2023 MLB International Prospects Bonus Board
By Ben Badler
Major League Baseball's international signing period opens on Jan. 15, 2023.
Baseball America's bonus board is the best resource available to know the big international prospects signing in 2023, including scouting reports and the signing team for each player, with players lined up in order of what we have heard will be their signing bonuses. In other words, the No. 5 player on the board is the player we expect to sign for the fifth-highest bonus this year; it does not signify that he's the No. 5-ranked player in the class.
With the reality of how international signings work, the players getting the biggest bonuses committed to sign with clubs long ago. In many cases, those commitments go back two or three years, which adds another degree of difficulty to evaluate players the way we do for the draft. Players in the United States commit to colleges when they're as young as 13 or 14, but they're also scouted by major league teams all the way up to draft day. With international players, once they commit to a club, they stop showcasing for other teams and aren't seen much in a competitive environment leading up to when they sign at 16 or 17.
Players that young can change significantly in three to six months, with even more dramatic changes when we're talking about two or three years as players grow taller, get stronger and can see their tools jump two or three grades. Players with relatively lower bonuses can quickly surpass their peers with million-dollar commitments.
If you need more background, I wrote almost nine years ago about how teams were scouting players at 13 and 14 more aggressively, then again in 2019 when the trend of early commitments was accelerating. In part to try to slow things down, MLB attempted to negotiate an international draft into the Collective Bargaining Agreement this year, but that never materialized, so international free agency will continue this way for the foreseeable future.
Out of fairness to the players and everyone else involved in scouting and developing the players, and to add the most value to our readers, that's why we have shifted over the last few years to a bonus board for upcoming signings. Any player signing at 16 or 17 is high risk, but with players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, Rafael Devers, Wander Franco, Julio Rodriguez and Yordan Alvarez all signing million-dollar deals as international free agents in recent years, the list of big bonus international signings includes some of MLB's top young stars, as well as its best young prospects with Jackson Chourio, Francisco Alvarez, Marco Luciano and Diego Cartaya, among others.
As Jan. 15 gets closer, we will expand the bonus board with more players, scouting reports and where they're set to sign.
Ethan SalasVenezuela CNotes:
Born: June 1, 2006. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. B-T: L-R.
The younger brother of Marlins shortstop prospect Jose Salas, Ethan has a remarkable combination of tools, polish and game awareness for his age. He's in the conversation for the best pure hitter in the class, with a lefthanded swing that's quick, compact and adjustable, keeping his barrel through the hitting zone for a long time. He stays calm in the box with good rhythm and balance, recognizing pitches well with a mature approach that leads to frequent barrels and makes him a high on-base threat. Salas doesn't have the raw power that Francisco Alvarez or Gary Sanchez showed when they were amateurs, but as he's gotten stronger, he is showing more over-the-fence pop with the physical projection to grow into average or potentially more power. That would be a good profile for even a corner outfielder, but what makes Salas' potential even greater is that he's an excellent defensive catcher for his age. Salas is an athletic catcher whose blocking, receiving and throwing mechanics are all exemplary for his age, with a slightly above-average arm that should tick up to at least a 60 with natural strength progression. His arm already plays up because of his efficient transfer and release, leading to pop times under 1.9 seconds in games.
Team: PadresMore Less
Brando MayeaCuba OFNotes:
Born: Sept. 12, 2005. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. B-T: R-R.
Mayea is a well-rounded player with a good blend of tools and game skills from a prospect who projects to stick at a premium position. At the plate, Mayea has a simple, efficient swing from the right side and a mature approach, using the whole field with good plate coverage. He has consistently performed well in games, routinely finding the sweet spot for frequent hard contact. Mayea isn't that big, but as he's gotten stronger, he has started to show more home run power to his pull side, though it's still his pure hitting ability that sticks out more. With more strength has also come significantly more speed, as Mayea is now a well above-average runner who moves well in center field. His arm has stood out from an early age and is now a plus tool.
Team: YankeesMore Less
Felnin CelestenDominican Republic SSNotes:
Born: Sept. 15, 2005. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 178. B-T: B-R.
Celesten trained in the same program as Robert Puason and became well known among international scouts from an early age with his mechanically advanced swing from both sides of the plate. He has an aggressive approach and might need to become a more selective hitter, but he has performed at a high level against live pitching and put a strong charge into the ball for his age. Now, though, Celesten's tools have jumped significantly as well as he has grown taller and gotten stronger. Celesten now flashes plus raw power and still shows more physical projection in his lean, athletic frame. His speed and arm strength have both improved to become plus tools as well. His hands and feet work well at shortstop, where he has the athleticism and skills to stick. That combination of hitting ability, tools and athleticism at a premium position makes Celesten the top shortstop in this class for many scouts.
