Written by: Michael Schneider (@mikecschneider)
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With some unexpected downtime the last few weeks, I have examined the 2014 international free agent class. There are several interesting storylines with this class; since most of players are now in their early twenties and have been in the minors for five years, it is a good time to look at their progress.
International Free Agents- An Introduction
Amongst dynasty league players and prospect analysts there was a popular debate this offseason regarding who the first pick in 2020 First Year Player Drafts (henceforth referred to as FYPDs) should be. For many, the top choice was Jasson Dominguez of the New York Yankees (others prefer the floor of White Sox draftee Andrew Vaughn). Dominguez was the top ranked player in the 2019 international free agent class. He just turned seventeen in February and has yet to play a professional game. He is expected by many to follow other top international prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr and Gleyber Torres (and Wander Franco, soon) and become an impact Major Leaguer before he’s old enough to legally purchase alcohol. Dominguez is already ranked as the 16th best prospect in baseball by our Ray Butler, 8th by Rotowire and 54th by MLB Pipeline.
There were actually a number of other players from the 2019 international signing class that were early selections in FYPDs for dynasty leagues this preseason, including Erick Pena, Maximo Acosta, Robert Puason, Bayron Lara and Luis Rodriguez. This article looks back at the 2014 international free agent class and serves as a cautionary tale about how, even for the top players in a given class, Major League stardom—or even Major League viability—should never be assumed.
The Superstar from the 2014 International Free Agent Class
When you look back at the 2014 international signing class, there’s no question who the best player in the class is. It’s the player who was at the original epicenter of Prospects 365’s birth and subsequent rise to fame throughout the prospect and dynasty world!
However, what is abundantly clear today, was not even a consideration then. Ronald Acuña Jr. was a low-end signing by the Braves for $100,000 on July 2, 2014. That same day, the Braves signed Juan Yepez, an infielder from Venezuela, for ten times the signing bonus that Acuna received. Yepez posted an 85 wRC+ in Double-A (for the Cardinals) as 21-year-old last season.
Acuña skipped the Dominican Summer League and started his pro career in 2015 in the Gulf Coast League. He did well enough to be promoted to the Appalachian League at the end of the season as a 17-year-old. At the end of 2016, Acuña debuted in full season ball. By the end of the next season, he had ascended to the top prospect in baseball. Of course, Acuña is now one of the very best players in the MLB, hitting 41 home runs and stealing 37 bases last season as a 21-year-old. Not too shabby.
Professional Struggles for the Top Ranked Players in the Class
Meanwhile, the players who were considered the top prospects in the class on their respective signing day have had very little success in their professional careers.
After more than five seasons in professional baseball, only one player from MLB Pipeline’s 2014 top 30 international free agent class has reached the big leagues. And, believe it or not, it was Huascar Ynoa, who pitched two innings in relief the majors last season. No one from MLB Pipeline’s 2014 top 30 international free agent class is currently in Prospects365’s top 200 prospect’s list or Rotowire’s top 400 prospect list. Jesús Sanchez, now on the Miami Marlins, was 27th on Baseball America’s 2014 top-30 international free agent class. He currently ranks 55th on Ray’s top-200 prospect list and is a universally-known prospect in dynasty leagues.
The number of consensus top players in the 2014 international free agent class who 1) never even reached full season ball or 2) by the time they were promoted to Low-A, they were no longer a legitimate prospect, is shocking. In fact, only five players from MLB Pipeline’s 2014 top 30 international prospects have reached Double-A or higher, and one of those only played three games as a simple fill in.
International Free Agent Background
The international free agency year begins each year on July 2nd (thus the name J2) and runs through June 15th of the following year. International Players must be sixteen before they sign, also mandated to turn seventeen before the next September 1st. This means that most of the top international players in the 2014 class were born between September 1, 1997 and August 31, 1998.
The players have trainers, known in Spanish as buscones, who prepare them to sign with a Major League organization for a portion of their signing bonus. Showcases and workouts, rather than actual games, are where much of the scouting is done. Most of the top prospects have a verbal agreement in place with MLB organization months or even years before they are old enough to sign.
The rules were different in 2014 than they are today. Then, each team had a spending limit for international players based on their record the previous season. Teams could trade for up to an additional 50 percent of their international bonus pool. Today, teams cannot spend more than their spending limit plus any additional amount they acquired in a trade. However, in 2014, teams could pay a tax of 100% and exceed their spending limit. In addition, if a team exceeded their spending limit by more than 15% they could not sign a player for more than $300,000 in the following two international signing periods.
