Each year, close to 1,000 prospects from across the globe take their first big step toward fulfilling their Major League dreams when they put pens to paper during the international signing period.
It ís a rite of passage for young players from across Latin America and the Caribbean, countries like the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama and Mexico, but also for prospects from places like Australia, the Bahamas, Brazil, Cuba, Curacao, Italy, Taiwan and more.
The international signing period usually begins July 2 and runs through June 15 of the following year. However, the time frame for this year's period has not yet been determined as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
Here is what we know so far, and what to expect from the 2020-2021 international signing period.
Who are the top prospects?
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 Cespedes was known primarily as a plus runner, a solid defender and a 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, and now looks almost exactly like his older brother in the batter's box.
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 shows 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 back home in Aragua. The Dodgers are the favorite to sign him.
3) Carlos Colmenarez, SS, Venezuela
The teen 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 projects to be above average in the future. The Rays are considered a strong contender to sign him.
4) Armando Cruz, SS, Dominican Republic
Cruz might be the best defender at any position in this year's class. He makes a strong case to be the best overall prospect. The top player out of the DR 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. The Nationals have shown strong interest in the teen.
5) Christian Hernandez, SS, Dominican Republic
At 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, the teenager resembles a young Alex Rodriguez and has a build similar to Manny Machado at the same age. His 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. The Cubs are the favorite to sign the infielder.
The 2020 Top 30 International Prospects list includes 15 players from the Dominican Republic, nine from Venezuela, five from Cuba and one from Mexico. Position-wise, there are 19 infielders, seven outfielders, two pitchers and two catchers. Athletes who play up the middle, more specifically either at shortstop or in center, are the most coveted prospects on the international market, and that trend is apparent on this year's list. In general, it's hard for international scouts to predict which pitchers will break out when most throw between 86 and 90 mph, so only two made this year's. The level of talent behind the plate is on the rise, especially in Venezuela, and it's a position to watch in the future.
International signing rules, spending
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association finalized a deal in March that addressed the international signing period as baseball continues to wait out the pandemic.
According to the agreement, the start of the international signing period may be delayed from July 2, 2020, to as late as Jan. 15, 2021, while next year's international signing period could also be pushed back. Teams will also not be allowed to trade international bonus slots in 2020 or '21.
International bonus pools for the 2020-21 signing period have not been announced, but are expected to be similar to the totals for 2019-20 when clubs that received a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Rule 4 Draft received a pool of $6,481,200, while clubs that received a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A of the Rule 4 Draft received $5,939,800. Teams lost money for surpassing the luxury tax threshold and signing a Major League free agent who rejected a qualifying offer.
There are also guidelines for signing prospects. An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 and June 15 of the next year. He must turn 16 before he signs and be 17 before the September 1 of the following year -- in practical terms, that means players born between Sept. 1, 2003 and Aug. 31, 2004 will become eligible to sign in the upcoming signing period. Players have to be registered with Major League Baseball in advance in order to be eligible to sign.
Best of the rest
Starling Aguilar, SS, Dominican Republic
Gregory Barrios,SS, Venezuela
Danyer Cuevas, SS, Venezuela
Ryner Doncon, SS, Dominican Republic
Yemal Flores, SS, Dominican Republic
Martin Gimenez, SS, Venezuela
Adari Grant, SS, Bahamas
Daniel Guilarte,SS, Venezuela
Diego Guzman, SS, Venezuela
Isaac Lechuga, SS, Colombia
Fraidel Liriano, SS, Dominican Republic
Gedionne Marlin, SS, Curacao
Hans Montero, SS, Dominican Republic
Maikol Munoz, SS, Venezuela
Kristin Munroe SS, Bahamas
Jeferson Pena, SS, Venezuela
Manuel Pena, SS, Dominican Republic
Ambioris Tavarez, SS, Dominican Republic
Jeferson Tineo, SS, Dominican Republic
Ramiro Altagracia, OF, Dominican Republic
Yohangel Aponte, OF, Venezuela
Karim Ayubi, OF, Curacao
Andres Bonollis, OF, Colombia
Willy Fana, OF, Dominican Republic
Gabriel Gonzalez, OF, Venezuela
Roger Lasso, CF, Panama
Hendry Mendez, OF, Dominican Republic
Yeison Morrobel, OF, Dominican Republic
Daniel Montesino, OF, Venezuela
Sebastian Ramirez, OF, Venezuela
Malvin Valdez, OF, Dominican Republic
Samuel Zavala, OF, Venezuela
Moises Ballesteros, C, Venezuela
Samuel Basallo, C, Dominican Republic
Leonardo Bernal, C, Panama
Kenny Castillo, C, Venezuela
Enderson Lira, C, Venezuela
Robert Lopez, C, Venezuela
Victor Ortega, C, Mexico
Jose Garces, RHP, Colombia
Bryan Mendoza, LHP, Venezuela
Kinn Omosako, RHP, Brazil
Brian Perez, RHP, Dominican Republic
Juan Pinto, LHP, Venezuela
Sulivan Ribeiro, LHP, Brazil