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System Sundays: The Initial Wave of International Signings

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On day one of the international signing period, the Cardinals came to terms with a number of incredibly young talents. There's even information about some of them!

Recent international investment Seung-Hwan Oh.
Recent international investment Seung-Hwan Oh.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The International Signing period, also known as the July 2nd signing period, also known as J2 (but please don't call it that; unless it's saving characters on Twitter, you just sound like an asshole), officially got underway yesterday, which is perhaps unsurprising, seeing as how it was the second of July, and the signing period named for that day does, in fact, begin on said day.

The early returns on the Cardinals' signings this year are interesting, to say the least. Encouraging, to a certain degree, as the Redbirds decided to dispense with both the rules and decorum and blow their signing bonus number out of the water, as several other clubs have done in recent years. Slightly less encouraging that one might hope in another way, however, as in spite of the Cards going well over that number and being willing to accept the penalties (or, more likely, being confident the system is changing in the new CBA and there won't really be much in the way of penalties), they didn't just go completely crazy and sign four of five of the top ten players, as, say, the Yankees did a couple years ago when they went over their bonus by several hundred percent by way of gaming the system.

Then again, there are reasons beyond simple half-assing that go into why the Cardinals might not have grabbed the Kevin Maitans or Lazaritos of the world despite blowing their budget completely. Some have to do with the buscone system in Latin countries, under which trainers/agents/svengalis funnel their kids to certain clubs and have huge incentives to never really open up bidding. It's complicated and corrupt, and I don't really have either the space or inclination to break the whole thing down in great detail here. (Nor, honestly, do I have the proper level of knowledge to feel like I could do the subject justice.) Other reasons might have to do with the types of players being targeted, or simple taste in talent. Who knows, really; it's just odd to see a team with the financial muscle of the Cardinals (and lest you think I'm being sarcastic, I'm not, particularly when we're comparing them to the Padres and Braves, who have nowhere near the kind of fiscal firepower the Redbirds can bring to bear), decide to ignore the penalties and take advantage of the system, but then resist the full heel turn of buying up the entire market in a year when the big hitters are nearly all stuck out in the cold.

Anyhow, enough about that. The system is what it is, the Cardinals presumably are investing in the players they believe in, and all that really matters at this point is who those players are. I'm not going to lie; I don't scout the international players the way I do draftable guys. It's just too far outside my realm of experience (maybe if my Spanish was better I would pay more attention, but it's not good enough to really get much info ahead of time), and incredibly hard to project. So, admittedly, most of what I know about these guys is coming from other sources.

So far, the Cardinals have inked deals with what looks like eight players. A ninth, Jonatan Machado, is expected to sign with the Redbirds but I have yet to see any official word on that.

The full list, so far:

  • Victor Garcia, OF, Venezuela
  • Carlos Soler, OF, Dominican Republic
  • Alexander Samuel, OF, Dominican Republic
  • Franklin Soto, SS/INF, Dominican Republic
  • Diomedes Del Rio, OF, Venezuela
  • Roy Garcia, RHP, Dominican Republic
  • Carlos Soto, C, Mexico

In addition to those names, all of whom fall into the typical July 2nd signing demographic, the Cards signed Johan Oviedo, an eighteen year old right-handed pitcher from Cuba. Machado is also from Cuba, seventeen, and plays outfield, primarily center. Oviedo pulled a $1.9 million bonus figure, while Machado is expected to go somewhere in the $2.3 million range. Those two players alone would obviously break the Cards' bonus number (which was barely over $2 million, thanks to them having the best record in baseball last year), all to hell; those other names above are pretty much all gravy.

Some brief info on a few of the more notable names:

-- Victor Garcia is the number one power prospect in this international class, not only among the Cardinals' signees but overall. He's a right-handed batter capable of putting a charge into the ball, particularly in batting practice, and by most reports is more polished than most hitters his age. Of course, that's relative, and Garcia will still need plenty of time to hone his craft, but the power potential is very real.

