A little while back I was asked to do a piece on the St. Louis Cardinals international signing class when the signing period opened on January 15th. With 17 names officially joining the organization yesterday and more likely on the way, there’s plenty to cover. Here’s the full list of 17 players:
We have agreed to terms with 17 free-agent players on the first day of the 2023 international signing period, highlighted by RHP Reiner Lopez. pic.twitter.com/OHtBOd4RkQ— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) January 15, 2023
I have some key takeaways from the class, so let’s get to those first before taking a closer look at the players joining the organization.
The Cardinals Signed a Giant
The top ranked player in the Cardinals international class is RHP Reiner Lopez out of Venezuela and to say that he’s tall would be an understatement.
Lopez is listed at 6’8” as a 16-year-old. AS A 16-YEAR-OLD! The original MLB Pipeline scouting report actually had him listed at 6’9” but that came down an inch yesterday when the Cardinals announced his signing. Regardless, that’s absurd. And he may still be growing so it’s possible that he could even touch 7 feet.
Jon Rauch and Sean Hjelle are both listed as the tallest pitchers in major league history as they both reached the majors at 6’11 while Randy Johnson was 6’10” so it’s not unprecedented for tall pitchers to reach the highest level even if it is uncommon.
Lopez instantly becomes one of the most interesting prospects in the system for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are his height and his status as the top signing in the class. What’s also intriguing about Lopez is his scouting report, which you can find here. (You absolutely should read the scouting report because it’s great but I want to say that Lopez is NOT Sandy Alcantara. I hate that there’s even a comp mentioned for a 16-year-old, much less a comp of a Cy Young winner. Just ignore that part.)
One thing that jumps out to me is that he sits 89-93 already and with his weight listed at just 196 pounds, it’s east to project some extra velocity on him. But the thing that stands out the most is right at the beginning of the scouting report. “He features a three quarters to over-the-top arm slot and a simple repeatable delivery.” Most 16 year olds don’t have repeatable deliveries and especially not 6’8” 16 years old who have a lot of extra length on their limbs to coordinate.
The fact that he has a three quarters to over-the-top arm slot also means that he is going to have a big downward angle on his pitches and makes me wonder if he is going to be most effective working down in the zone with his fastball/slider/changeup combination.
I expect Lopez to begin his career in the DSL this year along with almost every other player in this signing class. His career will certainly be one to follow.
Cardinals Spread Out Bonus Pool
The Cardinals took their typical approach of spreading out the money in their bonus pool to a bunch of different players instead of concentrating it on one or two highly touted players and then filling in the rest of the class with cheap deals. Love it or hate it, it’s a very Cardinals way of operating, and, to their credit, it has been effective in recent years with a heavy international presence on the Cardinals top prospects lists.
Players like Ivan Herrera and Leonardo Bernal signed for $200,000 and $680,000, respectively, while Inohan Paniagua signed for $160,000, and players like Freddy Pacheco and Dionys Rodriguez also signed for (likely) modest deals.
And, of course, I’m sure most of you know that Edmundo Sosa signed for less than $500K and Oscar Taveras signed for just $145,000, so there is certainly talent to be found in low-to-mid bonus range.
This year, the Cardinals signed just 1 of the top 50 international prospects according to MLB Pipeline — 36th ranked Reiner Lopez. It’s likely that he will receive the highest bonus in the class and he signed for $500K so it doesn’t appear the Cardinals will be pushing 7 figures with anyone.
Oftentimes the Cardinals don’t release their bonus figures but we do have information about a few more of the signings.
Shortstop Bracewell Taveras signed for $450K and right-handed pitcher Ruben Menes signed for $425K. I would expect a fair few to be around $300K-$400K with the rest falling in the $200K or below range. This is typical of the Cardinals, although they did give $2 million to Jonathan Mejia last January, so they aren’t totally opposed to splashing big money on a signing; it just doesn’t happen often.
Cardinals Double Down on New Markets
In this class of 17 players (so far), the team signed 9 players from the Dominican Republic, 4 from Venezuela, 1 from Mexico, 1 from Ecuador, 1 from Cuba, and 1 from the Bahamas. Most talent that signs come from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela but the Cardinals didn’t just focus their efforts in those hotbeds, but rather tapped into other talent pools as well.
Andru Arthur is the Cardinals second signing from the Bahamas as he follows Adari Grant, a shortstop who signed in January of 2021, into the system. But even more notable than the signing of Arthur is the signing of Luis Atocha, the 18-year-old Ecuadorian catcher. As far as I know, Atocha is the first Ecuadorian the Cardinals have signed and that’s notable even if the Cardinals scouted him in the Dominican Republic and not his native Ecuador.
This is how Luis Adrián Atocha Arbeláez reacted when giving the good news to his mother and grandmother that he could finally be signed by the St. Louis Cardinals.— Héctor Gómez (@hgomez27) December 9, 2022
Atocha came from his native Ecuador to the Dominican Republic looking for his dream to come true.. and he did it!!! pic.twitter.com/IPoqNfzKDS
(No idea why there’s a sensitive content warning in the video but it’s a video of Atocha calling his mother and grandmother after signing and it’s a really cool moment.)