The Yankees were not fazed by the 100% tax. Once they exceeded the spending limit by 15%, they apparently decided that since they would not be able to spend more than $300,000 on any international prospects in 2015 and 2016, they should go ‘all in’ on 2014 international prospects. The Yankees reportedly signed a total of 52 players from the 2014 international class and subsequently spent around 34 million in bonuses and penalties. Their spending limit was $2,193,100. The Yankees signed 10 of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 international players from the 2014 class.
No player from the Yankees’ 2014 international signing class has reached the big leagues. The two prospects (Estevan Florial and Miguel Yajure) the Yankees originally signed from the 2014 international free agent class both signed in March 2015, well after the elite prospects in the class signed. Florial’s signing was delayed and deeply discounted due to an identity issue.
Older International Prospects
International players who are 23 years of age or older, and have played professional baseball for five or more years, are exempt from the bonus pool limits. There were several Cuban prospects that were older than the typical international free agent, but were still part of the bonus pool limits in 2014. In fact, in three consecutive months these prospects were given record setting contacts.
In December 2014, the Angels signed 20-year-old Roberto Baldoquin for an $8 million signing bonus. The Angels spending limit was $2,383,700, so they were taxed 100% on the portion of the contract that was over the spending limit. Jerry Dipoto, the Angels’ General Manager at the time, was confident Baldoquin would develop into an everyday MLB shortstop. Last season, Baldoquin—now 25-years-old—posted a 74 wRC+ in Double-A.
In January 2015, the Diamondbacks signed 21-year-old pitcher Yoan Lopez for a $8.27 million signing bonus. The Diamondbacks spending limit was $2,316,600, so they were taxed on a huge portion of the contract. Lopez has had his ups and downs, but reached the big leagues in 2018 and had a solid season in 2019 out of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen.
Yoán Moncada was nineteen when the Cuban government allowed him to leave the country; even as a teenager, he was already established as one of the best prospects on the island. In November 2014, Major League Baseball cleared Moncada to sign a contract. In February 2015, he signed with the Red Sox for a whopping $31.5 million. Since the Red Sox had already exceeded their spending limit, the Red Sox were taxed an additional $31.5 million dollars on Moncada’s contract.
Moncada began his stateside professional career in Low-A; a little more than a year later, the Red Sox traded Moncada as part of a package to acquire Chris Sale. Moncada was the top prospect in baseball when he made his big league debut in 2017. After some productive struggle in his first full seasons as a big leaguer, Moncada had a huge campaign for the White Sox in 2019 and was rewarded with a five year, $70 million contract extension.
There were three, large international major league signings for Cuban players that were 23 years of age or older during this period, so they were not subject to the bonus pools limit. None of these big-money signings have worked out. Rusney Castillo signed a seven year, $72.5 million contract with the Red Sox in August 2014. Castillo last played in the Majors in 2016, partially because the Red Sox do not want his contract to count against the luxury tax. The Diamondbacks signed Yasmany Tomas to a $68.5 million, six year contact in December 2014. Tomas has played in four big league games since June 2nd, 2017. In March 2015, the Dodgers signed Hector Olivera to a six year, $62.5 million contract. Olivera was traded to the Braves in July 2015. Olivera was arrested on April 13, 2016 after a domestic dispute; he hasn’t played in the big leagues since.
The top player from Asia coming to the MLB during this period was 27-year-old infielder Jung-ho Kang. However, he was not a free agent. The Nexen Heroes, Kang’s team in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), still owned his rights. Major League teams were able to make a blind bid to pay the Heroes a fee to have a period to negotiate a contract with Kang. The Pittsburgh Pirates won the bidding with a bid of just over $5 million. The Pirates successfully negotiated a four year, $11 million contract with Kang, who signed on January 16, 2015. Kang was a very productive player his first couple of seasons, and the contract seemingly looked like a bargain. However, he got in legal trouble after the 2016 season and could not obtain a visa to come to the United States in 2017. He missed the entire 2017 season and was disappointing for the Pirates in 2018 and 2019 before being released from the organization.
