Amateur Links: First Round Slot, Top 100, IFAs

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

We’re less than four weeks away from the amateur draft and less than eight weeks away from the start of the international free agent signing period, the two primary ways for teams to acquire young talent. The new Collective Bargaining agreement really hampers things with its new spending restrictions — designed to keep money away from the players and in the owner’s pockets — but there’s nothing that can be done about that. It’s just a new challenge for the 30 front offices, essentially.

We’re probably still a few weeks away from hearing about the Yankees having interest in specific players, but there’s still a ton of draft and international free agent news to recap. Let’s get to it…

First Round Slot Money: $1.6M

The Yankees will have just north of $4.19M to spend on the first ten rounds of the draft this year thanks to the new CBA, and $1.6M of that $4.19M is the slot value for their first round pick  (#30 overall) according to Jim Callis. That’s up about 46% from last year’s slot value and if the Yankees pay their first rounder straight slot money, it will be the sixth largest bonus they’ve ever given to a drafted player.

Teams can exceed slot for individual picks without penalty, but they can’t do the same for the draft pool overall. So the Yankees can pay their first rounder for than $1.6M but can’t pay their picks in the top ten rounds more than $4.19M collectively if they want to avoid surrendering future picks and paying the tax.

Law’s Top 100 Draft Prospects

Players have mostly sorted themselves out now that the college and high school seasons are nearly complete, and we have a clearer picture of who will be selected when. Injury is probably the biggest factor at the point, at least in terms of a player drastically changing their draft status. Keith Law posted his list of the top 100 draft prospects two days ago, though you do need a subscription to read the entire thing. Georgia high school outfielder Byron Buxton remains atop the rankings and is now followed by Puerto Rico high school shortstop Carlos Correa. The consensus seems to be that if you want impact talent this year, you’re going to have to go after prep players. The college crop is solid but not mind-blowing like last year.

Personal fave Carson Kelly, a high school third baseman/right-hander from Oregon, ranks 27th on KLaw’s list. That gives me some hope that he’ll be around when the Yankees pick, not that I expect them to draft him or anything. Here’s my write-up on Kelly.

Gaming The International Free Agent System

The new CBA has restricting spending on international free agents as well, an avenue the Yankees have used to acquire young talent quite prominently throughout the years. Each club will have $2.9M to spend on international players this year (starting July 2nd) before switching over to a sliding scale based on winning percentage in the future. The more you win, the less you get to spend.

Ben Badler wrote about how teams can essentially get around that $2.9M limit this year, including some shady under-the-table dealings. The article is free for everyone, so you don’t need a subscription. It’s worth noting that the article is speculative and not actual reporting of what teams have been/will be doing. I know this much though: if there’s a loophole in the system, someone will exploit it.

Reviewing the Yankees 2011 int’l signings

Unheralded international signing turned superstar. (J. Meric/Getty)

Baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement is going to put a serious damper on international spending, capping teams at $2.9M this year before shifting to a sliding scale in the future. To more you win, the less you get to spend. The Yankees have traditionally been one of baseball’s powerhouses in Latin America, and last year they dropped close to $3M on international prospects. Baseball America’s Ben Badler published his AL East spending review yesterday, looking at the players the Yankees and their division rivals signed in 2011. You do need a subscription to read the article.

The Yankees largest international signing last year was 17-year-old Dominican third baseman Miguel Andujar, who received $750k. “Andujar doesn’t have one huge carrying tool or do anything flashy, but he doesn’t have a glaring weakness either,” wrote Badler. “He’s a right-handed hitter with good bat speed, a sound swing and a good approach to hitting for his age. His hands are quick and he could hit for average and power. Andujar is an average runner and a solid defensive third baseman.” Expect him to spend this year in the Dominican Summer League before making his stateside debut in 2013.

Andujar headlines the position player crop, which also includes a trio of Dominican prospects — shortstop Abi Avelino ($175k), outfielder Wascar Rodriguez ($150k), infielder Victor Rey $135k) — and one Colombian catcher (Alvaro Noriega at $175k). Rodriguez offers big raw power while the others do their best work on the defensive side of the ball. Noriega does enough things well that he should remain behind the plate long-term and is likely the best all-around prospect of the bunch. Interestingly enough, the Yankees also signed catcher Dan Vavrusa for $10k out of the Czech Republic. He appears to be the team’s first real foray into Europe.

Right-handers Moises Cedeno (Panama), Luis Severino (DR) and Giovanny Gallegos (Mexico) highlight the pitching crop. Cedeno didn’t turn 16 until late-August, making him the youngest player to sign with any of the 30 clubs last year. He signed for just under $355k and already shows three pitches. The 16-year-old Severino signed for $225k and has touched 95 with a power slider. Gallegos, 20, was part of a package deal similar to one that brought Al Aceves and Manny Banuelos to the Yankees in 2007. He is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but when healthy he’s sat in the low-90s with two breaking balls. Gallegos signed for an even $100k.

Of course, the Yankees just landed what figures to be their most significant international prospect before the new spending restrictions kick in this July. That would be 21-year-old right-hander Rafael DePaula, who was finally able to secure a visa last week. DePaula still has to pass a physical before his long-awaited $500k deal is official, but he’ll instantly become one of the team’s better pitching prospects despite missing so much development time due to a suspension and his visa delay. He and his mid-90s gas could see time with a full season affiliate this summer.

