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Cardinals sign four international prospects

ANAHEIM -- The international signing period opened on Tuesday, and the Cardinals immediately announced deals reached with four players from Latin America.

Center fielder Carlos Talavera (Venezuela) and shortstop Hector Linares (Dominican Republic) headline the Cardinals' signees. Both are 16 years old, making this their first year of eligibility to be signed by a Major League team. Moises Rodriguez, the Cardinals' director of international operations, described both as having "legitimate prospect potential."

Talavera is a switch-hitter who stood out to Cardinals area scout Henry Sandoval largely because of his mature plate discipline. Rodriguez categorized Talavera as an above-average runner with sound defensive skills.

With Linares, the Cardinals are intrigued with the potential of his bat. Rodriguez noted that Linares has "tremendous bat speed for a wiry-built 16-year-old and has a nice inside-out stroke." Linares has above-average speed and was scouted heavily by Omar Rogers, the brother of Major Leaguer Esmil Rogers.

Both Linares and Talavera will report immediately to the Cardinals' academy in the Dominican Republic. The other two players who agreed to contract terms Tuesday -- right-hander Sandy Alcantara and lefty Kerrion Bennett -- are also headed to the Dominican Republic to begin their careers.

Alcantara, 17, is 6-foot-4 with a fastball registering in the low 90s. The Cardinals plan to develop the Dominican Republic native as a starter. Bennett, who is from Nicaragua, was an attractive find because of his raw athleticism. He, too, is 17 years old.

Though the international market opened for business on Tuesday, signings will continue throughout the year. The Collective Bargaining Agreement written after the 2011 season added a new wrinkle to the process, too. In order to curtail bloated contracts being offered to international prospects, Major League Baseball now gives teams a set pool of available money. Teams going spending more than their allotment will be penalized, and how much each club gets is determined by the opposite order of finish in the standings the year before.

All teams are allocated a base of $700,000 to spend in the market this year. The Cardinals received an additional $1.3606 million based upon their finish in 2012. Teams are free to include pool money in trades, as the Cubs did on Tuesday, in order to increase their funds.

Also, teams are free to sign six players to bonuses of $50,000 or less and not have it count against their pool. Any bonus of $10,000 or less is also exempt.

"With respect to cap space, these signings still allow flexibility to pursue quality players over the next 12 months of the signing period," Rodriguez said after Tuesday's four signings. "In this market, quality players of all ages pop year round so although we work hard to identify 15-16-year-old July 2 players, it's not the only pool of players we scout. We've got a couple of good ones in the system that weren't signed on July 2."

In that latter group, for instance, is top prospect and outfielder Oscar Taveras, who was signed in November 2008.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB.
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