Notes on the International Amateur Signing Period
Tomorrow (7/2) is the opening of the period when major league organizations can begin signing international, amateur free agents. As with the MLB Draft, which applies to high school and college players from the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, teams now have ranked bonus pools based on each team’s record the year before.
Ben Badler of Baseball America provides the following list of each team’s bonus pool. They rank from the Astros’ $4,943,700 down to the Nationals’ $1,846,900. The Giants, at 26th, have a bonus pool of only $1,909,900.
The effects of the ranked bonus pools are obvious — only the teams with the highest pool amounts are going to be able to make a serious run at the very best young international amateurs. For example, this year’s most highly regarded international amateur Eloy Jimenez, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic, is expected to command a signing bonus between $2 million and $3 million. A signing bonus of $2.5 million for Jimenez would effectively mean that only ten teams would be in the running to sign him.
The good news for teams with lower bonus pools is that except for the best few prospects, it isn’t easy to project which 16 year olds will eventually develop into major league players. There’s a whole lot of luck involved, and teams vary wildly in their evaluations of this young talent. Also, once you get past the top 100 prospects, there are literally hundreds of additional young players with at least some potential who will be willing to sign for bonuses of less than $10,000 each.
Teams can also trade with each other for additional/less bonus pool money. According to Ben Badler of Baseball America, teams are having a hard time valuing bonus money in trades so far. I’m sure they will figure it out in time — $500,000 in bonus money is worth $500,000 in player talent, whether it is at the amateur, minor league or major league level.
However, adding complication is the fact that teams may only trade for more bonus pool money before they have used up all of their existing bonus pool money. The idea, of course, is to lessen the possibility that teams will find ways to give out bigger bonuses to amateur players.
The top international prospects in this year’s class are overwhelmingly Dominican and Venezuelan. Baseball America has 13 Dominicans and 12 Venezuelans in its top 30, with two from Columbia and one each from Nicaragua, Taiwan and Italy. MLB.com has 19 Dominicans and seven Venezuelans in its top 30, along with the same two Columbians, one Taiwanese and one Italian.
The Italian prospect, 16 year old shortstop Marten Gasparini, may be the best prospect ever to come out of Europe. However, I wonder if it will be possible for a major league time to sign and immediately develop a 16 year old out of a first world country. At 16, Gasparini presumably has not finished the Italian equivalent of high school. By comparison, the Taiwanese pitcher who made both Baseball America’s and MLB.com’s list, Jen-Ho Tseng, is already 18.