When Gleyber Torres was playing in the Minors, his big league debut was eagerly awaited by the fan bases of two of baseball's most storied franchises -- first the Cubs, then the Yankees. And now he is a rapidly rising star in the Bronx.
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But Torres wasn't drafted by either team -- he was signed as an international free agent on July 2, 2013.
This year's MLB Draft is in the rearview mirror, but there will be yet another opportunity for teams to add top talent like Torres in just a few weeks. The international signing period begins on July 2, and its impact on the game has made it one of the most important dates on the baseball calendar.
Once the talented native of Venezuela started playing pro ball the season after signing, it was clear that Torres was something special. In July 2016, the Cubs traded him to New York as part of the Aroldis Chapman deal.The rest is World Series history. If the Yankees make it back to the Fall Classic for the first time since winning it all in 2009, the rookie from Caracas will likely play a huge role.
Video: Must C Crushed: Torres pops 2 HRs off Bartolo
"There's only two ways to secure talent," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, "and the biggest, most important aspect of our industry's talent acquisition is the domestic amateur Draft and the international amateur free-agent signs.
"That's the lifeblood of how you secure talent. The rest of it -- obviously Major League free agency is a whole different ballgame, and Minor League, six-year free agency, waiver claims and trades. But if you can get these guys on the front end at a cost-effective level, it could be a game-changer for your franchise."
One of the primary goals when signing an international prospect is to have the player succeed in the club's Minor League system and eventually play in the big leagues. It's also common to package young international talent as part of a trade to acquire a missing piece to help the Major League club, as the Cubs did with Torres.
The current and future value of an international prospect is part of the reason why clubs are taking a systematic approach to the international market, using strategies that include input from several top decision makers, in addition to international scouting directors and scouts on the ground.
"I think if you just look at the best teams in baseball, the best systems in baseball, you see very clearly the importance [of the international market]," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "Whether that objectively currently is the Houston Astros, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs -- the impact that they are getting from international talent is massive.
"The impact on a Major League team is, I think, abundantly clear. Maybe not often as clear -- but the best systems in baseball are typically comprised of a significant portion coming from every possible avenue, and that's the only way to beat people."
In addition to the Torres deal, the acquisition of Eloy Jimenez by the White Sox from the Cubs for Jose Quintana last season was another move in a long list of transactions that featured top international prospects switching teams. White Sox second baseman Yoan Moncada was acquired in a package from Boston for pitcher Chris Sale in December 2016, and Fernando Tatis Jr. was traded from the White Sox to the Padres for James Shields six months earlier. In November 2014, the A's acquired Franklin Barreto from the Blue Jays in a deal for third baseman Josh Donaldson. Tampa Bay acquired Willy Adames from Detroit as part of the deal for David Price at the non-waiver Trade Deadline that year.
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Houston fans should know pitching prospect Franklin Perez and appreciate the Astros' international scouts who signed him. Perez, ranked by MLB Pipeline as baseball's No. 33-ranked prospect, was a key piece in the deal with Detroit for Justin Verlander last summer.
"I think, given the ages of the players involved and the relative lack of exposure for many of the players involved, it's understandable that the amateur Draft signees overshadows [the international signings] a bit," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "However, as you look around the game, you realize that this remains an important means through which clubs add talent.
"We're certainly no exception. Whether you are looking at guys already in Chicago like [Reynaldo] Lopez and Moncada, or prospects we have signed like Micker Adolfo or Luis Robert, or prospects we have acquired like Eloy and [Luis Alexander] Basabe, a significant portion of the foundation that we are building is built upon talent that came through this pipeline."
More talent is on the way. Five of the top six players on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list -- Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Jimenez, Victor Robles and Fernando Tatis Jr. -- were international signees. And it was six of the top seven before Torres recently graduated from the list.
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.
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.
Video: Cartaya tops MLB's international prospects list
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. The rules for signing international prospects are these: Clubs that receive a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Rule 4 Draft are assigned 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.
Teams are allowed to trade as much of their international pool money as they would like, but they 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.
"The international market is restricted now, but there's still more flexibility for clubs there than in the Draft," Rangers general manager Jon Daniel. "You can take several different strategies toward signing players, and you can also acquire additional pool space to allow you to spend more if ownership permits.
"Back when we signed [Nomar] Mazara, [Ronald] Guzman, etc., there was no spending limit via MLB -- just what your budget permitted, and how hard your scouts worked. We've continued to focus our efforts there, and we've got another wave of guys coming the next couple of years."
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.