Every June, Major League Baseball teams take part in the MLB Entry Draft, selecting the best amateur players who were born in the United States (including Puerto Rico) and Canada.
Every July, Major League Baseball teams are allowed to sign the best amateur players that were born anywhere else on the planet. Players as young as sixteen from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, and many other countries—even Germany!—look forward to the beginning of the international signing period instead of the Entry Draft to see if their dreams will come true.
This year, the international signing period began on July 2nd, and teams were given a specific limit—a hard cap much like the MLB Entry Draft— on how much they could spend on international signees. Most teams will have a bonus pool of $4.75 million, meaning they can spend up to that much money on as many international players as they choose. Players signed for $10,000 or less will not count towards the pool, so you could conceivably sign 100 players for $10,000 each and then still have your pool to spend.
Teams can also trade their pool for assets of their choosing, although teams can only acquire up to 75% of their original pool. So for a team that has an original pool of $4.75 million, they can end up with a pool of around $8.3 million through trades.
Teams who had a draft selection in Competitive Balance Round A in the June draft have a bonus pool of $5.25 million, while teams who drafted in Competitive Balance Round B have a pool of $5.75 million. Since the Twins had the 35th overall pick in the draft last month, they will start with a pool of $5.25 million to spend as they choose.
So far, the Twins have reportedly spent $3 million, a good portion of their pool, on one player: shortstop Jelfrey Marte
Jelfrey Marte, SS , La Vega, Dominican Republic
Marte is considered to be one of the top players among this year’s international signees, with an advanced defensive tool set for a 16 year old. Here are his grades from MLB.com :
Hitting 45/ Power 35/ Run 50/ Arm 60/ Field 60
Simply based on grades alone, Marte bares a resemblance to the Twins’ Engelb Vielma, a light hitting, but slick fielding, middle infielder who is playing at the Twins Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red Wings. Like Vielma, Marte boasts a strong arm, quick hands, good footwork, and solid range.
So why sign Marte for $3 million when Vielma was signed for $90,000 in 2011? Marte has far more offensive projection than Vielma ever did: Marte is already a line drive hitter that makes hard contact from both sides of the plate. Once his 5’10” 140 pound frame fills out a bit, he could potentially hit for some power as well.
While he is not a burner, he is a solid baserunner and could steal based in a manner similar to Nick Gordon or Brian Dozier, middle infielders in the Twins’ system who steal more bases than their speed tool would naturally suggest.
Marte helps the Twins stock up on middle infield depth, continuing the trend that saw the Twins sign SS Wander Javier for $4 million during the international signing period in 2015 and take Royce Lewis first overall in this year’s draft.
While Marte may not offer as much overall upside as someone like Javier or Lewis, he is still an intriguing prospect. He already boasts the defensive skills that teams covet and may very well learn how to hit once he is under the tutelage of professional coaches and trainers.
The Twins have another $2.25 million to spend on more international prospects. Marte will certainly have the highest profile of anyone international prospect the Twins sign this year, but remember that we are talking about 16 year old kids with plenty of room to grow and develop. We will watch Marte develop over the next six to eight years, hoping to be rewarded like we were while waiting for the development of Miguel Sano.