such tournament, Japan having won the first two, followed by a victory by the Dominican Republic the last time around. While the United States has yet to win, they bring more talent than the rest of the countries represented.

The 16 participating countries officially named their rosters last week, accounting for a total of 226 position players and 321 pitchers from 16 countries. Not all the players will necessarily play, of course. With a view to limiting workload, teams have been permitted to name pitchers who might appear in later rounds of the tournament, even if they’re absent from the first — the idea being to protect players who haven’t benefited from spring training before the start of their respective professional league. There are four Asian countries participating in the tournament, for example — China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — and a number of their players play at a fairly high professional level. Other teams like Australia, Israel, and Italy feature fewer MLB-type players on their rosters, naturally. Even so, there’s still a great deal of talent in the tournament — something which we can identify in the projections.

Of the 226 position players in the tournament, a Steamer projection is available for 133. Of those 133 players, 86 earn a forecast for replacement-level production or better in 2017. Nor does that account for the talent in the various Asian leagues. In other words: despite the presence of countries in which baseball is less popular, it’s still probably fair to estimate that close to half of the position players participating in the WBC will be of MLB caliber. In terms of the talent level for which we have available projections, the U.S. has a decent advantage.

The U.S. has a 50% advantage over the second-place Dominican Republic, with Venezuela and Puerto Rico placing not too far behind. The Netherlands — thanks to a combination of Xander Bogaerts, Didi Gregorius, Jonathan Schoop, and Andrelton Simmons — also figure to bring up a decent amount of MLB value. When we account for the number of players, and factor in the likelihood that starters will receive the bulk of the playing time, the gap between the Dominican Republic and the U.S. shrinks.

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July 2 Scouting Reports, Prospects 1-10

Yesterday, I published the scouting reports for the 11th- to 25th-best prospects available in the upcoming 2016-2017 International Free Agent Signing Period. Below are my reports for prospects 1 through 10. The full board, with tool grades, future value grades, velo ranges and more is here while my primer on the process is here.

1. Kevin Maitan, SS/3B, Venezuela (Video 1, 2, 3, 4)

Where to begin? How about at age 12? That’s when scouts started to identify Maitan as this class’s top overall player. By age 14, Maitan already had everything scouts are looking for in a baseball prospect. A picturesque build, good defensive actions at shortstop with plenty of arm for the position and not just usable but potentially impactful swings from both sides of the plate — as well as power projection to accompany it. The Braves have been all over Maitan for a few years and are expected to sign him for about $4 million.

I have a 55 FV on Maitan, the same future-value grade as Kiley McDaniel placed on Yadier Alvarez last year. But Alvarez was three years older than Maitan is now and risk/proximity to the majors factors in to future value. There’s a chance that Maitan develops a plus hit tool and plus raw power from both sides of the plate. His left-handed swing is of the traditional, low-ball variety and has a beautiful high finish. The bat is quick into the zone and long through it, producing gap-to-gap contact right now that should move toward and over outfield fences as Maitan matures.

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How Many GMs See Their Amateur Free Agents to the Bigs?

Last week at Grantland, two friends of the show in Jonah Keri and Nick Piecoro had a wonderful discussion about all things Arizona Diamondbacks, including the Touki Toussaint trade that caused many a skeptical eyebrow to be raised in the Diamondbacks’ direction. While Keri and Piecoro by no means endorsed the Diamondbacks’ recent moves, they brought up an interesting perspective on Arizona’s willingness to spend big on Cuban players Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Lopez — and thus easily eclipsing their allotted international bonuses — without spending much on international free agents from other countries. The idea: there’s a relatively slim chance that Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart — or any other general manager for any other team — would still be working in their current position when today’s 16-year-old reaches the majors. While the fan no doubt cringes at the thought of a general manager romping around the front office with nary a concern for the franchise’s sustained success, one can definitely empathize with the human instinct for self-preservation.

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The July 2 Sortable Board

Kiley initially rolled this feature out a few weeks ago, but with signing day’s arrival, we wanted to make this more prominent on the site today, so we’re re-running the initial post. The board has since been updated many times and is current with the latest information.

The July 2 Board is both sortable and able to be sorted.

Today we’re unveiling the sortable board for the July 2nd international signing period. This works mostly like the sortable draft board (which is also still accessible by means of a tab at the top of the page) with some different columns, for obvious reasons. The top-41 players are ranked based on my preference from seeing these players and talking to scouts about them, not in order of industry consensus or projected bonus, though you can sort by bonus if that’s what you’re looking for. The other players listed are not ranked, just sorted based on expected bonus, so long as I think they’ll get $300,000 (the most that the teams in the penalty can offer) or more. You can also check the international article archives for more info on many of the players listed here.

The projected bonus represents what I think the player will get, not what I think they’re worth, and the projected team is listed if I’m over 50% sure that will be where the player lands (with many of the projected teams having been certain for months or even a year). Many of the higher-profile players without a team listed are still working out for teams in the last month and are far from signing. I’ll add tool grades and reports for more players next week, but these 69 players should quench your thirst for July 2 knowledge, though I’m sure a couple guys omitted from the board will get bigger bonuses than expected.

These are the top players that are currently subject to the international bonus pools, which reset next Thursday on July 2, so older Cuban free agents (there aren’t any notable ones eligible to sign at this time) won’t appear here. Five other notable Cuban players absent here are one status email from MLB away from being added to the list. RHP Vladimir Gutierrez, CF Yusnier Diaz and RHP Norge Ruiz are the best of that group and all project to get multiple millions in a signing bonus, but are all expected to fall under $10 million, at least right now. CF Randy Arozarena and SS Alfredo Rodriguez are also in this group and are more six figure to low seven figure type prospects.

Team-Focused Update

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Signing July 2nd Players Has Gotten Even More Complicated

The 2015 international signing class is seen as above average, both at the top end and in depth. Check out the sortable board, introduction to the board and international article archives for more details. Even with multiple teams blowing past their pools, there appear to be more seven figure talents than they are seven-figure bonuses to hand out, which makes for an interesting game of musical chairs among the international prospects.

Early Deals Muddy the Waters

Some seven-figure-caliber players like Venezuelans RHP Alvaro Seijas and CF Miguel Aparicio allegedly turned down low seven-figure offers early in the process but then held out too long, looking for even more money, and were forced to settle for a six-figure bonus.  In talking to international scouting directors in the past weeks, there seems to be a consensus that the best strategy this year for a team staying under its bonus pool was to wait until late and scoop up multiple middle-tier prospects at lower prices than to lock up one middle-tier player early in the process for seven figures, even if this means the market dictates which players you’ll end up signing.

I’ve written about this a few times but MLB’s effort to control international bonuses has caused a number of unintended consequences. By putting in bonus pools that the majority of teams treat like hard caps, you put a limit on what a team can spend and the main way they can get better than average value is to lock players up earlier and earlier, often over a year before a player can even sign the contract, commonly when he’s 14 years old. That’s now been happening for years and the culture of July 2nd is that of early deals. Now that it’s the norm, the majority of the big bonuses are handed out before the spring rolls around, so if a prospect improves late in the process or held out for a bigger bonus, all your suitors could be out of money when it’s the optimum time for you to strike your deal.

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