Braves Paid High Price For Little Reward In International Signing Scandal
The Braves international signing violations last decade cost many people their jobs.
General manager John Coppollela resigned and was later banned for life by Major League Baseball after a league investigation determined the club intentionally circumvented international signing rules. Special assistant Gordon Blakely was suspended for a year. President of baseball operations John Hart resigned in the aftermath of the scandal.
The organization was stripped of 12 international prospects it had signed, was prohibited from signing two additional prominent international players it had agreed to deals with and had its international bonus pools sharply restricted for two years. It was also stripped of a third-round draft pick after the league’s investigation ruled the Braves violated draft rules, as well.
Perhaps the most unfortunate part of it all is it’s now clear the players the Braves went to such lengths to sign weren’t worth it.
Shortstop Livan Soto became the first of the 12 former Braves international signees to reach the major leagues over the weekend, making his debut as a pinch-runner for the Angels on Saturday and going 2-for-3 with a home run in his first start on Sunday. Soto has emerged as a potential backup shortstop or utility infielder this season, making him the best of the 12 prospects that MLB determined the Braves signed in violation of the rules.
Aside from Soto, here is how the other former Braves prospects declared free agents as a result of the scandal have fared:
Infielder Kevin Maitan, the top-ranked international prospect at the time, ballooned from 175 pounds to 222 pounds in two years after he signed and lost his athleticism and mobility. He now weighs over 250 pounds and hit .261/.338/.399 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs for Double-A Rocket City in the Angels system this year. Evaluators have not considered him a prospect for years.
Righthander Yefri Del Rosario is a reliever in the Royals system and posted a 4.58 ERA in 45 appearances with Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha this year. He allowed more than a hit per inning, averaged less than a strikeout per inning and allowed a .274/.349/.452 opponent slash line. He does not rank among the Royals Top 30 Prospects.
Infielder Yunior Severino moved off of shortstop almost immediately after signing and now splits his time between second and third base in the Twins system. He hit .278/.370/.536 with 19 home runs and 65 RBIs between High-A Cedar Rapids and Double-A Wichita this year and shows offensive promise, but his body has thickened up and he is a below-average defender at both second and third base. He does not rank among the Twins Top 30 Prospects.
Catcher Abrahan Gutierrez signed with the Phillies after being declared a free agent and was traded to the Pirates at the 2021 trade deadline for Triple-A lefthander Braeden Ogle. He hit .257/.356/.411 with 12 home runs and 56 RBIs this year for High-A Greensboro, which plays in an extreme hitter’s park, and spent nearly as many games as a DH (42) as he did at catcher (45). He ranks as the Pirates No. 26 prospect and projects to be a future backup catcher, at best.
Outfielder Brandol Mezquita re-signed with the Braves and is the only one of the 12 signees remaining in their system. He hit .268 with three home runs at Low-A Augusta and High-A Rome this season and has not shown the ability to impact the ball in the air, although he does have plus speed and the ability to play all three outfield positions. He ranks as the Braves No. 18 prospect and has a chance to be a backup outfielder.
Outfielder Juan Carlos Negret hit .222/.297/.441 with 18 home runs and 68 RBIs at High-A Quad Cities in the Royals system this year. While he has big power, he is a career .213 hitter in the minor leagues and has never shown the ability to make enough contact. He does not rank among the Royals Top 30 Prospects.
Shortstop Yenci Pena has struggled with injuries and hit .204/.326/.290 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 64 games between Low-A Hickory and High-A Down East this year. He does not rank among the Rangers Top 30 Prospects.
Righthander Guillermo Zuniga is a reliever in the Dodgers system and had a 4.77 ERA with 11 saves for Double-A Tulsa this year. He does not rank among the Dodgers Top 30 Prospects.
Shortstop Angel Rojas signed with the Yankees and has not made it past the complex leagues in three seasons. He hit .143 in nine games in the Rookie-level FCL this year and does not rank among the Yankees Top 30 Prospects.
Righthander Juan Contreras signed with the Angels but was released after just six appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona League in 2019. He has not pitched professionally since.
Outfielder Antonio Sucre re-signed with the Braves eight months after being declared a free agent. The Braves released him in 2019 and he has not played professionally since.
Additionally, the league voided deals the Braves had with shortstops Ji-Hwan Bae and Robert Puason. Bae has hit .287 with eight home runs, 52 RBIs and 27 stolen bases for Triple-A Indianapolis in the Pirates system this year, but he projects to be a utility player rather than a starter. He was also suspended for 30 games in 2019 after a South Korean court found him guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend. Puason hit .185 in a repeat season at Low-A Stockton and was demoted to the Arizona Complex League in June.
The remaining active signees are still in their early 20s and have their careers largely ahead of them, but none project to be impact players. What’s more, the Braves did not need the players—either as major league contributors or prospect trade capital—to become World Series champions.
The players the Braves violated international signing rules to get have largely failed to live up the hype that accompanied their signings, and losing them had no bearing on the organization’s ability to become a championship contender.
In the end, those involved in the Braves international violations paid a very high price for very little reward.