Archive for International

The International Signing Market: Part 1

Now that I’ve finished the organizational prospect lists, it’s time to circle back to the amateur baseball coverage and give some updates on what’s happening there. Before I jump into the international signing (most often referred to as the July 2nd group, because that’s the date players become eligible to sign) news, I’ll first give some updates on two Cubans and a Bahamian that should sign deals around that time as well, but don’t fit perfectly into the player pool.

Not Quite July 2nd Prospects

I wrote up 19-year-old Cuban righty Yadier Alvarez (Video) after I watched him throw a few innings in the last open workout for new Dodgers infielder Hector Olivera (Video). I said then that Alvarez was clearly superior to new Diamondbacks RHP Yoan Lopez (Video), a roughly comparable Cuban talent due to age, size and lack of track record of results. Lopez got $8.25 million and signed late in the international calendar, when many teams had already spent their money. Alvarez isn’t eligible to sign yet, but is awaiting a ruling from MLB on a waiver to make him eligible immediately.

The expectation is that even if Alvarez is granted the waiver that he will wait until July 2nd to sign. This is due to the persistent rumors that the Dodgers will be blowing past their international bonus pool for 2015-2016 (starting on July 2nd), with Alvarez their top target. The Dodgers offered Red Sox 2B Yoan Moncada (Interview & Background) $35 million (more than Boston’s winning $31.5 million bid) to wait until July 2nd to sign, but he passed. The Dodgers want to maximize their haul in their year of crazy spending and if they paid Moncada when he wanted to be paid, he would’ve been their only big signing, which would draw a two year penalty of not being able to give another young international prospect $300,000.

I lay that out as the evidence that the whole scouting world is pointing to of the Dodgers’ plan, beyond the rumors of targets, and I’ll mention those below. I’ve heard from multiple international scouts that believe the Dodgers already have a deal with Alvarez for $16 million (which would cost the Dodgers $32 million total, due to the dollar-for-dollar tax by MLB on 23 and under international prospects), but his reps deny a deal is done. Alvarez can’t sign right now anyway and, while a deal may not be done, everyone I’ve talked to thinks Alvarez will end up with the Dodgers (though a number of other teams are interested), and the price is about where scouts thought it would end up, so this makes a lot of sense.

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The Complications of Hector Olivera

The situation for Cuban free agent infielder Hector Olivera is still a bit muddled, even though he’s now a free agent that may sign any day now. Here’s a more complete background with a full scouting report, recap of his workout that I scouted last month and a breakdown of which teams fits him best. Here’s the video from that workout:

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July 2nd Spending Plans Are Coming Into Focus

With the Red Sox recently adding Yoan Moncada to the fold last week (details and audio interview), the biggest international domino has fallen and now there’s more certainty for teams and agents going forward about what teams can spend on July 2nd. In an early draft of this article, I was going to point out that MLB still hadn’t told teams what their international bonus pools were, in an effort to discourage teams from agreeing to verbal deals since they wouldn’t know the exact figure of what they could spend. MLB sent out those figures this week, and they fell in line with what teams expected: last year’s slots with a 5-7% bump.

I reported back in December that up to 12 teams were rumored to be considering or had already put enough agreements in place to exceed their bonus pool. I conceded that nowhere near that many would do it and that looks to be true, with closer to five teams looking likely to go over, but many more looking to spend their full pool and maybe trade for a little more, along with rumors of teams considering going over in 2016. Part of the reason for the uncertainty about which teams are going over is the uncertainty surround young Cuban players.

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Attempting to Forecast Yoan Moncada Statistically

The general consensus on Yoan Moncada is that he’s among the best prospects out there. The newest Red Sox prospect’s bat speed and power both grade out as plus, and scouts believe he has the physical tools to be an asset on defense as well. Our very own Kiley McDaniel weighed in on Moncada several times this past winter, and said he’d rank him in the 5 – 12 range on his top 200 list.

My wheelhouse is forecasting prospects’ future production using minor league stats. Admittedly, this might not be of much use for a player like Moncada, who has nary a minor league plate appearance to his name. But rather than throwing my hands in the air and deferring entirely to the scouting reports, I decided to use the scarce data available to glean at least some insight into how good Moncada might be as a big leaguer.

