Each team’s top international prospect

Detroit Tigers

Saturday brings a big day on the baseball calendar, at least in our neck of the woods.

That’s when the 2022 international signing period opens, meaning hundreds of players outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico will be able to ink their first contracts and begin their journeys in professional baseball. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez broke down the pertinent details ahead of Saturday here, including the big names to know like Dominican shortstop Roderick Arias and Cuban outfielder Cristian Vaquero. But it’s important to note that it’s not just the biggest signings that make waves on prospect boards in the years ahead. Sometimes the best international prospects are much more under the radar on signing day and the weeks and months that follow.

To illustrate that point, here are the top internationally signed prospects in each of the 30 farm systems heading into 2022:

Blue Jays: Gabriel Moreno, C, Venezuela (No. 1, MLB No. 32)
Originally signed for only $25,000 out of Venezuela in August 2016, Moreno has developed into one of the biggest names on this list. He was an infielder back home, but the 21-year-old has developed into a solid defensive backstop with a promising arm. His bat might be most promising now after a season in which he hit .373/.441/.651 with eight homers in 32 games at Double-A. Moreno possesses the highest all-around ceiling of any catcher on Toronto’s depth chart, and that includes Major Leaguers Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire and Alejandro Kirk.

Orioles: Samuel Basallo, C, Dominican Republic (No. 24)
The Orioles’ first big splash on the international market in a long while netted them shortstop Maikol Hernandez for $1.2 million and Basallo for $1.3 million, and either could be the choice as top international prospect. For now, we’ll give Basallo the edge as a left-handed hitting backstop with tremendous power potential and a solid arm behind the plate.

Rays: Vidal Bruján, OF/2B, Dominican Republic (No. 2, MLB No. 21)
The speedy switch-hitter signed for only $15,000 in October 2014 before jumping onto the scene with a .320 average and 55 steals over 122 games in his first taste of full-season ball three years later. He’s been a major player in the Rays system ever since, thanks to his impressive hit tool and plus-plus wheels. Bruján started to show a little more power last season with a career high 12 homers at Triple-A Durham, and it’s now on the Rays to find a spot for the 23-year-old on the Major League club. He has experience at second, short and third and played all three outfield spots with more regularity in 2021.

Red Sox: Brayan Bello, RHP, Dominican Republic (No. 6)
After Venezuelan righty Bryan Mata had Tommy John surgery in April, Bello surpassed him as the best pitching prospect and top international prospect in Boston’s system. Signed for just $28,000 out of the Dominican Republic as an 18-year-old in 2017, he has three pitches that all flash as plus offerings, including his mid-90s fastball, slider and changeup. He posted a 3.87 ERA with 132 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A.

Yankees: Oswald Peraza, SS, Venezuela (No. 3, MLB No. 58)
While Dominican outfielder Jasson Dominguez has received more hype, Peraza also has a lofty ceiling as well as a higher floor after turning pro at a fraction of the cost ($175,000 out of Venezuela in 2016). He could have four plus tools and 20-homer power once he’s fully developed. He batted .297/.356/.477 with 18 homers and 38 steals in 115 games while rising from High-A to Triple-A.

Guardians: George Valera, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 2, MLB No. 63)
One of the best offensive prospects in the 2017 international class, Valera signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic and hasn’t disappointed with his sweet left-handed swing, developing power and ability to recognize pitches and control the strike zone. He finally made his full-season debut in 2021, hitting .260/.405/.505 with 19 homers and 11 steals in 86 games between High-A and Double-A at age 20.

Royals: Erick Peña, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 6)
Peña shot onto prospect radars immediately when he signed for $3,897,500 in July 2019. It’s been a slow go of it since, in part due to the canceled 2020 season. The left-handed-hitting outfielder finally made his Minor League debut in the Arizona Complex League in 2021, only to hit .161/.256/.314 with a 36.5 percent K rate in 40 games. At his best, the 18-year-old shows promising raw power, decent speed and an arm that can play anywhere in the outfield, giving him tools to dream on. Refining his swing to make more contact will go a long way toward reestablishing his prospect bonafides.