Traditional International Free Agents
This article is primarily about the highly-rated players in the 2014 international signing class who were born between September 1, 1997 and August 31, 1998 and did not play professionally in other countries previously. The table below summarizes the three top 30 international prospects rankings for the 2014 class that were available.
For present day, the table lists the highest level that each of these prospects has played and if they are currently in their organization’s top 30 prospects.
2014 International Free Agent Class Rankings and Results
*Brayan Hernandez (2017) and Kevin Vicuna (2019) played a few games in Triple-A as fill-ins. Other than their games as fill-ins, Hernandez has not played above Low-A and Vicuna above High-A.
Below are details about each of the top 30 international prospects in 2014 according to MLB Pipeline, including a scouting report of the prospect as of his signing and what has happened since. This exercise is not certainly not meant to disparage other prospect-focused sites (Ray himself admits Prospects 365 would have fallen victim to this international signing class, too). Instead, it’s simply to illustrate the notion that, with such little information publicized about teenage prospects who live so far away, there’s never a such thing as a ‘sure thing’.
1. Dermis Garcia, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $3,000,000, Dominican Republic
Then: Listed as a shortstop who might have to be moved to third base. Garcia was considered the best power hitter and arm in the class.
Since: Garcia quickly moved down the defensive spectrum. He played exclusively at first base in 2019 at Tampa in the Florida State League (High-A) where he hit 17 homers in 75 games in a season cut short by injuries. There is not much to Garcia’s game beside the power and strong arm. Garcia’s arm is strong enough that the Yankees briefly considered using him as a pitcher.
2. Nelson Gomez, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $2,250,000, Dominican Republic
Then: According to MLB Pipeline “Gomez has gained a reputation as a pure hitter and is considered the best hitter in the entire class by some evaluators.”
Since: In 2019, Gomez’ season was cut short after 29 games at Charleston in the South Atlantic League, his first exposure to full season ball. In five seasons, Gomez has a .207 batting average.
3. Adrian Rondon, Rays, Signing Bonus: $2,950,000, Dominican Republic
Then: The number one ranked J2 player in the class by Baseball America, who said “Scouts highest on Rondon think he could make a rapid rise, along the lines of Starlin Castro.”
Since: Rodon was traded to the Angels in June of 2019 for cash considerations. He is a utility infielder with a career .613 OPS; he reached full season ball for the first time in July 2019.
4. Gilbert Lara, Brewers, Signing Bonus: $3,097,500, Dominican Republic
Then: FanGraphs’ top ranked player in this J2 class. Lara received a signing bonus approximately four times larger than the Brewers had previously paid an international prospect. Although Lara was listed as a shortstop, it was assumed that he would eventually move to third base.
Since: Lara was traded to the Nationals on August 31, 2018 in the Gio Gonzalez deal. His swing needed a lot of work. Lara had his best year as a pro in 2019, hitting 13 of his 24 career homers. Lara will likely begin 2020 with Fredericksburg in the Carolina League. He has mostly stuck at shortstop and he is pretty solid defensively.
5. Juan De Leon, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $2,000,000, Dominican Republic
Then: MLB Pipeline said De Leon “might have the best all-around combination of tools and body among outfielders in this year’s class from the Dominican Republic. Evaluators often use words like “explosive” and “electric” to describe the outfielder’s skill set, and some view him as a potential five-tool player.”
Since: De Leon has yet to make it to full season ball and has a career slash line of .226/ .336/.364.
6. Christopher Acosta, Red Sox, Signing Bonus: $1,500,000, Dominican Republic
Then: The top-ranked pitcher in the J2 class with unusually strong command for such a young pitcher.
Since: Acosta had a promising start to his career in the Dominican Summer League in 2015. From there, what happened to him is unclear. According to BoSox Injection, “In 2016, Acosta was at Ft. Myers working out as he prepared to join a short season team in the organization as the next step forward, but an “incident” happened and Acosta – without permission – returned home and was consequently suspended and placed on the restricted list.” There was a report that Acosta pitched in the Venezuelan Winter League in 2018-2019 but there are no statistics for him and Acosta remains on the Red Sox Restricted List.
7. Jonathan Amundaray, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $1,500,000, Venezuela
Then: Considered the best prospect in the class from Venezuela. A five tool talent compared to Raul Mondesi.
Since: Amundaray was released in 2017. He never made it above the GCL and hit .213/ .289/.295 for his career.
