Approximately 40 percent of the players in organized baseball were born outside the United States. Most of those players sign during the summer when they are 16 years old, a signing bonanza that begins annually on July 2.
The money being spent internationally has skyrocketed in the last dozen years, with high-profile signings such as Jackson Melian, a Venezuelan outfielder who got $1.6 million in 1996. New record bonuses have been handed out frequently since then, some of which paid off -- such as Miguel Cabrera, who got $1.9 million from the Marlins in 1999 -- and some that didn't, such as the Dodgers' $2.25 million investment in Joel Guzman in 2001, or the $2.44 million bonus and major league contract bestowed on Wily Mo Pena in 1999.
Teams are willing to spend in Asia as well -- such as the Red Sox's foray last year into the Japanese amateur ranks to sign Double-A right-hander Junichi Tazawa -- but the focus remains on Latin America. Teams continue to fall over each other in the arms race for Latin talent by building multi-million-dollar complexes in the Dominican Republic and lavishing six- and seven-figure signing bonuses on 16-year-olds.
The latest, of course, was Oakland's blockbuster of last year. The A's signed 6-foot-7 right-hander Michael Ynoa for a record $4.25 million bonus, which broke the Latin record by nearly $2 million. Ynoa is already on the disabled list after going through extended spring training in Arizona, and the scouting consensus held that no player in this year's pool was expected to get a bonus to match Ynoa's. However, there is plenty of talent that has clubs excited. Here are BA's top five international prospects, ranked in order of their expected signing bonuses:
1. Miguel Sano, SS
Dominican Republic; Bats: Right; Throws: Right; 6-3, 190
Sano is an unusual talent, as many international scouting directors say they have never seen a 16-year-old player who is built like Sano or who can hit like him. Sano, who is from San Pedro de Macoris, has an athletic, projectable body with broad shoulders and a strong lower half. He stands out at the plate with a right-handed stroke that he's able to repeat in games, showing good bat speed and the ability to hit for power to all fields. Some scouts have said he's better in batting practice than in games, while others say he has dominated against live pitching. He can get caught out front against good breaking balls, but he doesn't have a long swing and scouts have seen him drive off-speed pitches for home runs. Sano's current position is shortstop, but scouts are nearly universal that he'll end up at either third base or in right field. Sano has shown above-average speed in the 60-yard dash for some teams, but his range is already questionable at shortstop and he's expected to slow down as he adds another 20 to 30 pounds to his frame. Though he doesn't have a particularly quick release, Sano's arm is a 65 or a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. Scouts expect Sano to sign with a team that doesn't typically sign players for big money in Latin America, with the Pirates believed to be the leaders.
2. Wagner Mateo, CF
Dominican Republic; Bats: Left; Throws: Left; 6-2, 190
Mateo has participated in MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program in Santo Domingo, traveling to the U.S. the past two years for the junior boys' tournament, where he also pitched. He's now set to be one of the richest prospects in Latin America. Mateo is listed at 6-2, though scouts say he's about an inch or so shorter. His swing generates power to all fields, as he has hit opposite-field home runs while showing for some teams in game situations. Scouts say Mateo has a solid approach at the plate for a 16-year-old, showing a short swing from the left side. Some scouts say his swing is more geared toward line drives with occasional power, though his raw power is evident in BP. Mateo doesn't have elite athleticism and his body is already relatively mature. He has run average times in the 60-yard dash for some teams, but his lower half is already thick and some scouts say he's a below-average runner from home to first base. He projects at best as a future 40 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale, and nearly every scout contacted believes his future is in left field. His bat should carry him to the big leagues, though some scouts aren't convinced that it will be enough to carry him in left field. The Cardinals officially announced the signing of Mateo this morning. The bonus is $3.1 million, a franchise record
3. Gary Sanchez, C
Dominican Republic; Bats: Right; Throws: Right; 6-2, 190
The top catching prospect available for July 2, Sanchez flashes plus tools on offense and defense, though he still has plenty of work to do to refine those tools. Swinging from an open stance, Sanchez shows plus power and gets good extension with his swing, which leads to impressive batting practice displays. Some scouts see a disconnect between what Sanchez does in BP compared to what he does against live pitching, but he has good bat speed and power. He has plus arm strength and a quick release, which is why scouts have recorded his pop times at 1.8 seconds. Some scouts say Sanchez is a good athlete for a catcher (he's an average to solid-average runner right now, though he'll be below-average as he fills out), but some scouts have concerns about his body and say he will have to stay on top of his conditioning. Sanchez has some of the tools to be a good defensive catcher, but at 16 he's still not a lock to stick behind the plate, as his receiving skills and footwork still need to catch up. Sanchez has long been linked to the Yankees, and two sources confirmed that New York signed the Dominican catcher this morning for $3 million, the largest bonus the club has ever given to an amateur international player. It is also the largest signing bonus the Yankees have ever given to a position player. The organization is expected to officially announce the signing later today. Sanchez's signing bonus ranks as the fourth-highest in Yankees history behind Japenese righthander Hideki Irabu ($8.5 million in 1997), Cuban righty Jose Contreras ($6 million in 2002) and righthander Andrew Brackman ($3.35 million in the 2007 draft). .
