In 2015, the Giants signed Lucius Fox, and it was a bit of a steal. The Dodgers were expected to sign Fox, but the Giants swooped in and swept him away. They paid big bucks for him as well, and he was potentially the biggest international free agent signing the Giants had ever made.
(And then the Giants traded Fox away as part…PART!…of the deal for Matt Moore. A trade that Bobby Evans will never stop hearing about as long as he is a general manager anywhere.)
All that aside, by blowing out their bonus pool that year, the Giants endured two years of having their bonuses limited. Although they had a lot of money, the Giants couldn’t spend more than $300,000 on a single player, a relative pittance in international terms. That meant, as the Giants fell to being one of the worst teams in baseball, one road for reloading their farm system was not available to them.
This year, they’re out of the penalty box and look poised to make a splash.
The Giants are linked to some of the top international prospects available this year, including shortstop Marco Luciano and two others ranked in the top 40.
Both MLB.com and Baseball America’s Ben Badler indicate that they’re expected to sign Luciano, who has tremendous athleticism and the bat speed for impressive power. The 16-year old hits home runs in batting practice and games, both to the pull and the opposite field. He’s not the usual swing-and-miss sort of power hitter, either. Scouts have credited him with good plate discipline, too.
Luciano might wind up at third base or in the outfield, but his offensive upside makes him a top prospect. Ben Badler indicates he’ll sign for about $2.5 million. Both MLB.com and Baseball America have Luciano ranked as the #2 international prospect available this year.
Jairo Pomares was ranked as the #11 prospect by Baseball America this year. The 17-year old Cuban outfielder impressed in Cuba’s 15U league, ranking sixth in the league in batting average, walking 16 times and striking out only 6 times in 141 plate appearances. That shows off what some believe is a natural hitter, with what BA calls a “pretty swing” from the left side. Pomares plays the outfield corners, although some scouts think he has the speed to play center.
BA says the Giants are expected to sign him, the same phrase used to describe the Giants’ chances with Luciano, and number Pomares’ bonus at about $1 million.
The third player connected to the Giants is Luis Matos, one of the best hitters available out of Venezuela. Similar to Luciano and Pomares, Matos can put together good at-bats and square up the ball. Matos doesn’t have power, but he does have a line drive swing. The outfielder may be a bit of a tweener, with a hitting profile one expects from a center fielder, but range better suited to one of the corners.
There is no announced expected bonus amount. MLB.com ranked Matos #27 on their list, with BA having him at #37.
Aside from the big names, the Giants will sign many other players to smaller deals. So, don’t expect any other big names. The Giants bonus pool is $4,983,500, with about $3.5 million tied to Luciano and Pomeres. Matos’ bonus could be anywhere from $500K to a million (my guess, no evidence other than the expectations of other players similarly ranked).
You might be asking yourself, why are these deals being spoken of as if they’re pretty much sure things? It’s a good question. When Baseball America released a list of their Top 50 International Prospects, 45 of them had teams listed as “expected” or “frontrunner” or other terms. A few of the other names, like Baseball America’s #1 prospect Victor Mesa, aren’t yet cleared by baseball to be signed yet. Basically, this is because baseball doesn’t really have a “tampering” rule for international free agency.
Secondly, baseball has put strict limits on how much teams can spend. Unlike the Giants’ deal with Lucius Fox, teams simply cannot spend more than their pool. If you’d like to learn more, check out our FAQ from last week. What that means is that it’s unlikely teams can slide into a previously expected deal and spend a lot of money to steal a player away.
That’s not to say that all these deals are sure things, but let’s just say that the Giants look pretty good for signing Luciano.
SS Marco Luciano on the right during pre-signing training sessions with the Giants. INF Roberto Paulino on the left, will be another July 2nd signing. pic.twitter.com/vdrUskyivl— GPT (@giantsprospects) June 26, 2018
Yep, that’s him in Giants gear working in pre-signing training sessions, along with another guy who is expected to sign with the Giants, but for whom I honestly have no scouting reports (sorry, Roberto Paulino fans).
That said, nothing’s a sure thing until the ink is dry. The good news for us is that we’ll very likely hear about a lot of these signings within the next 48 hours. But remember, all of these players are very young and not sure things to reach their potential. In the last decade-plus, the Giants have not done well with their big money international signings.
Angel Villalona, who signed a then-record $2.1 million deal in 2006, struggled before he became a murder suspect in 2009, and although the charges were dropped, his career never recovered. In 2008, the Giants spent $2.55 million on Rafael Rodriguez on his 16th birthday. He ended up with a career minor league line of .250/.301/.333, only reaching High-A before retiring in 2015. The Giants’ other top signing in 2015 was catcher Ricardo Genoves, who signed for $550K. He’s just 19, but his first two pro seasons were underwhelming and this season in Salem-Keizer, his third in the system, has been abysmal.
Caveats aside, the Giants have a good chance to refill their farm system with high upside talent this signing period. Baseball America just released their Midseason Top 100, and there isn’t a single Giant on it. But with talents like Heliot Ramos, Joey Bart, and perhaps Marco Luciano, the years of bemoaning a farm system without true top prospects might be coming to an end.