Five Big International Prospects To Watch For 2023
The 2023 international signing period opens in four months on Jan. 15, 2023.
With the way international signings work, most of the top players already committed to sign with teams years ago when they were 13 or 14, which means that players who are signing for $1 million and up haven't been seen much in a competitive environment going back the last two or three years.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association didn't reach an agreement on an international draft in July, so the speed of the international market is unlikely to change soon.
For Baseball America subscribers, we will have a lot more information on the prominent players in the 2023 class as Jan. 15 gets closer. Today, we start with a look at five of the bigger name players, most of whom look to be in line for bonuses in the area of $3 million and up, with a focus on players who project to play in the middle of the diamond.
Ethan Salas, C, Venezuela
Salas became famous early as international scouts were tracking his older brother, Marlins shortstop Jose Salas, a 2019 signing from Venezuela who was one of the top prospects in his class and is now the No. 5 prospect in their organization. Ethan is an even more exciting prospect compared to his brother at the same age, and he's one of the most polished all-around international catchers for his age in recent years. He's 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and one of the most advanced hitters available for Jan. 15, 2023. Salas has strong on-base skills between his contact skills and plate discipline. He has a compact lefthanded swing, stays balanced and is consistently on plane and on time. Salas tracks pitches well and has a knack for barreling balls to all fields in games. Salas doesn't have the present power of some of the more physically mature players his age, but he already flashes home run power that should continue to spike with natural strength progression. As talented as Salas is in the batter's box, the reviews are similar for his work behind the plate. His blocking, receiving and throwing mechanics are all polished for his age, with a tick above-average arm that plays up because of his quick release and should get even better once he adds strength. For some scouts, Salas is the best player in the class, a well-rounded player with advanced hitting ability and defense at a premium position.
Felnin Celesten, SS, Dominican Republic
Celesten was another player who became prominent early in the scouting process for his polish at the plate and athleticism. A switch-hitter, Celesten showed good rhythm at the plate with a well-sequenced swing, especially for his age, with the ability to drive the ball with surprising sting for his size, leading to a strong offensive track record. As Celesten has grown to 6-foot-1, 178 pounds, his tools have ticked up, turning him into a player with an impressive mix of tools, athleticism and game skills who projects to play a premium position. Celesten still has a lean, athletic frame but the added strength has led to flashes of plus raw power to go with his plus speed. He has good hands and quick feet at shortstop, with his strong arm another plus tool.
Alfredo Duno, C, Venezuela
With Gabriel Moreno (Blue Jays), Francisco Alvarez (Mets) and Diego Cartaya (Dodgers), three of the top 10 prospects on our Top 100 are Venezuelan catchers. There's more on the way this year with Salas and Duno, two high-end talents with different skill sets. While Salas is a polished player who makes the game look easy, Duno stands out more for his physicality and present tools. He's 6-foot-3, 220 pounds with excellent bat speed and plus raw power from the right side. As he continues to get stronger, he could end up with 70 power on the 20-80 scale. Duno's strong arm gives him another plus tool that could become a 70 as well, with an effective release to nail runners with pop times under 1.9 seconds in games. Duno has a big frame for a catcher, but his catch-and-throw skills are advanced for his age. He's extremely athletic for his size—he's at least an average runner underway—with soft hands to receive the ball well.
Brando Mayea, OF, Cuba
It used to be that the top Cuban players would leave the country and either step into a major league lineup right away or get there quickly after some time in the minor leagues. These days, many of the top Cuban players are leaving the country as teenagers to sign with a major league club, with the 16-year-old Mayea the same age as other players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela who will be signing on Jan. 15. Like Salas behind the plate and Celesten at shortstop, Mayea brings a good balance of athleticism, hitting ability and tools in the middle of the field. At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Mayea has a quick, direct swing from the right side with a knack for barreling pitches throughout the strike zone, going with where the ball is pitched to use the whole field. It's a hit-over-power profile, but he's added more over-the-fence juice to his pull side as he's gained strength and should have more coming. Those strength gains have also helped him get faster, with Mayea now a plus-plus runner with a plus arm in center field.
Starlyn Caba, SS, Dominican Republic
The top Phillies international signing in their class from this year's signing period that opened on Jan. 15, 2022 was William Bergolla Jr., a lefthanded-hitting shortstop from Venezuela. Bergolla Jr. hit .380/.470/.423 in 83 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League this year, drawing 11 walks and striking out just three times (3.6%), showing minimal power but with outstanding contact skills and the defensive attributes to stay at shortstop. Their top player for Jan. 15 is another shortstop with a similar build at 5-foot-10, 160 pounds who projects to stick at the position. Caba isn't a huge slugger, but he has more ability to drive the ball with impact at the same age compared to Bergolla Jr., driving the ball well to the gaps from both sides of the plate. He's a plus runner and a good athlete, which is evident in the way he plays shortstop. He's a fluid defender whose hands and feet work well at the position with an arm that's nearing plus and should be there soon with more strength gains.