AL Central International Signing Forecasts
The 2017-18 international signing period opens on Sunday, July 2. Here’s what to expect from each team in the American League Central and the players they’re linked to, with each club’s bonus pool in parentheses.
Chicago White Sox ($4.75 million)
When Luis Robert left Cuba in November, the White Sox made him their top priority. That meant holding off on making any promises to sign 2017 prospects for more than $300,000, since if they signed Robert, they wouldn’t be able to sign anyone for more than $300,000. The White Sox, of course, did sign Robert—for a $26 million bonus—and can’t sign anyone during this signing period or the next for a bonus above $300,000.
Robert didn’t get MLB clearance to sign until May, which put the White Sox in an unusual situation leading up to July 2. Had they not signed Robert, the White Sox might have pivoted toward Cuban righthander Roberto Hernandez, one of the more promising pitchers in the class, but he’s not available at their price limit.
So unlike other clubs that have known for the last 12-24 months that they wouldn’t be able to sign anyone for more than $300,000 in 2017, the White Sox are proceeding with more of an open canvas as the signing period begins. One player the White Sox are expected to sign is Jefferson Mendoza, an athletic, righthanded-hitting catcher with a strong arm. They could also go after Sydney Pimentel, a skinny Dominican shortstop from the same program as Micker Adolfo who plays in the Dominican Prospect League.
Cleveland Indians ($5.25 million)
The Indians shifted gears in early 2017 when they parted ways with Latin American director Ramon Pena and promoted Koby Perez to become their new director of Latin American scouting. In December 2016, the Indians also named Paul Gillispie, who had been their pro scouting director, as their new international scouting director.
While the Indians mostly fished in shallower waters last year while making changes to their international scouting process, they look poised to strike for some of the top talent in the 2017 class. The best player they’re expected to sign is outfielder George Valera, who was born and raised in New York but moved to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. Valera, the No. 5 international prospect, has a tremendous lefthanded swing, good power and performs at a high level in games. They’re also expected to sign switch-hitting Venezuelan shortstop Aaron Bracho, the No. 17 prospect.
Other players the Indians are linked to include Venezuelan outfielder Alexfri Planez, lefthanded-hitting Dominican shortstop Jose Tena and Dominican shortstop Joseph Paulino, though Paulino is still 15, so he can sign once he turns 16 in August.
Detroit Tigers ($4.75 million)
The Tigers are one of the few teams who continue to operate an academy in Venezuela, a country where fewer scouts go now compared to five years, three years or even one year ago. Their 2017 signing class is likely to draw heavily from Venezuela. One players they’re expected to sign is shortstop Alvaro Gonzalez, who had a high profile training with Henderson Martinez. The other is shortstop Carlos Irigoyen, who had far less visibility in Venezuela (the response from some international directors when asked about Irigoyen was, “Who’s that?”). Gonzalez is the No. 39 prospect and Irigoyen ranks No. 43 on BA’s Top 50 list. The Tigers also have ties to Dominican shortstop Yonneiry Acevedo and Venezuelan outfielder Jose Reina.
Kansas City Royals ($5.75 million)
As a penalty for exceeding their 2015-16 bonus pool, the Royals are in their second and final year of being limited to signing bonuses of $300,000 or less. With a $5.75 million bonus pool, they’re a good candidate if another team is looking to trade up for extra bonus pool money. Players linked to the Royals include shortstops Frank Herrera and Jesus Reyes, catcher Rodrigo Rodriguez and outfielder Diego Maican, all from Venezuela.
Minnesota Twins ($5.25 million)
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It was hard to find true shortstops in the 2017 draft, where just three shortstops went in the first round. The Twins took one of them—Royce Lewis—with the No. 1 overall pick, and even he might end up in the outfield. That’s part of why some teams are willing to pay a premium in Latin America for a shortstop who can stick at the position. The Twins did it two years ago with Wander Javier and they’re expected to do so again this year with Jelfry Marte, a shortstop from the Dominican Republic who ranks as the No. 13 player in the class. Marte is a different type of player and smaller than Javier, but he is a quick-twitch athlete with plus speed and good footwork, agility and body control at shortstop. After shortstop Wander Franco, the No. 1 international prospect, Marte might end up being the second-highest paid player in the Dominican Republic this year, with an expected price tag around $3 million. The Twins are also linked to Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Aguiar (No. 30) and Dominican outfielder Mauro Bonifacio (No. 35), with Aguiar eligible to sign once he turns 16 on Aug. 28 and Bonifacio once he’s 16 on Aug. 31. Dominican center fielder Luis Baez is also linked to the Twins. Those players would eat up the vast majority of Minnesota's bonus pool.