International Prospect Update and Signing Period Preview

The International Players tab on The Board has once again enjoyed a sweeping update, the second such update since the pandemic shifted the international signing calendar back about six months. Rankings and reports for the current class of amateur players set to sign in January 2022 (though that date could be delayed due to the lockout) have been expanded on The Board with help from Kevin Goldstein, while updates and additions to the notable pro players in other markets have been completed with help from Tess Taruskin and Brendan Gawlowski.

CBA/COVID Complications

There are a few factors that could potentially complicate the upcoming signing period. Remember that fallout from the pandemic has already pushed this signing period back six months. When most of the international amateur players on The Board agreed to their deals with teams, they assumed that they’d have put pen to paper by now and perhaps have spent the fall in Florida or Arizona for instructional league. Instead, they haven’t yet signed, and now a lockout may further delay or complicate their coronation.

Having spoken with a number of people in international scouting and the broader baseball industry while sourcing for this list, the general sense remains that the January signing day will take place as planned. Those transactions don’t come anywhere near the big league roster, this signing period has already been delayed once, and the status quo creates some form of industry activity during what is likely to be an otherwise totally dead period. There are some who think there’s a real chance that the signing period will be delayed, though, and that if it is, it’s a sign that immediate changes — changes MLB would be buying time to implement — are coming, perhaps including a draft.

An eventual international draft is a virtual certainty, and these CBA negotiations are likely to yield the framework for it, but the timeline for its actual implementation is foggy. Implementing it right away, for players in a class that still calls itself “2021,” seems absurd. It has literally been a couple of years since many of these players agreed to deals, and once they do, teams tend to stop scouting them with real intent. A short-notice draft would be an absolute mess from a scouting standpoint, unless MLB went to great lengths to have some sort of combine (players set to sign in January have to be registered with MLB, so they already have the names), and would also be extremely disruptive to the players, who assume their deals are done. But the chaos created by the moratorium put on trading pool space during the last signing period is evidence that avoiding chaos may not be a sufficient motivator for MLB if it costs something.

Speaking of trading pool space, I’m not sure whether or not teams will once again be able to for the upcoming period. Language in the reporting of the last period’s moratorium seems to isolate the ban to that year, but I haven’t yet asked around. As with last signing period, it’s likely teams had planned on trading for space to satisfy all their commitments.

Need a rules refresher with regards to signing international amateurs? Here’s a link to MLB’s glossary on signing eligibility. You’ll notice links to info on other forms of international player acquisition, like posting systems and true free agency, in the right margin of that webpage.

The Players and Reports

I want to refresh readers on how I think about present tool grades, as I think it’s especially important with regard to the international amateurs. I think the premise for present tool grades — i.e. how I/scouts think a player’s tool(s) would perform if he were dropped in the big leagues right now — is pretty ridiculous when we’re talking about players very far away from the majors. There’s no way of knowing what a 17-year-old Cuban player, or a 19-year-old junior college player from Illinois, or a 21-year-old in the Atlantic Sun Conference would do if they parachuted onto a big league roster, and as none of them are ever going to be put in that situation anyway, I think it’s a pointless exercise to guess. I also think the bottom of the scouting scale tends to be under-utilized, especially in the public space. So in an effort to remedy both issues, I’ve adjusted our methodology surrounding present hit and game power tool grades, and am now extending that approach to defense as well.

It’s pretty simple. Teenagers with an advanced hit tool, where their skill for contact is a notable, load-bearing element of their profile, get a present 25 hit tool grade. Everyone else, whether they’re unremarkable or actively bad, gets a 20. The same is true for college-aged players, who are typically 20-22 years old (a huge segment of the prospect population), except their grades will be 30-35. Players are given a present hit tool grade in the traditional sense once they reach Double-A.

That’s it. This creates meaningful separation between amateur and low-minors players without being disingenuous about precision. Once they’re in the upper minors, they’ve reached a point in their career when their present hit tool could actually matter soon, and we’ve had a performance sample big enough to supplement the evaluation and make it more accurate. So again, 20 (neutral, or bad) or 25 (advanced) for teenagers, 30 or 35 for college-aged players, and anyone at or above Double-A gets a present hit tool (or game power) grade in the traditional sense.

For defense, present grades for amateur/low-minors players, regardless of age, will be 40 (which means the player projects to play a premium position), 30 (they project toward the middle of the defensive spectrum), or 20 (they’re in the 1B/DH area or are at risk of sliding there). I’ll again augment these with the half grades where the extra 5 means the player is special in this area, and players will have traditional present defense grades once they hit the upper minors.

This is what readers should focus on when considering the international amateur prospects, as well as the “Physical Attributes” tab. The standardized present tool grades indicate what the player is good at right now relative to his peers, while the Physical Attributes tab shows you whether we think the player has the traits that indicate development of these skills, namely general athleticism and body projection. The foreign pros are all treated like upper-minors prospects and have true present tool grades.

More Foreign Pro Details

There’s so much talent in the Asian professional leagues, especially in Japan, that it’s impossible to include every viable player on a list like this. Inclusions typically come from one of three groups. First are the potential stars and impact players, typically the kind you’ll find in the 40+ FV tier or above on the list. I’ve once again included notes on a few amateur players from future classes who fit this description. The next group is made up of the players picked atop the foreign draft classes, with the aim to follow and update their reports as they develop, while using our domestic amateur player population as a barometer for their FV. The final group is made up of role players of immediate importance, players who we know are being posted or whose move to MLB seems imminent.





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 ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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jwise224
8 months ago

Hi Eric, thanks for sharing your forward thinking with us (again)! Can I attempt to clarify something? Would a 19-year old in High-A receive a generic hit tool grade (20/25) based on their age and level no matter their performance as an amateur, complex-level player, A-ball player, and High-A player? I’m reading that they wouldn’t get a truly assessed grade until they’re in AA. If so, I understand the rationale and just wanted to see if I’m reading this properly. Thanks for all you do!