MLB international signings 2023: A look at the most notable players and where they landed

Major League Baseball’s 2023 international signing period opened Sunday and teams kicked it off by handing out significant bonuses.

The biggest splash on Sunday’s opening was made by the Padres. They signed Ethan Salas, a Venezuelan catcher widely regarded as the best available prospect in this year’s signing class, for a $5.6 million bonus. Salas is one of the most talked about young catchers in the international space in years. He comes from a long line of pro players, including his brother Jose, a prospect in the Marlins system. According to MLB Pipeline, Ethan Salas’ athleticism best manifests itself behind the plate, where he’s a good receiver with a strong ability to block balls. He’s also a strong candidate to hit well as he works his way through the Padres’ farm system. Teenage catchers signed as international free agents often struggle to succeed at both offense and defense, but the belief is Salas will.

For the second year in a row, the Yankees also added a significant prospect to their ranks, coming to terms with Cuban outfielder Brando Mayea. Mayea is listed at 5-feet-11, 170 pounds and is expected to stick in center field because of his well-developed athleticism. His advanced approach at the plate gives him a strong blend of tools for this early stage of his development, according to Baseball America.

This is the third year in a row the international signing period has opened in mid-January. It used to open on July 2, but the date was moved because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like the original period, teams have 11 months to exhaust their assigned bonus pools before international amateur signings are briefly halted.

In most cases, teams don’t need that long. Because teams know years in advance roughly what their bonus pools will be, they often come to verbal agreements with teenage prospects two to three years ahead of when they’re eligible to sign. Despite how complicated the signing environment has become, there are limits to what teams can do in the international market. They must abide by the strict caps on spending. For more information, check out The Athletic’s guide to the international signing period.


MLB international signing period: What is it? When is it? Why is it important?

Below is a look at some of the most notable signings — organized by team — at the outset of this year’s international signing period.

The Orioles again pushed their boundaries in the international realm and signed a team-record 27 players to start the signing period. Their biggest get was shortstop Luis Almeyda, who grew up in New Jersey but moved to the Dominican Republic in 2021. By the time he relocated to the D.R., Almeyda had already left an impact on the Perfect Game circuit and was considered one of the top shortstops in his class. Although his family’s primary reason for moving abroad wasn’t baseball-related, Almeyda was able to take advantage of the opportunity by training at MB Academy, an amateur facility that counts major leaguers Julio Rodríguez and Yordan Alvarez among the more than 60 players who have come through their system. Almeyda parlayed the move into a bonus over $2 million and an earlier start to his pro career.



Connolly: It’s a slow-go but the Orioles are finally on right road internationally

According to a team news release, Almeyda is an “everyday type of player who can impact the game with his combination of power and hit tools. He is short to the ball with a quick and explosive swing, flashing plus power potential. At 6-2, Almeyda has the ball skills to play shortstop, but could move to third base as he matures. He is a solid defender with plus arm strength.”

Almeyda’s goal is to stick at shortstop despite his height.

“Back in the day, it used to be 5-10 guys played short,” he said in an August interview with The Athletic in the D.R. “Nah. Now everyone is over 6 feet tall. You gotta be a big dude with big bat speed, everything. I’m loving how this era is changing because they’re beginning to realize 6-3, 6-2 guys are really athletic as well.” — Torres

Angel Cepeda, one of Almeyda’s close friends, also signed a lucrative contract on Sunday. Another product of MB Academy, Cepeda reportedly received a $1 million bonus from the Cubs. Cepeda is a New Jersey transplant, too, but unlike Almeyda, he has spent most of his life in the Dominican Republic. He returned without his immediate family to the D.R. simply to train under the best coaches he could find. His trainers at MB Academy raved about his work ethic and his leadership ability. One was impressed with Cepeda’s present and future power and his strong defense up the middle, where he is a shortstop.

Cepeda honed some of his skills playing in the Dominican Republic’s Campesina league on the weekends. The league features few amateur players; the six teams are primarily composed of players with professional experience released from their major-league organizations. Teens who participate are basically essentially exposed to a High-A level of baseball at a young age.

Cepeda was ranked the 19th-best prospect available in this year’s class by The Cubs also agreed to sign shortstop Derniche Valdez (MLB Pipeline’s No. 6 prospect) and shortstop Ludwig Espinoza (No. 14).  — Torres

The Reds have a deal in place with top target Alfredo Duno, a Venezuelan catcher who is ranked as the fourth-best prospect in this year’s class, according to MLB Pipeline. He was one of 13 players the Reds signed on Sunday.