It's interesting to me how many bat-first (or bat-only, in some cases), prospects the Cards have added recently. Garcia is an outfielder for now, but he's thickly built already, and the body will definitely bear watching. Sixteen year olds are usually not as filled out as he is. He may very well end up at first base before it's all said and done, even with a good throwing arm. Walker Robbins, the Cards' fifth-round pick from the most recent draft, and Dylan Carlson, whom they spent a first-round pick on, are in a similar sort of boat. Carlson is the best athlete of the three, I think, but it's not hard to see all three of them ending up stuck down at the bad end of the defensive spectrum. Betting on bats isn't the worst thing in the world, though, particularly when the bats come with truly elite offensive tools attached.

-- Johan Oviedo is a really interesting pull. He's a physically huge (6'6"), righty who has seen his velocity steadily increase over the last year and a half, going from the low 90s at seventeen to reportedly topping out at 98. I'll withhold judgment on how legitimate that 98 mph number is for now, particularly as we see plenty of eighteen year olds jump up in velocity and then lose it seemingly just as quickly, but colour me intrigued.

Oviedo also reportedly has a very good power curveball. Which isn't surprising, really, considering he has the arm speed to throw in the upper 90s. Not all high-velocity pitchers have the ability to spin the ball effectively, obviously, but that arm speed is a very important piece with which to start.

-- Carlos Soto, the catcher from Mexico, is actually a year older than many other members of this class, having chosen to wait a year to sign at seventeen instead of sixteen. He's another big power potential guy, with some decent tools behind the plate as well. It's a good arm, at least, and reports on the rest of the game are at least mostly positive. He's big for a catcher (6'3"), and if he doesn't make it there he'll probably be stuck over at first base. So, again, we're talking about a potential bat-first power prospect. Hopefully he can maintain his athleticism and tools to catch, though.

-- Finally, Jonatan Machado, the other Cuban whose agreement isn't yet official so far as I can tell, is a very unusual prospect. Players of this age (he's still seventeen, so just a year older than the minimum to sign), are usually tooled-up messes, with gaping holes in their swings and Melvin Upton Jr. bodies that inspire dreams of 30 pounds of muscle being added. Well, Machado has the whole '30 pounds of muscle needed' part down, but he's not at all the big-framed toolshed you probably associate with young Cuban bonus babies at this point. (Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes are the kind of body-beautiful prototypes I'm talking about here.)

Rather, Machado is 5'9" and 160 lbs of hitting wizardry. He has amazing bat control, pulling Ichiro comps left and right. He's also inclined to doing the Ichiro run-while-swinging thing, so that helps those comparisons out in a big way. There's an old scouting expression, about a guy hitting with a magic wand instead of a bat, and that's what we're looking at with Machado. He's also a plus-plus runner, a 65 or 70 grade on the scale, and plays a mean center field. So speed, defense, and finesse hitting. Doesn't sound like too bad a package.

The problem is in those height/weight numbers. Obviously, talking about a seventeen year old kid, you expect he'll fill out and get bigger and stronger as times goes on. Even so, there just aren't that many 5'9" players in the big leagues, and particularly not ones who weigh less than a buck seventy soaking wet. Maybe Machado gets that filling-out growth spurt, and ends up with enough power to make it. Or maybe he really does have legitimately magic-wand-level bat control, and he slaps his way to something in the Ichiro/Tony Gwynn model of success. I'm not sure I would want to bet on it, though. The ability to hopefully play a premium position at a very high level certainly raises the ceiling considerably. but there's still real risk of the downside here being a player who simply lacks the functional strength to be a viable big league hitter. He's very similar to Magneuris Sierra, both in terms of the tools and qualities, as well as the risks and downside. I think this is an interesting bet, but I'm not entirely sure I would have placed the same wager.

I'm not going to go over every player here; I simply don't know enough about this subject to go into great depth. Hopefully, these names will all become much better known to us over the next half-decade, and we'll be eagerly awaiting their major league debuts with bated breath, criticising the organisation for service time shenanigans. At the very least, perhaps now you'll have a few interesting names to watch for in the DSL/VSL/GCL sections of the Farm Reports in the relatively near future.

In the meantime, everyone have a really good rest of the holiday weekend, and a fantastic Independence Day. Talk to you all again soon.