The start of the international signing period, the glorious time on the baseball calendar when prospects from across the globe sign with big league teams and take their first step toward fulfilling their Major League dreams, is only a few months away.
The start of the period doesn’t fall on July 2 anymore, but it’s never been about the actual day on the calendar, anyway. It has always been about what the date symbolizes and what it means to the world.
For prospects from Latin America and the Caribbean, and locales like Australia, the Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Curacao, Europe and more, the international signing period means everything.
These are the top international prospects expected to sign when the signing period for the 2021-2022 class commences in January.
Who are the top prospects?
1. Roderick Arias, shortstop, Dominican Republic
The top prospect in the class, Arias has plus-arm potential. His throws are accurate and effortless, and he’s always in a position to make them. He also shows good footwork with soft hands and above-average range.
At the plate, he exhibits above-average bat-to-ball skills and strike-zone awareness. He shows good plate discipline and doesn’t swing and miss often. He shows power from both sides of the plate, especially the right side. There’s good opposite-field power from the left side, and the overall package could develop into a plus-plus hitter. The Yankees are the favorites to sign him.
2. Cristian Vaquero, OF, Cuba
Vaquero was originally a left-handed hitter, but he learned to switch-hit once he left Cuba, which has resulted in improved pitch recognition and more confidence at the plate. At 6-foot-3 and close to 190 pounds, he is a physical specimen with tons of raw strength and power. He can cover ground in center field, shows a strong arm and has a chance to be a plus defender at the position. He plays hard with lots of energy and shows tons of natural instinct in practice and in games. The Nationals are the favorites to sign him.
3. Ricardo Cabrera, shortstop, Venezuela
At the plate, Cabrera shows advanced approach with advanced pitch recognition. He sprays hard line drives all over the field, stays through the strike zone well and creates backspin. He already shows gap power and is on track for plus power in the future.
On defense, he has soft hands, shows good footwork and the type of range that will make him at least an average shortstop. There’s a chance he could move to third base if he continues to grow and develop, but he projects to have enough offensive firepower to make the switch. The Reds are the favorites to sign him.
4. William Bergolla, SS, Venezuela
At the plate, he already shows solid bat-to-ball skills, an advanced approach, and an understanding of the strike zone. He shows line-drive power, and more power is expected to come as he develops, and his body matures.
On defense, Bergolla shows good footwork, soft hands and a strong enough arm to keep him at the position as he makes his way through the Minor Leagues. He has solid range and good baseball instincts. He’s been praised for his baseball IQ and awareness on both sides of the ball. He is the son of former Major League player William Bergolla Sr., an infielder who spent the majority of his career in the Reds’ system and with various teams in Venezuela’s Winter League. The Phillies are the favorite to sign Bergolla Jr.
5. Oscar Colás, OF, Cuba
In three years with Cuba’s Serie Nacional, he hit .305 and slugged .487 with nine homers. He pitched for Holguin in 2018-19, allowing one run in 3 1/3 innings, all in relief. What’s more, Colás slashed .289/.389/.533 in 54 at-bats in 2019, his third and final season for Santiago in Cuba’s Serie Nacional.
Colás is currently training in the Dominican Republic and is expected to play winter ball for the Estrellas Orientales under manager and former Major League player Fernando Tatis Sr. The White Sox are the favorites to sign him.
Twenty-five of the players on the 2021 Top 50 International Prospects list are from the Dominican Republic. There are 15 prospects from Venezuela, four from Cuba, two from Colombia, two from Panama and one each from the Bahamas and Mexico. Position-wise, there are 26 infielders, 16 outfielders, two pitchers and six catchers. Athletes who play up the middle, more specifically either at shortstop or in center, are generally the most coveted prospects on the international market. However, there has been an increase in pitching prospects and catching prospects, especially from Venezuela, in recent years.
International signing rules, spending
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association finalized a deal in March 2020 that addressed the international signing period during the pandemic. The 2021-2022 international signing period should begin Jan. 15, 2022, and run through Dec. 15, 2022. It’s the second year in a row the period is scheduled to begin in January.
These are the international bonus pools for the 2120-22 signing period: Clubs that received a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Rule 4 Draft (Cardinals, D-backs, Indians, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rockies, and Royals) received a pool of $6,262,600, while clubs that received a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A of the Rule 4 Draft (Brewers, Marlins, Rays, Reds, Tigers, and Twins) received $5,721,500. Teams lost money for surpassing the luxury tax threshold and signing a Major League free agent who rejected a qualifying offer.
The base signing pool for the Angels, Astros, Athletics, Blue Jays, Braves, Cubs, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox, White Sox, and Yankees is $5,179,700.
Teams will also not be allowed to trade international bonus slots in '21.
There are guidelines for signing prospects. An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between Jan. 15 and Dec. 15. He must turn 16 before he signs and be 17 before Sept. 1 the following year -- in practical terms, that means players born between Sept. 1, 2004, and Aug. 31, 2005, will be 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.