Duno is a 6-3, 210-pound backstop with mature tools. According to Baseball America, he has recorded elite pop times from home to second base of 1.9 seconds. He is also expected to blossom into a power threat as he learns to smooth out his swing.

“He’s got a chance to be an All-Star caliber catcher who is a plus defender and hits for big power,” Reds international scouting director Trey Hendricks said.



Reds add top catching prospect Alfredo Duno on international signing day

— C. Trent Rosecrans

The Guardians have targeted Venezuela more in recent years, and this class follows that pattern. Among their 24 signees are 15 players from Venezuela. Perhaps surprisingly, the class includes only eight infielders. The international market has fueled the organization’s stockpiling of shortstop prospects. — Zack Meisel

The Rockies on Sunday spent big again to sign Robert Calaz, a 17-year-old center fielder from Monte Plata in the Dominican Republic. In the past two years, the Rockies have shattered their normally thrifty international spending habits.

Calaz, a 6-2, 200-pound hitter with power potential, agreed to a $2.5 million deal with Colorado. A year ago, the Rockies shattered their club record for a single international bonus by signing Cuban shortstop Dyan Jorge, 18, with a $2.8 million bonus. Before Calaz and Jorge, the Rockies’ largest international expenditure came just three years ago when they added Dominican shortstop Adael Amador, 16, for $1.5 million. In other words, they have nearly doubled their top price for international signings in just a few years.

The sudden spending spree from the Rockies coincides with their adding a second team to the Dominican Summer League in 2021, from which they’ve seen positive progress. As they sit, two of the Rockies’ top-five prospects were international signings: shortstops Ezequiel Tovar ($800,000 bonus from the 2017 class) and Adael Amador (2019). Tovar, 21, is expected to take over as Colorado’s primary shortstop this season. — Nick Groke

The Tigers signed three notable international prospects Sunday, starting with catcher Enrique Jimenez. MLB Pipeline ranked Jiménez as the No. 32 international prospect, and he is known as a bat-first catcher with switch-hitting power. Jimenez will have to continue his development defensively but has drawn positive reviews for his footwork. The Tigers also signed shortstop Maikol Orozco and outfielder Cristian Perez. Orozco, ranked No. 44 by MLB Pipeline, drew attention for his advanced plate approach and athleticism that indicates he can play up the middle as a professional. Perez, ranked No. 48, is considered an average defender with good bat speed.

The Tigers have invested heavily in the international market in recent years after a prolonged stretch in which Detroit failed to strengthen its international pipeline. The Tigers’ international scouting department remained largely intact after Scott Harris took over baseball operations in September, but Harris hopes to strengthen the department with the help of assistant GM Rob Metzler, who previously ran domestic amateur scouting for the Rays. — Cody Stavenhagen

New York Yankees

Mayea’s trainer told The Athletic he signed with the Yankees for $4.35 million with a $100,000 studies bonus. The team has not yet confirmed the deal. — Chris Kirschner

Oakland A’s

The A’s class is headlined by 21-year-old Cuban right-hander Luis Morales, who was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the top pitcher in this class. Their class also includes Dominican outfielder Darling Fernandez, ranked 40th by MLB Pipeline. The others are catchers Ramón Landaeta and Jesus Latera, shortstops Jesus Fernandez, Jesus Superlano and Reinaldo De La Cruz, outfielders Reynaldo De La Paz and Jeison Lopez, and right-handed pitchers Paul Chacon, Alvin Veras, Freilyn Guzman, Donny Troconis, Wilfred Alvarado, Cristhian Rangel, Roberto Urdaneta and Francis Marte.

— Melissa Lockard

The Phillies have a smaller bonus pool as a result of signing a free agent attached to a qualifying offer while also paying luxury tax, so almost two-thirds of their money will go to a Dominican shortstop named Starlyn Caba. He is receiving close to $3 million, according to major-league sources.

Caba, 17, is an athletic switch hitter who projects as a plus defender at shortstop, evaluators said. He is smaller — 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds now — and could fill out to a similar body type as Francisco Lindor (5-11, 190). He has a strong arm and good hands, but not the prototypical size of a modern shortstop. The Phillies believe his athleticism can compensate for whatever he might lack in a power stroke.