8. Brayan Hernandez, Mariners, Signing Bonus: $1,850,000, Venezuela
Then: When Hernandez signed with the Mariners, Mariners scout, Emilio Carrasquel was quoted as saying about Hernandez “I believe he is a player, for his age, that combines all five tools that you need in baseball.“
Since: In 2017, Hernandez played in Triple-A for three games as a fill-in. Later that season, he was traded to the Marlins as part of the return for David Phelps. Other than the three games as a fill-in, Hernandez made it to full season ball for the first time in 2019, where he hit .121 in 66 at-bats for Clinton in the Midwest League.
9. Antonio Arias, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $800,000, Venezuela
Then: Compared to Cameron Maybin with a 55 grade for hit, power, fielding and arm and a 60 grade for speed.
Since: Arias missed 2019 with an injury and has not played above the GCL. He did show some promise in 2017 as a 19-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, but hit .157 in the GCL in 2018 before missing all of last season.
10. Anderson Espinoza, Red Sox, Signing Bonus: $1,800,000, Venezuela
Then: MLB Pipeline stated “Espinoza has three projectable pitches with command, and he’s a plus athlete who has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.”
Since: Even when the scouts are correct, things may not work out. There was a lot of angry Red Sox fans who felt Boston was giving up a future ace for a mediocre starter when Espinoza was traded for Drew Pomeranz in July 2016.
Espinoza was a consensus top-25 prospect in baseball heading into 2017, but he has had two Tommy John surgeries since then and last pitched in a game on August 31, 2016. It is hopeful he will finally be ready for game action in the second half of 2020.
11. Juan Meza, Blue Jays, Signing Bonus: $1,600,000, Venezuela
Then: A projectable pitcher with three potential plus pitches and command.
Since: Meza was released in August of 2018. He never made it above the GCL and had a 6.41 career ERA.
12. Pedro Gonzalez, Rockies, Signing Bonus: $1,300,000, Dominican Republic
Then: Before playing his first professional game, Kiley McDaniel, then of FanGraphs and now of ESPN, said “He’s good at shortstop now and makes a lot of contact despite his age (16) and size due to his rare body control; scouts mention Manny Machado and Alex Rios as body comps. Gonzalez likely ends up at third base and develops at least average raw power, but, for now, he’s more of a contact hitter; if/when/how he handles added weight will dictate his future.”
Since: Gonzalez moved to the outfield after making 25 errors in 45 games at shortstop in the DSL in 2015. He was dealt to the Rangers at the end of the 2017 season in the Jonathan Lucroy trade. It has been a slow rise for Gonzalez, who, in his second full year in the South Atlantic League in 2019, tied the league lead in homers. However, Gonzalez is still a long ways from the Majors and he has a questionable hit tool. He had a .317 OBP in 2019.
13. Hoy Jun Park, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $1,000,000, South Korea
Then: A shortstop from South Korea who MLB Pipeline gave a 60 grade for hit, run and field. According to minorleaguebaseball.com, “The easy comp here is Hak Ju Lee but I don’t think that works. From the video, it looks like Park has a lot more power and hits the ball with much more authority.” Park was eighteen when he signed with the Yankees, making him slightly older than the rest of the highly ranked players in the class.
Since: Park began his pro career in the United States in 2015 at Pulaski in the Appalachian League and has steadily advanced in the Yankees system. In 2019, Park hit .272/.363/.370 while stealing 20 bases in 30 attempts at Double-A Trenton. He played 77 games at second base and 30 at shortstop. Park, who turns 24 in April, has a chance to make the Majors, albeit likely in a utility role.
14. Wilkerman Garcia, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $1,350,000, Venezuela
Then: Yanksgoyard.com stated “Despite being many years away from impacting the big league club, the hype surrounding Wilkerman Garcia has already begun to build. With the potential to be a true five tool player who can impact the game on both sides of the ball, don’t be surprised if Garcia claims the top spot on this list in the next season or two.”
Since: Garcia played well in the GCL in 2015 and was the 5th-rated Yankee prospect by MLB Pipeline in their preseason top-30 Yankees prospects in 2016. Since then, Garcia’s progress has slowed. Had had a .580 OPS in 2018 at Charleston in the Sally League. Last season, Garcia had a .742 OPS in 19 games at Charleston and was promoted to Tampa in the Florida State League. There, his performance dropped to that of a .602 OPS in 43 games.
