NL Central 2018 International Signing Preview
With the 2018-19 international signing period opening on July 2, here are Baseball America's forecasts of every National League Central club's expected signings.
The Cubs have been under the penalty the last two years, though with a heavy scouting presence in Mexico, the Cubs still were able to sign prospects for more than $300,000, adding righthander Florencio Serrano and shortstop Luis Verdugo last year from Mexican League clubs. With the rest of their handcuffs coming off starting on July 2, the Cubs will be in heavy on pitching and athletic, middle-of-the-diamond position players. For some scouts, Venezuelan righthander Richard Gallardo is the top 2018 pitching prospect available, with a fastball up to 93 mph, a sharp curveball and the ability to fill up the strike zone. Gallardo is likely to sign with the Cubs, though he isn’t expected to get their biggest bonus. That will probably go to Jose Lopez, a Dominican center fielder with plus speed and a strong arm, with a projected price around $1.5 million. The Cubs have a deep scouting history with Dominican shortstop Rafael Morel—they signed his older brother, Christopher Morel, for $800,000 in 2015—and they look ready to sign Rafael for a comparable bonus. Venezuelan lefthander Joel Machado is also connected to the Cubs.
Since the Reds went over their international bonus pool in 2016-17, they were under the penalty last year and unable to sign anyone for more than $300,000. They ended up trading away most of their bonus pool space, and in the second of their two-year penalty, the Reds will probably look to trade away a good chunk of their pool allotment once again. One player who has popped up in connection with the Reds is Esmil Torres, a switch-hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic.
The Brewers are planning to be active for position players all around the diamond in Latin America. They’re connected to two Dominican outfielders who both train with Jaime Ramos. One is Eduarqui Fernandez, who has an athletic frame and the tools for center field, with a bonus likely coming in just above $1 million. The other outfielder is Erys Bautista, a 6-foot, 240-pound switch-hitter who might end up at first base. Venezuelan shortstop Eduardo Garcia is another Brewers target, as is Branlyn Jaraba, a power-hitting third baseman from Colombia. The Brewers are also expected to sign Fernando Villalobos, a lefthanded-hitting catcher from Mexico. Venezuelan shortstop Carlos Roa is another lower-tier player linked to Milwaukee.
With Rene Gayo getting fired in November and later suspended by Major League Baseball, the Pirates overhauled their international scouting department. The club heads into its first July 2 under Junior Vizcaino, who had been an international crosschecker with the Red Sox and is now the Pirates’ international scouting director. The Pirates have signed a bunch of players from Banana over the years, and it looks like they might add another in Sergio Campana, an athletic center fielder with plus speed from the Dominican Republic. Osvaldo Gavilan, a lefthanded outfielder from the Dominican Republic, looks like another target, with a mid-to-high six-figure deal possible. Venezuelan lefthander Adrian Mendez is another player with ties to the Pirates.
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St. Louis Cardinals
Last year was the first year for the Cardinals under the penalty. They couldn’t sign anyone for more than $300,000, so part of their strategy involved waiting for players with higher asking prices but no takers to fall into their price point. Under the penalty for the second and final year in 2018, the Cardinals look like they might take that same tactic again. One player who some think will end up with the Cardinals is Malcom Nunez, a Cuban third baseman with big power and a strong arm. Nunez has been out of Cuba since before July 2 last year, but during his time in Cuba he was one of the top players and performers in his age group. Venezuelan righthander Jesus Rojas and Venezuelan catcher Diego Velasquez are other players with ties to the Cardinals.