Each club’s top international prospect signee
Sunday, Jan. 15 will bring the next influx of talent to all 30 farm systems. The international signing period will open that day for international players (i.e. not from the United States, Canada or Puerto Rico) who are 16 years of age or older.
It will likely be years before the 2023 international class — headlined by Venezuelan catcher Ethan Salas — will have its impact felt on Minor League full-season ball and longer beyond that before it bears fruit in the Majors. But previous international classes are constant presences on prospect lists, and that’s no different now as we prepare for the upcoming season. Four of our current Top 10 prospects — Francisco Álvarez (No. 1), Diego Cartaya (No. 8), Eury Pérez (No. 9) and Jackson Chourio (No. 10) — all began their careers as international signees.
Here are the best international signed prospects for each of the 30 farm systems. Thirteen hail from the Dominican Republic, eight from Venezuela, four from Cuba and one apiece from Australia, Colombia, Curaçao, South Korea and Panama.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Yosver Zulueta, RHP (No. 5)
It’s been a wait for Zulueta to show what he’s truly capable of since he signed for $1 million out of Cuba in June 2019; Tommy John surgery, the coronavirus pandemic and a torn ACL kept him out for nearly all of the 2020 and 2021 seasons. When he finally got ample work on the mound in 2022, he looked impressive with an upper-90s fastball and a slew of potentially above-average offspeed pitches. The injury history and control woes could force him into the bullpen long-term, but he has the pieces to be dominant in a limited role.
Orioles: Samuel Basallo, C (No. 12)
As the Orioles have become active again on the international market since general manager Mike Elias came in, they’ve gone aggressively after talent like Basallo, a left-handed-hitting catcher who got $1.3 million to sign in January 2021. He had a solid U.S. debut in the Florida Complex League last summer and he could make a huge leap forward as a bat-first backstop in full-season ball in 2023.
Rays: Curtis Mead, 3B/2B (No. 2/MLB No. 35)
Credit the Phillies for first signing Mead for $200,000 out of Australia in May 2018, and credit Rays pro scouts for identifying what made him worthy of inclusion in a trade for Cristopher Sánchez a year later. The 22-year-old infielder has developed into one of the Minors’ most promising right-handed bats thanks to a simple setup at the plate and good bat control. His future defensive home remains up in the air, but Tampa Bay should find a spot for the career .306 hitter in St. Petersburg at some point this summer.
Red Sox: Ceddane Rafaela, OF/SS (No. 3/MLB No. 96)
An easy pick for our 2023 All-Defense Team, Rafaela is outstanding in center field, plus at shortstop and capable of playing anywhere on the diamond — which will be extremely helpful for a Red Sox club that has to replace holes left by Xander Bogaerts’ injury and Trevor Story’s elbow surgery. Signed for just $10,000 out of Curacao in 2017, the 5-foot-8, 182-pound Rafaela used his sneaky power and plus speed to bat .299/.342/.538 with 21 homers and 28 steals in 116 games between High-A and Double-A.
Yankees: Jasson Domínguez, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 39)
Signed for $5.1 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, Domínguez may not live up to the initial Bo Jackson/Mickey Mantle/Mike Trout comparisons — who could? — but is on course to become at least a quality regular. The switch-hitter has solid to plus tools across the board and hit .273/.375/.461 with 16 homers and 37 steals in 120 games across three levels while advancing to Double-A at age 19.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Guardians: George Valera, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 31)
One of the best hitters in the 2017 international class, Valera signed for $1.3 million out of the Dominican Republic. He has lived up to his billing, batting .250/.353/.463 with 24 homers in 132 games as a 21-year-old in Double-A, and should push for a corner-outfield job in Cleveland this year.
Royals: Maikel Garcia, SS (No. 5)
The Royals didn’t sign Alcides Escobar out of Venezuela in 2003, though they certainly enjoyed his play over the years. But they did bring in his cousin, Garcia, 13 years later. The 22-year-old shortstop receives his best grades for his defensive work at the six, but he’s shown an ability to hit for a decent average too, as he did with a .285 mark in 118 games at Double-A and Triple-A last season. He’s going to need squeeze out a bit more power if Kansas City is ever going to consider moving Bobby Witt Jr. to another spot to make room for Garcia, but the possibility is not exactly nil.
Tigers: Cristian Santana, SS (No. 12)
The Tigers have had high hopes for Santana since he signed for $2.95 million out of the Dominican Republic two years ago, and while 2022 may have seemed like a step back when he hit .215 with a .366 slugging percentage in 80 games at Single-A Lakeland, the tools are still there. The 19-year-old has good bat speed and was more disciplined than many teenagers at the lower levels with a .379 OBP and a 15.9 percent walk rate. A return to the Florida State League may not be out of the question, but another year of maturity could see Santana take a big jump toward his ceiling as an above-average hitter.