15. Arquimedes Gamboa, Phillies, Signing Bonus: $900,000, Venezuela
Then: At the time of his signing, MLB.com said that “Gamboa—a 5-foot-11, 158-pound switch-hitter—is an athletic shortstop with a solid skill set. He is expected to hit for power in the future, and there is a belief that he is a better hitter from the right side of the plate.”
Since: Gamboa is a very good defensive shortstop that has some offensive skills that have not translated to games. Gamboa spent 2019 in the Eastern League with Reading in Double-A, which is a very hitter friendly home park. He hit .188/.305/.270. The anticipated power has not come. Gamboa has 13 home runs in 1,621 career plate appearances.
16. Diego Castillo, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $750,000, Venezuela
Then: Ben Badler of Baseball America said of Castillo in 2014 that he was among the “most intelligent players in Latin America,” and that Castillo “slows the game down, playing calmly and under control during all phases of the game.” MLB Pipeline praised his defense at shortstop saying “Castillo has good footwork and soft hands. He has one of the stronger arms in the class.”
Since: This is not the Diego Castillo who is a reliever for the Rays. Since coming stateside in 2016, Castillo has posted an OPS between .625 and .659 every season. In 2019, he repeated the Florida State League with Tampa and his stats .248/.310/.329 were virtually identical to 2018 (.260/.307/.324).
17. Huascar Ynoa, Twins, Signing Bonus: $800,000, Dominican Republic
Then: Ynoa was considered one of the most talented pitchers in the class with a potential plus fastball and change up. However, there was a concern about his consistency.
Since: Ynoa was dealt to the Braves in the Jaime Garcia trade on July 24, 2017. Ynoa is the only 2014 top international prospect to make the Majors, pitching two innings for the Braves in 2019. Ynoa has an electric arm, but he consistently walks between 4 and 5 batters per 9 inning every season. As a result, his WHIP the past three seasons has been 1.58, 1.34 and 1.56 respectively.
18. Christopher Torres, Mariners, Signing Bonus: $375,000, Dominican Republic
Then: Torres’ representatives claimed that they had a verbal agreement to sign with the Yankees for $2.1 million, but the Yankees backed out after he hurt his shoulder. The switch hitting Torres was known for his defense and speed, but MLB Pipeline gave him a 55 grade for hitting and a 50 grade for power.
Since: Torres was dealt to the Marlins in the Dee Gordon trade in December 2017. He finally made his full season debut in July of 2018. In 142 games in Low-A, Torres has a .670 OPS with a 27.7% strikeout rate and 5 home runs.
19. Julio Martinez, Tigers, Signing Bonus: $600,000, Dominican Republic
Then: Al Avila, now the Tigers’ General Manager, said of Martinez when he signed, “He was the #1 guy we wanted to get. He’s a power bat with excellent makeup and should be able to move quickly.” At 16 years old, Martinez was already 6’3”.
Since: Martinez never made it to full season ball. He was released by the Tigers in July 2017. In 680 career at bats, he only hit 8 home runs.
20. Ronny Rafael, Astros, Signing Bonus: $1,500,000, Dominican Republic
Then: MLB Pipeline said the following about Rafael.
“Some scouts believe Rafael is the perfect mix of power, speed and football-type athleticism. That’s a great combination for the team that signs him when the international signing period begins on July 2.
The outfielder has a strong frame with an athletic and well-proportioned body. Rafael might look like a football player, but he was built for the baseball diamond.
On offense, Rafael has a good swing path and makes hard contact. He has impressed evaluators with his raw power and his ability to use that power in games. What’s more, Rafael is also a plus runner and is aggressive on the base paths.
On defense, Rafael has the ability to play all three outfield positions, partly because he takes good routes to fly balls and tracks balls off the bat well. His superb closing speed is another reason he could stay in center field as he moves up the Minor League ranks.”
Since: Rafael struggled throughout three summers in the DSL where he hit .190/.299/.297. His stateside career consisted of 28 games in the GCL where he hit .125/.253/.222. Rafael was released in 2018.
21. Franklin Perez, Astros, Signing Bonus: $1,000,000, Venezuela
Then: Perez was converted from third base to pitcher and MLB Pipeline said the fastball and curveball are projected to be plus pitches. According to MLB Pipeline “Perez has also shown that he has a plan of attack on the mound, and he has gained a reputation as a strike-thrower. Scouts also like his makeup and competitiveness. Perez projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter and appears to have the tools to reach his potential.”