Team: MarinersMore Less
Enmanuel BonillaDominican Republic OFNotes:
Born: Jan. 22, 2006. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 190. B-T: R-R.
The Blue Jays have hit on international signings at the top of the market (Vladimir Guerrero Jr.) down to the lower-dollar signings like Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno. For Jan. 15, 2023, Bonilla looks to be in line for a bonus in the $4 million area. Bonilla has high-end bat speed and the ability to drive the ball with impact, giving him a chance to be a 25-plus home run threat. Scouts highest on Bonilla thought he had one of the best combinations of hitting ability and power in the class, with a sound swing path and a good approach. Others thought he was a good fastball hitter who would have to make adjustments to get better against breaking stuff with a power-over-hit offensive profile. Bonilla is an above-average runner with a strong arm, so he could start off in center field, though with his physicality it's likely he ends up in right field long term.
Team: Blue JaysMore Less
Brainer GuerreroDominican Republic OFNotes:
Born: June 25, 2006. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 205. B-T: L-R.
Guerrero has a strong, physical frame with some of the best power potential in the class. He has a sound lefthanded stroke and flashes plus raw power, with some scouts projecting him to have anywhere from plus to plus-plus raw power in his prime. Scouts highest on him thought he showed solid plate discipline for his age as well that should help him tap into that power in games. Guerrero's strengths are in the batter's box, as he's a limited runner and athlete in an outfield corner, with a chance to play left field but some risk he ends up at first base.
Team: RaysMore Less
Sebastian WalcottBahamas SSNotes:
Born: March 14, 2006. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. B-T: R-R.
The Bahamas continues to be a growing source of baseball talent. This year's top player is Walcott, who looks set to sign for more than $3 million. Early in the scouting process, Walcott was athletic but skinny without much strength. Now he has grown taller and gotten stronger, helping his tools jump while staying lean and athletic with ample physical projection still there. Walcott has potential plus raw power, already driving the ball with authority with impressive bat speed. Hitters who are 6-foot-4 at 16 often have swing-and-miss issues, but Walcott drew praise from scouts for his contact skills, with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to keep his swing synced up and under control despite his long limbs. Walcott is an above-average runner underway and his arm grades out plus, with the arm action and physical projection for his arm to spike another grade as he fills out. He will probably start his career at shortstop, but he seems likely to outgrow the position and head to third base, with the outfield another potential destination.
Team: RangersMore Less
Alfredo DunoVenezuela CNotes:
Born: Jan. 17, 2006. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. B-T: R-R.
It's not easy to find a comp for Duno because there are few catchers his age who have come along with his combination of physicality and tools. Duno is tall and strong and it leads to a mature tool set for his age, with an arm that's at least a 60 and might be a 70. He gets rid of the ball well on throws to second base, with pop times in games that at times register under 1.9 seconds. Duno is big for a catcher but should have no trouble sticking behind the plate. He's athletic—he's an average runner underway, though he will likely slow down—and receives pitches well, with experience handling high-velocity arms from a young age. At the plate, Duno punishes baseballs with plus raw power that could eventually develop into a 70 tool. There are times when his upper and lower halves will get out of sync, but he has a knack for barreling the ball and the potential to be a 30-plus home run hitter if everything clicks.
Team: RedsMore Less
Starlyn CabaDominican Republic SSNotes:
Born: Dec. 6, 2005. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 160. B-T: B-R.
In their previous signing class, the Phillies' top signing was William Bergolla, a slick-fielding shortstop with a slender 5-foot-10 frame. Their top player for January 2023 is Caba, another 5-foot-10 shortstop with smooth defensive actions. He's an athletic defender and a plus runner with quick feet, soft hands and a solid-average arm that should tick up to become another plus tool. For a player with a smaller frame, Caba has some sneaky pop and strength in his swing from both sides of the plate, with a chance to be a 15-20 home run hitter. His bonus could approach the $3 million mark.
Team: PhilliesMore Less
Luis Danys MoralesCuba RHPNotes:
Born: Sept 24, 2002. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 176. B-T: R-R.
