Cubs Once Again Looking to Mexico As International Free Agency Looms

It used to be that most Latin players signing with a major league organization came primarily from the Dominican Republic. That fact may still be true for some teams, but not the Cubs are looking elsewhere. Sure, they’ve continued to sign players from the Dominican Republic, just like the other teams. In the last two years, the Cubs have signed players in bunches from Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Curaçao, and Mexico. In the 2015-2016 international signing period, fewer than one-third (nine) of the 30 players the Cubs signed hailed from the Dominican. Almost as many (eight) were from Venezuela and six were from Mexico.

Mexico has produced pro players for a long time, just not for the Cubs, who have been mainly preoccupied with the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. And for good reason, too, as the Cubs have had baseball academies in those countries. In addition, they had a team in each of those countries’ rookie summer leagues.

In the Epstein Era, the Cubs have expanded their scouting parameters. Miguel Amaya, a young catcher from Panama, is now a Cub, as is Carlos Ocampo from Columbia. And there are many more. The Cubs have kept up their scouting efforts in the Dominican, but that’s been harder to do in Venezuela because of the political turmoil.

At the same time, Mexico has really begun producing some some prospects who have just started making names for themselves this summer at the ripe ages of 17, 18, and 19. And I expect that when the International Free Agent period begins next Saturday, the Cubs will sign many more Mexican players. I asked Ben Badler, Baseball America’s International expert about that and here is his response.

Why Mexico? Because these kids can play. They play year round and they play in international competitions all over the world. Here are some signings the Cubs have made from Mexico in the past two years, some of whom you may already know:

 Carlos Sepulveda – Signed in the 2014-15 period, Sepulveda has already made a name for himself. You will see him on this month’s All-Star team on Friday. He’s only 18 and hitting over .300 at low-A South Bend. He has great patience at the plate (.380 OBP) while his defense could still improve.

Isaac Paredes – Signed in 2015-16, Paredes debuted last fall at instructs in Arizona and has spent some time in extended spring training where he hit .250 with 2 HRs and 16 RBI in 25 games. He has some pop in his bat and is listed as a shortstop but will likely move over to 3B. He was on the DL to start the season but made his debut on Saturday going 1-for-3 with a walk.

Faustino Carrera – He was signed last summer and is dazzling in the Dominican Summer League. So far, the lefty has made three starts with a 0.56 ERA with 17 Ks in 16 innings. Carrera comes with an upper 80’s/low 90’s fastball and a curve.

Jose Albertos – He’s been quite the star in unknown circles and has flashed great stuff on the back fields of spring training and again in extended spring training. He made his debut at the age of 17 in rookie ball in Arizona a week ago, when he went 4 innings and struck out 7 while sitting at 94-97 mph. At 17 years old!!! Baseball America said this of the right-hander’s signing:

Albertos is 6-foot-1, 185 pounds with a promising combination of stuff and feel for pitching. He touched 92 mph before he signed and has since been up to 94 with good angle. He’s poised on the mound, throwing strikes and changing speeds well with a slider that has a chance to be a plus pitch and feel for a changeup as well to profile as a starter.

Javier Assad – This young pitcher debuted on Friday for the Arizona Cubs. According to sources in Mesa, he threw “90-93, mid 70s CB, vertical break. Mature frame.” In other words, he’s not going to get much bigger, but what he is, is pretty good for an 18 year-old.

Hector Garcia – Another pitcher, Garcia was signed in 2014 and is in his second go-round in the Dominican Summer League. In 4 starts this year, the 18 year-old right-hander has thrown 21.2 innings, has an ERA of 2.08, and has struck out 15 while walking only 4. Baseball America was very positive of his signing as they described his talent at 16:

5-foot-11, 160 pounds with a fastball up to 92 mph, feel for a slider and changeup and advanced pitchability for his age.

Jesus Camargo – He was signed in 2014 and had an outstanding year in 2015 at Arizona in the Rookie League. He was one ace on the staff with a 3.30 ERA and opponents only hit .215 off of him. He struck out 57 in 46.1 innings. This year, he is still on the DL in Mesa battling some minor injuries.

Next Saturday is July 2, the official beginning of International Free Agency. Because of the Cubs’ spending habits last year, they cannot sign a player for more than $300,000 the next two years. They can get some quality players at that value, just not an elite player right now. With a pool of $2 million, expect the Cubs to get between 20-25 signings.

But here’s the thing about International Free Agency: selecting and signing a player is not about now, it’s about projection, what they might be like in a four to five years. Only three of the players listed above signed for more than $300,000, and two of them were Sepulveda and Paredes. The Cubs are going to be able to go out and sign a lot of players for $100,00 and less who will be good prospects. The key will be to sign good, projectable players that will do well beyond rookie and A-ball.

One thing this organization has always done well is find loopholes, market inefficiencies as they’re known in smart-people parlance. Faced with restrictions on their wallet and looking to get the most bang for their buck, heading south of the border might provide just such a loophole.

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