Elian Soto headlines Nats' latest international signings

The international signing period officially opened this morning, an avenue the Nationals have been traditionally successful in using to acquire young talent.

To open the 2023 signing period, the Nationals announced they have agreed to terms with 14 international free agents: right-handers Jose Feliz, Leuris Portorreal and Enyerber Riveo; left-hander Juan Reyes; catcher Agustin Marcano; infielders Manuel Cabrera, Eikel Joaquin and Edwin Solano; and outfielders Andy Acevedo, Carlos Batista, Hector Liriano, Juan Obispo, Elian Soto and Carlos Tavares.

Elian Soto is Juan Soto’s younger brother who made headlines this time last year when he reportedly flipped his intention to sign with the Mets to the Nats. That became official today as he reportedly agreed to a deal worth a $225,000 signing bonus and an additional $200,000 for a scholarship grant. Last summer’s trade with the Padres seemingly did not have an impact on the younger Soto’s feelings toward signing with the Nationals organization.

Like his brother, Elian demonstrates power from the left side of the plate while playing third base and the outfield. Also like Juan, Elian is represented by super agent Scott Boras, who just negotiated a $23 million salary for the 24-year-old superstar this season with the Padres through the arbitration process.

But unlike his brother, Elian is not considered a top prospect in this class.

Quick trivia question: When Juan signed with the Nats back in 2015, he was MLB Pipeline's No. 25 prospect of his class. Do you know the Nats farmhand who was ranked No. 6 ahead of current stars including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr.? Answer is below.

The Nationals did sign three players in MLB Pipeline’s top 50 international prospects list and Baseball America’s rankings for this signing period, all three of whom are ranked in the bottom half. Cabrera is ranked at No. 39 by MLB Pipeline, Acevedo is No. 45 by MLB Pipeline and No. 37 by Baseball America, and Solano is No. 46 by MLB Pipeline and No. 28 by Baseball America.

Of the 14 players signed by the Nationals, 11 are from the Dominican Republic and one apiece are from Colombia, Panama and Venezuela. There are three right-handers, one left-hander, one catcher, three infielders and six outfielders. All are 17 or 16 years old.

If you need it, here’s a quick refresher on how this process works. It starts with years of scouting and relationship-building by the international department, headed by Nationals vice president and assistant general manager of international operations Johnny DiPuglia.

All 30 major league teams are assigned bonus pools, which are essentially salary caps they have to sign players. They are allowed to trade international bonus slots during this signing period, starting today. Bonuses handed out to players of $10,000 or less do not count toward the pools. Any forfeited money is redistributed to the other clubs.

The Nationals are in a group of 10 teams allotted $5.284 million to sign players this signing period. There are 15 teams with larger pools and five teams with smaller pools (Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Dodgers and Rangers).

This international signing period, when eligible players are able to sign, runs through Dec. 15. Players must turn 16 before signing and be 17 before Sept. 1 the following year, meaning players born between Sept. 1, 2005 and Aug. 31, 2006 are eligible to sign during this period. Players have to be registered with Major League Baseball in advance in order to be eligible to sign.

This is how the Nationals acquired players such as Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Luis García.

Last year, the Nationals signed 10 amateur free agents at the opening of the international signing period, including a club-record $4.925 million to outfielder Cristhian Vaquero, who was considered by many outlets as the top prospect in the 2022 international class. Vaquero, now 18, is currently the Nats’ seventh-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

Right-hander Jarlin Susana, the youngest of five prospects in the return package from the Padres in exchange for Juan Soto and Josh Bell, was the No. 31 prospect in last year’s class, per MLB Pipeline’s rankings, and is currently the Nats’ eighth-ranked prospect.

Other top prospects that came from the international free agent market include outfielder Jeremy De La Rosa (No. 10), shortstop Armado Cruz (No. 11 and No. 4 in the 2021 class) and right-hander Andry Lara (No. 14). Currently, there are 12 players on the 40-man roster and 11 prospects in the Nats’ top 30 who were originally signed as international free agents.

Trivia answer: Lucius Fox. He was signed by the Giants on his 18th birthday for $6 million, which was at the time the most ever given to a non-Cuban international amateur. Fox was listed as a shortstop/second baseman/outfielder from Nassau, The Bahamas. He actually played at American Heritage High School in Delray Beach, Fla., and made the rounds on the high school showcase circuit, so the expectation was for him to be part of the 2015 MLB Draft. But he moved back to the Bahamas and MLB ruled him an international free agent instead.

Fox’s scouting report labeled him as “the best athlete in the 2015 international class.” He stood out with plus-plus speed and as a switch-hitter with solid ability from both sides of the plate.

A roster claim from the Orioles on Nov. 19, 2021, Fox went 2-for-25 with two runs, two RBIs, one stolen base, one walk and one strikeout in 10 games with the Nats last season. The 25-year-old slashed .228/.306/.646 with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs, 25 RBIs, 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts, 22 walks and 61 strikeouts in 55 games while playing mostly shortstop and a little second base with Triple-A Rochester.

For comparison’s sake, Juan Soto’s scouting report labeled him as “one of the better hitters” in the class. He was said to have a sweet left-handed swing and an advanced approach while making repeated hard contact. They projected that he should develop average or better power once he matured physically. I’d say they got that part right.

Soto signed for $1.5 million out of the Dominican Republic, then a Nationals record for a bonus given to a Latin American teenager.

This just goes to show you never know what you’re going to get in the international free agent market.

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