Four of the Yankees top ten prospects originally signed as international free agents, not including trade import Jose Campos. The new spending limitations will impact the Yankees more than most clubs because they’ve relied on the international market to land elite talents like Jesus Montero, which usually aren’t available to them late in the draft. The worldwide appeal of the Yankee brand works in their favor, but there will be a much greater emphasis on pure scouting now.

At long last, Rafael DePaula gets his visa

Update (6:16pm): Here’s is Ben Badler’s report. He says recent reports still have DePaula running his fastball up into the high-90s. The physical should be a non-issue — he’s been working out at the team’s Dominican complex for the last 14 months or so — and I assume the Yankees will hold him back in Extended Spring Training for a bit before bumping him to Low-A Charleston. DePaula figures to be on a faster track than most international free agent pitchers.

2:33pm: Via Ben-Nicholson Smith, Dominican right-hander Rafael DePaula has finally landed a visa. The soon-to-be 21-year-old was having trouble getting to States because of a suspension stemming from age and identity fraud several years ago. The Yankees agreed to sign him for $500k back in November 2010, though the deal was contingent on him securing a visa. With that taken care of, now all he has to do is pass his physical. DePaula is a significant prospect, arguably top ten in the system, but he lost a big chunk of development time this last year or so. Here’s some video.

Yankees spent close to $3M on international players in 2011

The Yankees have traditionally been one of the biggest spenders on the international market, but last year they only spent approximately $2.93M on players according to Ben Balder. That ranks 11th out of the 30 teams. The Rangers were by far the biggest spenders last year at $12.83M, with most of it going to two outfielders: Nomar Mazara ($4.95M) and Ronald Guzman ($3.45M). Those are the first and third largest bonuses in history. The Yankees top signing was Dominican third baseman Miguel Andujar at $750k.

Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, every team will be allowed to spend just $2.9M on international free agents in 2012 starting July 2nd. The spending pool will be based on winning percentage starting in 2013, with the good clubs getting the least amount of money to spend. Once a team exceeds their spending pool, they lose future international free agent money. Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler can sign for any amount prior to July 2nd, and it sounds like he’s going to get close to $20M, if not more.

Rafael DePaula Non-Update: Still No Visa

Via Ben Badler, soon-to-be 21-year-old right-hander Rafael DePaula is still in the Dominican Republic waiting for a visa, which would make his $500k contract with the Yankees become official. The two sides agreed to terms in November of 2010, but DePaula has been stuck in visa limbo because he’d previously lied about his age and identity. He spent last year working out at the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic, and I suspect he’ll do the same this summer if he doesn’t get a visa anytime soon. DePaula has a great arm and could still become one of the team’s better pitching prospects, but he’s lost a lot of development time with all these delays.

MLB, MLBPA Form International Talent Committee

Via Ben Balder, MLB and the players’ union has gotten together to form an International Talent Committee to review the way international players are sign and developed. The committee will be responsible for many things, including evaluating whether or not baseball should implement an international draft. There’s obviously a ton of logistics that will have to be worked out, including eligibility, agents, trainers, signing age, educational programs, the whole nine, but the wheels are now in motion.

The Yankees have built the core of their farm system through international free agency for decades, but the spending cap put in place by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is really going to throw a wrench into their operation. An international draft will only hurt them further, but thankfully we’re still a few years from seeing one put in place.

Mailbag: International Free Agent Cap

Anonymous asks: Do you know if the IFA cap is already in place? By the CBA summary, it seems like it doesn’t go into effect until 2012-2013 signing season, but it’s not really clear. Just wondering if Jorge Soler would count against the cap if the Yanks signed him soon. Thanks.

The spending limit on international free agents starts next July 2nd, so the 2012-2013 signing season. Teams are free to spend as much as they want on players for the next seven months or so. For that first year, each club will be allowed to spend $2.9M on international amateurs, then the budgets will be based on winning percentage in the subsequent years. That’s an average amount but peanuts for the Yankees, who typically spend about twice that most years.

Clubs can exceed their signing budgets, but there is a taxation system like the draft. Here’s the penalty breakdown courtesy of The Biz of Baseball

Excess of Pool Penalty (Tax on Overage/Draft Picks)

  • 0-5% – 75% tax
  • 5-10% – 75% tax and loss of right to provide more than one player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $500,000.
  • 10-15% – 100% tax and loss of right to provide any player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $500,0000.
  • 15%+ 100% tax and loss of right to provide any player in the next signing period with a bonus in excess of $250,000.

The penalties are already harsh and they will be increased starting in 2014, so hooray for that.

Soler — a 19-year-old Cuban outfielder the Yankees have their eye on — can sign for whatever a team is willing to offer him before next July 2nd. The only problem is that he hasn’t been declared a free agent yet, which MLB will do once they’ve looked into his age and stuff. It only took a few weeks for them to declare Aroldis Chapman a free agent, but that was helped out by his participation in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He’d already been through the process before, whereas Soler has not.

We really have no idea when Soler will be allowed to sign with clubs, but hopefully it’s soon, just for his sake. He stands to lose a lot of money if the process drags on into next summer and past July 2nd.