The 2017-18 international signing period opens in seven weeks on July 2. It’s a day flooded with teams signing 16-year-old international prospects, with most of those prospects coming from Latin America and largely from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. It will be the first year of the new hard caps on international spending. Each team gets a bonus pool of $4.75 million, $5.25 million or $5.75 million, and while teams can trade for an additional 75 percent of their original pool allotment, teams can no longer simply blast through their pools and incur future signing restrictions like they have done in the past. These are 10 of the top prospects to watch for July 2 and which teams are expected to sign them.
Wander Franco, ss, Dominican Republic
Several teams have Franco as the No. 1 international prospect on their board for July 2. His uncle is Padres shortstop Erick Aybar and his two older brothers—both also named Wander Franco—are infielders in the Astros and Royals farm systems. For some scouts, Franco is the best pure hitter in the class. At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Franco is a switch-hitter with outstanding bat speed and an easy, compact swing with excellent bat control. He keeps the bat head through the hitting zone for a long time, making contact at a high rate against both fastballs and soft stuff in all areas of the strike zone. He shows big power during batting practice, though in games his approach is more about hitting line drives to all fields. Franco has smooth hands at shortstop and should get the opportunity to start his minor league career, though many scouts expect him to slide over to second base. Franco, who trains with Rudy Santin, is expected to be the highest paid player in the class this year, with a bonus likely to come in just shy of $4 million.
PROJECTED TEAM: RAYS
Daniel Flores, c, Venezuela
While Franco leads the list for some clubs, others have Flores as the top player in the 2017 class. He’s one of the best international amateur catchers in years with a chance to become a premium defender behind the plate. Flores regularly posts pop times in the 1.8s in games, which is elite for a major league catcher. He has extremely quick footwork and transfer to a plus arm with sharp accuracy. Flores is a strong, athletic switch-hitter with power at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and he performed well against live pitching last summer, though some clubs who followed him coming into the year saw more up-and-down offensive performance.
Flores’ camp had huge bonus expectations prior to the announcement of the international hard caps in December, then didn’t back down much after the rules came out. A few months ago, it appeared the Rangers were likely going to sign Flores, but that’s changed, with the Red Sox now the favorites to land Flores. Given Boston’s expected international activity, the Red Sox will probably be trading up for more international bonus pool money once they’re allowed to make a trade beginning on July 2. Flores trains with Jose Salas. PROJECTED TEAM: RED SOX
Everson Pereira, of, Venezuela
Pereira is one of the most well-rounded players in the class. He’s an athletic center fielder with good speed, a strong arm for his age and good defensive instincts. At 6 feet, 165 pounds, Pereira is a righthanded hitter with a simple, fluid swing and puts together quality at-bats with a lot of game contact, line drives to all fields and occasional over-the-fence pop. Pereira trains with Jose Montero.
PROJECTED TEAM: YANKEES
Ronny Mauricio, ss, Dominican Republic
Mauricio, who trains with Carlos Guzman, is a favorite among many scouts. He’s a smooth defender at shortstop with quick hands, a good internal clock and a nose for the ball, even though he’s a below-average runner. Mauricio’s skinny, high-waisted frame (6-foot-2, 165 pounds) offers promising physical upside with ample room to pack on size and strength. Mauricio has long arms but keeps his hands inside the ball fairly well with a smooth stroke from both sides of the plate and the strength projection to grow into future power.
PROJECTED TEAM: METS
George Valera, of, Dominican Republic
A fluent English speaker born and raised in New York, Valera moved to the Dominican Republic and has trained with Alfredo Arias. Like Nationals outfielder Juan Soto two years ago, Valera is a sweet-swinging lefty who has developed into one of the elite game hitters in the class. Valera has a compact, pretty swing that stays through the hitting zone a long time, with good rhythm, timing and leverage. He controls the strike zone well and has above-average raw power. Valera is a corner outfielder whose value lies in his bat.
PROJECTED TEAM: INDIANS
Antonio Cabello, c, Venezuela
Cabello, who trains with Francisco Ortiz, is an unusual prospect. He’s a catcher, but he’s also a 6.5 runner in the 60-yard dash who could go to center field, which some scouts think will happen unless he can improve his receiving. Cabello’s strength produces an advanced tool set and a physically mature frame (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) for his age. There isn’t much movement in his short, fast swing from the right side and he hits hard line drives when he connects, with a patient approach to draw walks. There is some uncertainty around which team will get Cabello, but most signs point to the Rockies.
PROJECTED TEAM: ROCKIES
Kristian Robinson, of, Bahamas
The Bahamas has become an emerging source of talent, with shortstops Lucius Fox (Rays) and Jazz Chisholm (Diamondbacks) signing from there out of the MaxD Sports Academy in 2015. This year’s class has a handful of prospects from the same program in the Bahamas, including Robinson, a premium athlete with plus-plus speed, running the 60-yard dash in 6.3 seconds. It’s even more impressive given his size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, with the bat speed and strength in his swing that should make him a power-speed threat in center field. Some scouts saw him perform well in games and have him way up their lists, while others thought his bat was further away and that he would need to improve his pitch recognition. His bonus is expected to be among the highest in the 2017 class.
PROJECTED TEAM: DIAMONDBACKS
Danny Diaz, ss, Venezuela
Diaz might not stay at shortstop long, but he’s one of the better offensive-minded prospects in the class. He’s a big-bodied 6-foot-3, 200 pounds and performs well in games from the right side of the plate. He has advanced feel to hit for his age, uses the middle of the field and hits the ball hard now with a chance to develop plus power. Diaz will probably slide over to third base quickly, where he has a chance to stick as long as he stays on top of his conditioning. Diaz trains with Jose Montero.
PROJECTED TEAM: RED SOX
Julio Rodriguez, of, Dominican Republic
Rodriguez has some of the loudest thunder in the 2017 class. In batting practice, he hits balls out to all fields with ease, with a loose trigger and excellent bat speed from the right side. His power is arguably the best in the class and he has shown the ability to hammer fastballs and perform well against live pitching at times, though several scouts noted up-and-down game performance. He’s a heavy-bodied 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and does move well underway for his size right now, though he’s only going to get bigger and is a corner outfielder, with enough arm to go to right field. Rodriguez trains at the MB Baseball Academy.
PROJECTED TEAM: MARINERS
Eric Pardinho, rhp, Brazil
Paying big money for pitching is a tough bet to make on kids who are still 16. Historically, the overwhelming majority of the top bonuses for 16-year-old signings out of Latin America go to position players, a trend that will continue this year. The highest paid pitcher this year will likely be Pardinho, a 5-foot-9 Brazilian righthander who lacks much physical projection but has advanced stuff and polish for his age. His fastball already sits in the low-90s and he can put hitters away with a swing-and-miss curveball, something he showed last summer at the COPABE 16U tournament in Panama when he overmatched the Dominican team with 14 strikeouts and one walk in six innings.
PROJECTED TEAM: BLUE JAYS