4. Guillermo Pimentel, CF
Dominican Republic; Bats: Left; Throws: Left; 6-2, 175
Pimentel's situation has been one of the most unusual leading up to July 2. In March, Pimentel appeared to be headed to Seattle, but two months later nearly every international source contacted said Pimentel would sign with the Rangers for $2 million. Now it appears that Pimentel is going to sign with the Mariners for approximately $2 million. Scouts who have seen Pimentel have generally liked what they have seen, though many teams have committed their scouting resources elsewhere given Pimentel's early ties to Seattle and Texas. At the plate, Pimentel has a short swing, an advanced approach and plus power that some scouts say could rate a 70 down the road. He'll still get fooled at times at the plate, but his pitch recognition and ability to adjust to offspeed pitches are advanced for a 16-year-old. Pimentel has showcased for teams as a center fielder, but he is expected to move to left field. He's not a great runner and projects to get slower as he fills out. His range in the field is limited and his arm is a 40 or a 45 on the 20-80 scale.
5. Jose Vinicio, SS
Dominican Republic; Bats: Right; Throws: Right; 6-0, 155
Sano is technically the No. 1 shortstop prospect this year, but Vinicio is the top prospect who projects to stay at shortstop in pro ball. Scouts say Sano and Vinicio are two of the best athletes in Latin America, and while Vinicio lacks Sano's power stroke, he has very good bat speed and has shown the ability to drive the ball with some authority. Vinicio has a skinny, projectable frame, and scouts say the switch-hitter is better from the right side of the plate. In the field, Vinicio separates himself from his peers with good speed, range, arm strength and instincts. Vinicio is expected to sign with the Red Sox for $2 million when he turns 16 on July 10.
Here are the rest of BA's Top 25 international prospects:
6. Luis Sardinas, SS, Venezuela
7. Cheslor Cuthbert, 3B, Nicaragua
8. Juan Urbina, LHP, Venezuela
9. Daniel Sanchez, RHP, Venezuela
10. Jose Pena, RHP, Dominican Republic
11. Edgar Ferreira, LHP, Dominican Republic
12. Jochi Ogando, RHP, Dominican Republic
13. Jacob Beltre, C, Dominican Republic
14. Victor Payano, LHP, Dominican Republic
15. Jurickson Profar, RHP/SS, Curacao
16. Luis Jolly, CF, Dominican Republic
17. Johendi Jiminian, RHP, Dominican Republic
18. Santo Aybar, SS, Dominican Republic
19. Leonardo Perdomo, RHP, Dominican Republic
20. Rosel Herrera, SS, Dominican Republic
21. Wilfredo Solano, SS, Venezuela
22. Santiago Nesi, C, Venezuela
23. Jorge Polanco, SS, Dominican Republic
24. Jairo Kelly, SS, Dominican Republic
25. Humberto Valor, SS, Venezuela
To read scouting reports on Nos. 6-25, go here.
Follow the international signing season at Baseball America's Prospects Blog.