International Free Agent Report

Season 22 has not exactly been a banner year for international talent. Let's have a look at a few of the better prospects that have been signed this season. I will list them by the amount of prospect bonus money spent on them, so don't look at this as an attempt to rank them.

First on the list is Olmedo Guillen, a Venezualan starting pitcher signed by the Cincinnati Red Army. By plunking down a cool 23.1 million dollar signing bonus, Cincinnati has indicated that they look to become a major player in the international market. This looks to be money well spent, because the 18 year old Guillen projects to be a solid number two type of starting pitcher. He projects to have excellent control, has good velocity, above average splits, and his pitch arsenal will feature a very good 4-seam fastball, a good curve, and average cut fastball and changeup. He should be durable enough to pitch 230 innings of sub-4 ERA ball per season. Although he's not the next Villa or Vasco, he might just turn out to be the top international signing this season.

Next up we will look at Mexican Felipe Lee, who Montreal added to their stable of fine young International pitchers for $18.7 M, with a spring training invite. Although this 18 year old probably won't have the ability to handle the type of workload that Guillen will, Lee just might be the most skilled pitcher signed as an international free agent this season. He projects to have some pretty dominating stuff, including high end splits, first class velocity, and five pitches, of which his sinker and curveball project to be elite. It also looks like he'll strongly tend to be a groundball pitcher, and should have good enough command of the strike zone be effective. As touched upon earlier, the only knock on this kid is that he might not be able to handle the type of workload of a starting pitcher, so look for Montreal to groom him to be a setup guy or two-inning closer. His ability to stay healthy might be an issue in the end as well.

The most highly touted positional IFA this season so far was signed by Baltimore. Although he is listed as a SS right now, Albie Nieto might be better suited to play 3B in the end. Baltimore signed this 18 year old Mexican prodigy to a MLB contract, with $18 million in bonus money. That type of money and contract should probably be money well spent, since this guy looks to be a veritable 5 tool player. This switch hitter projects to feature good power and batting average, excellent speed and decent baserunning abilities, and either plus defensive ability and arm strength for the 3b position, or sub par defensive skills for shortstop. His only real drawback, minor as it is, is that he might not end up with enough durability to start 162 games per season. All in all, Baltimore made a good buy for this kid, who projects to be a solid Major League player. He might even earn himself some all-star nods before his career is through.

Another 18 year old, Dominican Yovani Lucano is next on our list. It took an $18 M bonus to get this kid signed to a minor league deal, and Durham was happy to do so. He projects to have the tools to be an effective number three type of starting pitcher. He won't be able to eat the type of innings that Olmedo Guillen will, but he should be effective when he's on the mound. Although he won't have dominating stuff, he also doesn't seem to have any weaknesses to his skillset either. Some might argue that spending 18 million to get an average starting pitcher is a bit of a high price, but when you average out that cost over the 5 seasons of minimal price that Durham will pay to get the services of a solid MLer, it looks like money well spent to me. At the end of his cheap years, Durham could also pick up a probable type B pick should Lucano sign elsewhere as a free agent.

The last big money signing this season was for 18 year old Venezuelan C/DH Jimmie Mangual. Las Vegas had to pony up $17.5 M and a MLB deal to get this kid's name on the dotted line, which is probably an overpayment, but at the end of the season, it's definitely better to overpay rather than get nothing. As for the kid's skills, it looks like he could become quite an effective ML hitter, with good projections for his contact skills, batting eye and versus right, and to a lesser extent versus left splits. His projects to have decent power - good extra base power, but he'll never be at the top of the list for home runs. As for his defensive abilities, it looks like he might come up short in the pitch calling department, and his range, although he's a catcher, might not make the grade either, meaning he won't be so good at blocking the plate. On the plus side, his arm strength and accuracy should make him a tough catcher to steal bases against. All in all, it's probably a good thing that Las Vegas plays in the AL, because this guy might be best suited to suit up as a DH, with spot duties filling in as a C when needed. All things being equal, there is no way that this guy deserves the signing bonus that he got, but as noted earlier, when the season is winding down, and you know that there won't be any more IFAs showing up, it's better to overpay for the best of what's left rather than being stuck holding a big bag of money and having nothing to spend it on.

Toronto waded into the international free agent pool to nab 21 year old Latino Frenchman Brady Vasquez for a $10.6 M bonus to go with a minor league deal. Although at the age of 21 he might not be developing much more, he is capable of pitching in the ML right now as a setup B kind of reliever. That's the kind of price that you have to pay to get ML talent in the international market these days. Most of Vasquez's skill set might leave something to be desired, but he has no holes in his game, and actually features a couple of dominating pitches, being his knuckleball and 4-seam fastball. He won't be winning any awards in his career, but Toronto can expect to get 50-60 solid, unspectacular innings per season out of this guy for cheap.

Those who cringe at the amount of money that gets splashed around in the international market might point to Vasquez, and Philidelphia's signing of Diory Alburquerque as cringe-worthy. But, the question needs to be asked - What else are they going to spend their prospect budget on? Alas, this is an argument for another day. As for Alburquerque, (I love typing out that name!), he projects to be another setup B type of talent, who should "max" out at 40-50 IP per season. This 18 year old's first pitch, a 4-seam fastball, could top out at an elite level, but his other two pitches (cut FB, curve) as well as the rest of his skill set, project to be decidedly pedestrian ML stuff.

