What Can We Expect from July 2nd International Prospects?
For prospect hounds, yesterday was one of the best days of the year. The start of the new international signing period always contains a flurry of activity on its opening day, and July 2nd, 2014 was no different.
But what can we expect from these prospects? Are these players likely to become elite players or are they simply too difficult to predict?
These prospects are loaded with tools and promise but are significantly less developed and younger than almost all draft eligible prospects. Many of these kids are just 16 years old, and even if everything goes right in their development, they are still likely five to seven years away from being ready for the Major Leagues.
The current system has been in place for three years, so let’s take a look back at the inaugural class of the new system and evaluate the fruits of the scouts labor in the international market. Many of the players in the international class of 2012 are still very far away, but now that they all have professional baseball experience we are able to judge them on their current prospect pedigree.
By evaluating the inaugural class, we can get an idea of what to expect this class to look like two years down the road. The names are different and it is conceivable that one class will be significantly better or worse than another, but as a whole, this should give us a pretty good idea of what to expect from the upcoming class.
The 2012 International Class
The chart below shows the top 30 international prospects in the 2012 July 2nd class in order of signing bonus (bonus information courtesy of Baseball America). As the Rangers have demonstrated in previous years with the signings of Nomar Mazara and Ronald Guzman, extreme money doesn't always correlate to the best prospects, but this ordering still gives us a pretty good idea of how these players were viewed at the time.
In the chart, “Rank” refers to a player’s rank on his teams’ preseason MLB.com top-20 prospect list, if applicable. Prospects with an “N/A” are not present on this list. “OFP” stands for "Overall Future Potential" (which factors in all tools) and the grade is on the MLB scouting scale (20 to 80, 50 is MLB average). OFP information for players not on the Top-20 prospect lists was not available and is listed as “N/A.” In the "Level" column, “SS” stands for Short-Season A ball.
|1||Jairo Beras||OF||Rangers||9||50||Low A||4.5|
|2||Tzu-Wei Lin||SS||Red Sox||N/A||N/A||Low A||2.05|
|5||Juan Carlos Paniagua||RHP||Cubs||N/A||N/A||Low A||1.5|
|6||Franklin Barreto||SS||Blue Jays||7||50||SS||1.45|
|9||Luis Torrens||C||Yankees||16||45||Low A||1.3|
|14||Alex Reyes||RHP||Cardinals||5||50||Low A||0.95|
|T16||Simon Mercedes||RHP||Red Sox||20||50||Rookie||0.8|
|19||Richard Urena||SS||Blue Jays||N/A||N/A||Rookie||0.725|
|T20||Julio de la Cruz||3B||Pirates||N/A||N/A||Rookie||0.7|
|T20||Michael de la Cruz||OF||Pirates||N/A||N/A||Rookie||0.7|
|T20||Frandy de la Rosa||SS||Cubs||N/A||N/A||Rookie||0.7|
|26||Jose Almonte||RHP||Red Sox||N/A||N/A||Rookie||0.61|
|T29||Wendell Rijo||SS||Red Sox||14||45||Low A||0.575|
The first thing to jump out is the sheer number of N/A’s on this list, 19 in total. That means that despite every player on this list receiving a hefty bonus figure between $575k and $4.5 million (the monetary equivalent to a slot value between the middle of the third round and the fourth overall pick in the amateur draft), only 11 players qualify for their respective top-20 lists a full two years after signing.
Furthermore, 20 of these 30 players are still in rookie ball a full two years after signing and no player has even reached High A. Considering the ages of these players when signing, this should not be a huge surprise, but it reinforces the point that these players are ages away from contributing to a Major League club.
Even as this class turns 18, their prospect pedigree is much lower than the high school draft prospects typically the same age. There are exceptions, but high school prospects routinely are graded as having an OFP as higher than 50 at age 18, yet none of the top-30 international prospects in this class have broken that threshold thus far.
As a comparison, this year's crop of high school talent in the amateur draft is roughly the same age as the international talent in the 2012 class, but the draft guys are significantly more polished and have significantly higher grades than any of the international players at the same age. Top two picks Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek both grade out as a 65 and the grades of high school prospects do not begin to fall to the 50's and 45's that the international prospects earned until the very end of the first round and stay at that level through the duration of the top-200.
This means that as of now, these players are roughly the equivalent of a late first round pick to a mid-fifth round pick, if the team is lucky.
The key to this comparison, however, is that every single high school draft prospect in the MLB.com Top-200 this season grades out as at least a 45 and will almost surely land on their organization's Top-20 list, while only 11 of the international prospects can say the same thing. The risk is real, and even two years later, the upside with this class in undetermined. Thus far, there are no "can't miss" players in this class, which is odd considering the time and money invested in these players.
Did the Best Prospects Get the Highest Bonuses?
The short answer is no, they did not. As is tradition in the international market, the Rangers spent an aggressive amount of money to get their guy, which in this class was Jairo Beras. Beras is a decent prospect and ties for the lead in OFP on this list with a 50, but his present skills leave many wondering why the Rangers spent twice as much money on him than any other team spent on any other prospect in this entire class. They could have landed someone comparable and with an accurate birth certificate for far less money.
A few other names at the top of the class make their respective top-20 lists, specifically shortstops Amed Rosario and Franklin Barreto. For some publications, Barreto ranked as the top prospect in this class even though he ended up with only the sixth highest bonus figure.
Moving a bit farther down the list, arguably the best pitching prospects on this list, Alex Reyes and Luiz Gohara, rank 14th and 15th respectively. They both have a long road ahead, but since they have already passed the rookie ball test, Reyes and Gohara are farther along in the developmental process than most other players here and look like good values for their respective organizations.
The back of the list also contains more good values in Phillies’ catcher Deivy Grullon and Red Sox’ shortstop Wendell Rijo, both of whom have passed the rookie ball test and cost less than $600k. MLB.com gives Grullon an OFP of 50, tied for the highest among players on this list, which is very good considering his relatively low bonus. Part of his high rating within the system is due to a weak Phillies system, but Grullon and Rijo still look like steals for only $575k.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that when dealing with toolsy international prospects that are years away from being MLB ready, there are few certainties. The players with the highest bonuses do not necessarily become top prospects and the players lower on the list seem to have only a slightly lower chance to become a top prospect than the high-bonus guys.
What does this mean in a practical sense? Due to the difficulty in projecting success for these players, would it be smarter for teams to target quantity rather than quality of international prospects?
The answer to this question has roots in the answer to the traditional scouting question of safety versus upside and risk versus reward. For teams like the Rangers that chase prospects with upside coupled with risk, signing the top guy, who will likely have the most upside, makes the most sense.
Contrarily, teams that seek to acquire solid Major League contributors and prefer safety over upside would be best trying to sign a higher quantity of cheaper prospects. By doing this, these clubs could have a better chance of having one or a few prospects fulfilling their potential even though they are likely to be superstars.
International prospects are difficult to evaluate due to the amount of development needed and many of these players, even those with the highest bonuses, will never make the Major Leagues. However, these are kids that an organization and fan base can dream on, and it only take one young player named Miguel Sano or Jorge Alfaro to turn a system around. The players in every class have the ability to make that difference and turn around their respective farm systems, and if that can happen, the frequent misses and large bonuses will be justified.