NL East 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 East club's expected signings.
The Braves are rebuilding their international program after last year, when commissioner Rob Manfred banned former general manager John Coppolella from baseball and suspended special assistant Gordon Blakeley, who ran their international program, for one year. The Braves can still sign players for up to $300,000 during the 2018-19 signing period that opens on July 2, then won’t be able to sign anybody for more than $10,000 in 2019. There is still talent to be found in the $300,000-and-under price range, but it’s likely the Braves will try to trade away a good chunk of their pool space.
While other teams got an early, aggressive start on the 2018 class, the Marlins had to hold back as they waited for a new ownership group to take over. When Cuban outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez became a free agent in April, the Marlins made a run at him in an attempt to have him sign on July 2, but Martinez instead went to the Rangers for a $2.8 million bonus. With Fernando Seguignol entering his first July 2 in charge of the team’s international operations, the Marlins look ready to spend big on 16-year-old Cuban righthander Sandy Gaston and could make him the highest paid pitcher in the class. While Gaston can be wild, he has also touched 100 mph in the months leading up to July 2.
New York Mets
When the Mets have gone after one of the top players in Latin America, things have typically gone well for them. Amed Rosario was the team’s No. 1 prospect before graduating to the big leagues, with shortstop Andres Gimenez taking over his spot as the organization’s best prospect. Last year’s big-ticket signing, Dominican shortstop Ronny Mauricio, is trending up and skipped over the Dominican Summer League. The Mets look ready to make two big moves on July 2, starting with Venezuelan catcher Francisco Alvarez. While Alvarez will have to work to stay behind the plate, he has a strong arm and a lengthy track record of high-level game performance, hitting and hitting for power. The Mets are also connected to Freddy Valdez, a physical, power-hitting right fielder from the Dominican Republic, with a probable bonus around $1.5 million. Mario Paiva, a Venezuelan outfielder, looks like another Mets target.
Few teams can match what the Phillies have been able to do with Latin American pitching. Righthander Seranthony Dominguez is the latest bargain signing the Phillies have turned into a big league pitcher, with righthander Sixto Sanchez another example as the system’s top prospect and plenty of others in the pipeline. While most teams (including the Phillies) typically award their biggest bonuses in Latin America to position players, this year the Phillies’ top signings look like they will lean heavy on pitching. Their top projected signing is Starlyn Castillo, a physically mature righthander from the Dominican Republic who is one of the hardest throwers in the class with a fastball that has reached 97 mph. He’s expected to sign for around $1.5 million. Dominican righthander Fernando Ortega (6-foot-4, 160 pounds) and Venezuelan lefthander Joalbert Angulo (6-foot-5, 165 pounds) are both tall, physically underdeveloped pitchers with quick arms and the potential to throw harder once they gain weight. They’re both linked to the Phillies, with Ortega likely to sign for a little more than $500,000. Among position players, the Phillies are also expected to sign Alexeis Azuaje, a Venezuelan shortstop with plus-plus speed, as well as two Venezuelan catchers, Javier Vina and Andrick Nava. Another Venezuelan prospect, righthander Wilson Gherbaz, has been eligible to sign since 2017 and is expected to sign with the Phillies on July 2.
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For a while when Nationals ownership was hesitant to spend much money in Latin America, Washington hit on a bunch of lower-dollar signings. Pedro Severino, Wilmer Difo and Jose Marmolejos are all on the 40-man roster. Reynaldo Lopez is in the starting rotation for the White Sox. Victor Robles, a $225,000 signing, is one of the game’s best prospects. The Nationals also have one of the best young hitters in the game in Juan Soto, who they signed for $1.5 million in 2015, but they’re going to have to find more bargains this year. The Nationals are entering the second year of a two-year penalty for exceeding their pool in 2016, so they won’t be able to sign anyone for more than $300,000. One of their targets appears to be Jeremy de la Rosa, a lefthanded outfielder from the Dominican Republic with a strong build and feel for hitting. Outfielder Yeuri Amparov and catcher Jeisel Acosta, both from the Dominican Republic, are also connected to the Nationals.