Tigers: Cristian Santana, SS, Dominican Republic (No. 9)
Detroit set a club record when it inked Santana to a $2.95 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic last January, and the right-handed-hitting shortstop fit his profile rather quickly in pro ball. Santana hit .269/.421/.520 with nine homers over 54 games in the DSL, and while complex stats can generally be overlooked, it’s noteworthy that they backed up Santana’s reputation as a potential above-average hitter with good raw pop. He has already seen time at both short and third, so his eventual defensive home remains up in the air.

Twins: Jhoan Duran, RHP, Dominican Republic (No. 5)
The D-backs originally signed Duran for just $65,000 back in Dec. 2014, then traded him to the Twins in the Eduardo Escobar deal at the 2018 Trade Deadline. Duran looked poised to make a big contribution in the big leagues in 2021, but an elbow strain kept him off the mound for most of the year. When he’s healthy, he has a fastball that reaches triple digits routinely and a “splinker,” a sinker-splitter hybrid, up to 94 mph, that is just nasty.

White Sox: Yoelqui Céspedes, OF, Cuba (No. 2)
The younger brother of Yoenis Céspedes, Yoelqui was the most famous player in the 2020-21 international crop and features well-above-average raw power and arm strength as well as glimpses of plus straight-line speed. After signing for $2.05 million last January, the Cuban batted .285/.350/.463 with eight homers and 18 steals in 72 games between High-A and Double-A.

A’s: Pedro Pineda, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 6)
One of the top players on our 2020-21 international top 30 list, Pineda signed in Jan. 2021, at the delayed start of the signing period, getting $2.5 million from the A’s. He made his debut last summer in the Dominican Summer League, posting a .237/.368/.361 line in 33 games. He has the potential to have excellent tools across the board, with the bat speed and loft for there to be good power along with skills to play all three outfield spots.

Angels: Arol Vera, SS, Venezuela (No. 6)
Vera signed for $2 million at the start of the 2019-20 international signing period, then had to sit at home during the pandemic in 2020. He quickly got himself back into shape in 2021, hitting his way from the Arizona Complex League to full-season ball and finishing with a .304/.370/.401 line in 57 games. He has the chance to be a plus hitter who has excellent bat-to-ball skills from both sides of the plate and all the tools necessary to play shortstop for a long time.

Astros: Pedro Leon, SS/OF, Cuba (No. 2)
After defecting from Cuba, Leon received the highest bonus ($4 million) in the 2020-21 international class because the Astros coveted his well-above-average raw power, speed and arm strength. They sent him straight to Double-A for his pro debut, during which he hit .224/.345/.380 with nine homers and 18 steals in 69 games despite missing two months with a broken left pinky.

Mariners: Julio Rodríguez, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 1, MLB No. 2)
The top international prospect in baseball, Rodríguez signed for $1.75 million in July 2017 and has been climbing his way to Seattle since. One of the best offensive prospects in baseball, J-Rod is coming off a year that saw him hit .347/.441/.560 with 13 homers and 21 steals in 74 games between High-A and Double-A as a 20-year old. He managed to fit in a trip to the Futures Game and a strong Olympic performance for the Dominican Republic as well.

Rangers: Ezequiel Duran, INF, Dominican Republic (No. 7)
The Yankees signed Duran for $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2017 and shipped him to the Rangers last summer as part of the Joey Gallo/Joely Rodriguez trade. An offensive-minded infielder with solid power and speed who probably fits best at second base, he hit .267/.342/.486 with 19 homers and as many steals in 105 games in High-A.

