Previewing international signing day

Detroit Tigers

January 15th is the new July 2nd.

The date has changed, but the excitement and its significance to baseball remains the same.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the international signing period that was scheduled to begin on July 2, 2020, starts today and ends on Dec. 15, 2021.

The future is now.

“The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the game of baseball at all levels. The start of this signing period is an important step back toward normal life for players, trainers and all who help to grow the game of baseball around the world,” said Morgan Sword, the executive vice president of baseball economics & operations at MLB. “We congratulate all of the players who will sign professional contracts in the coming days. This contract is the culmination of a lifetime of hard work for them, their families and all who supported their development.”

Some of the biggest names in baseball — players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., Eloy Jiménez and many other young stars — were picked up during the international signing period. Emerging prospects like Wander Franco (Rays), Cristian Pache (Braves), Julio Rodríguez (Mariners), Marco Luciano (Giants) and Noelvi Marte (Mariners) were also signed during their respective international period. There are hundreds of prospects signed during the period who are developing in the Minor Leagues and others that will be packaged in trades.

And more future stars are on the way.

“This is an exciting day each year when a new class of the best players from around the world enter the professional game,” Sword said. “There are some exceptionally talented players in this class that will reach the Major Leagues very quickly, and we’re looking forward to watching them develop.”

The emergence of MLB’s Trainer Partnership Program, created in the summer of 2018 as part of MLB’s efforts in Latin America, has been a guiding force for prospects and trainers during the pandemic. It’s part of the reason why the 2020-2021 international signing period will be a success. Among its many initiatives, the partnership includes a focus on prospect registration, health and drug testing.

In all, 94 trainers and 1,800 prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama participate in the program.

“Despite the obstacles created by the pandemic, the Trainer Partnership Program has continued to grow,” Sword said. “We now have nearly 100 trainers in Latin America partnered with us to ensure safe and responsible development of players. We look forward to resuming a full slate of scouting events and opportunities for players once it is safe to do so.”

Headlining this year’s class is Yoelqui Céspedes, the younger half-brother of free-agent outfielder Yoenis Céspedes. At age 23, Yoelqui could be the first player in the group to reach the Major Leagues. He is considered a five-tool player with above-average tools across the board. The outfield prospect defected from the Cuban National Team in June 2019 while participating in the Can-Am League in New York, and while in Cuba, he played for his country’s World Baseball Classic and Caribbean Series teams. He also starred for Granma in Cuba’s Serie Nacional from 2015-17.

Here are the Top 5 international prospects:

1) Yoelqui Céspedes, OF, Cuba
2) Oscar Colas, LHP/OF, Cuba
3) Wilman Diaz, SS, Venezuela
4) Carlos Colmenarez, SS, Venezuela
5) Armando Cruz, SS, Domincan Republic
Complete list »

What are the rules?

An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between January 15 and December 15, 2021. He must turn 16 before he signs. In practical terms, that means players born after Sept. 1, 2004, are eligible to sign.

Players have to be registered with Major League Baseball in advance in order to be eligible to sign.

How much money does each team have to spend?

Clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the MLB Draft receive a pool of $6,431,000 for spending on international prospects, while clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A receive $5,889,600. The remaining teams get bonus pools of $5,348,100 each, excluding the Angels and Phillies, who receive $4,732,700, Yankees ($4,232,700) and Braves ($1,572,000). Atlanta is in the final year reduced bonus pools as part of penalty for violating international signing guidelines.

The Braves also forfeited $500,000 by signing Marcell Ozuna in 2020. The Yankees lost $1 million for signing Gerrit Cole, while the Phillies and the Angels each forfeited $500,000 for signing Zack Wheeler and Anthony Rendon, respectively.

Teams cannot trade bonus pool money for the 2020-2021 period. Signing bonuses of $10,000 or less do not count toward a club’s bonus pool, and foreign professional players who are at least 25 years of age and have played in a foreign league for at least six seasons are also exempt.

$6,431,000: Cincinnati, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Tampa Bay

$5,889,600: Arizona, Baltimore, Cleveland, Colorado, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, San Diego, St. Louis

$5,348,100: Boston, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Houston, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto, Washington

$4,732,700: Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia

$4,232,700: New York Yankees

$1,572,000: Atlanta

Which teams will be the most active?

Every team is expected to be active once the international signing period begins as front offices across the league understand the importance of acquiring international talent. The bonus pool system has created parity on the international market.

The White Sox are expected to be among the teams that make a big splash on the market for a pair of high-profile players in Céspedes and Norge Vera. The Dodgers, Nationals, Twins, Rays, Indians, Tigers and Astros will also be aggressive. Add the D-backs, Royals, Padres, Brewers and Angels to the large list of clubs that will sign players through the period.

Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

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