Tigers' Top 5 international signings of all time

May 6th, 2020

MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One day, these young men could be remembered among the best players in team history.

These are the Tigers’ Top 5 international prospects of all time. Many of them made a bigger impact elsewhere after being traded for established big leaguers, but they also far surpassed their class ranking and expectations when the Tigers signed them. The Tigers have historically spread their international bonus pool across several signings, rather than honing in one highly-ranked player.

The Tigers signed Suárez out of Venezuela for a $10,000 bonus in 2008, then exercised patience as he made his way through the farm system as a shortstop, closing the '13 season ranked as Detroit’s fifth-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline. He made his Major League debut for the Tigers on June 4, 2014, and made 71 starts at short while hitting .242 with a .652 OPS before being traded to the Reds along with former first-round pick Jonathon Crawford for veteran starter Alfredo Simon. Suárez has since blossomed into an All-Star in Cincinnati, kick-started when he shifted to third base in '16. While the Tigers thought Suárez had hitting potential, they never envisioned him hitting 49 home runs in a season like he did in '19. With the Tigers in win-now mode at the time of the trade, there was some question whether he would hit enough to stake a full-time role somewhere other than short.

Cordero was a lanky teenager throwing 90-91 mph in the Dominican Republic when then-Tigers scout Ramón Peña signed him for a $6,500 bonus in 1994. Three years later, Cordero vaulted onto the prospect scene with 35 saves, a 0.99 ERA and 11.1 K/9 at Class A West Michigan. Around that time, the Tigers drafted Matt Anderson first overall in the '97 MLB Draft and traded for Todd Jones before the season -- two additions that eventually limited Cordero’s future by the time he arrived in Detroit in '99. Instead, Cordero became a key part of the prospect package the Tigers sent to Texas for Juan Gonzalez. Cordero went on to save 329 games in a 14-year big league career.

García was a major acquisition by Tigers standards when scouts Alejandro Rodriguez and Pedro Chávez signed him out of Venezuela for a $200,000 bonus in 2007. He was just 17 when he made his stateside debut at West Michigan in '09, but he moved quickly through the farm system, making his Major League debut in the field as a 21-year-old on Aug. 31, 2012. His combination of power and speed in a stocky frame earned him the nickname of Mini Miggy -- after then-teammate and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera -- and his fantastic stretch run and postseason set up expectations of a dynamic duo of Cabrera and García. When Jhonny Peralta’s suspension in '13 left the Tigers in need of a shortstop in the middle of a playoff race, however, Detroit sent García to the White Sox in a three-team trade for José Iglesias. García became an All-Star in Chicago in '17, a 20-homer hitter in Tampa Bay last year and signed a two-year deal with the Brewers this past offseason.

Peña, the scout also responsible for signing Cordero, pulled an all-night negotiating session to sign Encarnacion as a teenager out of the Dominican Republic for a $3,000 bonus in December 1992, then waited to watch him emerge as a prospect with a .323 average, 26 homers and a .954 OPS for Double-A Jacksonville in '97. Encarnacion made his Major League debut that September, took over a starting outfield spot down the stretch in '98, then became a regular in Detroit’s lineup until he was traded to the Reds for Dmitri Young after the 2001 season. He swiped 33 bases for Detroit in 1999, the last year of Tiger Stadium, but he struggled to hit for power in Comerica Park. Encarnacion enjoyed an 11-year Major League career and won a pair of World Series rings, once with the Marlins in 2003 and also with the Cardinals when they beat the Tigers in '06.

Yet another Peña signing, Rodney had the same stocky frame and strong arm when he signed out of the Dominican Republic for a $4,000 bonus in 1997. He was actually a starter at West Michigan in 2000 and Class A Advanced Lakeland in '01, but he emerged as a hard-throwing relief prospect from there on out, making his Major League debut in '02. He teamed with Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones for a strong late-inning bullpen trio on the '06 team that made the World Series. An MLB investigation eventually revealed Rodney to be three years older than reported, but nobody expected him at the time to pitch into his 40s. At 17 seasons, 11 teams, three All-Star selections and 327 saves -- though he’s currently a free agent -- Rodney is still at it, last winning an elusive World Series ring with the Nationals in '19 at 42 years of age.