Top-ranked Maitan headlines Braves' international haul
By Jesse Sanchez
The Braves are making their presence felt on the first day international prospects can sign, loading their Minor League system with several top international prospects, including top teenage infielder Kevin Maitan for $4.25 million, according to industry sources.
In addition to Maitan, the Braves agreed to terms with catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, ranked No. 18 on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list, for $3.5 million; shortstop Yunior Severino, ranked No. 19, for $1.9 million; shortstop Yenci Pena, ranked No. 22, for $1.05 million and infielder Livan Soto, ranked No. 24, for $1 million. The club also agreed with right-handed pitcher Guillermo Zuniga of Colombia for $350,000 and right-handed pitcher Juan Contreras ($1.2 million).
"This is a great day for the Atlanta Braves, our fans, and our future," Braves GM John Coppolella said. "We are excited about the impact these signings will have on our franchise for years to come."
The Braves announced 13 total international signings.
"First of all, I feel great," Maitan said in Spanish at his press conference in Venezuela on Saturday morning. "I'm really grateful. I don't have the words to describe how I am feeling inside, but I can say that I'm very happy."
Maitan, the switch-hitting teenage shortstop from Venezuela, has long been considered the top prospect for the international class of 2016. He is considered a sound defensive player and has displayed good range in both directions. He has one of the best arms in the class and good approach at the plate.
The Braves also agreed to terms with right-handed pitchers Guillermo Zuniga (17 years old, Colombia) and left-handed pitcher Lisandro Santos (17, Dominican Republic).
The Braves' other international prospects include outfielders Antonio Sucre (16, Venezuela), Jefry Ramos (17, Dominican Republic) and Franger Carrillo (17, Venezuela), infielder Braulio Vasquez (17, Dominican Republic), and catchers Adrian Adrianza (17, Venezuela) and Victor de Hoyos (18, Colombia).
"What we need to do is get their visas done, and the hope is we can bring them to the instructional league," Coppolella said of Gutierrez and Maitan in particular. "What they would do, kind of like our top two signing from last year in Derian Cruz and Cristian Pache, and hope they would start 2017 in the Gulf Coast League. And where it goes from there, we'll see. I think when you look at Andruw Jones, [he] hit two home runs in the World Series at age 18. Both of these kids are 16. I'm not saying they're going to hit two home runs in the 2018 World Series, but we think they're special talents that won't take six or seven years. They could be here fairly quickly and make a big impact on the Braves."
In accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team is allotted a $700,000 base and a bonus pool with four slot values based on the team's record in 2015 for the international signing period, which started on Saturday. Atlanta's overall pool total for this year's signing period is $4,766,000, which means the signings will thrust them into the maximum penalty.
Teams that exceed the pools by 0-5 percent have to pay a 100 percent tax. Teams that exceed the pools by 5-10 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $500,000 during the next signing period, and they have to pay a 100 percent tax on the pool overage. Teams that exceed the pools by 10-15 percent are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next signing period, and they have to pay a 100 percent tax on the pool overage.
In the most severe penalty -- such as the Braves this period -- 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, and they must pay a 100 percent tax on the pool overage.
"There were a lot of factors that went into it," Coppolella said. "One is the fact that there are so many teams in the penalty box right now. If you look at a lot of the large-market teams -- the Yankees, the Cubs, the Red Sox, the Dodgers -- could all not sign players to these contracts. That meant we could get access to these players, whereas we may have had to pay more or got priced out if it had gone into some crazy type of bidding war.
"The other part of it was we made some deals last year. You probably saw us make a lot of trades for foreign bonus pool slots. That was so we could not go over last year and that we could spend this year. This was really the plan we put into place probably about 18 months ago, and it's really a great credit to guys like [vice chairman] John Schuerholz, [president of baseball operations] John Hart, [chairman and CEO] Terry [McGuirk] and certainly to our scouts that work so hard."