1-16-22 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
Projected landing spots for International Signees is essentially one of the worst kept secrets in all of Major League Baseball; outside of the fact that owners want to pay players less money, control them for a longer period of time and increase profits, while players want pretty much the exact opposite.
For example, just this past week it was discovered on MLB Pipeline’s Top 50 International Prospects List that the Pirates had now become the favorites to sign the 11th Ranked, 6’5” 230 pound 16 year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic; Tony Blanco, Jr.; apparently snatching him away from the Tampa Rays in the process.
Immediately, Blanco would join long since rumored-fellow Dominican-6’1” 170 pound, 16 year-old shortstop Yordany De Los Santos, and the 12th ranked prospect as the second player near the top 10 that would likely be signing with the Pirates; a feat that this organization has rarely-if ever-even attempted to accomplish.
At the time it seemed as if the news concerning the Pirates major interests/targets during the upcoming International Signing Period were over. However, just a couple of days later it was preemptively reported that the Pirates had signed 20-year old right-handed pitcher Chang Hung-Leng out of Taiwan for $500K.
Now, of course we all know that signings were not allowed to become official until January 15th, but it’s not like the Pirates and these guys haven’t been tossing around numbers; making gentlemen’s agreements on the side as they prepare for the date when all things can made official. How, else do you think the Pirates became the favorites to sign Blanco, Jr.? Hint..it wasn’t because he liked the uniforms.
But, I digress.
These types of signings by Ben Cherington-and the ones that came before them-are the real story. Since taking the reins on the Pirates Front Office, Cherington has signed 17 year-old Australian outfielder Solomon Maguire for $594,000 (plus an additional $175,000 to put toward his education) in February 2020, 19 year-old Taiwanese right-handed pitcher Po-Yu Chen to the tune of $1.25 million in October 2020 and then 11th ranked prospect, 16 year-old Dominican outfielder Shalin Polanco for $2.35 million dollars as last year’s delayed signing period opened up in January 2021.
Obviously, it’s not like former GM Neil Huntington shied away from spending large amounts on singular prospects all of the time. Just look at the the $850K bonus they gave to 16 year-old, 20th ranked, Dominican righty Christopher Cruz the summer before Ben showed up; along with signing right-handed pitcher Gilberto Alcala of Venezuela for $450,000, infielder Javier Rivas of Venezuela, left-handed pitcher Yojeiry Osoria and outfielder Emmanuel Terrero-both from the Dominican Republic-for $600,000 and Dominican right-hander Roelmy Garcia for $350,000. Then there was the somewhat controversial $2.6 million bonus that the Pirates gave to Mexican right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia in 2010; when coupled with multiple other infractions, ultimately led to the firing of International Scouting Director Rene Gayo.
However, outside of these few exceptions to the otherwise unspoken rule, Huntington was well known for focusing on quantity over perceived or projected quality; which is honestly just another way to attempt to procure talent.
Cherington has clearly chosen to continue on a different path to acquire players he believes will help the organization as evidenced by the $1.2 million bonus the Pirates gave to De Los Santos, the $900K that went to Blanco, Jr., another $700K to acquire right-handed pitcher Pitterson Rosa from the Dominican Republic and an expected $500K bonus for Chang when the signing period opened yesterday.
Now, is either way better, or most importantly more effective? I honestly don’t know. And, I am not sure anyone else does either; at least not with any absolute certainty.
For almost every successful big ticket signing, there always seems to be an example of a diamond in the rough that was acquired for nearing $10,000 or less, with some not even counting against a team’s allotted bonus pool.
It’s a crap shoot. Even more so than the MLB Amateur Draft. Most of the time these are 16 and 17 year-old kids, as opposed to some 21 year-old college player; which still isn’t a sure thing. All teams can do is trust their scouts and lean on their developmental coaches in the DSL and lower Minor Leagues; which is pretty tall task for even the most successful organizations in baseball. To find the right players for their system, help these young men to be successful and guide them to the Majors; or at some point make another team believe they have the potential to do so. But, that’s a topic for another day.
Right now is the time for celebrating the achievements of all these young men; including the opportunity the have earned and the hope they have been given.
And as Pirates Fans, if you want to participate in a bit of revelry to mark the occasion, it is absolutely allowed. Just realize this isn’t the ultimate objective. It’s simply another possible way to get there.