It’s the day after Christmas and we are finally over the hump in between potentially guaranteed moves and/or transactions during what had been a less than active off-season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the rest of MLB for that matter, prior to the Christmas Eve Trade of Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals. It is exactly 21 days since the Rule 5 Draft that occurred at the end of the 2020 Virtual Winter Meetings and only 19 days from the beginning of the delayed 2020-21 International Signing Period, which is set to open on January 15th.
Back on December 5th General Manager Ben Cherington made four picks and an acquisition during the Major and Minor League Portions of the Rule 5 Draft, garnering four new arms and a middle infielder for the Pirates Organization; including #20 Prospect Luis Oviedo and #21 Prospect Jose Soriano, according to MLB Pipeline. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, pitching depth has always been a primary focus of the majority of his acquisitions for the organization. In his identification of talent high ceiling prospects, overlooked players and those they believe they can get the most out of or unlock have taken priority.
This goal or focus of identifying and acquiring talent is a problematic one considering any scenario, however, when you are trying to project the potential of 16 year old kids, who you have been scouting since they were much younger, difficulty takes on a whole new meaning.
For those of you that are familiar with the International Bonus Signing Period, as well as the recent modifications that have been made, please bear with me as this will be little more than a review. However, if this is foreign concept to you, pay close attention.
The International Signing Period usually occurs from July 2nd to June 15th off the following year. However, however due to COVID-19 Pandemic changes were made as part of the March 26th agreement between MLB and the MLBPA, with the 2019-20 period being extended into October, The 2020-21 international signing period that was scheduled to begin on July 2nd, 2020 was pushed back to January 15, 2021, will now end on December 15, 2021. The start and end dates for the 2021-22 international signing period are also scheduled to move be moved back to Jan. 15th through December 15th. It was also agreed upon that International Bonus Pool Space could not be traded during the upcoming period, so the $5,899,600 is on a hard cap.
In order for a player to be eligible during the signing period he must reside outside of the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico and have not been enrolled in high school in any of those locations within the past calendar year. He must also be at least 16 years of age. Any player meeting that criteria becomes eligible to sign a Minor League contract with a Major League organization for a signing that does not exceed the pool space allotted to each team. Any player that signs for a total bonus of $10,000 or less do not count against a team’s allotted bonus pool.
Now that we are past the formalities, how the Pirates can approach this process is able to be fully addressed.
Back in February of this year, before everything went totally off the rails, the Pittsburgh Pirates had been linked to Top 10 International Prospect, then 16 year-old Outfielder Shalin Polanco from the Dominican Republic. Polanco, who will turn 17 shortly after the signing period begins on February 6th, is a lean lefty who shows plus hit (55 grade), run (60 grade) and fielding (55 grade) tools, while his power and arm are only a tick lower at a 50 grade. Thought to have a projectable body type (6’0” and 170 pounds) that could eventually add more power, he is patient at the plate and spreads the ball around the field. Currently, while training with Sandis Nin of the N&N Academy, he is showing the above average ability to play the center field position in the future.
Now I know that this won’t be the only international signing the Pirates make during this period, but it will most likely be the largest as Polanco is currently slated to receive in the ballpark of $2.5 million. And for anyone who is wondering where this money comes from, it is directly from the organization and not from MLB; and no you are not required to spend it.
As far as other potential moves that the Pirates could make during this stretch of the off-season, trades and free agent signings are always on the table; maybe now more than ever. With the trading of Bell other dominos could eventually fall; as Jason Mackey of the PG reported . Outside of these possible moves, the transactions I see happening in the near future are the Minor League signings with invitations to Spring Training, as well as the non-roster invitees from the Pirates Minor League System. As it currently stands, free agent Clay Holmes and Andrew Susac are the only ones on this list. At this point last year Phillip Evans and Socrates Brito, along with a few others, had already been bestowed with these honors.
I totally understand that for many of you these are not the most exciting moves that take place during the off-season, but for right now they are the only ones that are pretty much guaranteed. I also get that with the announcement of the White Sox set to ink the #1 International Prospect, Yoelqui Cespedes, to a deal, there is some disappointment overall; but this pipeline the Chicago South Siders have set up did not occur overnight, and I believe that Cherington has a goal in mind to make a similar channel for the Pirates in the very near future.