Twins: Emmanuel Rodriguez, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 92)
Rodriguez was considered one of the better players in the 2019-20 international signing period and the Twins gave him a bonus of $2.75 million to match that evaluation. They had to wait until 2021 to see him play and things really started to click last year in full-season ball with a 1.043 OPS in his first 47 games. A torn meniscus cut his season off in June, but he could take off with a full healthy season.
White Sox: Oscar Colas, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 95)
One of several Cuban prospects in the White Sox system, Colas signed for $2.7 million last January after playing professionally in Japan and hit .314/.371/.524 with 23 homers in 117 games while advancing from High-A to Triple-A. Chicago has a hole in right field that he could fill with his well above-average raw power and arm strength.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Edgar Quero, C (No. 3)
Quero’s full-season debut in 2022 was nothing short of a revelation. Signed for $200,000 in February 2021, the switch-hitting backstop slashed .312/.435/.530 with 17 homers and 12 steals. The bat is ahead of the glove, but he doesn’t turn 20 years old until April and has all the tools to become one of the better catching prospects in the game.
Astros: Yainer Diaz, C/1B (No. 3)
Originally signed for $25,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Diaz has shown improved power and made progress with his defense since the Astros acquired him as part of a deal for Myles Straw in 2021. He batted .306/.356/.542 with 25 homers in 105 games between Double-A and Triple-A last year, made his big league debut in September and showed signs of becoming an average receiver and blocker.
A’s: Jordan Diaz, 1B/3B (No. 9)
Diaz joined the A’s in August 2016 out of Colombia for $275,000 and hit his way to the big leagues in 2022. After hitting .326 and slugging .515 across Double-A and Triple-A last year, Diaz is ready to impact the big league lineup, though he might mostly be limited to first base or DH duties.
Mariners: Gabriel Gonzalez, OF (No. 3)
The Mariners gave Gonzalez $1.3 million in February 2021 to sign out of Venezuela and he made a strong first impression in the Dominican Summer League that year, finishing with an OPS of .892. He earned a promotion from the Arizona Complex League to full-season ball last year, serving notice that he might be able to move a little bit more quickly even though he’ll be just 19 years old for all of the 2023 season.
Rangers: Luisangel Acuña, SS/2B (No. 7)
While Acuña may not be as explosive as his older brother Ronald, he’s a talented athlete who could have solid or better tools across the board while playing a quality shortstop. Signed for $425,000 out of Venezuela in 2018 — exceeding the $100,000 that Ronald landed four years earlier — he batted .277/.369/.426 with 11 homers and 40 steals in 91 games between High-A and Double-A.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Marlins: Eury Pérez, RHP (No. 1/MLB No. 9)
Pérez has vaulted from signing for $200,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2019 to becoming one of the best pitching prospects in baseball in short order. Armed with a well above-average fastball and changeup as well as the makings of a pair of plus breaking pitches, he posted a 4.08 ERA, .223 opponent average and 106/25 K/BB ratio in 75 innings in Double-A as a 19-year-old. His 6-foot-8 frame creates difficult extension and angle, and his uncanny body control for a youngster so tall allows him to pound the strike zone.
Mets: Francisco Álvarez, C (No. 1/MLB No. 1)
Even when we update our Top 100 list in a few weeks, you can expect that Álvarez will be the top internationally-signed prospect in our rankings. The 21-year-old backstop’s power is arguably the best in the Minors, as he’s shown with 51 homers over his last two Minor League seasons despite being one of the youngest players everywhere he’s played over that span. His loud contact helps him maintain a healthy average too. The defense is still a work in progress — work that wasn’t helped by last year’s right ankle injury — but at his height, Álvarez could be a top-three offensive catcher in the game, if not top one.
Braves: Ambioris Tavarez, SS (No. 10)
The Braves were just out of the penalty box in January 2021 after their international signing violations and had just half of their normal bonus pool to work with. They proceeded to give a huge chunk of it ($1.5 million) to Tavarez. Thoracic outlet surgery on his non-throwing arm slowed his debut in 2022, though he did return in August, and the Braves are excited to see what they really have on their hands with a full and healthy 2023 season from the athletic right-handed-hitting infielder.
Nationals: Cristhian Vaquero, OF (No. 7)
Washington spent $4,925,000 of its $5,179,700 signing pool last year on MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 international prospect and he’s held serve early as a switch-hitting outfielder with plus power potential, near plus-plus speed and good defensive abilities. He slashed .256/.379/.341 with nine extra-base hits, 17 steals and a 38/33 K/BB ratio in 55 games in the Dominican Summer League. Expect a potential jump in results when he moves stateside for his age-18 season next summer.
