2023 International Reviews: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs built the core of their international signing class this year around three shortstops, each of whom signed for $1 million or more. 

Top Of The Class

The Cubs signed Dominican shortstop Derniche Valdez for $2.8 million, the fourth-highest bonus for a shortstop this year and No. 10 overall. Valdez, 17, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with quick-twitch actions and explosiveness that stand out most in the batter’s box. He has quick wrists to generate fast bat speed and turn the barrel with good path through the hitting zone. With that bat speed and more strength that he’s added to a once wiry frame, Valdez looks like he could be a 25-plus home run hitter. Playing as a tryout player at a Dominican instructional league game at the Cubs complex last year, Valdez demonstrated both his power and all-fields approach, blasting a home run that cleared the scoreboard in right-center field. Valdez can barrel premium velocity and the scouts highest on him liked his ability to square up breaking stuff, though others thought he would need to develop a more selective approach and could end up a power-over-hit profile. Valdez has a chance to develop into an average defender at shortstop, though there’s a chance a better defender could ultimately push him elsewhere in the infield. He’s filling out with a build along the lines of former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro and is now an above-average runner with a plus arm that could tick up. His hands and feet work well at shortstop and his overall game awareness is advanced for his age.

Shortstop Angel Cepeda signed with the Cubs for $1 million. Top college programs in the country were recruiting Cepeda by the time he became a teenager growing up in New Jersey. Instead, Cepeda moved to the Dominican Republic and signed at 17 as an international free agent. Cepeda drew widespread praise from scouts for both his hitting ability and high baseball IQ, with polish that should translate to quick offensive success in the Dominican Summer League. He’s 6-foot-1, 180 pounds and routinely puts together quality at-bats, getting himself into favorable counts with a keen eye for the strike zone and a low swing-and-miss rate. It’s a compact righthanded swing with a barrel that stays through the hitting zone a long time, which helps him drive the ball for hard contact to all fields and home run power to his pull side. A lot of scouts viewed Cepeda as a future offensive-minded second baseman. He has above-average speed, good hands, a strong arm and his baseball savvy translates well in the field too, though his range could fit better at second. Those attributes had some scouts thinking he might be an intriguing catcher conversion candidate, but he’s going to develop as a shortstop, though he could see time elsewhere in the infield and possibly center field to enhance his defensive flexibility. 

The Cubs paid $1 million to sign 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Ludwing Espinoza. His older brother, 20-year-old outfielder Leonel Espinoza, signed with the Cubs in 2020 and played in the Dominican Summer League in 2021, though he was on the injured list in 2022. Ludwing is 5-foot-11, 175 pounds with solid tools, a well-rounded set of skills and good instincts. He’s a switch-hitter with good contact skills and a sound approach for his age from both sides of the plate. It’s mostly doubles power now with a chance to grow into a 15-plus home run hitter. Espinoza is a plus runner and could play shortstop, though he might end up at second base. He’s a smart, fundamentally sound player with a knack for slowing down the game in the field, good body control, hands and an average arm. 


Names To Know

We use this section typically to write up players who signed for six-figure bonuses. However, so far the Cubs’ class has been three players who signed for $1 million or more, with the rest signing for $10,000 or less. They do have around $500,000 left in their pool, so they could still have more signings above $10,000 to come before the signing period closes on Dec. 15. 

Sleeper Watch

The Cubs have long been one of the most active teams signing international prospects going back the last couple of decades, but until this year, they had never signed a Brazilian amateur prospect. That changed this year when they signed righthander Emannoel Madeira for $10,000. Madeira pitched in the U-18 World Cup in September 2022 in Bradenton, Fla. He threw four scoreless, no-hit innings against Canada, finishing the tournament with a 1.75 ERA, nine strikeouts and three walks in eight innings. Even more impressive, Madeira did it as a 16-year-old and is one of the youngest players signed this year, as he won’t turn 17 until the end of August. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Madeira has a big frame with a loose arm, a sound delivery for his age and he throws strikes with a fastball that has been up to 91 mph. There could be mid-90s velocity coming, and with the way hitters react late to his fastball, it already plays up because of its life. Madeira’s fastball is his predominant pitch, with the beginnings of a curveball, slider and changeup in his repertoire. 

Dominican third baseman Albert Gutierrez signed with the Cubs for $10,000 after showing big power from the right side. He’s 19 with an aggressive offensive approach and a power-over-hit profile, with the ability to crush a fastball that could translate to big home run numbers this year in the DSL. He could stick at third base but might end up at first base or in left field. 

Righthander Saul Siri, 18, signed for $20,000 out of the Dominican Republic. He’s a solid strike-thrower at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds with a fastball that has been up to 92 and has a chance to creep up to the mid 90s. The separator for him is a sharp-breaking curveball that flashes as a swing-and-miss pitch.

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