With the exception of a few established veterans like Jose Abreu and Yoenis Cespedes, most recent Cuban imports didn’t jump right to the majors. The majority spent time in the minors first — just as Moncada’s expected to do in 2015, and probably 2016. In the last decade, I found 19 hitters from Cuba who logged at least 100 plate appearances in Double-A in their first year stateside. Using this admittedly small sample of players, I looked to see how the inputs to KATOH — BB%, K%, ISO, BABIP, and SBA% — translated from the CNS to Double-A. Unsurprisingly, I found positive correlations across the board. Applying these translations to Moncada’s Cuban stats, we would expect the following performance from Moncada in Double-A next year:

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Yadier Alvarez Emerges While Other Cubans Move Closer to Deals

I returned a few days ago from a three-day trip to the Dominican to see top July 2nd prospects (more on that in the coming weeks) and also a workout that had 18 Cuban players in it. Two of those 18 were big-time prospects, the well-known and hyped 29-year-old 2B Hector Olivera and the brand new name, 18-year-old righty Yadier Alvarez.  Here’s my notes and video on those two, along with some quick updates on the other two notable Cubans on the market, 2B/3B/CF Yoan Moncada and 2B Andy Ibanez.

For reference, in my top 200 prospects list that is coming next week, these Cuban players aren’t included on the list, but Moncada would be 8th, Alvarez would be 57th and Ibanez would be in the 150-200 range, while Olivera is ineligible due to his age and experience.

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Everything You Need to Know About Yoan Moncada

As I reported on twitter moments ago, MLB sent a memo to clubs detailing the new process for Cuban players to go from leaving the country to signing with an MLB team. The short version is that super prospect Yoan Moncada is eligible to sign now, after a maddening long delay.

For those new to this topic or if you just want a refresher, here’s a recap of my coverage of this Moncada saga from the start:

October 3, 2014: Moncada is confirmed out of Cuba, but no one knows where he is.  We assume his whereabouts will become clear soon as he’s the most hyped prospect to leave the island in years. Here I first quote the common “teenage Puig that can play the infield and switch hit” comp and break down all the implications about who can sign him, who is likely to pony up the big bucks, game theory implications and more.

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OFAC Clarifies Stance: MLB Is Only Hurdle for Cubans

When I wrote on Monday about the changing policies and confusion surrounding MLB, OFAC, U.S.-Cuba relations and the unblocking process for Cuban ballplayers, this situation seemed like a muddled mess. After my first article on the topic, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and Baseball America’s Ben Badler added further details throughout the week and reported statements from OFAC and MLB as both sides were looking to clarify their stances. There was some urgency to conclude the negative PR whirlwind, with high-ranking MLB officials upset about not being able to sign three notable Cuban players left in limbo by this delay, with the total value of their potential contracts easily in excess of $100 million.

I was first turned onto this story by Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada’s agent David Hastings, who has taken some flack in the industry for being a first-time agent and representing such a high profile player, but it appears this situation has shaken out after a one week long media cycle. OFAC sent Hastings a letter within the last hour further clarifying their stance from previous statements earlier this week. According to Hastings, the letter stated that OFAC will not grant a specific license to Cuban nationals who are already unblocked via the general license. This applies to Moncada and the other two notable Cuban nationals waiting to be unblocked, second basemen Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez.

OFAC’s earlier statements left an opening that they could be held responsible for the delay, as they said granting both general and specific licenses to certain Cubans would be handled on a “case-by-case basis.” This suggested that OFAC could hand out the specific license and end the delay by meeting MLB’s standard for unblocking a player. At the same time, OFAC said only the general license is necessary to clear a Cuban national to sign with a team, but MLB asked for more from the Cuban players, an MLB-only policy that changed at some point in the last few years.

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U.S. Government’s New Policy May Help Cuban Ballplayers

One of the big questions when Barack Obama talked about softening relations with Cuba was what impact this would have on Cuban ballplayers. After talking to industry sources, some think we already have a new policy that will speed the process for Cuban defectors to become Major League players.

This new policy is online if you want to read the whole thing, but I’ll excerpt the important passages below, with all of this becoming official in the last ten days:
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The International Bonus Pools Don’t Matter

International baseball has been in the news often lately with the ongoing saga of Yoan Moncada (he’s in America now), the signing of Yasmany Tomas and yesterday’s news that Cuba-U.S. relations could be getting much better.  In recent news, at the yearly international scouting directors’ meeting at the Winter Meetings last week, sources tell me there was no talk about the recent controversial rule change and no talk about an international draft, as expected.

So much has been happening lately that you may have temporarily forgotten about last summer, when the Yankees obliterated the international amateur spending record (and recently added another prospect). If the early rumors and innuendo are any indication, the rest of baseball isn’t going to let the Yankees have the last word.

