Cubs International Class 2016-2017: Getting Creative while Fishing in a Smaller Pond

The current Cubs front office has always been known for creativity, ranging from being one of the first teams to break past their international spending budget in 2013 (which netted Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres), to forging a new clubhouse culture that keeps things light and is enjoyable for the players. Constantly breaking the norms set out by old baseball regimes in search of the next advantage, the Cubs seemed to have found it in the international market.

While a team like the Orioles punts away their international pool, signing five players and spending just $260,000 in total, the Cubs signed 29 players and were right in line with their allotment of $2,063,100 this year. To make matters even more impressive, they were restricted to signing players for $300,000 or less because of going over their bonus pool in the 2015-2016 period.

Around 30 percent of players in Major League Baseball this year were born outside the United States, with the largest portions of that group coming from the Dominican Republic (12.4 percent) or Venezuela (10.1 percent). Mexico, a country often forgotten when compared to the two big powerhouses, has produced the fifth highest total of foreign born players, with nine current MLB players on active rosters. Those include pitchers such as Roberto Osuna and Marco Estrada (also Julio Urías once he gets called up again).

Since the 2014-2015 international signing period, the Cubs have had more eyes on the Mexican market than their front office counterparts. During that signing period, they snatched up three players from the Mexican League: Hector Garcia (AZL), Carlos Sepulveda (High-A) and Jesus Camargo (AZL). All three are making their way up the minors, with Sepulveda being the most impressive of the bunch. Last season he hit .310/.366/.373 at South Bend while contributing below-average but improving defense at second base. Both Garcia and Camargo were either in the AZL or DSL, but feature advanced changeups for their age. Part of that is a byproduct of pitching in the competitive Mexican League, and having to get out much older hitters.

In the 2015-2016 signing period, the Cubs blew past their bonus pool to sign the likes of Aramis Ademan, Miguel Amaya, and Jonathan Sierra. To go along with these expensive signings, they also got five players from Mexico, including Jose Albertos ($1.5 million) and Isaac Paredes ($800,000). Both have appeared on top 20 prospect lists this season, and Albertos has had some real helium. His fastball can sit in the mid-90’s and, like the other Mexican league pitchers, his best secondary is a plus changeup.

Paredes has a stocky build for his age and is likely a second or third basemen in the long run, but he has a knack for putting the barrel on the ball. He’s been starting for the South Bend Cubs this season and has the tools to jump up prospect lists. The biggest of their other three signings from Mexico is Javier Assad, a 19-year-old pitcher who has a mature frame and clean arm action. He pitches in the low 90’s and has two average secondary pitches. Each of these prospects will continue to climb up the Cubs system, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see a lot more Mexican players on Cubs prospect lists.

Due to their restrictions this year, the Cubs had to get creative to spend their allotted slot, and they did just that. Continuing the theme of mining prospects from the Mexican League, the Cubs signed five more players from there. That includes their biggest signing, Manuel Rodriguez, who the Cubs signed for $400,000. They were able to do this because when major league teams sign Mexican League players, the league team keeps about 75 percent of that money. Because MLB only counts the amount of money that goes to the player against a team’s pool, a Mexican League player could sign for up to $1.2 million with a team under bonus restriction. This is just another way of the Cubs looking to get around the rules set by MLB on the international market.

Manuel Rodriguez is a 20-year-old with a fastball that has peaked at 97 with heavy life. He’s on the small side at 5’11”, but he is strong and also throws a changeup and slider which are improving pitches. Ferrold Heredia is a 17-year-old they signed out of Yucatan, and is growing into his body but has good pitchability for his age. Carlos Pacheco won the MVP of the Mexican League academy last year, and he’ll be sent to the DSL to hopefully continue where he left off last year.

One more signing the Cubs made for $100,000 is Francisco Garcia, who just moved to the mound so is very raw but has run his fastball up to 93. All of these players will be in the DSL or on the Cubs complex, but they are the future of the system.

When reviewing the Cubs’ international signings over the past couple of years, the thing that jumps out is the wide net they are casting. They signed prospects from the usual hotbeds of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but due to the political turmoil in the latter, it was extremely hard for international scouts to safely watch those particular prospects. As a result, not as many were signed to big bonuses, which allowed the Cubs to sign two Venezuelans for the maximum amount of $300,000.

They also dipped into the Colombian and Panamanian markets, areas that international scouts don’t see as much of. Going into the 2016-2017 signing period, the Cubs knew they weren’t going to be able to sign the biggest, most sought-after prospects. To combat this, they have gone into countries where prospects are rawer and less watched, and have signed them for under their limits.

Because of their success in the Mexican market, more teams are bound to send scouts there in the future, but the Cubs have still benefited from being one of the first teams to really scout that market. In future Cubs top prospect lists, expect to see a wide variety of nations on it including Colombia, Panama, and Mexico.

Thanks to Cubs Den’s John Arguello and Baseball America’s Ben Badler for much of the information about Cubs prospects.

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