It’s cool to see the Cardinals really expanding their scouting range and bringing in players from countries that aren’t generally known as baseball talent hotbeds. This is another theme for the Cardinals as they have recently signed players from Aruba (Keyshawn Rombley), the Bahamas (Adari Grant), Italy (Ettore Giulianelli), Australia (Jake Burns), Panama (Leonardo Bernal), and Korea (Won-Bin Cho) in the past few years on top of their signings from the DR, Venezuela, Mexico, and Cuba.
The Cardinals have made an effort to leave no stone unturned in the international market and that is starting to pay dividends throughout the system.
Cardinals Return to Cuba
The Cardinals have had success when signing Cuban players in the past. Malcom Nunez and Johan Ovideo are recent examples. Even though they have since been traded, they were well-regarded prospects with enough value to bring back major league contributors. Going back a few more years we have examples in Aledmys Diaz, who signed in 2014, and Randy Arozarena, who signed in 2016, and Adolis Garcia, who signed in 2017.
The Cardinals returned to the Cuban market in January of 2021 to sign Luis Mario Pino, who will be looking to make his full season debut this year.
The Cardinals added to their ranks of Cuban players with the signing of RHP Ruben Menes, a 20-year-old who reportedly has a power fastball and a good slider.
Ruben Menes - power fastball (94-96 mph) and a good slider.— Blake Newberry (@bt_newberry) January 16, 2023
The 20-year-old Cuban was signed to the Cardinals organization today and should be fun to watch. https://t.co/wAPcp9qxIy
Since he is 20 years old, I wouldn’t be shocked if he opened his career in rookie ball or even with Palm Beach. He’s already an interesting player who should be more advanced than the other players in his signing class but there’s even more intrigue as the Cardinals snapped him up as a relative bargain.
Menes had a pre-agreement with the Astros but weeks ago the pre-agreement fell and was on the radar of the Cardinals.— Francys Romero (@francysromeroFR) January 15, 2023
Menes signed with the Cardinals for $425K after his deal with the Astros fell through but the Astros reportedly had him lined up for a $700K deal so it seems like the Cardinals were able to add a quality international prospect for much less than his original deal.
Hopefully he can join the ranks of quality Cuban players/prospects with the Cardinals
I managed to dig up some photos and video of a few of the new signings so I’ve dropped them below. I’m not even going to bother trying to scout non-game situation highlight videos tweeted out about 16 year olds so really these videos are just here to give you a first look at the player and gauge their size and early tools. Enjoy!
C Luis Atocha:
Luis Atocha Lefty hitting, 18-year-old, Ecuadorian catcher who stands at 6’0” and 184 pounds. There’s a lot to like with that.
Luis Adrián Atocha, el beisbolista ecuatoriano que acaba de ser firmado por los Cardenales de San Louis pic.twitter.com/o4oqGALq3a— Diego Arcos S. (@DiegoArcos14) December 8, 2022
Here are some pictures and video of his signing day as well.
Más momentos de la firma de Luis Atocha con los Cardenales de San Luis pic.twitter.com/ymqJxe1yiS— Diego Arcos S. (@DiegoArcos14) January 15, 2023
LHP Stiveen Rojas
Rojas is listed at 5’9” and 136 pounds so he has plenty of growing and developing to do. You can see how slight his frame looks in the picture below,
Stiveen Rojas (2nd from left, in the Cardinals hat) is an LHP the Cardinals signed out of the DR today. https://t.co/8pKoW0YPZQ— Blake Newberry (@bt_newberry) January 15, 2023
RHP Giovanni Vargas
All I’ve got on Vargas is this report that he is 6’1” and 179 pounds and his fastball hits at least 92 mph. He is the Cardinals only signing out of Mexico so far.
Giovanni Vargas, the Cardinals new international signing from Mexico hits 92 mph on his fastball. https://t.co/yMHMtnk7W3— Blake Newberry (@bt_newberry) January 15, 2023
CF Hancel Almonte
Hancel Almonte is a 6’1”, 183 pound 17-year-old from the Dominican Republic who I’m told has a game similar to Starling Marte. (Again, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean he is or will be Starling Marte. It just means that someone watched him and though he looked like Marte or had a similarly styled game/profile. Please don’t look into this at all. This is not a comp.)
OF Andru Arthur
Here’s some video of the Cardinals signing from the Bahamas. He’s listed at 6’2” and 172 pounds and as you can see in the video below, he’s certainly tall and has plenty of projection on his frame. Looks like he could have a power hitting profile but honestly who knows with a 17-year-old.
SS Bracewell Taveras
Taveras is a switch hitting shortstop who signed for $450K. He is 6’0” and 162 pounds and you can see how lanky he is the video below.
The 17 names announced by the Cardinals are only the first 17 to be signed. There’s likely more on the way as the signing period has just opened and the Cardinals may still have some of their bonus pool left.
So far, the Cardinals have signed 9 pitchers, 2 of which are left-handed, 1 catcher, 5 outfielders, and 2 shortstops. As the Cardinals dropped from two DSL teams to one last year, these new signings will likely lead to an exodus of players from the organization to make room at the DSL level. Seeing who is released to make room will give us a good idea of how much time these players have to make an impact before they could be on the chopping block.
That’s years in advance from now, though. For now, some of these players have received life changing money and all of them have received potentially life-changing opportunities. That itself is worth celebrating even without knowing much about this group of athletes.
Thanks for reading, VEB. January 15th is always one of my favorite days on the baseball calendar as we get our first look at the newest crop of prospects joining the organization, so I hope you enjoyed learning more about the newest Cardinals.