Pittsburgh Pirates’ International Signing Day analysis

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The management team for the Pittsburgh Pirates may have had their focus on something other than the major league squad this past week. International Signing Day was on July 2nd, and some people may have noticed that the Pirates signed a few international players. So, what is International Signing Day? And what is the international signing period? A great breakdown of the first day of this period and the period overall can be found here on MLB.com by Jesse Sanchez, a national reporter for MLB.com.

Essentially, July 2nd of each year begins a period in which international players can sign with major league baseball clubs, as players that are not residents of the United States or Canada are not eligible for the MLB Draft. These players have to be of a certain age, and each major league team is allotted a certain amount of money to spend on these players. In terms of eligibility, this is what Sanchez has to say:

"An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 through June 15 of next year if the prospect turns 17 before Sept. 1 of this year or by the completion of his first Minor League season. Additionally, any prospect who is already 17 or older and has not previously signed a Major or Minor League contract, resides outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and has not been enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico within the previous year is eligible to sign during the period."

Many of the top prospects that sign are young players that have just finished high school. In addition to the eligibility requirements, there are also spending limits placed on each team:

"In 2012, in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, spending limits were introduced and each club was allotted $2.9 million to spend on the international market during the signing period that began that July 2."

In addition to this baseline spending limit for each team, there is a bonus amount of money that each team can spend based on the team’s record the previous year:

"Each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool based on the team’s record in 2014, a figure ranging from $5,393,900 for the D-backs, who had the Majors’ lowest winning percentage last year, to $1,968,600 for the Angels, who had the highest winning percentage."

Sanchez also notes that this bonus total is made up of four “slot values” and that clubs are allowed to trade this bonus pool money. We saw this happen over the offseason when the Pirates traded Ike Davis to the Oakland Athletics in exchange for international signing pool money. This money came in the form of the A’s first bonus slot, which was worth $501,900, while the Pirates sent the A’s their third bonus slot, which was worth $232,000.

Teams that exceed their spending limits face penalties. Teams that exceed this limit by a certain amount have to pay a fine or worse, cannot sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next signing period. The rules for this period are more in-depth than this and can be very complicated, but it’s still a very important time for all major league teams that often doesn’t attract a lot of attention. These international players can make a huge impact in the majors, as Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, and Jose Abreu are a few recent names to make a splash in major league baseball. Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte were international signings for the Pirates that are making an impact at the major league level. MLB.com has a list of its 2015 top 30 international prospects that can be viewed here.

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So, did the Pirates make any signings? Yes, they did. The big market teams like the Dodgers, the Yankees, and the Red Sox often steal the show as they can afford to surpass the spending limits to sign the bigger name international free agents. The small market teams like the Pirates have to be smart with their spending and have to find countries and players that other teams don’t necessarily look at to target.

The Pirates’ bonus pool for this signing period was $2,111,900, good for 22nd among all major league teams. The team did not sign any of MLB.com’s top 30 international prospects, and only two of these prospects remained unsigned (the first and the 20th-ranked prospects). So far in 2015, the Pirates have signed at least four international players. Here are some notable ones, according to Baseball America (you can find all of the notable signings for each team according to Baseball America here):

Samuel Inoa, catcher, Dominican Republic

The Pirates agreed to sign 16-year-old catcher Samuel Inoa for $240,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Here is what Ben Badler, national writer for Baseball America, had to say about Inoa:

"Inoa, 16, is 5-foot-10, 210 pounds and impressed some scouts with his ability to hit from the right side of the plate. On defense, he has a strong arm and a quick exchange. Inoa trains with Azulito and played in the Dominican Prospect League."

The Pirates do have some good catching prospects in their system already, headlined by Tony Sanchez, Elias Diaz, and Reese McGuire. But with the catching problems in Pittsburgh at the major league level in the past, the team knows it can never have enough catching in the system. Inoa is also only 16 and hails from the Dominican Republic, an area that has been home to many great baseball players over the years.

Larry Alcime, outfielder, the Bahamas

The Pirates agreed to sign 16-year-old outfielder Lary Alcime for $350,000 out of the Bahamas. Here is what Ben Badler had to say about Alcime:

"Alcimes has a big, physical frame (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) with a chance to hit and hit for power from the right side of the plate. He has the tools to be a good defender in a corner outfield spot, with good speed for his size and a strong arm."

Badler has nothing but good things to say about Alcime. What’s notable about him is his size and his frame for his age. The Pirates love targeting players that seem toolsy or have frames that can lead to high ceilings. Alcime seems to have the potential to be a five-tool player. It’s also of note that the Pirates targeted a player from the Bahamas, as no current major league player originates from that country. Huntington and co. love targeting unknown areas of the world for players, and it’s something they often have to do to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to stocking their minor league system.

Kevin Sanchez, outfielder, Dominican Republic

The Pirates agreed to sign 16-year-old outfielder Kevin Sanchez out of the Dominican Republic for $450,000. Here’s what Ben Badler had to say about Sanchez:

"Sanchez, a 16-year-old righthanded hitter, is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds and hit well last year while playing in the Tricky League, an unofficial league for recent July 2 signings with amateur prospects mixed in as well. At the time, Sanchez was an infielder with an unorthodox throwing motion and his tools weren’t very loud, but they have improved since then as he’s gained strength, showing plus speed now and playing center field. Sanchez trains with Raul Valera, known as “Banana.”"

Sanchez signed for more than the other two previously mentioned prospects, but he seems to not have the frame or the tools that the other two do, which makes this an interesting signing. Sanchez has improved, Badler notes, and he adds to an already stocked outfield in the Pirates’ minor league system.

Neal Huntington and the Pittsburgh Pirates will continue to make signings throughout the summer and for the rest of the international signing period, which lasts until June 15th of 2016. Huntington will most likely never make a big splash during this period, electing not to spend millions like the big market clubs often do. But he’ll continue to work with his great scouting department to find under-the-radar and high upside players which he’s been able to do in the past. The players the Pirates sign may go unnoticed now, but some may very well be big names when they’re ready to make the jump to the major league level in the future.

Next: West Virginia Black Bears series wrap-up v. State College Spikes

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