The start of the international signing period is one of the most important dates on the baseball calendar.
And while the actual date has shifted from July 2 to January 15 in recent years, its significance remains the same.
For international prospects across the globe, this is where it all begins and dreams come true. The final destination is the Major Leagues but the first step is signing the first professional contract and for international prospects, that happens during the international signing period.
The period means everything and it’s only a few months away. It ends Dec. 15, 2023.
Meet the top international prospects expected to sign when the period commences in January:
1. Ethan Salas, C, Venezuela
The top player in the class is one of the best catching prospects in recent history. His strong skills on the field are matched by his notable family bloodline as his grandfather, father and uncle all played professionally. He is the younger brother of Marlins prospect Jose Salas, and he could end up being the best player in the family.
At the plate, the athletic Salas has a good feel for the strike zone and shows the ability to hit the ball to all fields. He shows good raw power, and it is expected to increase as he develops. He has a nice loose swing and shows the ability to hit home runs in batting practice and games. On defense, he shows plus potential because of his soft hands, blocking ability and receiving skills. He shows good throwing mechanics and a strong arm.
2. Felnin Celesten, SS, Dominican Republic
Celesten shows big tools across the board and has a chance to be a five-tool player if he continues to develop at a normal pace. The switch hitter has improved in every facet of his game as he has matured physically in the last year, and he has a chance to have plus speed, arm, and raw power as a result. He also plays solid defense and it will keep him at shortstop as he makes his way through the Minor Leagues.
From the left side, he shows doubles power and hits line drives. From the right side of the plate, he shows tons of bat speed with a big loft. He plays with flair and is dedicated to improving.
3. Joendry Vargas, SS, Dominican Republic
At 6-foot-3, the long and lean teen will face questions about his ability to stay at shortstop, but he already shows a quick first step, good hands and plus instincts for position. He’ll stay in the middle of the infield for as long as he can, but his plus arm potential will serve him well if he transitions to third base in the future.
At the plate, he shows an advanced approach with the ability to hit for average. One of the top hitters in the class, he hits line drives to all fields and shows home run potential with a mechanically sound swing. Vargas is expected to show more raw power and rack up extra-base hits as he fills out his frame.
4. Alfredo Duno, C, Venezuela
Duno has a chance to have at least three above-average tools -- field, arm and power -- as he develops and emerges as one most interesting prospects in the class. Here’s what scouts like: He runs well for a catcher, and he already shows elite bat speed. There’s a chance he will have plus power, and he projects to be an average hitter.
On defense, he has the chance to be an elite defender because of his soft hands, flexibility and blocking skills. He can frame the ball well, shows good receiving skills and moves well laterally. He’s also learning how to call a game and has a good makeup.
5. Luis Morales, RHP, Cuba
The right-hander is one of the most interesting and dynamic prospects in the class. His arm is electric, and it continues to dazzle scouts.
Back in Cuba, he was the best U-18 pitcher on the island, setting a record for strikeouts (161) in 82 2/3 innings between 2019 and 2020. He made his debut with Cuba’s Serie Nacional with Sancti Spiritus in 2021 and defected later in the year while playing for the Cuban U-23 team in Mexico.
He projects to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher as his fastball sits between 94-97 and has emerging secondary pitches, including a slider, changeup and curveball. Morales has added about 10 pounds of muscle mass in recent months to quell any concerns about his overall strength.
Thirty-two of the players on the 2022 Top 50 International Prospects list are from the Dominican Republic. There are 13 prospects from Venezuela, two from the Bahamas and one each from Cuba, Mexico and Korea. Position-wise, there are 20 infielders, 18 outfielders, five catchers, six pitchers and one two-way player.
International signing rules, spending
These are the international bonus pools for the 2022-23 signing period:
Clubs that received a Competitive Balance Pick in Round B of the Draft (Athletics, Brewers, Mariners, Marlins, Rays, Reds, Tigers and Twins) received a pool of $6,366,900 while clubs with a Competitive Balance Pick in Round A (D-backs, Guardians, Orioles, Padres, Pirates, Rockies and Royals) received $5,825,500.
The base signing pool for the Astros, Blue Jays, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Mets, Nationals, White Sox and Yankees is $5,284,000. The Angels, Phillies and Red Sox each forfeited $500,000 from their pools for signing players who had rejected qualifying offers -- Noah Syndergaard, Nick Castellanos and Trevor Story, respectively -- last offseason, so each has a pool of $4,644,000 . The Dodgers and Rangers each forfeited $1,000,000 from their pools for signing players who had rejected qualifying offers to lower their pool to $4,144,000.
The Dodgers surpassed the luxury tax threshold the previous season and had to forfeit $1,000,000 for Freddie Freeman. The Rangers forfeit $500,000 each for Corey Seager and Marcus Semien.
The forfeited monies are redistributed to the other clubs.
Teams will be allowed to trade international bonus slots during this signing period starting Jan. 15.
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, 2005, and Aug. 31, 2006, 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.