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NL Central International Signing Forecasts

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The 2017-18 international signing period opens on Sunday, July 2. Here’s what to expect from each team in the National League Central and the players they’re linked to, with each club’s bonus pool in parentheses.

Chicago Cubs ($4.75 million)

Some clubs don’t focus much on Mexico, which makes the Cubs’ strong presence there stand out even more. Due to Major League Baseball’s unusual rules regarding Mexican League signings and the Cubs being under the penalty this year, their commitment to scouring Mexico has an added tactical advantage. The Cubs are in their second and final year in the penalty box, where they can’t sign international amateur players for more than $300,000. For Mexican League signings, however, MLB only counts the amount that goes to the player (typically just 25 percent) against a team’s bonus pool. Teams under the penalty, such as the Cubs, can sign a player for up to $1.2 million if just 25 percent ($300,000) is going to the player. It’s an odd rule, which doesn’t come into play in too many cases given the lack of high-end talent annually in Mexico, but the Cubs look ready to go after two of the top players in Mexico this year. One is 17-year-old righthander Florencio Serrano, who is from Texas but moved to Mexico and is ranked as the No. 29 international prospect. The other is Luis Verdugo, the No. 47 prospect who played on Mexico’s 18U national team as a 15-year-old. They could each go for up to $1.2 million, with the Cubs likely to sign others from Mexico as well. Colombian shortstop Fabian Pertuz and Dominican outfielder Alexander Ovalles are also linked to the Cubs.

Cincinnati Reds ($5.25 million)

The Reds broke their bonus pool last year to sign Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez for $7 million, then later added Cuban righthander Vladimir Gutierrez and Cuban shortstop Jose Garcia to their class as well. Now they’re in the penalty and unable to sign anyone for more than $300,000. In recent years, with a few exceptions, the Reds have mostly spend on lower-dollar signings anyway, and given their $5.25 million bonus pool, they would be a good target for another team looking to trade up for additional bonus pool funds. Not many names have popped up yet in connection to the Reds, though one who has is Cuban outfielder Ruben Paz.

Milwaukee Brewers ($5.25 million)

Two very different outfielders are expected to be the centerpieces of the Brewers’ signing class. The most expensive of the two will be Larry Ernesto, the No. 26 prospect in the class who’s likely to sign for around $1.7 million. Ernesto, a Dominican outfielder, has an extremely projectable frame with good speed and athleticism, but his hitting ability and outfield instincts lag behind the other top players in the class. The opposite is true for Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Rodriguez, the No. 8 prospect, who has an Ender Inciarte starter kit. Rodriguez doesn’t have Ernesto’s size or raw tools, but he’s extremely advanced for his age at the plate and in his defensive instincts. The Brewers are likely to sign Ernesto, Rodriguez and Venezuelan catcher Andres Melendez.

Pittsburgh Pirates ($5.75 million)

While the Pirates are in the largest bonus pool bucket this year, that doesn’t seem like it will alter their strategy relative to recent signing periods, where they have generally topped out at around $500,000 for their biggest bonus and spread their money around to other players below that level. The top player the Pirates are linked to is Juan Pie, a Dominican outfielder expected to sign for around $500,000 and trains with Banana, whose program has also produced Kevin “Lolo” Sanchez and Jeremias Portorreal, among others, for the Pirates in recent years. Pie is a lefty who is light on raw tools but has impressed in the batter’s box with his fast lefthanded bat and feel for hitting, with power that will have to develop since he’s going to play left field.

St. Louis Cardinals ($4.75 million)

Earl Cunningham Larrygorenfourseam

Where Are They Now?: Earl Cunningham

The Cubs drafted powerful South Carolina high school outfielder Earl Cunningham eighth overall in 1989, but he was stymied by strikeouts and never advanced past high Class A.

After blasting past their bonus pool last year, the Cardinals enter their first of two signing periods unable to sign anyone for more than $300,000. They’re expected to sign Dominican outfielder Adanson Cruz, who has shown promise from the right side of the plate. They’re also linked to shortstop Sander Mora and catcher Jesus Orrechia, who were teammates on Venezuela’s 15U World Cup team in 2016 in Japan.

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