Since: Perez was the centerpiece of the Tigers return for trading Justin Verlander to the Astros in August 2017. Perez had a strong season in 2017 in High-A and had been promoted to Double-A, where he made six starts for Corpus Christi at the time of the trade.
Unfortunately, Perez has been injured for most of the last two seasons, mainly plagued with shoulder tendinitis. He is a very talented pitcher and appears to be healthy in 2020. The good news is that Perez has never needed surgery on his arm, but the most innings he has thrown in a season is 86.1 and there are certainly questions about his durability. There’s a chance he becomes the ‘saving grace’ of this signing class.
22. Yeremi Rosario, Rockies, Signing Bonus: $800,000, Dominican Republic
Then: Was projected to be an above average shortstop with speed. Rosario’s bat was a question mark.
Since: Rosario had two mediocre years in the Dominican Summer League in 2015 and 2016. He was suspended for performance enhancing drugs in 2017. According to MiLB.com, Rosario is listed as an active player in the Rockies organization, but he last appeared in a game on August 27, 2016.
23. Miguelangel Sierra, Astros, Signing Bonus: $1,000,000, Venezuela
Then: According to MLB Pipeline, Sierra was “A solid defender with a slightly above-average arm. On offense, Sierra has a line-drive swing to all fields and has a chance to hit for average with serviceable power in the future. Evaluators also like his instincts, mature disposition and aptitude.”
Since: Sierra has very slowly moved up in the Astros organization, but a very questionable hit tool limits his potential. In 2019 in High-A, Sierra struck out in 35.4% of his plate appearances while hitting .203/.281/.341 with 13 homers.
24. Ricky Aracena, Royals, Signing Bonus: $850,000, Dominican Republic
Then: Aracena was an undersized switch hitter that according to Kings of Kaufmann, “Has been compared favorably to Rafael Furcal and Jose Altuve. While neither Furcal nor Altuve are home run hitters, both have been able to build careers around their speed and ability to drive the ball into the gap for extra bases.”
Since: Aracena made it to High-A in 2019 but does not having the hitting skills to be more than an organizational guy. In 2019 at High-A, Aracena hit .198/.265/.249. For his career in 1236 plate appearances, Aracena has hit .239/.289/.307 with 9 home runs.
25. Miguel Flames, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $1,100,000, Venezuela
Then: A solidly-built sixteen year who had recently converted from third base to catcher. Flames was projected to be a power hitter with a strong throwing arm. Flames was considered the best catcher on the international market.
Since: Flames was released by the Yankees in June 2019. He only played six games in full season ball. Flames only caught 19 games as a professional, and the last time he played catcher was in 2016.
26. Amado Nunez, White Sox, Signing Bonus: $900,000, Dominican Republic
Then: A big bodied shortstop who, according to MLB Pipeline, some had compared to a teenage Alex Rodriguez. Baseball America thought he may outgrow shortstop and move to second base. Baseball America said the following regarding his hitting: “Nunez has a short, quiet stroke with quick bat speed and good balance from the right side. He has a simple approach, uses the whole field and has pop to the gaps right now with the physical projection for average future power once he gets stronger.”
Since: Nunez skipped the DSL in 2015 and went straight to the AZL, but it became apparent he was not ready for it. He essentially has needed two years at each level in order to find success. After a big year in 2018 in the Pioneer League, Nunez struggled in his first year in full ball in 2019. Nunez has not played shortstop since 2017 and in 2019, he split time between first base and second base.
27. Kenny Hernandez, Mets, Signing Bonus: $1,000,000, Venezuela
Then: MLB Pipeline said the following “Why do scouts like Hernandez? Let’s start with the fact that some evaluators believe he might have the best all-around swing in the entire class. The 6-foot, 160-pounder has good hands, strong wrists and the quick-twitch action in the batter’s box that scouts love. Hernandez also has good bat control, plate discipline and a fluid swing that reminds some people of a young Shawn Green.
The broad-shouldered teenager has gap power and the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field. Hernandez has good footwork on defense, but it’s unclear if he has the overall skill set to stay at shortstop. Scouts have also praised his makeup and athleticism.
One scout said Hernandez could be the steal of the class based on his swing alone.”