I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015.  I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand.  After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:

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The Impact of Normalized U.S.-Cuban Relations on Major League Baseball

Following yesterday’s historic announcement by President Obama that the United States will re-establish full relations with Cuba, many baseball fans have been speculating what impact this news is likely to have on Major League Baseball. Cuba, of course, is a baseball hotbed, producing a number of impact MLB players in recent years (Jose Abreu, Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes).

In the long-term, normalized relations with Cuba could potentially result in a significant influx of Cuban talent into U.S. professional baseball, while also opening up other lucrative business opportunities for MLB. In the short-term, however, yesterday’s announcement will likely have little immediate impact on professional baseball in the United States, and if anything, might even temporarily decrease the flow of players defecting to the U.S. from Cuba. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Ynoa Gets New Life With White Sox

By the time the Jeff Samardzija trade became official Tuesday at baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego, Chicago White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was fielding secondary questions about the chances of extending Samardzija’s contract beyond 2015. Most — if not all — of the questions reporters asked Hahn pertained (fairly) in some way to Samardzija, who gives the White Sox a formidable top of the rotation with left-handers Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. It’s possible, however, that another player the White Sox received in the deal with the Oakland Athletics will get a chance to help his new team long after the coming season.

Billed in 2008 as a generational talent who had the signing bonus to prove it, 6-foot-7 right-hander Michael Ynoa is getting a fresh start with the White Sox after struggling with serious injuries, reaching bloated expectations and getting frustrating results since turning pro. In a secondary scrum with reporters that came after the TV cameras shut off, Hahn was excited to talk about Ynoa after trying to explain — for a third or fourth time or 20th time — that the matter of Samardzija’s contract wouldn’t be resolved that day.

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Yoan Moncada Is Affecting All of International Baseball

Yoan Moncada was declared a free agent by MLB on Saturday morning. I wrote in depth about his situation from almost every angle last Thursday and also wrote about when news broke that he had left Cuba last month. I sent out a number of tweets on Saturday explaining Moncada’s current situation. He still needs to be cleared by OFAC (a U.S. government agency) before teams can offer him a deal or sign him and the timetable for that happening is unclear.

Often, OFAC clearance happens before MLB clears a player, so that indicates it could happen quickly (weeks), but Moncada’s situation is pretty unusual, which most guess will slow the process down (months).  The reason that OFAC clearance timetables vary so much relative to MLB’s clearances is that OFAC clearance is a product of the government (which can be backlogged at times, have political interests to protect, etc.) working with the paperwork that the agent submits.  Moncada should be free to sign within a few months, well ahead of the June/July timeframe when the 2014 international signing period turns over to the 2015 period and a number of factors change.

I said I covered this from almost every angle last week, because there are three things I didn’t mention in my first two articles about Moncada that have recently come to my attention.  The first is all the unsubstantiated chatter and rumors about how Moncada leaving Cuba played out.  I didn’t go into detail on this because I’m still working to get some things confirmed to help fill in these blanks, but the rumors are picking up.  I still have international scouts asking me for any information I have on this topic, specifically the stuff I haven’t written, because teams are getting heavy into their due diligence.  I don’t have anything else to report right now, but I can guarantee you that between now and when Moncada finishes his first pro season, this story will eventually become less confusing, as we learned with Yasiel Puig’s defection.

The second thing I didn’t note was pointed out Friday by Ben Badler.  As I’ve also noted in a recent article on the topic, while teams can’t technically negotiate with players before the July 2nd signing period opens, it’s now commonplace with MLB’s three-year-old rules for teams to have deals done with players 9-12 months before they’re eligible to sign.  This happened before the rule changes, but rarely; more often, early deals for high profile players were done about 3-6 months in advance.  This is a response to soft caps on spending being in place (which most team treat as hard caps); if you can only spend so much money, the best way to find bargains is to offer security to players via a verbal deal even earlier in the process.

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Yoan Moncada: The Most Fascinating Story of the Offseason

I wrote about 19-year-old Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada last month, but enough has happened since then that it’s time for an update. Yesterday, he had his first open workout since leaving Cuba, with scouts gathering for the spectacle in Guatemala City. About 100 scouts were there, with nearly every team represented and most rolling a few deep with heavy hitters: special assistants, VPs and directors of scouting.  Before I get to the talent, interested teams and potential bonus, I’m going to take a step back and let you guys know how weird this situation already has become.

An Unprecedented Background

I was told by Moncada’s agent last week that he was allowed by the Cuban government to leave the country, that Moncada has a Cuban passport and can fly back to the country whenever he wants to.  I haven’t been able to formally confirm this, but there’s no reason for the agent to lie about it, and multiple high ranking club executives told me this is how they understand the situation at this point as well.