Morales pitched for Sancti Spiritus in Cuba's 18U national league in 2020, when he posted an ERA of 0.87 with 135 strikeouts and 18 walks in 82.2 innings. He led the league in both innings and strikeouts (with 48 more strikeouts than the No. 2 pitcher in the league) and ranked fourth in ERA. Teams generally don't pay big money for young international pitchers, but Morales—who will be 20 when he signs—is older and more advanced than the 16- and 17-year-old pitchers in the 2023 class, with a bonus expected to come in the $3 million area. Morales is an athletic pitcher with a big fastball that should continue to grow. He has reached 97 mph already, with the fast arm speed and strength projection remaining in his frame that suggests he could throw harder once he packs on more weight. His best secondary pitch is his slider, which has a chance to be an out pitch for him. While some scouts projected Morales as a starter, others saw reliever risk, thinking he would need to develop a better third pitch.
Team: AthleticsMore Less
Luis GuanipaVenezuela OFNotes:
Born: Dec. 5, 2005. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 170. B-T: R-R.
There are few players in this class who can match Guanipa's combination of power and speed. He has a strong, compact frame with explosive athleticism, which is evident in the way he moves in center field with plus-plus speed, albeit with a below-average arm. That explosiveness also shows up at the plate, as Guanipa generates impressive bat speed combined with significant strength gains over the last two years that has led to plus raw power. Guanipa often trains at the professional stadium in Margarita, and he shows the ability to hit balls out of the park to all fields. While his swing once had a bigger hitch to it, he has toned that down, showing more fluidity and better balance in the box.
Team: BravesMore Less
Derniche ValdezDominican Republic SSNotes:
Born: March 29, 2006. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 165. B-T: R-R.
Valdez has quick-twitch actions that show up in the batter's box, where he has fast hands to snap the barrel through the zone with good bat speed. His swing comes through the zone well with a good bat path, which along with his bat speed helps him square up high-end velocity. Scouts highest on Valdez thought he had a good eye and showed the ability to square up breaking stuff, though others thought he would need to become a more selective hitter. He uses the whole field and has surprising impact for his lean, wiry frame thanks to his bat speed, driving balls out of the park in games with more power projection remaining. A plus runner with a plus arm, Valdez also has the bouncy athleticism and tools to be able to handle shortstop.
Team: CubsMore Less
Rayner AriasDominican Republic OFNotes:
Born: April 29, 2006. Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 180. B-T: R-R.
As the son of Pablo Arias, a longtime scout in the Dominican Republic, Rayner Arias grew up around the game. It's evident in his game skills and overall feel for the game, especially at the plate. Scouts highest on Arias believe he is one of the most advanced hitters in the country. He drives the ball well already, with the size and strength projection to potentially grow into plus power as well. Arias is a good athlete who moves around well in the outfield, though he's a fringe-average runner at best, so his offensive game will have to carry him as a corner outfielder, with the arm strength that should allow him to play right field.
Team: GiantsMore Less
Ariel CastroCuba OFNotes:
Born: Feb. 17, 2006. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. B-T: L-L.
The Twins paid $2.5 million in 2019 to sign Enmanuel Rodriguez, a lefthanded, power-hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic who has since developed into a Top 100 prospect. For this upcoming Jan. 15 signing period, the Twins are ready to add another lefthanded outfielder in Castro. The power upside is the calling card for Castro, who has some stiffness to his stroke with a power-over-hit offensive profile. Defensively, he fits best in a corner, so it's his offensive game that will have to carry his value.
Team: TwinsMore Less
Robert GalaDominican Republic OFNotes:
Born: Nov. 22, 2005. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. B-T: R-R.
Gala has some similarities to Alexander Ramirez, the center fielder who signed with the Mets out of the Dominican Republic for $2.05 million, with Gala in line for a similar bonus. Like Ramirez, Gala has a long, lean frame with significant physical upside and projection remaining. He's a plus runner who should start in center field and could stick there if he retains enough of his speed. Gala drew a split camp on his pure hitting ability, with some saying they saw good contact skills, while others had concerns about longer levers leading to length in his swing, but his size and strength projection point to big power potential.
Team: RockiesMore Less
Yoandry VargasDominican Republic SSNotes:
Born: Nov. 8, 2005 Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. B-T: R-R.
