The Nationals have been hesitant to dish out large contracts to international free agents since the Esmailyn Gonzalez incident, but they made a splash in the international signing pool today, signing 16-year-old Dominican third baseman Anderson Franco for $900,000, according to Baseball America's Ben Badler.
Franco was ranked as the 29th-best international prospect in this year's class by Baseball America. He became eligible to sign today, which is his 16th birthday.
Quite a birthday present. I might've gotten a sweater and a piece of chocolate cake on my 16th birthday. Franco gets close to a million bucks.
The Nats have been monitoring Franco for some time now and made him a priority in their international signing pursuits.
Scouts view the 6-foot-1, 185-lb. Franco as having impressive power, a strong arm and steady defensive abilities. Here's a video from the International Prospect League of Franco working out for scouts, if you're into that sort of thing.
Per MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez, Franco has a swing that tends to get a little long at times, and some scouts question his pitch recognition ability. But Sanchez notes that some scouts view Franco as a sleeper and believe he has the potential to be the top player out of this year's crop of international prospects.
In 2006, the Nationals signed what they believed to be a 16-year-old shortstop named Esmailyn "Smiley" Gonzalez to a deal that provided a $1.4 million signing bonus. Three years later, it was revealed that Gonzalez's real name was Carlos David Alvarez Lugo, and that he was actually four years older than he had claimed.
Alvarez, now 27, is still in the Nationals' farm system, but was placed on the disabled list earlier this season and has gotten just two at-bats while on a rehab assignment with the Gulf Coast League Nationals.
Franco's signing uses up nearly half of the $1.85 million the Nationals were allotted for this year's international signing period.
The Nats previously announced they had signed seven international free agents when the signing window opened July 2.
Update: The Nationals have confirmed the signing in a team-issued press release.