Major League Baseball's international free-agent signing period is set to begin, representing a valuable opportunity for teams to set the course for their futures. For those entrusted with overseeing the blueprints of a franchise, that influx of tantalizing talent has established July 2 as one of the most important dates on the calendar.
In contrast to the MLB Draft, which is held in June and involves the top domestic amateur players in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, the international free-agent signing period opens up the globe for big league clubs.
"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 signings. That's the lifeblood of how you secure talent. … If you can get these guys on the front end at a cost-effective level, it could be a game-changer for your franchise."
The current and future value of prospects is part of the reason why clubs take 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.
"If you just look at the best teams in baseball, the best systems in baseball, you see very clearly the importance," 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."
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Here is a look at how some notable international signees are progressing within the systems of clubs in the American League East:
Right-handed pitcher Eric Pardinho (signed in 2017)
Signed to a $1.4 million bonus at age 16, Pardinho is the new face of Brazilian baseball, featuring a fastball that touches 97 mph and the makings of a plus curveball and changeup. The Blue Jays' No. 7 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Pardinho made his professional debut earlier this month for Rookie-level Bluefield. He is 0-2 with a 2.25 ERA in his first two starts.
Left-handed pitcher Alex Wells (signed in 2015)
The Orioles do not fully participate in the international market, having traded away most of their signing slots and money over the past few years, but they did gamble on Wells. Signed for $300,000 out of Australia, Wells is ranked as the O's No. 8 prospect by MLB Pipeline and earned honors as the team's Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2017. He is 3-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 14 starts at Class A Advanced Frederick.
Outfielder Jesus Sanchez (signed in 2014)
The Rays' No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, Tampa Bay secured Sanchez out of the Dominican Republic for $400,000 in 2014. An outfielder who is rated as baseball's No. 36 prospect, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Sanchez has five-tool potential. Viewed as a middle-of-the-order bat, Sanchez is thriving with Class A Advanced Charlotte, where he is slashing .316/.332/.498 with 17 doubles, a triple, nine homers and 46 RBIs in 63 games.
Right-handed pitcher Bryan Mata (signed in 2016)
Signed out of Venezuela for a modest $25,000, Mata is the No. 4 prospect in the Red Sox chain according to MLB Pipeline. The 19-year-old is having a solid season for Class A Advanced Salem. In 13 starts, Mata is 4-2 with a 3.00 ERA and opponents are batting .211 against him. Mata's fastball can touch the mid-90s and is supplemented with a solid changeup and a slow curve. He has received high marks for mound presence and maturity.
Outfielder Estevan Florial (signed in 2015)
Due to controversy with his birth certificate, Florial settled for a $200,000 bonus from the Yankees, which now looks like a bargain. The Dominican Republic product is rated as the top prospect in New York's deep farm system, as well as the No. 38 prospect in baseball. Florial starred in last year's Arizona Fall League but will have to wait to resume showing off his above-average power, speed and arm strength. The left-handed hitter had surgery on his right hand in May, which could keep him out until August.