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Meet the Cardinals 2024 International Signing Class

So far the Cardinals have signed 12 players from 5 different countries.

On January 15, the St. Louis Cardinals announced the first members of their 2024 international signing class. The list currently spans 12 names with 5 different countries represented.

That’s my subject for today.

If you follow me on Twitter (@bt_newberry), you’ve probably already seen my thread with these names and some information that I was able to dig up about each of them. Today I’m turning that thread into an article.

Context

So let’s start with some context. The Cardinals total bonus pool allotment is $5,152,200. So just over $5 million. This number is slightly depressed from the Cardinals signing of Willson Contreras because the organization surrendered $500,000 of international bonus money due to the fact that Contreras received a qualifying offer.

There are a few other things worth mentioning since the world of international amateur free agency is pretty much the Wild West. Teams technically weren’t allowed to sign eligible players in this class until January 15, 2024 but oftentimes teams have agreements in place well before that date (It’s all unofficial of course).

Also, not every signing bonus is announced. We often find out what the top players signed for but that’s not always the case for everyone. Keep that in mind when we get to who the Cardinals signed.

Finally, there’s not a whole lot of information out there about many of these guys. I did my best to dig up anything I could find but information is still limited. Don’t worry, though, we’ll learn a lot more about the players who end up sticking in the organization for a while.

This is going to be pretty rapid fire and have a lot of embedded video and links for those of you who get into this like I do and want more information. Feel free to get as deep into this as you desire.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get into it!

RHP Branneli Franco - Dominican Republic

Signing Bonus: $800K

Branneli Franco is likely going to receive the highest signing bonus of his Cardinals signing class, which makes sense as he was MLB Pipeline’s 25th ranked overall prospect and top ranked pitching pitcher. Baseball America was a little lower on him at 46th but either way he looks like a solid prospect.

You can read MLB Pipeline’s write-up on him here and Baseball America’s here but here are the basics:

Franco’s fastball has reached 94 and sits in the low 90s but scouts think he can reach the upper 90s and after watching video of his mechanics (which need some work), I too think there’s some velocity remaining.

His fastball is more of the sinking variety than the riding and bat missing variety but a good hard sinker can be plenty effective. Scouts also like his feel for breaking ball spin and his ability to throw strikes.

That’s a promising profile and beyond the strike throwing, Franco checks two major boxes that I look for in pitchers: an ability to generate good breaking ball spin and a quality fastball.

There’s obviously a lot of projection and variance involved with 16-year-old prospects so we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out but Franco is someone I’m excited to start tracking.

If you want more on Franco, including video, click here to read Jesse Borek and Jesus Cano’s profile on him and story on his signing.

SS Yairo Padilla - Dominican Republic

Signing Bonus: $760K

Shortstop Yairo Padilla has the second highest confirmed signing bonus in the Cardinals class and Baseball America had him ranked 54th, just a little bit below Franco.

The publication also listed him as a potential breakout prospect signing for less than $1 million.

The 16-year-old is a switch hitter, has good size (6’2” and 173 lbs), and looks to be a good athlete so it’s easy to see the promise.

He attended MLB’s international showcase in 2022, an event that Cardinals assistant GM Moises Rodriguez attended for scouting and speech-giving purposes. You can read more about that event here.

Here’s his lefty BP session from the event:

And here’s his righty BP session:

OF Edward Guribe - Dominican Republic

Signing Bonus: $700K

Edward Guribe is the Cardinals most expensive signing who doesn’t pitch or play a premium position. He signed as an outfielder but he has a corner profile and has played third base in the past (as you’ll see from the video below in which he’s listed as a 3B).

The organization could surprise me and give him a look at center field but usually if you’re a Dominican prospect dropping highlight videos at third base it’s because you don’t have the requisite athleticism/range to play shortstop which would seem to preclude you from center field as well. He does seem to move pretty well though so it’s not like he’s some lumbering slugger with limited defensive utility.

His bat is the draw here as he has a powerful looking right-handed swing and a strong 6’1”, 195 pound frame.

RHP Earle Zulueta - Cuba

Signing Bonus: $400K

Earle Zulueta is a fun signing. The right-hander left Cuba for Mexico at the age of 15 with the goal of signing with a major league team. He was well-regarded as both a hitter and a pitcher at the time but the Cardinals clearly think his future is on the mound.