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Scouting the Top 2015 July 2nd Prospects

I spent last week at a 4-day showcase in Ft. Lauderdale, FL for July 2nd eligible players from the Dominican Prospect League, then went to a 5-day tournament in Jupiter, FL for the top high school travel teams, which included many top draft prospects.  I’ll cover the Jupiter tournament and players rising/falling on draft boards later this week.  That said, this year’s tournament didn’t have the out-of-nowhere pop-up prospect or mid-round player jumping into the first round that we’ve had in past years, so my rankings from last month are still pretty close to what I have right now.

The DPL showcase was my first time seeing many of the top 2015 July 2nd prospects. I was last in the Dominican in January for a week of showcases for 2014 prospects and the DPL and rival International Prospect League (IPL) both briefly showcased their top 2015 prospects when many of them were 14 years old.  So, I’d seen some of these players before, but we’re in the part of their development where big physical changes can come in a few months, so every new look will shuffle any scout’s rankings.  If you’re looking for the next July 2nd super prospect, I wrote about a kid in the 2016 class, Venezuelan switch-hitting shortstop Kevin Maitan, last month and some video of him popped up since then.

As I talked about in more depth last year, the biggest effect that the new international bonus pools had on July 2nd signings is teams agreeing to verbal deals with players far earlier than they had in the past.  Essentially, MLB put a soft cap on spending that at least 25 teams stay under each year, so the best way to make the most of a fixed budget is to get discounts by locking up targeted players as early as possible.  MLB didn’t like this and some associated things that came with this shift in the industry and is basically trying to create, via recent rule changes, a “July 2nd season” that starts in January , though nearly everyone from players to agents to scouts to executives think the recent rule change causes more problems than it solves (more on the details of this situation from Ben Badler).

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Cuban Super-Prospect Moncada Could Shatter Bonus Record

I wrote last week about the most recent high-profile Cuban defector (now a free agent) LF Yasmany Tomas after writing last month about the most-recently-signed high-profile Cuban in Red Sox CF Rusney Castillo. I also wrote earlier this week about the next huge prospect in the July 2nd market, so it only follows that I would tell you about the next potential big name amongst the Cubans.

The most recent news on this front is about 2B Hector Olivera, with news of his defection breaking this week. He’s not a shoo-in to be a huge money guy as he’s already 29 and there’s some concern/uncertainty about a potential blood flow condition in his left arm.

Olivera has a live bat and may still be able to play up the middle in the big leagues, but he hasn’t been scouted in years since he hasn’t played in any international tournaments in that period, the only way MLB teams can see Cuban players in person. If he can clear these medical hurdles, Olivera was seen as one of the best players on the island a few years back and, while he may be past his physical prime, could still draw a multi-year deal at some point in the next year.

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Scouting Yasmany Tomas

Yasmany Tomas, LF

Hit: 40/45+, Game Power: 55/65, Raw Power: 70/70, Speed: 45/45+, Field: 45/50, Arm: 45/45+

Upside: .275/.350/.480 with 25-30 homers, fringy defense & baserunning value in left field

Note: The “upside” line is basically a 75 percentile projection as explained here, while the tool grades are a 50 percentile projection. See the scale here to convert the hit/power tool grades into production.

Tomas is the latest Cuban defector to hit the market: he should be declared a free agent shortly and is holding private workouts in the Dominican this week after a big open workout for over 100 scouts from all 30 clubs on Sunday at the Giants Dominican complex. The above video is from last summer when the Cuban national team faced college Team USA in Durham, North Carolina. The Cuban team had a lot of trouble making contact against a loaded USA pitching staff (five pitchers from the staff went in the first round last June) and Tomas in particular struggled, going 3-for-19 with 3 singles, 1 walk and 8 punch outs over the 5 game set. Tomas was in bad shape and looked lost at the plate at times when I saw him, but he has shown big league ability in other international tournaments and as a professional in Cuba.

The carrying tool here is raw power, which draws anywhere from 60 to 70 grades on the 20-80 scale from scouts, but the question mark is how much he will hit.  Tomas has a short bat path for a power hitter and quick hands that move through the zone quickly.  The tools are here for at least an average hitter, but Tomas’ plate discipline has been questioned and he can sometimes sell out for pull power in games (here’s video of a particularly long homer in the WBC).  Some scouts think it’s more of a 40-45 bat (.240 to .250 average) that may keep Tomas from getting to all of his raw power in games, while others see a soon-to-be-24-year-old with the tools to hit and think the hot streak of Cuban hitters in the big leagues will continue with him.

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