Ortiz, Vlad Jr. lead Top 30 International Prospects list
Sixteen-year-old, 260-pound slugger is No. 1, followed by son of nine-time All-Star Guerrero
By Jesse Sanchez
Just watching teenage outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz step into the batter's box is enough to make the most seasoned scouts look up from their clipboards and put down their pens.
The sounds -- the whip of Ortiz's bat speeding through the hitting zone and thunderous cracks of the barrel colliding with the ball -- are inescapable. The home runs, especially during batting practice, and even in games, are spectacular.
The consensus among scouts is that the raw power Ortiz shows as a 16-year-old is rarely seen on the international market, and the rest of his game is not far behind. Think Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. Now, imagine them as teenagers and hitting from the right side of the plate.
Ortiz's baseball hero should surprise no one.
"My favorite player is Miguel Cabrera, because he has power and he can knock the ball out of the park so easy," Ortiz said. "Power is important, and I have a little bit of it. I would like to do what Miguel does one day, but I know I have a lot of work to do."
This year's Top 30 International Prospects list includes 20 players from the Dominican Republic, nine from Venezuela and one from Panama. The position breakdown is as follows: 15 outfielders, 11 infielders, two pitchers and two catchers.
The list also includes some familiar names. Outfielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and infielder Fernando Tatis Jr., the sons of former Major League players, are among the top international prospects in the class of 2015-16, ranked No. 2 and 25, respectively. Gregory Guerrero, No. 14 on the list, is the nephew of Vladimir Sr.
Guerrero Jr. could be the best overall hitter in the class. He reminds some scouts of his father, showing the ability to hit a pitch almost anywhere it is thrown. But Guerrero Jr.'s overall body frame is much bigger than his father's was at the same age.
But few prospects are literally as big as Ortiz or will have the type of impact on the market. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound slugger is expected to sign a bonus worth approximately $4 million when the international signing period begins on July 2, with the Phillies considered the favorite to sign the teenager.
"That date means everything to me," Ortiz said. "It will give me the chance to help my family, my mother and all of the people who have helped me get to this point. It's very important."
The first goal for a teenage prospect like Ortiz is to sign with a big league club. The next step is entering the team's academy in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, and soon after comes participation in the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer League. Teams typically decide after two years if a prospect is ready to start playing in the Minor Leagues in the United States.
It's not uncommon, though, for an international prospect -- especially one with a plus-tool like Ortiz has -- to begin his pro career in the U.S. as early as 17. Cabrera, Felix Hernandez, Carlos Gonzalez and Elvis Andrus, to name a few, all debuted in the U.S. at the age of 17.
International signing rules
These are the rules for signing prospects like Ortiz: An international player is eligible to sign with a Major League team between July 2 through June 15 of next year if he is 17 or will turn 17 by the end of the first season of his contract.
Additionally, any prospect that is already 17 or older and has not previously signed a Major or Minor League contract, resides outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico and has not been enrolled in a high school or college in the U.S., Canada or Puerto Rico within the previous year is eligible to sign during the period.
Each team is allotted a base of $700,000 and a bonus pool made up of four slot values based on the team's record for the previous year to spend on these prospects. Including the base, the money allotted to spend ranges from $5,393,900 for the D-backs, who had the Majors' lowest winning percentage last year, to $1,968,600 for the Angels, who had the highest winning percentage.
Additionally, clubs are again allowed to trade pool money. Bonuses of $10,000 or less are exempt and do not count against the allotment.
Teams that exceed the pools by 0 to 5 percent have to pay 100 percent tax, and teams that exceed the pools by 5 to 10 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 during the next signing period and also have to pay a 100 percent tax on the pool overage. Teams that exceed the pools by 10 to 15 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next signing period and have to pay a 100 percent tax on the pool overage.
In the most severe penalty, teams that exceed the pool by 15 percent or more are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods, in addition to paying a 100 percent tax on the pool overage.
The D-backs, Angels, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees exceeded the 2014-15 pool by at least 15 percent, and they will also be unable to sign any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods.
The international signing guidelines do not apply to players who previously signed a contract with a Major or Minor League club, nor do they apply to players who are least 23 years old and have played as a professional in a league recognized by the Commissioner's Office for a minimum of five seasons. Cuban players who are at least 23 and have played in a Cuban professional league for five or more seasons are also exempt.
The Cuban pipeline
Cuban pitchers Yadier Alvarez, Vladimir Gutierrez, Ernesto Martinez and Carlos Sierra, along with outfielders Yusnier Diaz, Yordanis Linares and 16-year-old Jonathan Machado, will be subject to the international signing guidelines because of their age and experience, but they do not qualify for MLB.com's list of Top 30 International Prospects for 2015 because they have not been declared free agents. Cuban infielder Andy Ibanez is eligible to sign, but it's unclear if he will join a team during the current period or will wait until the next signing period.
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.