International Free Agency is something the Detroit Tigers have recently starting investing more heavily into in recent years. In the Mike Ilitch years it was rarely a major focus for the organization, though they did land their fair share of undervalued gems anyway. However, since the advent of the bonus pool system, the Tigers have started forking over seven figure bonuses with much greater regularity. For a long time, International Signing Day took place in July, however the dates changed during COVID and now it’s a January event, set for January 15 this year.
The IFA market, while extremely volatile, can also produce some real talent. Wander Franco, Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, Shohei Ohtani, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Luis Robert are just a few international free agent signings who have grown into some of the best players in the game today. Finding these players is becoming an increasingly important part of the game.
The 2021 IFA class is headlined by some guys who prospect hounds have known for awhile. Roderick Arias, expected to sign with the Yankees, is perhaps the most famous name. The White Sox are anticipating landing Oscar Colas, who was eligible to sign last year and has been known as a potential two-way player. Baseball America lists Cristian Vaquero as the top player from this class, he is expected to sign with Washington. And, of course, Juan Soto’s little brother Elian Soto who was leaning towards the Mets but reportedly now is eying the Nationals. The younger Soto is not a high ranking name, but certainly a famous one.
There are some complicated rules that go into this, but the simple facts are that once the market opens, it will stay open until December 15th. Each team has a cap on how much they can spent in bonus money, though if they pay less than $10,000 it won’t count against that number. Per Ben Badler of Baseball America, the Tigers are in the group with the second highest bonus pool of $5,721,200. There are eight teams in the group above them, including division rivals Kansas City and Cleveland. Minnesota has the same amount as Detroit.
The recent history for the Tigers is to spend a lot on a big ticket free agent. In the past couple of years that has led to headline names such as Roberto Campos from Cuba and Cristian Santana from the Dominican Republic. Other notable names to enter the Tigers pipeline are hitters like Manuel Sequera, Abel Bastidas, and Adinso Reyes.
There are other players considered top prospects in the organization who were IFA’s from several years ago. Among them are Wenceel Perez, Ulrich Bojarski, and Eliezer Alfonzo who were in the Tigers 2016 class. Alvaro Gonzalez from the 2017 class and Jose De La Cruz was a part of the 2018 class. Those are just a few players brought in recently, among others.
Detroit does have a fairly strong presence in Venezuela, and Sequera, Bastidas, Gonzalez, and Alfonzo were all signed from there. The Tigers sustained a presence in the country even as many other teams bailed out due to the political situation over the past decade. That may pay some dividends, as both of the top prospects expected to be signed by the Tigers are from Miguel Cabrera’s homeland as well.
SS Javier Osorio
The Tigers are the favorites to sign 16-year-old shortstop Javier Osorio from Caracas, Venezuela. He ranks 13th on MLB Pipelines top 50 international prospects, and 10th on Baseball America’s Big Board. Consensus there is that he is a top 15, arguably higher, player for this class.
Listed at 6’2”, 168lbs Osorio is heralded as a bat-first infield prospect who stands out because of how advanced he is. As with most 16-year-olds there is a lot of room on the frame to try and project, however both publications believe he could remain a shortstop thanks to his defensive actions and big arm. As we’re used to just about every young SS ultimately moving off the position, that is music to the ears.
Badler had this to say about Osorio’s bat.
He has high-end bat speed for his age, with quick wrists and an aggressive swing that he snaps through the zone quickly. That bat speed helps him drive the ball with impact and gives him a chance to develop into a power-hitting shortstop as he fills out.
Sounds like a good offensive foundation. Once again, thanks to Badler and Baseball America there is a small amount of video on Osorio.
A power hitting shortstop with solid defensive ability at the position sounds perfect. That is a profile the Tigers are largely lacking in throughout the farm system. Taking a look at the batting practice swing, the quick wrists are very clear. That stands out. There are also a lot of moving parts. Big leg kick, the hands don’t stop. There’s no use in going full analysis on the swing. It looks like it can produce some pop and some whiffs at face value. Pro instruction can clean up some of the minor mechanical flaws apparent.
The Tigers are not only players on one of the big names in this class, they are the favorites for a potential top-10 player. That’s a far cry from where they’ve been in previous years. And they aren’t done.
SS Samuel Gil
According to Baseball America, the Tigers are also favorites to ink 17-year-old shortstop Samuel Gil. While BA has Gil ranked 21st on their big board, MLB Pipeline doesn’t have him ranked in their top 50. That makes him slightly more divisive, but also he’s older than many of these top-flight IFA signings. He turned 17 in November, putting him in the older end of this class. Which isn’t bad.
While Osorio shows big skills, Badler explains Gil brings something different to the table.
Gil drew a lot of attention from scouts, more so for his in-game skills than his raw tools. He’s an instinctive, high baseball IQ player who puts together consistent quality at-bats with an easy swing, good contact skills and an all-fields approach to get on base frequently.
Gil stands only 5’9” and is listed at 154 pounds. He hits and throws right. In his writeup Badler says that Gil can surprise people with his pop, though he is not a power threat. He’s also credited with a big arm on the infield.
Smart players can play above their tools, so already showing a high baseball IQ is a really good trait to have.
The IFA market opens up on the 15th, and Detroit is the favorite to sign both of these players. Neither will be official until then. While infrequent, these decisions do sometimes change at the last minute, so nothing is assured, but generally speaking most of these agreements have already been arranged well in advance, despite the rules. Assuming they both happen, the Tigers appear to be getting a couple of talented potential shortstops right off the bat from this 2021 IFA class.