Updating the International Player Rankings

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Prospect Week continues with an update to the International Players section of The Board. Some of it is housekeeping, while some of it is scouting-driven and news-oriented.

Let’s begin with the housekeeping. For those of you who don’t care about this sort of thing and want to skip ahead, I’ve indicated below where the housekeeping ends. As you can see in the dropdown menu on the International Players tab, there has been a nomenclature change when the lists transition from 2019 to 2021. There was essentially no 2020 signing class because the pandemic pushed what was supposed to be the July 2nd 2020 class to January of 2021. It doesn’t appear that the international signing period calendar will ever return to the pre-pandemic July-through-May structure; the current format is either here to stay, or at some point we’ll get an international draft. We had previously referred to a given year’s signing period as its “July 2 Signing Period” because it ran across two calendar years, until the following May. If a prospect signed in April of 2015, for instance, he signed during the “2014 July 2 Signing Period.” Now that the signing period is basically flush with the calendar year, going forward we’ll refer to it as “20XX International Signing Period” on the prospect lists and “20XX International” on The Board. Capsules for players who signed in 2019 or earlier will still say “July 2nd Signing period, 20XX” until the prospects from that era are no longer part of the prospect population.

The class of international amateurs who signed in January have been moved to their own section of The Board, away from the players on the default International tab who aren’t yet with an MLB franchise. We’re still in the 2023 signing period, so if a prospect from Cuba or an amateur from Asia emerges during the year, they’ll be added with a “2023” ETA. End of housekeeping.

Most of the players who currently occupy the default International Players list are foreign pros in Asia, though for this update, I’ve only added two players of this ilk: 21-year-old Taiwanese righty Jyun-Yue Tseng, the youngest player on Taiwan’s World Baseball Classic roster, and Korean sidearmer Woo-young Jung 정우영. Scouting reports and tool grades can be accessed on The Board. Readers will be able to watch many eye-catching foreign pros who stand a chance to eventually migrate to MLB during the upcoming WBC, which also features many prospects who are already in an MLB system. Here is a list of the prospects of note on The Board, both domestic minor leaguers and international pros, who are also on WBC rosters:

2023 World Baseball Classic Prospects
Name Position Age Country Club Team FV
Bo Naylor C 23.0 Canada CLE 50
Edouard Julien LF 23.8 Canada MIN 50
Owen Caissie LF 20.6 Canada CHC 45
Denzel Clarke CF 22.8 Canada OAK 40+
Mitch Bratt SP 19.6 Canada TEX 40+
Otto Lopez 2B 24.4 Canada TOR 40
Dayan Frias SS 20.7 Colombia CLE 40
Guillermo Zuniga SIRP 24.4 Colombia STL 35+
Liván Moinelo SIRP 27.2 Cuba Fukuoka Hawks 40+
Raidel Martinez SIRP 26.4 Cuba Nagoya Dragons 35+
Yariel Rodriguez SIRP 25.9 Cuba Chunichi Dragons 35+
Harry Ford C 20.0 Great Britain SEA 45+
Tahnaj Thomas SIRP 23.7 Great Britain PIT 35+
Graham Spraker SIRP 27.9 Great Britain TBR 35+
Lucius Fox SS 25.6 Great Britain WSN 35+
Zack Gelof 3B 23.3 Israel OAK 45
Matt Mervis 1B 24.8 Israel CHC 40+
Spencer Horwitz LF 25.3 Israel TOR 40
Jacob Steinmetz SP 19.6 Israel ARI 35+
Sal Frelick CF 22.8 Italy MIL 50
Brett Sullivan C 29.0 Italy SDP 40+
Dominic Fletcher RF 25.5 Italy ARI 40
Miles Mastrobuoni SS 27.3 Italy CHC 40
Vin Timpanelli SIRP 24.4 Italy CIN 35+
Munetaka Murakami DH 23.0 Japan Yakult Swallows 60
Yoshinobu Yamamoto SP 24.5 Japan Orix Buffaloes 55
Roki Sasaki SP 21.3 Japan Chiba Lotte Marines 50
Shugo Maki 2B 24.8 Japan Yokohama BayStars 40
Yuki Matsui SIRP 27.3 Japan Sendai Golden Eagles 40
Hiroto Takahashi SP 20.5 Japan Chunichi Dragons 40
Iván Herrera C 22.7 Panama STL 50
Jose Ramos RF 22.1 Panama LAD 40+
Dominic Hamel SP 24.0 Puerto Rico NYM 40
Anthony Maldonado SIRP 25.0 Puerto Rico MIA 35+
Jung-hoo Lee 이정후 RF 24.5 South Korea Kiwoom Heroes 50
Baek-ho Kang 강백호 1B 23.6 South Korea KT Wiz 40+
Woo-suk Go 고우석 SIRP 24.5 South Korea LG Twins 40
Eui Lee Lee 이의리 SP 20.7 South Korea Kia Tigers 35+
Woo-young Jung 정우영 SIRP 23.5 South Korea LG Twins 35+

This likely isn’t a comprehensive list, as there are probably a few older foreign pros who are talented enough to perhaps be posted or attempt to transition to MLB in the future, but my tendency has been to focus on younger players in this space and add the Kodai Sengas of the world to the list when they actually announce they’re coming over.

Readers should also be aware of 35-year-old Korean catcher Euiji Yang 양의지, one of the best Korean baseball players there has ever been. He’s not a prospect and probably won’t come to MLB, he’s just a historically good baseball player who you might not otherwise get a chance to watch play, let alone see tested on the WBC stage. Yang is a career .307/.389/.504 hitter in Korea. He came into power late in his career and has hit at least 20 homers in seven of the last eight seasons, and he’s walked more than he’s struck out each of the last five, all while catching.

I’ve updated the ETA timeline for Korean righty Woo-jin An 안우진 from 2025 to 2028. The 23-year-old An is the best pitcher in Korea. He worked nearly 200 innings of 2.11 ERA ball in 2022, sitting 92-97 mph and showing four average or better pitches. As a result of being disciplined for some sort of violent incident in high school, An cannot participate in Korean national team activities, and therefore has no pathway to become exempt from compulsory military service, which Korea requires of men before they turn 29.

As I did in December, I want to again draw your attention to 18-year-old Tokyo Giants prospect Julian Tima, who signed out of the Dominican Republic a few years ago. He still hasn’t played in an NPB big league game, so to speak; he is purely a toolsy sleeper who is carving a new path in professional baseball, since it’s relatively new and rare for Japanese teams to sign amateur talent out of Latin America and develop those players in their pipeline.

I’ve also started to add amateur prospects from the 2024 class to The Board, starting with a half dozen players who are at or near the top of that class. Most of the big-time prospects in the 2024 signing class, who were originally slated to sign just a couple months from now in July of 2023, already have deals done. As I’ve written about before, most recently late last year, teams are entering into verbal agreements with prospects several years before MLB’s rules allow them to actually sign. Even with talk of an international draft during the last couple of CBA negotiations, teams don’t want to be caught flat-footed in the event that there isn’t one, so they’ve continued the practice; there are already some verbal deals worth $3.5 million or more done for 2025 and 2026, with others rumored even beyond that.

An international draft is an answer for some of the unsavory aspects of the current format, but it also diminishes player agency. Some of the sticking points in the international draft discussions include the industry-wide bonus pool total, “hard slotting,” which deviates from the domestic amateur process, and bonus minimums, to avoid an international version of the Mets’ 2019 draft bonus distribution.

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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Cave Dameron
1 year ago

Thank you Eric, very cool!