As I tweeted yesterday, Bahamas-born and recently but shortly American-educated shortstop Lucius Fox was declared an international free agent by Major League Baseball. He won’t be eligible to sign until July 2nd when the 2015-16 signing period opens and the team bonus pools reset, but he would’ve waited until then to sign anyway, since most of the 2014-15 signing pool money had been spent.
Fox was always seen as likely to land as an international prospect since he was born in the Bahamas and moved back home, but it wasn’t a slam dunk because MLB is very aware of player moving out of the U.S. to potentially get more money by ducking the draft. Many elite domestic prospects have investigated this process and found the red tape to make it nearly impossible to work through.
As I wrote last week, the 2015 international signing markets, which opens on July 2nd, is already mostly shaken out at this point. I currently project 25 players to get $1.2 million or more and it appears that 22 of them have deals already. Of those three, the highest bonus should be about $1.5 to $1.7 million while the five top bonuses in the class range from $3.0 million to $4.4 million.
This is where Fox enters the equation. The best 15-year-old and 16-year-old prospects and those inclined to sign early deals are off the table, but as I outlined in part two of my July 2nd preview, there’s still a lot of money yet to be spent. The Dodgers and Cubs have already appeared to commit to go well past their bonus pool and the Rangers seem motivated to do the same. The Padres have been extremely aggressive in player acquisition, have an internationally-minded GM in A.J. Preller and have (as far as I know) no commitments and a roughly $2.7 million pool to spend.
On top of these market forces, Fox also benefits from being older (he turns 18 on July 2nd) and being scouted by domestic scouts when he was on the high school showcase circuit this summer. This also helped Cuban IF Yoan Moncada earlier this spring sign for $31.5 million with the Red Sox, as teams that don’t spend on July 2nd due to owner preference or risk aversion will consider an older prospect that’s faced higher level competition than the typical July 2nd prospect.
Fox is a plus-plus runner that’s added bulk since the video was taken early last summer. He projects to stick at shortstop, with feel to hit from both sides of the plate and gap power. He should have an open workout or multiple private workouts coming up as teams jockey to make final moves for July 2nd. A comparable player in the market, Dominican SS Derian Cruz, should get around $2 million but has less feel at the plate and is younger with less at-bats against high end pitching.
After talking to scouts the last few days, it has emerged that the Dodgers, Cubs and Rangers are the three biggest threats for Fox. The Dodgers have the most money to spend of any MLB team and have proven they will blow anyone out of the water when the want a player, while the Cubs have already committed to spend about $12.5 million this summer on bonuses and penalties (with a roughly $3.2 million bonus pool). The Rangers are arguably the most aggressive international spender in the last ten years and lately have been specifically looking for an athletic shortstop to add to their class, a type of player they’ve had success signing in the past.
All three have shown interest in Fox already and rumors have been going around in the early going with multiple teams connected to Fox and numbers starting in the mid-1’s and some going well over $2 million. The Padres, Reds and Giants have all also been mentioned in these rumors and appear to be securely in the mix, but likely with less appetite to spend than the three favorites. The Dodgers should be technically installed as favorites at this point given the new regime’s recent international history (offering Moncada $35 million, signing little-known RHP Pablo Fernandez for $8 million, signing 2B Hector Olivera for $62.5 million and three more rumored big July 2nd deals mentioned here), but it’s too early to know how this will play out over the next few months.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.