The MLB Draft is a still a long ways away, June 9-11 to be exact. The International Free Agent deadline, the last day the Cubs can sign an international free agent to a contract as a part of the 2015-2016 class, falls just three short weeks later, on July 1. These dates are very important to the Cubs when it comes to acquiring new talent, particularly given the team’s loss of its first two picks in the amateur draft.
While you can still find great players in the third round and beyond, it’s unlikely the Cubs will be able to find the type of immediate-impact talent they’ve picked up in recent years. There are, however, still some high quality players who could aid the Cubs and who are not part of the draft. Timing is of the essence though, since from July 2 on, the Cubs can only sign international players for only $300,000.
For the Cubs, this past year of acquiring young talent was exceptional. They made a splash in the international market by signing Eddy Julio Martinez, Aramis Ademan, Jonathan Sierra, and 24 other free agents. That’s right…a total of 27 international free agents, yet most people had only heard of about six or seven them (see the whole list at the end of the post). In the draft, the Cubs picked Ian Happ, Donnie Dewees, and highly-thought-of high school products Bryan Hudson and Darryl Wilson.
Because the Cubs lost their first and second round picks as a result of signing John Lackey and Jason Heyward, and didn’t get a compensatory pick due re-signing Dexter Fowler, they may need to look to the international market for the kind of top-tier talent they’ll miss out on in the draft. If, that is, the Cubs can get the prospect(s) signed by July 1. Even though the Cubs would have to pay a dollar-for-dollar tax on any prospects under the age of 23, it might be worth it.
A stretch to get it done
Given the number of arms out there, the Cubs could add two to three young pitchers before July 1 to augment those missing picks. While Theo Epstein has never taken a pitcher at the top of the draft, the Cubs have attacked pitching in order to fill an organizational need, especially in the 2015 draft. They signed 13 pitchers, mostly college seniors who are likely to be at South Bend this season. But one draft cannot address the Cubs’ dearth of high-end, top-of-the-rotation type pitchers.
To supplement the system, the Cubs may look to sign three of the top Cuban pitchers on the market in Norge Ruiz, Vladimir Gutierrez, and Cionel Perez over the next four months
Ruiz, who turns 22 next month, would be the biggest get. A little undersized, he is a bulldog on the mound with a four-pitch mix. Word is he has an excellent feel for pitching and good control. His polish and pitchability might make a him someone who is fast-tracked through the system, possibly starting out at Myrtle Beach if the Cubs can sign him.
Gutierrez is more of a gamble and his workouts have been inconsistent. What he does have is size, 6’3”, some projectability at 170 pounds, and a live arm with the potential for a plus curveball. He is definitely a low floor pitcher but he could have a high ceiling with the proper development. Only 20, he would definitely be a risk, but one the Cubs could be willing to take if they’re confident in his potential development.
The third pitcher the Cubs could sign before July 1 is 19-year-old Cionel Perez. He was one of the top pitchers in the Serie Nacional, first making his mark at only 18 years old. He throws in the low 90’s and he has a bevvy of breaking pitches to complement his fastball. The only problem is he is 5’10” and 146 pounds. The lefty could be bound for the pen – something the Cubs also need in their system.
I don’t think the lack of draft picks and availability of Cuban free agents are directly connected, but it is always interesting to follow the convergence of the draft and International Free Agency and how teams use that to address talent acquisition. Given their situation, it could be a particularly exciting month for the Cubs.
Here is the complete list of International Free Agents the Cubs have signed, first compiled by Arizona Phil at the Cub Reporter.
*bats or throws left
Jose Albertos (Mexico) – age 16
Maikel Aguiar (Venezuela) – age 19
Javier Assad (Mexico) – age 17
* Faustino Carrera (Mexico) – age 16
Carlos Ocampo (Colombia) – age 17
* Brailyn Marquez (Dominican Republic) – age 16
Hector Matos (Dominican Republic) – age 16
Yunior Perez (Dominican Republic) – age 16
* Jose MacDonna (Dominican Republic) – age 19
Edison Novas (Dominican Republic) – age 18
Miguel Amaya (Panama) – age 16
Henderson Perez (Venezuela) – age 16
# Herson Perez (Venezuela) – age 18
Kevin Zamudio (Mexico) – age 17
* Aramis Ademan (Dominican Republic) – age 16
Luis Diaz (Dominican Republic) – age 16
* Christopher Morel (Dominican Republic) – age 16
Orian Nunez (Dominican Republic) – age 17
# Yonathan Perlaza (Venezuela) – age 16
Isaac Paredes (Mexico) – age 16
# Jose Gutierrez (Venezuela) – age 16
* Kwang-Min Kwon (South Korea) – age 17
Fernando Kelli (Venezuela) – age 17
Eddy Julio Martinez (Cuba) – age 20
* Ruben Reyes (Mexico) – age 19
* Abraham Rodriguez (Panama) – age 16
* Jonathan Sierra (Dominican Republic) – age 16