When it comes to the international signing period, which begins on July 2nd, the rules have changed.
Eventually there will be pools where, much like the draft, the teams that have the lowest winning percentages will get the most money to spend, but for now, every team is on equal footing. Every team gets $2.9M to spend.
The Cubs often prefer to spread their money around in Latin America rather than spend all of it on one or two players, but last year they spent $2.7M alone on two players, Marck Malave ($1.6M) and Luis Acosta ($1.1M). Of course, that's nothing compared to the $5M the Rangers spent on Nomar Mazara and the $3.45M they spend on Ronald Guzman. Overall, Texas spent $12.83M while the Cubs spent $4.54M. In 2010, the Cubs spent $4.16M, with RHP Jin-Yeong Kim getting the most money at $850,000 while Carlos Penalver, SS, got $550,000 and Jeimer Candelario, 3B, got $500,000.
The Cubs already have a head start on this year by signing 4 prominent Cuban players, led by RF Jorge Soler ($30M) and LHP Gerardo Concepcion ($6M). Earlier they signed OF Yasiel Balaguert (400K), and RHP Carlos Martinez ($250K). The highest bonuses given to Cuban players the year before (2010) were 2B-OF Rubi Silva ($1M) and C Yaniel Cabezas (500K).
Money isn't everything in this game. Every once in awhile you get a player like Starlin Castro, who received a $45,000 bonus to sign. They signed RHP Larry Suarez, who's still in Peoria as a middle relief pitcher, that same year for $850,000. Being able to beat your opponents to the punch in scouting a player like Castro plays a big role, as does some creativity, exemplified when the Cubs signed lesser international hitters like Carlos Marmol and Rafael Dolis for bargain rates and then turned them into pitchers.
I expect the limits to affect Asian prospects like Kim even more than Latin American players. Asian players often require a premium because of the greater risk of leaving their country to play ball in the U.S. They are not always welcomed back if they don't succeed here. This year the crop in Asia is a little more lean than usual, so I don't expect the Cubs to sign a major player from that region.
There are plenty of players in Latin America that would interest the Cubs. I'm not necessarily going to list them all, but we'll highlight a few who fit the Cubs preferred style of high ceiling/high floor, which often means a good mix of athleticism, baseball-specific skills, and strong mental makeup.
In that vein, here's a few names to keep an eye on...
- Jairo Beiras, OF, 6'5", 190 lbs., DOB under investigation, (Dominican Republic): Beiras is now more famous for the DOB flap after he signed with the Texas Rangers. If he's available, he'll be one of the more sought after players. He's tall and lean, and projects to fill out and hit for big power.
- Gustavo Cabrera, OF, 6'2", 190 lbs., 1/23/96, (Dominican Republic): Cabrera is a toolsy player with great speed and an advanced swing. He also has some experience in the U.S., having played in a tournament and showcase event. Downside is that he sometimes plays out of control, but he just turned 16, so that's not exactly shocking. Cabrera has been most often linked to the Royals
- Nathanael Javier, 3B, 6'3", 185, 10/10/95 (Dominican Republic): Javier is one of my favorite players on this list because of his mix of athleticism and baseball instincts. He has the abilty to hit for average and power once he fills out his lean frame. There is some major upside here.
- Luis Torrens, 3B, 6'0", 170 lbs., 5/2/96, (Venezuela): Not as talented as Javier, but fits Cubs mold in that he plays good defense and could eventually hit for average and power, as well as be an above average runner. He's just a good all-around player who also happens to be one of the youngest players available in this draft, having just turned 16 a little over a month ago. Torrens has been linked to the Yankees.
- Wendell Rijo, SS,5'11", 175 lbs., 9/4/95, (Dominican Republic): If there is any player that reminds me of Almora on this list, it's Rijo, in that he has the kind of international experience, strong mental makeup, leadership qualities, and baseball-specific skills the Cubs liked in their first round pick. The downside is his size, which isn't too small but it's a little less than ideal. Rijo is aood all around player who MLB.com Jonathan Mayo says has among the highest upsides in this draft. Lack of plus arm strength may move him to 2B, however.
- Richard Urena, SS, 6'1", 160 lbs., 2/26/96, (Dominican Republic): One of the few true SS on this list, Urena has a lot of growing to do, but he has great range and solid hands on defense right now. As you might expect from his build, he's not a power hitter, but he has all the other tools you want.
- Jose Mujica, RHP, 6'2", 180 lbs, 6/29/96, (Venezuela) Mujica turns 16 just days before the signing period begins. He's got a good pitchers build, nice delivery, and good arm action. He keeps the ball down and is confident and aggressive on the mound, though he is quiet, and mature for his age. The Blue Jays seem to have shown the greatest interest in Mujica.
I expect the Cubs to continue making upside plays and trying to add impact talent. There's plenty of more names and you can find some of them on MLB.com and Northside Baseball. It wouldn't surprise me to see the Cubs spread their money out over a few players. My guess is they'll pursue a player like Rijo or Javier, then look for them to be creative with the rest of their pool money, going for high risk/high reward types and perhaps a project or two.