"Caring Is Creepy"
I've made no secret of the fact that I am a proud graduate of the University of Iowa. Over at SB Nation's Hawkeyes blog, "Black Heart Gold Pants", they put all their recruiting coverage under the title "Caring Is Creepy." The thinking is that the amount of attention we as sports fans pay to the college choice of 17- and 18-year-old high school athletes is kind of icky. Yes, these kids are the future of our athletics department, but they're also still kids.
So if that's creepy, what do you call the amount of attention that we as baseball fans pay to the international signing period, which started today? The international signing period used to be pretty universally ignored, but recent changes in our understanding about the way winning ball clubs are made has put a spotlight on the draft. And since around 28% of major leaguers now come from outside of North America, the spotlight has extended to the academies in the Caribbean and Venezuela, where major league teams bid millions of dollars for the services of 16 year olds.
So if caring about the college choices of a 17-year-old is creepy, what can you say about caring about the life choices of a 16-year-old kid born in 1999 from a third-world country?
"Caring is Super-Creepy."
But two years ago, you could have said the same thing when the Cubs broke the bank and signed Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and several others for $7.6 million in the international signing period. That blew past their allotted "bonus pool" and meant that they could not sign any international free agents last season for more than $250,000. The punishment now seems worth it as both Jimenez and especially Torres are succeeding and look to be Top 100 prospects come this winter. So caring may be super-creepy, but it does appear to be important.
Today, it has been reported that the Cubs have signed five top international free agents, once again blowing past their bonus pool. There are also reports that they have either signed or are close to signing two others. Assuming the reports are true, this means that the Cubs are once again looking at penalties in upcoming seasons, although since the Cubs and Rangers blew through the pool two years ago, the punishment for exceeding the pool has been increased to a two-year ban on signing any free agent for more that $300,000.
So who are these six players that are joining the Cubs family?
1. Shortstop Yonathan Perlaza, Venezuela. $1.3 million bonus. 5'8", 175 lbs. DOB: 11/10/98. (Ranked 13th on MLB.com's list of international free agents and 20th on Baseball America's list.)
First off, when looking at the height and weight stats, remember that these kids are only 16 and a lot of them haven't stopped growing yet. Still, I wouldn't expect Perlaza to grow to 6'1" or anything. Scouts praise Perlaza for his quick wrists that can slap line drives all over the place. Some think he could grow into home run power. His defense at short is lacking though, and most see him moving to second base or third. Baseball America compares him to Luis Valbuena and MLB.com (which tends to hype players more) compares him to Martin Prado.
And yes, we have video of Perlaza.
2. Outfielder Yonathan Sierra Estiwal, Dominican Republic. $2.5 million. 6'3", 210. DOB: 10/17/98. (16th on MLB.com, "Others to watch" on BA.)
I've also seen Sierra's name listed as "Jonathan Sierra," so if you're wondering, it's the same guy. Obviously Estiwal is a big man and the scouts expect to see a lot of left-handed power out of him. The power's not there yet, but he's still young and can hit the ball with authority to all fields. Both Perlaza and Sierra are big "makeup" guys, which is something that the Cubs have stressed lately with their young prospects. Not out of any sort of moral stand, but on the belief that guys who demonstrate the ability to work hard, hustle and follow instructions are the ones most likely to succeed. The big knock on Sierra is his ability to make contact, and right now there is a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. He's a high-ceiling, low-floor type of boom-or-bust prospect. MLB.com hangs a Darryl Strawberry comp on him, which would be great if true but as I said, they tend to go a bit overboard with their praise.
Let's roll the videotape
3. Shortstop Aramis Ademan, Dominican Republic. $2 million. 5'10", 150 lbs. DOB: 9/13/98. (19th on MLB.com, 12th on BA.)
If your name is Aramis and you're from the Dominican Republic, you pretty much have to sign with the Cubs, right? In any case, Ademan is considered a defense-first shortstop with sure hands, an above-average arm and enough range to stick at shortstop. The bat is a bigger question mark, but he has shown some good contact an on-base skills that the hope is that once he fills out, he'll hit enough to justify his glove. Power is pretty much out of the question and he's not a burner either, so he figures to be more of bottom-of-the-lineup hitter. But the glove could make it all worthwhile.
And video on Ademan. Yes, he looks like the bat boy. But a bat boy with a nice swing.
4. Catcher Miguel Amaya, Panama. $1.25 million. 6'0", 160. DOB: 3/9/99. (25th on MLB.com, 22nd on BA.)
It's no secret that the Cubs system lacks quality catching prospects at the moment. Actually, that's not true. What the Cubs system lacks right now is quality catching prospects who are actually good at catching. But Amaya, considered the top prospect this year out of Panama, has already shown the ability to be a first-rate receiver. In fact, it's rare to see someone as young as Amaya be as good behind the plate as he is. He's even already shown a strong ability at framing pitches. His arm isn't first-rate yet, but the belief is that it could be as he fills out and with better coaching. Amaya isn't quite as accomplished at the plate, although some think he could fill out some and develop some power.
Here's a Panamanian news story about Amaya. See how good you are at understanding Panamanian Spanish.
5. Third baseman Christopher Martinez, Dominican Republic. $1 million. 5'11", 180. DOB: 6/28/99. (28th on MLB.com, "Others to watch" on BA.)
Martinez has shown some power potential to all fields with a quick, compact, right-handed swing. He's also shown patience at the plate, which is a good thing, but also a tendency to chase balls out of the zone, which is a bad thing. Martinez could end up being a "three-true-outcomes" type of player. The feeling is that he'll add more power as he fills out, but he'll also "fill out" himself off of third base and into left field or first base.
Video on Martinez:
6. RHP Yunior Perez. Dominican Republic. $600k. 6'3", 175. DOB: 12/19/98. (Not ranked by MLB.com, "Others to watch" by BA.)
As you can see from the height and weight numbers, Perez is a lanky right-hander who needs to fill out some. He's pretty much all projection at this point, but the hope is that his low 90s fastball can turn into a mid-90s fastball with better training and coaching. His breaking pitch is also raw at this point, but again, it's promising enough that it could end up being a plus pitch one day.
I don't have any video on Perez. Sorry.
Finally, the Cubs are apparently in a bidding war with the White Sox for the services of right-handed pitcher Anderson Amarista out of Venezuela. MLB.com ranked him as the 20th best propsect in the international market and Baseball America ranked Amarista 30th. We'll have an update later if the Cubs land Amarista. If he signs with the White Sox, then he's dead to us. (That a joke. I wish him well wherever he goes. But I'm not doing a story on him if he signs with a team other than the Cubs.)
Bienvenido a la familia Cubs to all of them.