Cardinals reach deal with 16-year-old Dominican RHP prospect

January 15th, 2024

The Cardinals signed hard-throwing right-handed pitching prospect Branneli Franco,'s No. 25 international prospect, at the opening of the 2024 signing period Monday. According to industry sources, the deal is worth $800,000.

The Cardinals forfeited $500,000 from their signing pool for inking Willson Contreras, who rejected a qualifying offer from the Cubs in 2022, leaving St. Louis with an allotment of $5.152 million.

In addition to Franco, the Cardinals signed 10 additional players at the start of the international signing period. Five pitchers, three outfielders, two shortstops and one first baseman were among the signees who will all be assigned to the Dominican Summer League.

Built like a basketball shooting guard, Franco oozes physical projection as a 6-foot-3 hurler from the Dominican Republic. At just 16 years old, he has already been heralded for his poise on the mound.

Franco sits at 91-93 mph with his heater, which has solid tailing action and a propensity for inducing ground balls. There is potential for it to become a plus-plus offering as he matures and gains strength since he already sports impressive arm speed.

His changeup is a straight offering that parks at 85-87 mph but benefits from having an arm slot identical to his heater. A slurvy high-70s breaking pitch is his go-to offspeed weapon, as it moves planes early out of his hand.

Peppering the strike zone at a young age bodes well for Franco's projection as a starter moving forward. Praised for his ability to mix up his offerings, Franco will next be tasked with creating significant velo separation to keep hitters off balance. He'll need to further engage his lower half as he enters pro ball armed with an effortless release from an upright delivery.

An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between Jan. 15 and Dec. 15. He must turn 16 before he signs and be 17 before Sept. 1 the following year.

That means players born between Sept. 1, 2006, and Aug. 31, 2007, will be eligible to sign in the current signing period. Players must be registered with Major League Baseball in advance to be eligible to sign.