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When it comes to amateur talent acquisition, two dates stick out on the baseball calendar.
While the amateur draft gets the most publicity and scrutiny, the opening of the international signing period can prove to be just as fruitful for the 30 major league organizations.
Traditionally held on July 2, the international signing day has been moved to Jan. 15 in each of the last two periods due to the pandemic. Starting on Jan. 15, the Mets can begin distributing their $5,179,700 allotment among their signings. Unlike in previous years, teams cannot trade for more bonus pool space.
Partially as a result of the pandemic, opportunities to scout (and therefore report on) the eligible players have been limited. However, the deals inked on Jan. 15 and throughout the signing period were agreed to months (and in some cases years) in advance.
So we know that the Mets are expected to spend around $2 million to sign Dominican outfielder Simón Juan, who is ranked as the 14th-best prospect available by Baseball America and 16th-best by MLB Pipeline. Juan is said to have good power and speed, with MLB Pipeline comparing his tools to those possessed by George Springer and Byron Buxton at the same age.
We also know, according to a report from Jan. 13, that the Mets also plan to sign Dominican outfielder Jeffrey Rosa to a six-figure bonus. Rosa trained at the Pape Baseball Academy, known for developing Juan Soto and his younger brother Elián, whom the Mets will not be signing when he becomes eligible in 2023 despite earlier reports to the contrary.
But what does it mean when an organization makes a six or seven-figure commitment to a player no older than an American high school junior? How well have the Mets done in identifying talent in that arena recently? Let’s dip into their history to find out...
Highest bonus: OF Yohairo Cuevas ($500,000) — After handing out a multi-million dollar bonus in each of the previous three periods, the Mets took a more measured approach to the first-ever Jan. 15 signing day, preferring to spread out their funds. Cuevas, a Bronx native who moved to the Dominican Republic not too long before signing, struggled in his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League, but is 6-foot-3 with a loose left-handed stroke.
Top player: RHP Joel Díaz (Unknown bonus) — While the relationship between a team’s financial commitments and player production is expected to be close to a 1:1 ratio, the best players from a signing class can come from unexpected places. It’s early, but Díaz, who impressed with a 0.54 ERA in the DSL last summer and impressed the organization with an arsenal beyond his years, looks like the early favorite to come out of the pack.
Signing period postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic
Highest bonus: OF Alex Ramírez ($2.05 million) — The Mets had to wait an extra year to see Ramírez in regular season action, but they felt so strongly about what he showed them in Instructional Camp and Extended Spring Training that they tossed him straight into full season ball with Low-A St. Lucie, where, at 18, he was over three years younger than the average player. Despite a high strikeout total, which isn’t unexpected at his age, Ramírez was about a league-average hitter.
Top player: Ramírez — The lanky center fielder has the tools to break out and join the blue chip prospects at the top of the Mets system if it all clicks. RHP Robert Dominguez ($95K) signed in November after seeing his velocity jump towards the upper 90s and is slowly getting eased into pro ball. SS Victor Gonzalez ($250K) was used in a trade before suiting up as a professional, heading to the Baltimore Orioles with pitching prospect Kevin Smith for Miguel Castro at the deadline in 2020.
Highest bonus: C Francisco Álvarez ($2.7 million) — Álvarez’s bonus still stands as a franchise record. In 141 games over two professional seasons, he’s hit .285 with 31 home runs and a .933 OPS, all while spending the majority of his games behind the dish. Even with missing a full season due to the pandemic, Álvarez will reach Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2022.
Top player: Álvarez — There’s no topping a player considered among the best minor league talents in the sport. When it’s all said and done, Álvarez could end up as the most impactful international signing in team history (he’ll have to surpass José Reyes and Edgardo Alfonzo). OF Freddy Valdez ($1.4M, Boston), RHP Neraldo Catalina ($150K, Tampa Bay), and C/1B Endy Rodriguez ($10K, Pittsburgh) have all been traded since signing.
Highest bonus: SS Ronny Mauricio ($2.1M) — Mauricio became the first international signee in team history to break the $2 million barrier when he topped Amed Rosario’s $1.7 million figure. Considered one of the top prospects in the class, alongside Tampa Bay Rays rookie phenom Wander Franco and the Seattle Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez, Mauricio -- despite having his fair share of ups and downs as a pro -- is one of those players you just can’t quit due to his massive upside if everything comes together.
Top player: Mauricio — Now on the 40-man roster, Mauricio carries the pressure of being at his best at all times, both in the box and in the field. Whether his ultimate home is at shortstop or not remains an interesting question. RHP Junior Santos ($275K) signed that September and occasionally touches the mid-90s now rather than sits there. OF Stanley Consuegra ($500K) has some of the loudest tools in the organization but injuries have limited him to 20 games over the last three years. OF Adrian Hernandez ($1.5M) was billed up there with Mauricio but topped out at High-A before retiring this summer. SS Federico Polanco ($300K), a cousin of Mauricio, was traded to the Miami Marlins for Jordan Yamamoto.
Highest bonus: SS Sebastian Espino ($300,000) — In somewhat of a transition year between two big classes, the Mets laid relatively low and headlined their class with Espino, who was unimpressive in three seasons. The organization thought so little of him that they left him unprotected in the minor league phase of the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, where the Toronto Blue Jays plucked him and look like they’ve struck relative gold. In 61 games in High-A, Espino hit twice as many home runs (eight) as he had hit in 166 games in his career with the Mets. While recognizing his risk factors, Fangraphs recently named him a top 30 prospect in the Toronto system.
Top player: RHP Michel Otañez ($35K) — Otañez, who will touch triple digits on the right day, struck out 30 percent of the batters he faced in High-A last season, but walked an unsightly 21 percent. This nod could just as easily go to power hitting 3B Jose Peroza ($280K), 2B Luis Santana ($200K), who was part of the package sent to the Houston Astros for J.D. Davis in 2019, or RHP Dedniel Núñez ($10K), who shot up Mets prospect lists before getting picked by the San Francisco Giants in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft, needing Tommy John surgery, and making his way back to the Mets organization in November.
Highest bonus: SS Gregory Guerrero ($1.5 million) — It was once considered possible that the Mets had a shot at Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. when he became eligible to sign with teams at 16 years old, but they had to settle for his cousin Gregory, who was regarded as a promising prospect in his own right. It hasn’t worked out that way. In over six years since signing, Guerrero has yet to make it out of rookie ball, having hit just .230 with a .621 OPS in 190 games. He’ll be a minor league free agent at the end of the upcoming season.
Top player: SS Andrés Giménez ($1.2M) — Slotting behind Guerrero on prospect rankings leading up to their signing day, Giménez proved that you never really know for sure what these 16-year-olds will turn into. He burst through the system, debuting at 21 years old and spending all of the shortened 2020 season in the major leagues, before headlining the group of players sent to Cleveland in exchange for Francisco Lindor last January. Five other players from this class — C Raul Beracierta, RHP Yeizo Campos, SS Wilmer Reyes, RHP Willy Taveras, and RHP Jaison Vilera — are still in the organization.