Phillies: Johan Rojas, OF (No. 5)
A lot of players in this story got large bonuses to sign, but Rojas got just $10,000 in January 2018. He literally hit the ground running (and hit .320) in his debut that summer, and while he hasn’t hit as well since, he’s shown that his speed plays on both sides of the ball, stealing 62 bases in 2022 and playing an easily plus center field.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Jackson Chourio, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 10)
A year ago, Chourio, who signed for $1.8 million in January 2021, had yet to play a pro game stateside and was still getting used to his move from shortstop to center field. Today, he’s one of the 10 best prospects in baseball and could be a future No. 1 overall someday. The 18-year-old was a breakout star in 2022, slashing .288/.342/.538 with 20 homers and 16 steals in 99 games at Single-A, High-A and Double-A. He could be one of the game’s best power-speed combos by the time he becomes a Milwaukee stalwart, and that day could be coming quickly.
Cardinals: Iván Herrera, C (No. 7)
There were days when it looked like Herrera could have been the heir apparent behind the St. Louis plate to Yadier Molina. That would have been some story for a player who signed for just $200,000 out of Panama in July 2016, but the arrival of Willson Contreras complicates those matters. The 22-year-old Herrera has the skills to carve out a role for himself with the Cardinals, starting with his ability to hit for a decent average, and he’s still just turning 23 in June.
Cubs: Kevin Alcantara, OF (No. 3/MLB No. 86)
One of the youngest and highest-ceilinged players in the 2018 international class, Alcantara signed with the Yankees for $1 million and went to the Cubs in the Anthony Rizzo trade three years later. Extremely athletic for someone who stands 6-foot-6, he could have solid tools across the board and batted .273/.360/.451 with 15 homers and 14 steals in 112 Single-A games at age 19.
Pirates: Ji Hwan Bae, 2B/OF (No. 11)
Bae nearly signed with the Braves in 2017, but he had his deal voided as part of Atlanta’s penalty for international signing violations. He joined the Pirates for $1.2 million in March 2018 and has used his contact skills and speed to carry him up the ladder. His ability to impact the ball a bit more allowed him to reach the big leagues for the first time in 2022 and he gave a glimpse at what he can provide by hitting .333 with three steals over 10 games.
Reds: Elly De La Cruz, SS/3B (No. 1/MLB No. 14)
Signed for just $65,000 in July 2018, De La Cruz has taken the prospect world by storm, jumping on the radar with a big U.S. debut in 2021 and then moving into elite-level status last year when he reached Double-A and slashed .304/.359/.586 with 28 homers and 47 steals.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Deyvison De Los Santos, 3B/1B (No. 6)
Arizona has a defined Big Four for prospects in Corbin Carroll, Jordan Lawlar, Druw Jones and Brandon Pfaadt, and because of his immense power potential, De Los Santos isn’t far from making it a Big Five. The corner infielder climbed three levels in his age-19 season and finished with 22 homers and a .499 slugging percentage over 126 games while producing elite exit velocities. Concerns about his future defensive home slow some of the enthusiasm, and a lackluster Arizona Fall League didn’t help matters. But if he gets back to mashing after a restful offseason, the Dominican Republic native may prove it doesn’t matter which corner he calls home.
Dodgers: Diego Cartaya, C (No. 1/MLB No. 18)
MLB Pipeline’s top-rated player in the 2018 international crop, Cartaya signed for $2.5 million out of Venezuela and has blossomed into one of the game’s best catching prospects. He earns repeated Salvador Perez comparisons but is more advanced at the plate than Perez was at the same stage, hitting .254/.389/.503 with 22 homers in 95 games between Single-A and High-A.
Giants: Marco Luciano, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 16)
Luciano’s lightning-fast bat and power potential made him MLB Pipeline’s top-rated middle infielder in the 2018 international class and earned him a $2.6 million bonus. It’s unclear if he’ll remain at shortstop but he should provide enough offense to profile anywhere. Limited by a back strain in 2022, he batted .263/.339/.459 with 10 homers in 57 games in High-A.
Rockies: Ezequiel Tovar, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 27)
Tovar signed for $800,000 in August 2017 and has moved pretty quickly through the Rockies’ system, his easily plus defensive skills allowing him to handle aggressive assignments. His bat started coming alive in 2021 and he had a .927 OPS in the Minors in ’22 while making his big league debut. He has every chance to be the Rockies’ Opening Day shortstop and should be on Rookie of the Year watch lists.
Padres: Samuel Zavala, OF (No. 4)
San Diego has been aggressive with Zavala since signing him for $1.2 million two years ago. The club promoted the 18-year-old to Single-A Lake Elsinore after just a 10-game stop in the Arizona Complex League, where he slashed .345/.412/.621. Zavala did more than hold his own in the California League too with a .254/.355/.508 line and seven homers in 33 games, showing the offensive prowess that earned him seven figures in the first place. The next step for him and the Padres will be adding speed to make sure he can stick in center.