The Twins, like most MLB teams, will send scouts to a showcase in the Caribbean this week for Venezuelan prospects, a chance to measure and evaluate players who will eventually sign contracts to play professionally. But this gathering of baseball talent is unusual — though it reflects the new reality of international scouting. All the players will be 14 or younger. “There’s nobody there eligible to sign now, or in 2018. They’re all 2019 players,” said Mike Radcliff, Twins vice president for player personnel. “Under the system we have now, we’re being asked to scout 13-year-olds.” Not only scout, but offer millions of dollars to the best of them. The reason? New spending limits for teenage talent have encouraged the network of trainer/agents (known as buscones), who make their own deals with players to showcase them and negotiate bonuses in exchange for a percentage of the contract, to find and accept handshake commitments from major league teams well before their players turn 16 and are eligible to be signed. That has caused teams to commit money to younger and younger players. “Teams are agreeing with players for 2020 now, that’s how far out it is,” Radcliff said. “Almost all of the best guys for next [July] are locked up already and off the market. And since everybody wants a [top player], to assure you get one, you have to move on to the next year, and the next one.” It’s an unintended consequence of the new collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the Players Association, which established concrete limits, $4.75 million to $5.75 million, on how much a franchise can spend each year to sign players from countries — Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and others — that are not part of the amateur draft. One need only look at the Twins roster, which includes such non-draft-eligible players as Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco, Ervin Santana and Max Kepler, to understand how important international signings can be. A half-dozen years ago, teams could simply offer huge bonuses to the best players near signing day, a process that had the effect of keeping most players uncommitted until signing day neared, in hopes of leveraging a bigger contract.
Teams seeking Miguel Sano-like talent at age 13
Minneapolis Star Tribune | Sep 18