Since: Hernandez was released after the 2018 season. The highest level Hernandez reached was the New York Penn League. In 784 plate appearances, he hit .194/.286/.257.
28. Jhoandro Alfaro, White Sox, Signing Bonus: $750,000, Colombia
Then: The younger brother of Jorge Alfaro. According to Baseball America, Alfaro had a growth spurt right before the signing period and improved his conditioning, which made it difficult to evaluate him. Baseball America indicated that Alfaro did not have the raw power or athleticism of his brother, but that his arm was at least plus.
Since: Alfaro was released in July 2019. The highest level he reached was Low-A with Kannapolis in the South Atlatic League. Alfaro only had 548 plate appearances, slashing .213/.304/.280 with 5 home runs. Defensively, he threw out 31% of runners.
29. Brayan Emery, Yankees, Signing Bonus: $500,000, Colombia
Then: A tall, athletic-looking outfielder who emerged late in the signing process and was the last of the Yankees ten players from the top thirty prospects from the 2014 international free agent class to sign in November. Emery was carefully managed by his trainer and impressed in workouts, but he was not allowed to play in games.
Since: Emery last played in a game on August 1st, 2017. The highest level he reached was the Appalachian League. In 507 career plate appearances, Emery slashed .198/.321/.304. He is currently listed as an active player on MiLB.com, but according to Pinstriped Prospects, Emery was released in June 2019. He appears to have played this winter in the Colombia Professional Baseball League.
30. Ricardo Rodriguez, Padres, Signing Bonus: $800,000, Venezuela
Then: A catcher who, according to MLB Pipeline, does everything well with a grade of 55 for fielding and arm. MLB Pipeline said “Rodriguez projects to be an average hitter, and he is expected to improve in that area as he matures and plays in games regularly.”
Since: Rodriguez was traded to the Braves in the Christian Bethancourt trade in December 2015. Rodriguez finally made it above the GCL in 2018, and he spent 2019 with Rome in Low-A. Last season, Rodriguez threw out 50% of base stealers. However, for his career he has only hit .239/.297/.318 in 742 career plate appearances with 5 home runs.
2014 International Free Agents Who Have Made the Majors
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Yoán Moncada are the stars from the 2014 international signing class despite the fact Moncada was not a traditional international free agent. José Urquidy had a big season in 2019, being promoted from Double-A to Triple-A to the big leagues in a stretch of a few months. He was especially strong in the postseason. Emmanuel Clase, Junior Fernandez and Brusdar Graterol are promising relief pitchers.
2014 International Free Agents Who Are Current Prospects
The table below lists all players from the 2014 international signing class who are in MLB Pipeline’s 30 prospects for each organization. There are nine prospects from the 2014 free agent class who are on Ray’s 2020 top-200 prospect list. A number of the better prospects in the class such as Vidal Brujan, Sixto Sanchez and Jhoan Duran were signed for a relatively small bonus and well after the July 2nd frenzy.
Circling back to First Year Player Drafts in dynasty leagues, it is easy to dream on a young international prospect who has glowing reports and has not played enough for any weaknesses to be exposed. However, a 16-year-old international prospect is much further from the Majors than a top college or high school draft pick. In addition, even if a top college draft choice such as Adley Rutschman or Andrew Vaughn does not become bonafide stars, there is a likelihood they become solid major league regulars. There is far less predictability for the 16-year-old international prospect, as you’ve seen throughout this article.
Major League teams do appear to be doing a better job in recent years of identifying the elite international free agents. This was briefly a topic on Keith Law’s new podcast for The Athletic. He mentioned that, in the last five years, teams scouting international free agents are more focused on baseball skills and that technology allows teams to better measure a prospect’s skills by looking at spin rate and exit velocity with portable devices such as Rapsodo.
Obviously the younger a player is, the more difficult a player is to scout and project from a future potential standpoint. This was never more evident than with the 2014 international free agent class. While improvements in international scouting have been made, when scouting players that are 16-years-old and sometimes younger, there is always going to be a high degree of error because players are still maturing and are in the infantile stages of their development.
Let the graveyard of busted prospects discussed above serve as a careful reminder the next time you bank on winning your fantasy league because you selected the next ‘sure thing’ from a recent international signing class in your league’s First Year Player Draft.
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Featured image courtesy of photographer Mark LoMoglio and the Tampa Tarpons