July 2 Sortable Board and Rules Primer

The 2017 July 2 signing period is set to begin on Sunday. Here is the 2017 J2 Sortable Board with tool grades and scouting reports for the players whom I believe to be the best in the class. The changes made to the J2 process when the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified in November are significant and have impacted the way teams approach signing players; altered how a given class’s talent is distributed throughout baseball; changed players’ earning power; and, at least for now, forced prospects to consider how to best time their decision to sign.

Before diving into the details pertaining to this year’s class, allow me to suggest some prerequisite reading should this be your first time navigating FanGraphs’ scouty pages. If the 20-80 scale and scouting terminology is new to you, this piece will be helpful. If you’d like more context on the previous July 2 rules as we discuss the way the new CBA has changed them in this article, I suggest this.

International players who are already 16 years old, or will be by September 1 of 2017 (or the applicable year), are eligible to sign with teams. If a prospect is old enough (age 25, formerly age 23) and has the requisite pro experience (six years, previously five) in a foreign professional league, he isn’t subject to J2 rules and instead becomes an open-market free agent. These parameters include players from all foreign lands, including prospects in Japan and Korea.

Players have their earning power limited by the firm bonus-pool caps to which teams are now subject. Under the former CBA, these caps were soft and teams were allowed to exceed them while paying a tax on the overage. Teams that exceeded their bonus pools were also forbidden to sign a single player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods. Clubs that were slated to be in this “penalty box” for 2017 and 2018 are still forced to stay there even though the rules have changed.

Under the new CBA, the bonus pools are hard-capped and teams cannot exceed them. Most teams are allotted $4.75 million to spend in a given signing period, while others are given an extra $500K or $1 million to spend. The latter supplements are doled out in a manner similar to how competitive-balance picks are distributed for the draft, with smaller revenue/market teams receiving extra help. Here are the way the tiers shake out for the 2017-18 J2 period. Asterisks denote teams in the penalty box. (Two asterisks means they’re in it next year, too.)

$5.75 million
ARI, BAL, CLE, COL, KC*, PIT, StL**, SD**

$5.25 million
CIN**, MIA, MIL, MIN, OAK**, TB

$4.75 million
ATL**, BOS, CHC*, CHW, DET, HOU**, LAA, LAD*, NYM, NYY, PHI, SF*, SEA, TEX, TOR, WAS**

Because of the hard caps, Major League Baseball will spend about $153 million, max, on international amateur talent this year. The Dodgers spent $92 million on their own during the 2015 J2 period. Great job, MLBPA!

This year’s class is heavy on outfielders, which is strange for a market that is typically dominated by shortstops. Most of the sources with which I’ve spoken consider it a slightly below-average group on talent, largely because they prefer classes packed with players who have a chance to stay at shortstop. This group is far more physical than a typical J2 crop, however, with many prospects appearing closer to physical maturity than is usual.

There are a few players who will be eligible to sign Sunday who are contemplating whether or not to sign during the 2017-18 period. Sources I to whom I’ve spoken speculated two potential reasons for this. First, it’s possible that the player in question had a verbal agreement with a club before the new CBA was ratified and, because of the hard cap, will now be unable to receive agreed-upon figure. Second, it’s possible that the finite amount of funds available to players under the new CBA is forcing prospects to consider if there’s an optimal time for them to sign.

Regarding that second point: the international community (including trainers/agents) identifies players early and already has an idea of who the top players for the next class or two will be. That could allow a player and his trainer to realize that the player is, say, about the 25th-best player in the current class but would be closer to the 10th-best player in a weak class the next year, thus allowing that player to enter the following year with more earning power. Of course, many of these prospects come from places of poverty and don’t have the luxury to wait that long.

Again, here is the sortable board with reports on the top players in the class.

We hoped you liked reading July 2 Sortable Board and Rules Primer by Eric Longenhagen!

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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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Pretty sure the White Sox are a ** team with the Robert signing, no?