From the interesting context of the format itself to the players and teams that get involved, MLB’s international signing period is a fascinatingly strategic period for teams across the league. Needless to say, there have been some major stars who have been acquired during this time over the years. With that in mind, let’s get into a breakdown of the guys right now, who are looking to become the same in the future.
The 2023 MLB International Signing Period
Sunday marks the open of the 2023 international signing period, which if you didn’t know is one of two ways that MLB teams can acquire amateur talent each year. You’re probably wondering what’s the difference between the period and the Draft which you see every summer. Simply, the Draft encompasses players who are born in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, while all other eligible players are designated as international free agents. All others fall into international free agency.
To be clear, approximately 30% of all players currently playing in MLB were originally signed as international free agents. This includes major stars such as Ronald Acuña Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto, and Julio Urías. In other words, it’s highly likely that a number of future All-Stars will be signed when international free agency opens Sunday. Indeed, we could be getting our first look at a player who will go on to become a Cy Young winner, a MVP, or better yet a Hall of Fame inductee.
Something to note: The Format of MLB’s International Signing Period
One thing that’s worth mentioning, is the fact that international free agency remains as such because of the failure of both the MLB and the MLB Players Association to agree on the idea of an international draft last year. In truth, MLB has been promoting the concept for decades now, but the union has always resisted, due to fears that it might not only rob players of the freedom to choose their team, but even curb what they can earn. In light of that, the league even went as far as to suggest the elimination of the qualifying offer system in the name of an international draft, but once again the MLBPA refused. As things stand, international free agency is in place at least until 2026 when the collective bargaining agreement expires.
Where details are concerned, the international signing period initially ran from July 2nd to June 25th each year. The 2020-21 signing period, however, was pushed back to January 15th due to the global pandemic and that structure has been made permanent since. As such, the signing period now runs from January 15th to December 15th. Eligible players must be a minimum age of 16 years-old with their 17th birthday arriving before September 1st of the following year. With that said, let’s get into just who some those players are.
The Top Prospects of the 2023 MLB International Signing Period
Without doubt, the top prospect in this year’s international class is catcher, Ethan Salas, from Venezuela. True fans will likely have heard his name before, as he’s been known to scouts for quite some time. At 16-years-old you might be tempted to think, ‘how good can he be?’ The $5.6 million contract he just signed with the Padres, should give you some idea.
According to MLB’s top scout, “…the athletic Salas has a good feel for the strike zone and shows the ability to hit the ball to all fields. He shows good raw power, and it is expected to increase as he develops. He has a nice loose swing and shows the ability to hit home runs in batting practice and games. On defense, he shows plus potential because of his soft hands, blocking ability and receiving skills. He shows good throwing mechanics and a strong arm. He is already exhibiting leadership skills and runs well for a catcher.”
Hailing from the Dominican Republic, the 17-year-old short stop is armed with some of the best attributes we’ve seen in a long time. With comparisons to the likes of Wander Franco, the kid has definitely got game. A seemingly natural switch-hitter with contact ability, power, and strong defensive chops, we’re almost certain he’s destined for big things. Indeed, MLB.com described him as a player who “plays with flair and is dedicated to improving.” Surely that’s not a bad thing. In case you’re wondering, he’s now a Mariners player.
If there’s one thing this 17-year-old Cuban has, its speed with the bat and we mean a whole lot of it. So much so in fact, that he was referred to as a mini “mini Gary Sheffield” in one report. In addition to that, Mayea has also shown an acute awareness at the plate and his command of the center field is impressive for his young age. The word on the street is that the Yankees are set to scoop up this talented outfielder.
Another Cuban and considered “…one of the most interesting and dynamic prospects in the class,” according to MLB.com, the right-handed pitcher has already demonstrated a repertoire of secondary pitches including a sneaky curve ball and a slider. At 20-years-old, he’s regarded as future lead-off pitcher. It’s the Athletics who secured the services of this talented pitcher.
Out of South Korea comes this 18-year-old right-handed pitcher. To be clear, Shim was actually expected to be the No. 1 pick in the Korea Baseball Organization’s amateur draft just a few weeks ago, but he withdrew his name to pursue opportunities with MLB teams. We’re not kidding, when we tell you this kid has pitched at a 100 mph and then, there are his secondary pitches. Yet, it’s got to be said that it’s his calmness and composure which has truly turned heads. The Pirates have completed his signing.
Another short stop out of the Dominican Republic, Vargas has shown himself to be a truly natural hitter. The 17-year-old has displayed a knowledge of the strike zone which goes way beyond his tender years and that’s even before we get to talk about how much we like to watch his smooth right-handed swing. According to reports, the Dodgers picked him up.
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