Long before Louis Eljaua rose to special assistant to the president and general manager of the Cubs, he was the young and energetic top international scout for the Marlins. Back then, his boss was Al Avila, now the general manager for the Tigers.
:: 2018 International Signing Period ::
Eljaua vividly recalls a conversation with Avila in 1998 like it happened yesterday. Each time he tells the story of that famous call, he puts his right thumb to his ear and talks into his right pinkie like it's the old hotel phone he used.
• Top 30 International Prospects list
"I found the guy, Al! I found the guy our owner was looking for. He's 15. Come to Venezuela," Eljaua shrieked through the phone.
Avila, who was in Miami at the time, was not pleased to hear the news. The Marlins had never spent more than $30,000 on an international teen.
"Are you crazy, Louis? [Owner] John Henry gives us money and you are going to spend it all on your first trip and the first kid you see? Are you trying to get us all fired? What is wrong with you?"
"I know, I know," Eljaua answered. "Just come see the kid. He's good. You won't be sorry."
Top International Prospects
That kid was Miguel Cabrera. And less than a year later, the teenager signed with the Marlins for $1.8 million to launch his future Hall of Fame career and forever set the standard for international teenage prospects.
The hunt for the next Cabrera continues, and each year an increasing number of prospects sign when the international signing period begins on July 2; hundreds more will join Major League organizations later this summer.
Led by catcher Diego Cartaya -- who like Cabrera is from Maracay, Venezuela -- the players on MLB Pipeline's 2018 Top 30 International Prospects list represent the greatest young talent from across the globe eligible to sign on July 2.
The ultimate goal is nabbing a baseball unicorn like Cabrera. But signing a horse like Cartaya, a hard-hitting catcher with advanced skills, or other emerging international prospects also offer teams options.
Video: Top International Prospects: Diego Cartaya, C
Remember, the Cubs traded top teen Gleyber Torres of Venezuela to the Yankees as part of a deal for Aroldis Chapman in 2016, and the rest is World Series history. Last year, they traded the Dominican Republic's Eloy Jimenez to the White Sox in a deal for Jose Quintana. Both are the top prospects in their organizations. Back in '16, the Red Sox traded Yoan Moncada in a package to the White Sox for pitcher Chris Sale. The A's acquired Franklin Barreto from the Blue Jays in a deal for third baseman Josh Donaldson in '14.
"If you are not investing time and money and effort to sign international players, you are missing out on making your organization one of the best in the game," Eljaua said. "Why would you ignore a market and just focus on one or two ways to acquire talent when these guys are going to play in your system, hopefully in the big leagues, or be a part of a package that helps you fill a missing piece? And it's not all about the money and paying the most money. It's about scouting and working and finding out about makeup and helping your entire system."
Who is signing whom
More than 950 prospects have signed during the international signing period that started July 2, 2017, and that number could increase during the 2018-19 period, because there are thousands who have registered to become eligible.
In addition to prospects from traditional baseball hot spots like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil and the Bahamas, there are also prospects from places like Europe, the Caribbean islands and Asia who have also registered.
Video: Top International Prospects: Marco Luciano, OF
As far as the list is concerned, the Dodgers are the favorites to sign Cartaya. Marco Luciano, a power-hitting outfielder from the Dominican Republic, a close second behind Cartaya in the rankings, is linked to the Giants. Outfielder Misael Urbina of Venezuela, who is ranked No. 3, is an advanced hitter expected to have an above-average hit tool and plus speed. He is linked to the Twins. Rounding out the top five is Venezuelan right-handed pitcher Richard Gallardo, linked to the Cubs, and Orelvis Martinez, a power-hitting shortstop from the D.R. sometimes compared to a young Adrian Beltre. The Blue Jays are the favorite to sign Martinez.
Video: Richard Gallardo named top int'l pitching prospect
This year's Top 30 International Prospects list includes 10 players from Venezuela, 16 from the Dominican Republic, three from Cuba and one from Colombia. The positions break down like this: 11 outfielders, eight infielders, seven pitchers and four catchers.
The best athletes at premium positions are the most appealing to international scouts. Three of the top 13 are catchers and three of the top 10 are pitchers. Shortstops and center fielders are also highly coveted in this year's class.
International signing rules, spending
There are specific guidelines for signing prospects like Cartaya: An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 through June 15 of the next year if he is 17 or will turn 17 by the end of the first season of his contract.
Video: Cartaya tops MLB's international prospects list
The rules for signing international prospects are these: Clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Rule 4 Draft receive a pool of $6,025,400, while clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A of the Rule 4 Draft receive $5,504,500. All other clubs receive $4,983,500.
• International amateur free agency & bonus pool money explained
Teams are allowed to trade as much of their international pool money as they would like, but can only acquire 75 percent of a team's initial pool amount. Additionally, 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.
In terms of spending, the Blue Jays, Brewers, D-backs, Mariners, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, Rockies, Tigers, Twins and Yankees are expected to be aggressive in the upcoming signing period. The Cubs, Dodgers, Giants and Royals -- teams that will no longer be in the penalty for exceeding their past international bonus pool spending -- are also expected to be very active.
The A's, Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Nationals, Padres, Reds and White Sox are in the maximum penalty, so they cannot sign players for more than $300,000 during the upcoming period.
"We are all looking for the next Miguel Cabrera, but I think it's unfair to compare anybody to him because he was just on another level," Eljaua said. "But the reality is, my old team already paid me for that sign. I'm getting paid to find another one. That's what the job is."
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.