Yesterday we ranked the 2010-19 drafts by the Pittsburgh Pirates in order from best to worst. Today we do the same with the last ten international signing classes.
This is even more difficult to do than the draft because of the age of most players when they sign. Even the best players signed five years ago are the same age now as many current college juniors. While I put a lot of thought into it, rating the 2010-19 international classes properly would be a lot easier to do 5+ years from now.
Some of the classes didn’t require much thought, as you will see below, but it’s also important to remember that there’s a big difference between the 2012-16 classes and the other five listed here. The Pirates set their own budget from 2010-11. The 2012-16 were based on the team’s record during the previous season and the cap was set by MLB, with penalties for going over the limit. The 2017-19 bonus pools have far exceeded the five before them, as MLB switched to basing the bonus pool on market size.
To make up for that difference, I factored in the MLB set budgets for those years. I know that the Pirates could have exceeded those bonus pools like a group of other teams did and paid the penalties, and they likely would have for the right situation. They had no issue going well over their own set budget in 2010, and then in 2018 they worked the loophole that’s now been closed in Mexico to exceed their bonus pool. They pay the overage tax every year in the MLB draft as well.
So I’m not going to punish them for MLB’s poor system to decide international budgets during that time, and it wouldn’t be fair to compare a $2-$3M bonus pool even up with $6M+ pools, but they still needed to get something for that to even matter. As you will see below, that’s not always the case.
Here’s the international classes ranked best to worst. I included the international signing tracker (linked to the year) from 2012 on because that’s the first year we had a tracker available. The recent trackers are also more complete.
2019: The high bonus pool clearly helped them here, but I really like what the Pirates did with this signing class. They have four huge upside pitchers, they have power bats in the outfield, strong hitting middle infielders, a top notch catcher. There’s tons of athleticism, speed, defense and everything you look for in a signing class, plus they added in some possible hidden gems late as their bonus pool dwindled down. This class doesn’t actually end until June 15th, though they won’t be able to add much unless they trade for more bonus pool money because they’re almost tapped out.
2018: Even after considering the cost difference, I still went with two recent signing classes first. The Pirates seemed to do well with all but two of their six-figure signings and got some great performances in the DSL from these players. They also had two low-price signings (Luis Ortiz and Adrian Florencio) go right to Bristol, where they were in the starting rotation. This group has huge upside and will make the 2020 GCL extremely interesting. I just barely edged this group ahead of the next one…
2016: This was the low point for the bonus pool era, barely breaking $2,000,000 to spend. Pirates went big on Jean Eusebio and his stubborn approach at the plate (waits for the perfect pitch) has not led to strong results from the toolsy outfielder. That being said, they have quite a foursome on the mound to watch in Osvaldo Bido (pictured above), Santiago Florez, Noe Toribio and Samuel Reyes. All four have big league upside, plus they have Francisco Acuna, who followed up a strong year at Bristol with an even better winter in Colombia against better competition.
2017: If it didn’t have Ji-Hwan Bae, this group would look bad right now for the money spent. Bae looks to be a legit prospect and pushed this group up. I recently did a top-14 prospects from this signing class (started as a top ten, then I threw in extras). Only Bae and Juan Pie made our top 50 prospects list. The other 12 players all have some potential, but none of them put up a decent challenge for the 50th spot on our prospect list.
2013: The 2013-14 bonus pool was $2,426,000 and the Pirates got two big league arms out of it. Edgar Santana will be attempting to bounce back from Tommy John surgery in 2020 and Luis Escobar will be trying to regain his spot on the 40-man roster. The only other player still around is Adrian Valerio and he will have a tough time making the majors at this point.
2015: There are five players still active from this class and this was a very small group of 19 signings, with almost everyone signed within the first two weeks of a 50-week signing period. The Pirates have top 50 prospects Lolo Sanchez and Rodolfo Castro, as well as hard-throwing reliever Joel Cesar and 21-year-old right-hander Oliver Garcia, who made a lot of progress this season. Sherten Apostel was also in this class and he had a decent season for the Texas Rangers in A-ball. I posted it ahead of groups that have MLB players already, but it could end up lower on this list if none of these prospects reach their upside.
2011: This class produced Harold Ramirez and Pablo Reyes so far, with Eduardo Vera, Tito Polo and Elvis Escobar still playing in the minors. Ramirez was the big signing ($1,025,000), but Reyes at $90,000 could end up being better. Neither looks like a potential future star, so it’s unlikely there will be much value here.
2014: There hasn’t been a big league player from this group, which had a $2,200,300 bonus pool. There is still hope though in reliever Yerry De Los Santos, who was healthy in 2019 and dominant in Greensboro. They also have lefty starter Domingo Robles, who held his own in Altoona at 21 years old. Oddy Nunez gives them a third player, but injuries and conditioning issues have slowed him down.
2012: The Pirates went big on Michael de la Cruz and Julio de la Cruz ($700,000 each) and they took up nearly half of their bonus pool. Neither made it anywhere, despite a very promising start and scouting reports for Michael. Julio was a superstar in Extended Spring Training each year, then couldn’t hit once the games counted. Dario Agrazal is the only player from this class who is still active and he was traded to the Detroit Tigers this off-season. It was bad, but the lower budget puts it ahead of the next group.
2010: The Luis Heredia class. He didn’t make it, but three players signed that year made the majors, Dilson Herrera, Willy Garcia and Luis Santos. The problem is that none of them made it with the Pirates and they haven’t had much value. Only Herrera has been in the majors since 2017. Santos did the best with 0.2 WAR.