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How Some International Signings Find Upside In Low Signing Bonuses

Domingo-Acevedo-Getty
Domingo Acevedo (Getty Images)

Major league organizations signed more 950 players during the 2017-18 international signing period. The number of signees for the 2018-19 period will surely be higher than that.

But a minor league pact with an international player isn’t complete once he signs on the dotted line.

Once a player signs, he goes through an extensive Major League Baseball investigation to determine his age, official date of birth and confirm his identity. Then comes the visa application process, which determines whether a player will be cleared to play for a U.S. affiliate when he is deemed ready.

This process can take months, however, and players are occasionally denied visas. That’s why clubs will invoke a visa contingency clause in the professional contract so that they don’t have to pay a player if his visa is denied. Without this clause, teams would still have to pay a signing bonus to players who are ineligible to play in the U.S. Therefore, any player who signs for a large bonus goes through the visa application process.

However, MLB often agrees to waive the investigation process for any player who signs for $10,000 or less. As the Dominican Summer League season approaches in June, teams tend to fill holes on their rosters by signing a few players for small bonuses and assigning them right away to the 44-team league.

For many of these signees, a season in the DSL will be their only pro experience. But every year a few of these inexpensive signees break out. Examples include righthander Edwin Uceta, who originally signed for $10,000 and is now the Dodgers’ No. 26 prospect. Yankees righthander Domingo Acevedo, who ranks No. 23 prospect, signed for $7,500.

From a player development standpoint, teams tend to value time spent with players to gain a deeper appreciation for their talents.

“Since there are so many guys who sign for less than $10,000, their behavior and work ethic are extremely important for us,” an American League front office executive said. “We get an opportunity to see how they work and their mindset. Many of them will hustle and play like it’s their last day on the diamond, so it also helps to set an example for the other players.”

Generally speaking, the players who sign for less than $10,000 are a little older or have otherwise flown under the radar, but sometimes teams catch lightning in a bottle.

Moreover, they get to see how these players perform in a competitive atmosphere. If they perform, teams can open up the visa process during the DSL season with the possibility of sending the player to the U.S. for instructional league in the fall.

The biggest challenge facing these low-bonus players is impressing their organizations in an often very limited opportunity.

Dominican Summer League teams sometimes shoehorn players into positions they aren’t accustomed to playing in order to create at-bats for more touted prospects. And teams have investments to protect, so a $10,000 pitcher isn’t going to take away innings from a $500,000 signee.

It’s a tough task, but many players jump at the opportunity to make an impression and potentially kick-start their pro careers.

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