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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
  1. 12
    Yoelkis Cespedes Headshot

    Yoelki Cespedes

    Cuba OF

    Born: Sept. 24, 1997. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-9. Wt.: 205.

    Report: The 23-year-old brother Yoenis Cespedes, Yoelki looks to be ticketed to the White Sox for around $2 million, the latest in their run on Cuban players that includes righthander Norge Vera also in the class, following shortstop Yolbert Sanchez last year for $2.5 million, and outfielder Luis Robert and first baseman Jose Abreu before him. Cespedes played for Cuba in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, but it’s hard to relay an accurate, reliable report that’s up to date like we normally would. Cespedes has been training at his brother’s ranch in Port St. Lucie, Fla. and hasn’t been scouted much due in part to the coronavirus pandemic and MLB’s scouting ban on international players that ended in September. He played for Granma in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, batting .273/.353/.400 in 289 plate appearances with 17 walks, 42 strikeouts and six home runs in the 2017-18 season. The next year was his final season in Cuba and he hit .319/.355/.389 with two walks, 18 strikeouts and no home runs in 77 PAs as a 21-year-old. He has a shorter but strong, athletic frame with added bulk since leaving Cuba, showing good bat speed and a strong arm from the outfield. More depth will probably have to wait until Cespedes gets tested and scouted against more live pitching.

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    Last: 25
    Norge Vera

    Norge Vera

    Cuba RHP

    Born: June 1, 2000. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185.

    Report: Vera, 20, looks like he will be the top paid pitcher once the 2020-21 signing period opens, with a bonus of $1.5 million lined up with the White Sox. Vera is the son of Norge Luis Vera, who was a standout pitcher in Cuba's Serie Nacional and pitched for the Cuban national team. The younger Vera garnered attention from scouts pitching in international tournaments prior to leaving Cuba. He has a lean, projectable frame, with a fastball that has been up to 96 mph and parked around 90-94 mph at showcases. Scouts who saw Vera later were more mixed on his command and secondary stuff, possibly stemming from some mechanical adjustments he was making. His hard slider is his main offspeed pitch and ahead of his changeup, which he has started throwing more after dropping his splitter to focus on three pitches.

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    Last: 33
    Victor Lizarraga Headshot

    Victor Lizarraga

    Mexico RHP

    Born: Nov. 30, 2003. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 180.

    Report: Cuban 20-year-old righthander Norge Vera is expected to be the top-paid pitcher when the signing period opens. Among teenage pitchers, the top bonus this year is likely to go to Lizarraga, who is expected to sign with the Padres for more than $1 million. Lizarraga, who trains at the Mazatlan academy and is represented by Jorge Campillo, has a fastball that has been up to 93 mph with the space on his tall, lean frame to project a mid-90s or better fastball once he packs on weight. He pairs it with a potential out pitch curveball that can miss bats and solid feel for a changeup for his age.

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