This past Saturday (January 15), the period began for Major League Baseball teams to sign international free agents. The MLB International Signing Period indicates when amateur players can officially be signed/acquired by MLB teams.
Typically, the signing period would take place between June 15 and July 2, but MLB and the MLBPA agreed to push back the last two signing periods due to the pandemic.
Contrarily, while MLB remains on a freeze during the lockout, some teams refused to remain stagnant and instead make a big splash in the international free agent pool. Here’s some food for thought: Some of the best players in today’s game were acquired this way, including Fernando Tatis Jr. and Vladmir Guerrero Jr.
While we have that in the back of our minds, let’s talk about some of the best international free agents who have already been signed with MLB teams.
Oscar Colas, OF, Chicago White Sox
According to MLB Pipleine, Oscar Colas is the fifth-best international prospect. He is 23 years old, but that may also mean he could be the most MLB-ready player of them all. According to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, Colas and the Chicago White Sox agreed on a $2.7 million deal.
Colas was born in Cuba and is highly regarded as one of the next pitching and hitting phenoms in the world. Shohei Ohtani comparisons instantly come to mind,. However, according to many reports, Colas will be primarily be playing outfield. The left-handed slasher finished with a .302 batting average, with 11 home runs and 46 RBI in 66 games for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan (minors) back in 2019. Projecting at the MLB level as a middle of the order in the lineup kind of guy, expectations will be high. As I’ve been following his progress through the winter, he definitely appears to be ready for the next level.
Roderick Arias, SS, New York Yankees
This 17-year old shortstop from the Dominican Republic has been on MLB’s radar for years. As the top-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Roderick Arias has everything you want in a ballplayer. With the combination of his switch-hitting ability at the plate, and five-tool superstar potential, this was a walk-off home run for the New York Yankees.
It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out, because one of the Yankees’ current best prospects is shortstop Anthony Volpe, who is only 20 years old. Understandably so, when you have a chance to land a once-in-a-generation talent like Arias, you have to act quickly. Nonetheless, the Yankees add to their depth of middle infielders by signing Arias to a $4 million deal. Honestly, if there was any player in this international signing period that has franchise player potential, it’s probably Arias.
Cristhian Vaquero, OF, Washington Nationals
He’s only 17 years old, but outfielder Cristhian Vaquero has the combination of size (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) and athleticism any team would desire as an outfielder. Originally, Vaquero was a left-handed hitter, but picked up the ability to switch hit once he left Cuba. According to MLB scouts, that decision has improved his pitch recognition and overall confidence at the plate.
The Washington Nationals spent nearly all of their pool money to sign Vaquero, inking the Cuban outfielder to a team record $4.925 million bonus. He has the natural instincts at center field and power and speed that projects him to be at the very least an everyday player in MLB. There was a reason the Nationals swung for the fences on this one.
Personally, these are my top three international prospects that have been signed thus far. However, there were some other quality players signed as well.
In a shortstop-heavy international pool, teenage prospect Ricardo Cabrera (Venezuela) signed with the Cincinnati Reds. Playing in baseball showcases outside of Venezuela allowed more scouts to see Cabrera and lands a deal with an emerging Reds team.
Another teenage shortstop from Venezuela in William Bergolla signed with the Philadelphia Phillies ($2,050,000). Bergolla has astounded scouts with his high baseball IQ and exceptional approach at the plate. For the “feel-good” story of the week, Bergolla joins the club his father, William, spent some time with in the majors back in 2005. His father also spent 10 years in the Reds’ farm system. This young man gets to live out his dream on the same team his dad once played on. Not quite the Griffey or Bonds story, but inspiring nonetheless.
Other notable signings:
Los Angeles Dodgers sign infielder Samuel Muñoz (Dominican Republic)
Seattle Mariners sign athletic outfielder Lazaro Montes (Cuba)
San Francisco Giants add highly regarded shortstop Ryan Reckley (Bahamas)
Keep in mind that, unlike the draft, a team can’t exceed its international bonus pool and pay a tax. Therefore, teams are limited on how many players they can sign during this period. Also remember that international players under the age of 25 can only sign minor league contracts (why these deals can be made during the lockout, since the signings will not impact the 40-man roster).