Braves: Cristian Pache, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 1, MLB No. 38)
Expect Pache’s ranking to take a tumble after a rough 2021 campaign, though he’s still the Braves’ top international prospect, one who signed for $1.5 million in July 2015. Pache had some opportunities in the big leagues last year, but hit just .111 over 63 at-bats, then hit .265/.330/.414 in Triple-A, leading some scouts to worry about him hitting enough to reach his potential. He still is one of the best outfield defenders in the game with a 70 arm.

Marlins: Edward Cabrera, RHP, Dominican Republic (No. 2, MLB No. 29)
Signed for $100,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2015, Cabrera averaged 97 mph with his four-seam fastball in seven big league starts last year and complemented his heater with a mid-80s slider and developing changeup. While he got roughed up for a 5.81 ERA with the Marlins, he compiled a 2.93 mark with 92 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings at three stops in the Minors. Some scouts prefer fast-rising Eury Perez in Miami’s system, while a third Dominican right-hander, Sixto Sánchez, ranked ahead of them both before missing last season following shoulder surgery.

Mets: Francisco Álvarez, C, Venezuela (No. 1, MLB No. 10)
Álvarez has moved quickly through the Mets system ever since he signed for $2.7 million on July 2, 2018. The backstop, who only turned 20 last November, was the only teenager with more than 250 plate appearances at High-A last summer, and he earned every one of them with a .538 slugging percentage, .889 OPS and 22 homers in 84 games in Brooklyn. The Venezuela native has the potential to be an offensive force and should be capable enough defensively (especially with his arm) to carry value there too. If not for Adley Rutschman and Moreno, Álvarez would be the top catching prospect in baseball.

Nationals: Andry Lara, RHP, Venezuela (No. 4)
Signed for $1.25 million in July 2019, Lara already has more stateside experience than you might expect, having spent nearly all of 2020 at the Nats’ complex in Florida and then seeing time in the FCL and at Low-A Fredericksburg last season. The 6-foot-4 right-hander remains plenty raw but shows promising stuff, starting with a plus fastball with good spin. His breaking ball (some call it a slider, others a curve) can flash above-average, and he can manipulate it depending on need. Developing a better change and growing into more consistency will be objectives when Lara reaches full-season ball again next summer.

Phillies: Johan Rojas, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 6)
Many of the names in this story were high-ticket types, huge prospects who got seven figures to sign. Then there’s Rojas, who signed for just $10,000 in Jan. 2018 then jumped on the prospect map when he hit .320 in the DSL that summer. He quickly hit his way out of the Gulf Coast League in 2019 and up to the short-season New York-Penn League. He made his full-season debut in 2021 and finished with a scorching .344/.419/.563 line in 17 games up in High-A as he continues to refine his approach at the plate, all while providing speed and outstanding defense.

Brewers: Hedbert Perez, OF, Venezuela (No. 4)
It’s always telling when an organization pushes its top talent to a full-season level in their first summers of pro ball. That was the case for Perez, who moved up to Low-A Carolina after hitting .333/.394/.575 over 132 plate appearances in the ACL. His time with the Mudcats was much rougher (.169 average, 36.8 percent K rate in 16 games), but it was a small sample for such a young player just getting experience. Perez, who signed for $700,000 in July 2019, remains a good runner with impressive raw power, and long term, he should be able to hit enough to make the most of both skills.

Cardinals: Iván Herrera, C, Panama (No. 7)
You could make a case for 2021 breakout star Juan Yepez here, and we wouldn’t fault you for doing so. Instead, we’ll mention Herrera, a $200,000 signing out of Panama from July 2016. The 21-year-old backstop has developed into a solid defensive catcher, and he should grow into more of an asset back there. He was just an average hitter at Double-A in 2021 and seemed to trade some of his hit tool for power. Herrera still makes a good amount of contact, and if he can marry both of his offensive tools, he has a decent floor as a Major League backup.

