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2020-21 MLB International Prospects Class

Cristian Hernandez Graphic Billmitchell
Cristian Hernandez (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

By Ben Badler

Our list below provides an overview of the international prospects expected to sign for the top bonuses in the 2020-21 class.

It is not a talent ranking—I'll get to that more below—but instead a board sorted by the expected top signing bonuses in the 2020-21 class, with reports on every player that include where they're expected to sign and videos.  We will continue to add more information as we get closer to the signing date, which moved back from July 2, 2020 to Jan. 15, 2021.

Like last year, I do not believe it would be honest or fair to anyone—the players, the clubs or our readers—to publish a talent ranking yet, given the realities of how players are now being scouted in Latin America. Players are often committing to teams multiple years in advance of when they're eligible to sign, so many of them are no longer being rigorously scouted by 29 other clubs.

That's a continuation of an evolving trend in the industry. I wrote a story six years ago regarding how teams were scouting and trying to secure agreements with players younger than ever. That process has accelerated, as I wrote in a cover story last year before July 2, to the point that players are often committing to sign with teams at 13 and 14 years old.

In the United States, high school players routinely commit to colleges at the same ages. Blaze Jordan, one of the top 2020 high school draft prospects, committed to Mississippi State when he was 13. But unlike with international prospects, American players continue to play in front of scouts leading up to the draft in high school games, travel circuits and showcases. All 30 teams scouted Jordan and other top high school players last summer and would have continued to watch them all spring leading up to the draft—if the season hadn't been canceled.

It's different for international players. Once they commit to a club, they stop working out for other teams and don't get scouted at showcases. A scout from another club might happen to see that prospect at his trainer's field while going there to see other players in that program, but it's usually a quick glance at a player taking infield or batting practice, a look that's not suited for a more substantive evaluation.

During that window from age 14 to 16, players change significantly. They can put on 30 pounds, grow a few inches, go from a 30-runner to a 60-runner, or from a below-average arm to a plus arm and gain five mph of velocity. Or they stagnate and don't progress the way a team had anticipated. Those changes can happen in a few months, so a period of multiple years is enormous at that age.

The challenges are even more pronounced than usual right now due to Covid-19. Teams were prohibited by MLB rules from seeing players in person for six months between March and September, even if it was just to check in on players they're expecting to sign on Jan. 15. Even now, clubs are prohibited from bringing amateur players into their academies.

Rather than force a talent ranking right now that wouldn't meet our standards, I think an honest approach that adds the most value is to look at the 2020-21 international market as a whole, with our 2020-21 international board sorted by expected signing bonus. It's a good guide to the big prospects to know in the 2020-21 class that include a snapshot of each player and where they're expected to sign, plus videos of the players over the last few years. Out of caution, some Cuban free agents are not on the list because it's not clear yet which teams will sign them, but the board will be updated as that changes.

Our rankings of the Top 100 international signings from the 2019 class are available here.

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Expand Collapse All Updated on: 1/14/2021
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    Last: 36
    Samuel Zavala Headshot

    Samuel Zavala

    Venezuela OF
    Video
    Notes:

    Born: July 15, 2004. B-T: L-L. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 178.

    Report: One of the top pure hitters from Venezuela in the 2020 class, Zavala has a rhythmic lefthanded swing with good path, using his hands well with an all-fields approach. He's on the younger side of the class, and as he's grown more physical, the ball has started to jump off his bat better with the projection for more. Zavala shows good defensive instincts and a solid-average arm in center field, though his speed likely fits best in a corner. Zavala trains with Henderson Martinez and is expected to sign with the Padres.

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  2. 48
    Last: 47
    Enderso Lira Headshot

    Enderso Lira

    Venezuela C
    Video
    Notes:

    Born: Oct. 11, 2003. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180.

    Report: The Red Sox are typically among the most active teams signing players from Venezuela. Their top target from the country in this class is Lira, who trains with Jose Bellorin. Lira has a strong frame and projects to stick at catcher, where he's a quiet receiver with soft hands, quick feet and an average arm. He has solid bat-to-ball skills for a catcher his age and uses the whole field with gap power.

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