It looks like Boston might have gotten better value for their $9.6 M than Toronto and Philly for their $10.6 M and $10.1 M. With the signing of 18 year old Panamanian Al Javier to a Major League deal, Boston has picked up a setup guy who's skill-set and durability looks to top out at a higher level thank Vazquez or Alburquerque. He projects to be able to pitch up to 100 IP, and has the skills to make them count. His two pitches, a 4-seamer and change up project to be dominating and good. His splits might be only average, and he might not get good velocity, but he should have good control and (very important for a pitcher in Boston!) looks to be a decent groundballer. Overall, this looks to be money well spent for Boston.

By signing Ramon Nomo to a $9.1 M deal with a spring training invite, it looks like Montgomery has picked up a pretty good value. This 20 year old Japanese starting pitcher projects to have some good enough stuff to be a decent back of the rotation type of starter or long reliever. At this point in his development, he could handle ML duties as a LRB or mopup guy, but with a bit of seasoning in the minors, he could turn out to be something a bit more valuable. It looks like he should be able to eat innings if called upon, and although he'll never be able to blow pitches by ML batters, the rest of his skill set should be able to make him at least effective at keeping his team in the game.

El Paso are please to not have wasted a good chunk of their prospect cash by signing Juan Moraga. This 18 year old Cuban defector signed a minor league contract with a spring training invite and a $9 M bonus. Considering how terrible El Paso's international scouts are, they should count themselves lucky to have seen any prospects worth signing at all. Moraga is definitely an intriguing prospect. He has ML power already, and that should improve to world class power. He projects to having a very good eye for the strike zone, and despite being a RHB, he seems to have a better ability at the plate against right-handed pitching than left. he does have a couple of weaknesses, mainly that he will strike out a lot, and also his glove might not end up to be satisfactory for ML right field duties. However, right field isn't a bad place to hide a bad glove, and his range and arm should be more than adequate for the position. All in all, this was a good move by El Paso's management, to be able to get something of value from the international market so late in the season, and with such a skeleton crew of international scouts that they have.

Next on our list might be one of the best value signings from the IFA market so far this season. By only paying $6.9 M with a minor league deal to secure the services of the 18 year old Cuban defector first baseman Vin Perez, Vancouver might just have landed themselves a potentially decent ML starter for a bargain basement price. This left-handed batter projects to have 30 hr potential, and his OBP could hover around .400. There is a real potential for this guy to average around .850 in OPS. What else can I say? Although he's a LHB, it looks like he should be able to handle left-handed pitching well enough to not need to platoon him, and his contact ability should keep him from striking out too much. His only knock is that he might not end up with the durability to start every game over a 162 game schedule, and that he probably won't ever be a 50 hr hitter. He should rack up the doubles though, so it still looks like Vancouver might have locked up a hitter to fill in the # 3 or 4 slot in their batting order for what relatively amounts to peanuts!

For $5.8 M, San Francisco inked 19 year old Irish OF Stan Morton to a minor league deal. Although he is a switch hitter, that ability is wasted, because he will only have the ability to hit left-handed pitching effectively. He has speed to burn, and also has good power at the plate, so the money spent on this guy is not too bad, considering that he might just top out as a bench/platoon player. I might be proved wrong though - San Fran could end up starting him in the Bigs, since he does have a good eye for the strike zone, and it looks like he might end up killing versus lefties. His batting average probably won't be good, but his OPS might get to .800 some seasons, so he's not all bad. Plus he'll play a gold glove corner outfield.

Rivaling Vin Perez for value might be the signing of Maicer Castro. This 18 year old Venezuelan starting pitcher signed a minor league deal with Salem for a paltry $5.7 M. He looks to have all of the skills to be a solid # 3 starter. He projects to have decent abilities across the board, with the exception of the fact that he looks to be a flyball pitcher in the end. Perhaps his ability against lefthanded batting might limit his effectiveness, and he could run into injury trouble in his career, but with so little spent to get his name on a contract, Salem has little to lose.

By getting Dominican 2b Carlos Palmeiro to sign a minor league deal with a spring training invite for a mere $5.1 M, Florida have also gotten themselves a nice bargain. It looks like Palmeiro should be able to handle ML 2b duties, and his offensive abilities should be good enough to justify him taking up a spot on a ML roster. His hitting abilities versus right-handed pitching might not get to the point where he will hit for a good average, but his speed and decent eye should help him get on base by legging out infield hits and earning walks. He'll probably never come close to 20 home runs, but who expects power hitting from the middle infield anyway? He has some good tools in his box, such as a decent ability to get the bat on the ball, the aforementioned speed and base-running ability, and he'll be able to bunt with the best of them. Combine that with a good ability to hit left handed pitching and solid defense, and Florida has themselves a decent prospect for the money.

Also filed under the "bargain" heading is San Francisco's signing of Dominican 18 year old RHP J.P. Peguero. By getting him into the fold at $4.2 M for a minor league deal, San Francisco might have picked up an effective bullpen arm for an extremely low price. His ability to pitch against left-handed batting might not ever be dominant, but he projects to shut righties down pretty effectively. It also looks like he could end up with good command of the strike zone, and has three solid pitches. On the down side, injuries could hamper his development, and he has the undesirable combination of low velocity and is a flyball pitcher. That spells homeruns allowed to me. However, for the low price that was paid for him, this guy will provide solid, but unspectacular numbers for his team, as long as he stays healthy.

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