Earlier this month, Major League Baseball sent a memo to teams outlining a number of changes to the 2020-21 and 2021-22 international signing periods as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The biggest change? Jan. 15 is the new July 2, at least for the next two years.
The 2020-21 international signing period that was scheduled to begin on Thursday will now commence at 9 a.m. ET on Jan. 15, 2021, and end at 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 15, 2021. The start and end dates for the 2021-22 international signing period are also scheduled to move to Jan. 15, 2022, and Dec. 15, 2022, respectively. An official announcement for the 2021-22 international signing period is not expected until next year. It’s uncertain at this time whether the start of the international period will return to July 2 for the 2022-23 period.
The current international signing period has been extended until October.
Under the March 26 agreement with the Players' Association covering changes related to COVID-19, the Commissioner's Office can adjust the international operations.
"The coronavirus pandemic has affected all levels of baseball around the world," said Morgan Sword, executive vice president of league economics and operations for Major League Baseball. "Facing a truncated season, we agreed with the Players' Association to continue the current signing period into October, beyond its original end date in June.
"As a result, we will begin the next signing period in January, rather than on the traditional July 2 date. We have been hard at work with our clubs and partner trainers to prepare for the safe return of baseball to Latin America. We look forward to welcoming another class of tomorrow's superstars into our game in January."
How the changes will impact player development among international prospects is to be determined, but teams will have to adjust to a new model. Traditionally, the prospects who sign on July 2 or early in the international period would immediately begin training at their respective team's academy and then participate in what is commonly known as the "Tricky League," a circuit designed for the most recent international signees. From there, international prospects often participate in instructional leagues in the Dominican Republic later in the summer followed by team training programs in January. There is a Spring Training in the Dominican Republic, and the start of the Dominican Summer League each June.
Those vehicles have been put on hold because of the pandemic. Additionally, in-person scouting internationally remains prohibited and most facilities in the Dominican Republic are closed or operating at a significantly reduced capacity. Teams are able to communicate with the prospects they expected to sign this week via Zoom, social media, phone calls and text messages.
Hundreds of international prospects, including those in the 2020 Top 30 International Prospects list, continue to train safely in their home countries and are expected to sign in January. These are the top 5 prospects to watch:
1) Yoelqui Céspedes, OF, Cuba
The younger half-brother of Mets outfielder Yoenis Céspedes, Yoelqui played for Cuba's World Baseball Classic and Caribbean Series teams in 2017. While in Cuba, the younger Céspedes was known primarily as a plus runner, solid defender and line-drive hitter who can spray the ball across the outfield. He revamped his swing since defecting last summer, along with adding at least 15 pounds of muscle.
2) Wilman Diaz, SS, Venezuela
At the plate, Diaz shows a plus hit tool with excellent bat speed and a knack for recognizing pitches. On defense, Diaz has plus arm potential and plus actions at shortstop. He's a smooth fielder who can make plays to both sides, and he made a name for himself while playing for Venezuela's youth teams in Aragua.
3) Carlos Colmenarez, SS, Venezuela
The teenager has built a reputation as a well-rounded prospect with tons of offensive potential and a chance to display an above-average hit tool with good power in the future. Colmenarez also projects to be a plus shortstop. He's already an average runner and could be above average in the future.
4) Armando Cruz, SS, Dominican Republic
Cruz might be the best defender at any position in this year's class, and he makes a strong case to be the best overall prospect. The top player out of the Dominican for the 2020-21 international signing period, Cruz can also hit. The right-handed hitter has shown good bat speed and a slight upstroke with his swing. He consistently barrels up the ball.
5) Cristian Hernandez, SS, Dominican Republic
Hernandez's approach and abilities give him a chance to hit for a high batting average and he is expected to have plus power in the future. There’s a belief he could eventually develop into a .300 hitter who can slug 30 or more home runs a year. On defense, he shows plus arm potential with smooth hands and the ability to make plays in the hole and up the middle with equal proficiency. He consistently runs the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds.
Here are the other changes made to the 2020-21 and 2021-22 international signing periods per MLB:
• The 2019-20 international signing period has been extended until 5 p.m. ET on Oct. 15, 2020. On Friday, the transaction freeze was lifted and teams with any remaining 2019-20 signing bonus pool space were able to start signing international players eligible for the 2019-20 international signing period.
The Orioles, who have close to $1.6 million remaining in bonus pool money, and the Cardinals, who have just over $500,000, have the most left to spend during the current signing period. On Friday, the Cardinals signed right-handed starter Edwin Nunez of the Dominican Republic for $525,000.
Nunez, 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, has a fastball in the upper 90s with a projectable breaking pitch. The athletic teen was suspended for a year because of an age discrepancy. He was originally on track to sign with the Rays.
• The "closed period" will start at 5 p.m. ET on Oct. 15, 2020, and continue until 9 a.m. ET on Jan. 15, 2021. Under normal circumstances the "closed period" runs from June 15 to the morning of July 2.
• There were no changes to the tryout policies or signing eligibility. Additionally, Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (LMB) will provide the league with a list of players eligible for the 2020-21 international signing period at a later date.
• The Dominican Summer League roster limits will remain as prescribed by MLB rules.
The amounts of money each team will have to spend for the 2020-21 international signing period is as follows:
$6,431,000: Cincinnati, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Tampa Bay
$5,889,600: Arizona, Baltimore, Cleveland, Colorado, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, San Diego, St. Louis
$5,348,100: Boston, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Houston, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, Oakland, Seattle, San Francisco, Texas, Toronto, Washington
$4,732,700: Los Angeles Angels, Philadelphia
$4,232,700: New York Yankees
Jesse Sanchez, who has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.