Cubs: Cristian Hernandez, SS, Dominican Republic (No. 3)
Considered by some teams to be the best prospect in the 2020-21 international class, Hernandez drew repeated physical comparisons to Alex Rodriguez and Manny Machado before signing for $3 million out of the Dominican Republic. He hit .285/.398/.424 with five homers and 21 steals in 47 games in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League while displaying at least solid tools across the board.

Pirates: Oneil Cruz, SS, Dominican Republic (No. 3, MLB No. 52)
Initially signed by the Dodgers in 2015, Cruz has grown to 6-foot-7 and into a legitimate big league talent since, moving from the Dodgers to the Pirates in 2017. Everyone keeps waiting for him to get moved off of shortstop because of his size, but he became the tallest starter at the spot in Major League history during his debut last year and has a chance to stay there for now. The bat continues to come as he shook off a forearm injury and posted a .970 OPS in 68 games in the Minors in 2021 en route to his big league debut that saw him homer in his second game.

Reds: Elly De La Cruz, 3B/SS, Dominican Republic (No. 8)
To say the Reds are excited about De La Cruz, who signed with the team for just $65,000 in July 2018, would be an understatement. After hitting well in his pro debut in the DSL in 2019, De La Cruz has really jumped on the prospect map for all 30 teams after earning a promotion from the ACL to Low-A in 2021, finishing with a .296/.336/.535 line over 61 games. He’s just scratching the surface with huge offensive potential as he refines his approach and the athleticism to stick at short, move to third (where he’s played) or even handle center field.

D-backs: Geraldo Perdomo, SS, Dominican Republic (No. 9)
The 22-year-old switch-hitter is coming off a roller-coaster 2021. He got a Major League cup of coffee in April, struggled at Double-A Amarillo for much of the summer and then rebounded to hit .329 with a .935 OPS in August and September at the Minors’ two highest levels. That success came after the D-backs moved him back to the complex to focus on his hitting in July. Perdomo, who signed for $70,000 back in July 2016, remains an above-average runner and fielder at the six and should get another crack at the Arizona infield this spring.

Dodgers: Diego Cartaya, C, Venezuela (No. 1, MLB No. 28)
The Dodgers grabbed the best Venezuelan prospect in each of the previous three international classes in Cartaya (2018), outfielder Luis Rodriguez (2019) and shortstop Wilman Diaz (2020-21). Signed for $2.5 million and often compared to Salvador Perez, Cartaya is an advanced hitter with solid power and defensive skills. He batted .298/.409/.614 in 31 games at Low-A before a hamstring injury ended his season in mid-July.

Giants: Marco Luciano, SS, Dominican Republic (No. 1, MLB No. 5)
The headliner in what looks like a potentially special 2018 Giants international haul that also includes outfielder Luis Matos (Venezuela) and Jairo Pomares (Cuba), Luciano signed for $2.6 million out of the Dominican Republic. Featuring some of the best bat speed and raw power in the Minors, he hit .258/.344/.471 with 19 homers in 106 games between Low-A and High-A at age 19. He also has a plus arm that should serve him well in a projected move to third base or right field.

Padres: Euribiel Angeles, SS, Dominican Republic (No. 13)
The Padres weren’t allowed to sign players for more than $300,000 during the 2018-19 international signing period due to previous overages, yet they still bagged Angeles for that amount out of the Dominican Republic. The 19-year-old can certainly hit, as he showed this season with a .343 average in 87 games at Low-A Lake Elsinore in his full-season debut. He owns a career .321 average over 149 career contests in the Minors, and it’s that ability to make solid consistent contact that will fuel his push to San Diego. Angeles spread his time around short, third and second in 2021.

Rockies: Elehuris Montero, 3B (No. 4)
He may always be known as the top prospect in the Nolan Arenado trade, but his bounce-back 2021, after a rough 2019 and a lost 2020 spent at the Cardinals’ alternate site, has him pointing in the right direction. Montero hit 28 homers and slugged .529 between Double- and Triple-A. He might eventually need to move to first, but it looks like the bat is going to play.

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