2020-21 MLB International Prospects Class
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.
Manuel BeltreDominican Republic SSVideoNotes:
Born: June 9, 2004. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 165.
Report: One of the best hitters in the class, Beltre is a baseball rat who has spent years documenting his path to professional baseball on his social media accounts, sharing his daily training and highlights on his Instagram account of more than 60,000 followers. Beltre has a short, simple swing, performing well in games with a high contact rate, good feel for the strike zone and gap power. Beltre isn't as tooled-up as some of the other top prospects in the class, but he has a ton of game experience relative to his peers and it's evident in his all-around instincts and fundamentally sound play. Beltre, who trains trains with Jaime Ramos, is expected to sign with the Blue Jays.More Less
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Manuel PeñaDominican Republic SSNotes:
Born: Dec. 5, 2003. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 175.
Report: Peña, who trains with Pablo Sosa, is expected to sign with the D-backs, with a bonus likely just shy of $1.5 million. He has grown into a lean, well-proportioned frame with good strength projection, with scouts highest on him drawn to his offensive upside. He has a compact lefthanded swing with emerging power that should continue to climb as he fills out and an approach conducive to hitting the ball in the air. Peña should begin his career at shortstop, though he might end up at third base or possibly second.More Less