The 17-year-old has a big 6’3”, 205 pound frame with projection for future velocity. His fastball comes in at 89-93 mph and I’ve heard nothing about his secondaries so I can’t offer any information there.

The Cardinals have signed a lot of Cuban prospects on the international market in recent years and the Zulueta signing is just a continuation of that strategy. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Cardinals added another Cuban or two to the ranks throughout the year too.

Here’s some video of Zulueta courtesy of Cuban journalist Francys Romero:

1B Christian Saez - Cuba

Signing Bonus: $150K

It’s not too common for teams to sign first base prospects in international amateur free agency as players typically start somewhere else and shift to the corner as they mature physically but that should tell you about the quality of Saez’s bat.

He was a U-12 World Cup standout (yes, that is a thing that exists), hitting 4 home runs in the tournament. His prospect status continued to build from there and he left Cuba at the age of 14 in an effort to get signed by a major league club.

He brings a big frame and a loose and powerful left-handed swing to the organization.

An interesting note from the tweet below is that Saez used to be a switch hitter but he was listed as a left-handed hitter in the Cardinals official announcement so it appears that he has given up batting right-handed, at least for the time being.

RHP Ryan Rodriguez - Mexico

Signing Bonus: Not announced

Ryan Rodriguez is the Cardinals sole signing out of Mexico so far. The right-hander can touch 91 with his fastball. His best secondary is his changeup and he’ll also mix in a sinker, a slider, and a curveball.

From the limited video I’ve been able to track down from his Instagram highlights (ryan_rdrgz_21) it looks like Rodriguez gets a ton of extension so that’s an interesting little quirk to track going forward. If he gains some velocity, his fastball could really get on hitters quickly.

SS Cristofer Lebron - Dominican Republic

Signing Bonus: Not announced

I don’t have a whole lot of information on Cristofer Lebron. What I do have is that he’s an athletic looking shortstop with a wiry 6’1” frame. He’s got plenty of room to add some strength to his frame and power to his solid looking swing.

OF Yaxson Lucena - Venezuela

Signing Bonus: Not announced

This is starting to get rough. We’re really getting into the weeds with these next few prospects as I have nothing or next to nothing on them. I was at least able to track down some video of Lucena after some deep digging.

This is all I’ve got.

RHP Oliver Gonzalez - Panama

Signing Bonus: Not announced

I have even less on Oliver Gonzalez but I do have a video of two pitchers doing some stretching and running. Which one is Gonzalez? I couldn’t tell you.

What I can tell you is that there was an 11-year-old Oliver Gonzalez on Panama’s 2018 Little League World Series team. That would make him 16 now which matches the timeline of our Oliver Gonzalez so there’s a halfway decent chance that we’re talking about the same guy. So that’s cool!

RHP Gabriel Chinchilla - Venezuela

Signing Bonus: Not announced

I don’t really have anything on Chinchilla. He’s a 17-year-old right-hander from Venezuela with a 6’2”, 170 pound frame.

I wasn’t able to track down any video of him on the mound but I was able to find video from his signing day.

OF Brayan Amoroso - Venezuela

Signing Bonus: Not announced

What can I tell you about Brayan Amoroso other than what the Cardinals told us in their official announcement? Absolutely nothing!

He’s a right-handed hitting outfielder from Venezuela who stands at 6’1” and 204 pounds. That’s all I’ve got.

RHP Jesus Garcia - Venezuela

Signing Bonus: Not announced

Jesus Garcia is an undersized 17-year-old right-hander from Venezuela. He’s listed at 5’11 and 150 pounds.

Closing Thoughts

I tracked down as much information and video on these guys as I could. I hope you enjoyed getting a deeper look at some of these names.

The players with listed signing bonuses account for a little more than half of the Cardinals bonus pool so I would expect that there will be more players joining the class later in the year.

In recent years, the Cardinals have been adept at saving money for Cuban players who aren’t eligible to sign until well after international signing day and I wouldn’t be shocked to see that happen again this year.

Those guys probably won’t get a full article from me but they will get a tweet so be on the lookout for that if you follow me on Twitter.

Thanks for reading!