Vargas is a tall, lean, athletic shortstop who moves well going to his left or right. A slightly above-average runner, Vargas has good actions, soft hands and a strong arm for the position, with some scouts considering him one of the top defensive shortstops in the class. A former switch-hitter now hitting righthanded only, Vargas drives the ball with impact too, with a chance to grow into above-average raw power. There is some swing and miss to his game, so it's a power-over-hit shape to his offensive profile, but if everything clicks he has a chance to develop into a power-hitting shortstop.
Team: DodgersMore Less
Luis AlmeydaDominican Republic SSNotes:
Born: April 17, 2006. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 180. B-T: R-R.
Almeyda grew up in New Jersey, where before he even entered high school, he was getting recruiting offers from some of the top programs in college baseball. Instead of staying in the United States for the 2025 high school class, Almeyda moved to the Dominican Republic and immediately drew attention. Now he will be eligible to sign as an international free agent when the signing period opens on Jan. 15, 2023, with a bonus expected to surpass $2 million. Almeyda typically puts together quality at-bats with a good approach and impressive power for his age that has started to jump as he's filling out his long, rangy build. He's smooth and under control at shortstop, where his feet work well and he has soft hands to go with a strong arm. Almeyda has the ball skills for shortstop, though depending on his physical development, there is a chance he could slide to third base, but he should develop the power to play at either spot.
Team: OriolesMore Less
Gian ZapataDominican Republic OFNotes:
Born: Sept. 13, 2005. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 190. B-T: L-L.
Zapata has a long, lanky and athletic frame at 6-foot-4, 190 pounds and looks like he might continue growing. Scouts highest on Zapata liked his bat speed, ability to put together quality at-bats and ability to use the whole field. His long levers gave some scouts concerns about the length to his swing path, but others liked his ability to hit in games and make hard contact to the middle of the field. Zapata mostly has gap power now, though with significant strength projection with so much space to still fill out. He's an above-average runner who should begin his career in center, though at his size he might end up slowing down and sliding over to right field with his plus arm that could also tick up as he gets stronger.
Team: D-backsMore Less
Camilo DiazDominican Republic SSNotes:
Born: Sept. 5, 2005. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 165. B-T: R-R.
Diaz has some of the best raw tools in the class. He has outstanding bat speed, which allows him to drive the ball with impact and put on an impressive power display during batting practice. There should be plus raw power in there, though it comes with swing-and-miss risk, so learning to tone things down and stay under control at the plate will be key for Diaz to tap into that power against live pitching. If Diaz outgrows shortstop, he has plenty of power and arm strength for third base, but he has a chance to stick up the middle. He's a good athlete with plus speed, an easy gait and an outstanding arm that draws 70 grades on the 20-80 scale.
Team: Astros.More Less
Daiverson GutierrezVenezuela CNotes:
Born: Sept. 11, 2005. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. B-T: R-R.
The Mets have hit big on two of their Venezuelan signings from recent years, with Andres Gimenez developing into one of the top middle infielders in the majors this year as a 23-year-old with Cleveland and catcher Francisco Alvarez becoming a top 10 prospect in baseball. They're set to sign another offensive-minded Venezuelan catcher on Jan. 15 in Gutierrez. He's an advanced hitter for his age with a mix of both pure hitting ability and power. His swing can get hitchy at times, but he turns the barrel into the zone well and has good hand-eye coordination, leading to frequent contact. He's an aggressive hitter who looks to drive the ball for damage but also controls the strike zone well for his age. When he does square up the ball, he has the strength and bat speed to generate big power too, with a chance to develop into a 25-plus home run hitter. Behind the plate, Gutierrez will need more work to develop his blocking and receiving and prove he can stick at catcher, but his above-average arm stands out.
Team: MetsMore Less
Ludwing EspinozaVenezuela SSNotes:
Born: Dec. 10, 2005. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 178. B-T: B-R.
The Cubs have several siblings in their system with the Hernandez brothers (Cristian and Alexis Hernandez), the Morels (Christopher and Rafael) and the Altuves (Brayan and Carlos) They are set to add another player with family ties to the system in Ludwing Espinoza, whose older brother Leonel is a Venezuelan shortstop the Cubs signed after the 2020 season who spent 2021 in the Dominican Summer League. Ludwing does a bit of everything well with good all-around instincts for the game. He has a sound swing, a mature approach and good bat-to-ball skills from both sides of the plate with gap power, showing a little more juice from the left side. A plus runner, Espinoza has a chance to stick at shortstop, though he could end up at second base. He has good hands, at least an average arm and is a savvy, fundamentally sound player who reads hops well and shows a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
Team: CubsMore Less