There is a big gap between the teams that excel at international scouting and the ones that lag behind.
One of the problems, though, is that it can be a challenge to evaluate how teams have done recently in the international market. Teams sign players out of Latin American when they are 16, which means the process of getting them to the big leagues is often a long one, with perceptions of a player and his stock often changing quite a bit along that journey.
One method I like to use to get a rough snapshot of how every organization in baseball has fared in the international market over the past eight or so years is to see how many international players each team has signed who appear in the 2016 Prospect Handbook.
The chart below lists the number of players in the 2016 Prospect Handbook that each team signed as an international amateur, regardless of the player’s current organization. Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra are now Padres, but they were originally Red Sox signings, so the Red Sox get credit for them, just like the Marlins get credit for signing Francis Martes even though they traded him to the Astros.
The list itself is not a ranking of team’s productivity in the international market. While it’s objective in the sense that we are simply counting the number of players that each club signed, there are a few biases involved. One is that there are some players who signed at the same time many of the players in the Prospect Handbook did but are no longer prospect eligible because they are already in the major leagues. Maikel Franco (Phillies), Carlos Martinez (Cardinals), Gregory Polanco (Pirates) and Marcell Ozuna (Marlins) all fall into that group, so in the writeups below I’ll try to point out the more notable big leaguers who have signed since 2008.
Then there are always judgment calls at the back of a Top 30 about who to include, so the decision of whether to include certain players at the back of the list could swing a team’s overall number by a player or two. Having a stacked farm system in which a team has drafted extremely well or has traded for a lot of prospects, such as the Astros, Braves or Rockies, makes it harder for lower-level international signings to crack that Top 30 than it would in a lighter farm system.
So the exact number of international signings a team has in the Prospect Handbook isn’t something to focus on, but the general tier a team falls into is more meaningful. For the most part, the teams that have had the most productive international programs fall into the top tier.
To reiterate, the chart above is not a ranking of how teams have done at signing international talent, but the teams that have done the best job in that arena tend to rise to the top of the list. Combining this data with the major league players each team has signed since 2008 and analyzing the quality and level of impact of that talent overall, there are a handful of teams that stand out for their efforts in the international market, though these certainly aren’t the only ones that have been productive internationally.
The Rangers consistently grade out near the top of this list, with their international program continually churning out talent first under the direction of A.J. Preller, then Mike Daly (now their farm director) and most recently Gil Kim, who just left the organization to become Toronto’s farm director. Preller has moved on to become the Padres general manager, with Daly and Kim both candidates to follow in his footsteps into a GM role down the road. The combination of impact talent and depth is impressive, with Rougned Odor already in the big leagues along with Luis Sardinas and Jurickson Profar, the former No. 1 overall prospect whose injuries have made him a wild card. Trading away four of their international signings who appear in the Prospect Handbook (including Brewers righthander Marcos Diplan, the No. 4 prospect in the Rookie-level Pioneer League) helps boost their total somewhat, but the Rangers have found quality prospects through all range of investments.
I’ve covered the international market since 2008, and in that time, I’ve never received more glowing reports from scouts on a July 2 position prospect than I did on Miguel Sano. So while Sano wasn’t any secret, any team could have signed him, but ultimately it was the Twins who pulled the trigger for $3.15 million, and their reward is a hitter who looks like he should hit in the middle of their lineup for the next half decade. Not only did the Twins sign Sano in 2009, they also snagged shortstop Jorge Polanco and outfielder/first baseman Max Kepler that year. Any team would be happy to have signed three players like that over a three-year span. The fact that the Twins got them all in one signing class is incredible. Under international scouting coordinator Howard Norsetter, the Twins are among the more active teams in the Pacific Rim and Europe, with Byung Ho Park and Australian lefthander Lewis Thorpe in the system, while a wave of depth from players like shortstops Jermaine Palacios, Engelb Vielma and others signed by Latin American scouting coordinator Fred Guerrero and his staff can be seen at all levels of the organization.
Boston Red Sox
Even without Yoan Moncada at the top, the Red Sox have been arguably the most productive international program in baseball in the last several years. Xander Bogaerts is no longer a prospect, but the 23-year-old shortstop is already a franchise cornerstone player. Third baseman Rafael Devers and righthander Anderson Espinoza are both premium prospects, while shortstop Javier Guerra and outfielder Manuel Margot (both sent to the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel trade) should both be Top 100 prospects as well. They were also the team that originally signed an extremely raw Frankie Montas, one of the game’s better power pitching prospects. Beyond their premium talent, there’s a good wave of depth as well at the lower levels with players like Luis Alexander Basabe and Wendell Rijo, among others. It’s no surprise the Red Sox gave Eddie Romero a promotion from international scouting director to vice president of international scouting.
Kansas City Royals
Latin American signings were a critical part of Kansas City’s World Series run last year, with Salvador Perez, Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera all homegrown products who joined the Royals for inexpensive bonuses. The talent is still coming on the farm, led by No. 1 prospect Raul A. Mondesi as one of four international signings among the team’s top 10 prospects. The Royals wisely promoted Rene Francisco to VP/assistant GM of major league and international operations, with Latin American scouting coordinator Orlando Estevez also playing a key role in the team’s consistent top-level production of international talent.
Toronto Blue Jays
Under Marco Paddy (now with the White Sox) and then Ismael Cruz, the Blue Jays built impressive prospect volume for the organization, with much of it used in trades. Franklin Barreto is one of the game’s best prospects, but the Blue Jays certainly have no regrets giving him to Oakland when they got MVP Josh Donaldson in return. Outfielder Wuilmer Becerra and pitchers Jairo Labourt, Jesus Tinoco, Miguel Castro, Alberto Tirado and Jimmy Cordero are all Latin American signings the Blue Jays have used as trade chips, with 16-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. the best international prospect remaining in the system and Mexican rigthander Roberto Osuna already making an impact on the major league team. The organization will have to try to keep up its productive output without Cruz, who left to run the Dodgers’ Latin American scouting.
New York Yankees
International scouting director Donny Rowland and his staff have built one of the most comprehensive, thorough international programs in the game, with the results starting to show at the big league level and more talent on the way throughout the system. The Yankees signed Luis Severino for $225,000 in December 2011, he became their top prospect after the 2014 season and, as a 21-year-old pitching in the majors in 2015, he already looked like a frontline starter. Even with Severino graduated to the majors, three of the top five Yankees prospects are from the Dominican Republic, including the top two in Jorge Mateo and Gary Sanchez. Shortstop Wilkerman Garcia is another international signing in the top 10 with the potential to reach the top of the list at some point in the near future as well. Garcia was part of a 2014 signing class in which the Yankees spent an enormous amount of money on international amateur talent, with several talented prospects from the international ranks who didn’t even crack the Yankees’ Top 30.
The Nationals had been a tricky organization to evaluate on the international side because ownership had been hesitant to invest much in that market until the last couple of years. Even though the Nationals haven’t had the budget to match a team like the Rangers or Red Sox, four of the organization’s top 10 prospects and seven of their top 15 prospects are homegrown international signings. It’s a group led by center fielder Victor Robles, one of the most dynamic and exciting prospects in baseball, with Wilmer Difo, Pedro Severino and Reynaldo Lopez also ticketed to open 2016 at Double-A or higher. It’s not hard to see why the organization decided to promote Johnny DiPuglia from international scouting director to vice president of international operations.