The club dipped into familiar territory — Taiwan — for its second-biggest bonus in this class. Wen-Hui Pan, a 20-year-old right-hander, will receive approximately $400,000. Evaluators see him as a potential mid-rotation starter, although he could migrate to a late-inning bullpen role if he fails to develop a third pitch. His fastball sits at 95-96 mph, one evaluator said, and he’s topped at 99 mph. His splitter is his best breaking ball. The curveball needs work, but Pan throws a slider that showed improvement.

He’s the equivalent of a college sophomore, so there is room to grow. The Phillies have increased their presence in Taiwan; a few years ago, they signed Hao Yu Lee, an infielder who is now one of the club’s best prospects.

Two others with larger bonuses: Jaeden Calderon, a right-handed hitter from the Dominican Republic whose bat will be his carrying tool. He’s bigger — 6-2, 185 pounds — with projectable power. He’s likely a corner outfielder, so he will need to hit. Calderon received $150,000. Luis Martinez, a 16-year-old Dominican lefty, received the same amount. He has a loose arm, one evaluator said, while already throwing in the 88-91 mph range along with a sharp curveball. — Matt Gelb

Jun-Seok Shim, a high school pitching prospect from South Korea, was among 22 players the Pirates acquired on the first day of the international signing period. Shim was rated the second-best pitcher and the No. 10 overall prospect on the international market by MLB Pipeline.

“He’s one of the top prospects internationally and rightly so,” Pirates international scouting director Junior Vizcaino said. “He can do some things with the baseball. God-given ability.”

Shim will come to Pittsburgh later this month to finalize his deal. Terms of his bonus were not immediately available. — Rob Biertempfel



Korean pitcher prospect Jun-Seok Shim headlines Pirates’ international signing class

The Mariners announced seven international amateur signings Sunday, including Dominican shortstop Felnin Celesten, who has reportedly agreed to the biggest signing bonus in franchise history. Celesten, rated the No. 2 international prospect by MLB Pipeline, was expected to receive a $4.7 million signing bonus — a huge chunk of the team’s bonus pool of $6,366,900 for this new signing period.

Celesten might have the highest ceiling of any international shortstop prospect in the last decade, according to MLB Pipeline. A 17-year-old switch-hitter, Celesten has already displayed power, speed, arm strength and an advanced feel for playing shortstop. Per MLB Pipeline, the Mariners have agreed to terms with the 42nd-best international prospect, pitcher Jeter Martinez, for $600,000. Seattle will announce its full class on Tuesday. — Corey Brock



Mariners make their biggest international splash by signing Felnin Celesten

The Rangers’ international signing class is highlighted by Bahamian shortstop Sebastian Walcott, ranked as the No. 8 international prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. His bonus is for $3.2 million, according to The Athletic’s Levi Weaver.

Pablo Guerrero, son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, is also a notable name from this class.

— Torres

After two straight years splurging on top international prospects, the Nationals opened the period by spreading their bonus pool among a group of 14 teens. The most recognizable of the group is Elian Soto, the younger brother of former Washington superstar Juan Soto.

Elian Soto’s agreement was for $225,000 plus a studies bonus of $200,000. The modest amount isn’t necessarily a reflection of the younger Soto’s abilities. It’s an investment in the strides Elian has made since coming to a verbal agreement with the Nationals a year ago. Since last January, Elian has sprouted a couple of inches to measure 6-1 and added muscle mass to his frame. He’s listed at a healthy 182 pounds.

According to one evaluator, offense is where Elian, a converted outfielder, has made his biggest strides. Since beginning to work with former Nationals minor-league hitting coach Jorge Mejia (who also privately works with Juan Soto) at PNY Academy, Elian has improved his approach to all fields and showed more raw power at the plate.

Also among the Nationals signings were Baseball America’s 28th-best prospect Edwin Solano (shortstop), 37th-best prospect Andy Acevedo (outfielder) and 39th-best prospect Manuel Cabrera (shortstop). — Torres

Other notable signees

There were plenty of blasts from the past Sunday. In addition to Guerrero, the sons of former big leaguers Juan Uribe and Abraham Nuñez are getting their chance in the spotlight.

(Photo: John Locher / Associated Press)

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