Yohendrick Pinango – Picture by Todd Johnson @CubsCentral08
As the Cubs get ready for another international free agent signing spree on January 15, today is a good day to look back at how the Cubs have done in the international free-agent market the last 10 years, going all the way back to 2012. While the Cubs currently have just six players they signed an international free agency on the 40-man roster, there are a plethora of guys they did sign who are playing for other teams, just like other teams IFAs are playing for the Cubs.
To begin, I accessed North Side Bound‘s new IFA database and began looking at the collection of talent they signed.
One thing to take into account in assessing these grades is that most international free agents take a long time to develop. We’re just now getting to see the 2015 class start to make it to South Bend and Tennessee in the past year. I’m sure the lost year of 2020 hurt their development, as it did every other class, but it does take some extra time to develop, mainly because after they signed they did not play in the past until the next summer. With the signing date now in January, some of those timetables might move up quite a bit faster.
2012 – There’s no doubt that the 2012 class is going to be remembered for bringing aboard Jorge Soler and Gerardo Concepción, both of whom made it to Chicago and Soler was a key cog in the 2016 World Series run. Soler was also one of my favorite players on that 2016 team and I’m hoping the Cubs can bring him back this winter, possibly in a DH role which would be perfect for him. At one point, Oscar de la Cruz was the top prospect in the Cubs’ system for a brief time in 2017 before injuries slowly derailed his career. Adbert Alzolay was also a member of this class but it’s unclear on what his future is going to be going forward as to whether he starts or relieves. But with Soler and a World Series ring attached to him, it’s hard not to like the class just for him.
Initial grade: A-
2013 – There are a lot of mixed feelings about the 2013 international free agent class. The Cubs went spending crazy in getting Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres along with Erling Moreno and Wladimir Galindo. The Cubs used Torres to acquire Aroldis Chapman and helped win a World Series ring. Even 4 and 1/2 years later the Eloy trade still stings a bit. Jen-Ho Tseng would make it to Chicago for a few games. No one else from the class made it to Chicago. Still, there are two guys who could be all-stars for the next 4 or 5 years or more that the Cubs signed even though they don’t play for the Cubs. As a result, they get a pretty good grade.
Initial grade: A+ – and that hurt to type that.
2014 – Limited to spending just $300,000 on a particular prospect at most because of their splurge in 2013, there’s only one player still left in the system as of today. That is OF Yovanny Cuevas who still has not made it to full season baseball.
Initial grade: F
2015 – Originally, this class was loaded as the Cubs splurged again in international spending going way above the bonus pool and incurring two-year penalties rather than one. A lot of the big names are still in the system and are close to Chicago. Christopher Morel and Miguel Amaya come to mind along with Brailyn Marquez. Shortstop Isaac Paredes made it to the majors with the Tigers. However, the two biggest names both washed out of the system in the past year. Aramis Ademan retired and Eddy Martinez was released when his contract expired. I distinctly remember John Arguello praising this class quite a bit when the 20/80 Baseball website opened up and he thought this was going to be a great class. Unfortunately, we’re in a wait-and-see mode still as no one’s really stepped up and made it to Chicago. But if you do the math, they were 16-years-old in 2015 and most of them are now just 22 or 23-years-old. This is what I mean when it takes a long time to develop.
Initial grade: B
2016 – The Cubs had spending limits because of their 2015 extravaganza. Unlike 2014, this class still holds a lot of promise. Manny Rodriguez has made it to Chicago while Yovanny Cruz and Benjamin Rodriguez just need to get healthy and start pitching. Now that Danis Correa is healthy, he should be working his way to Tennessee and Iowa over the next year. The fact that the Cubs could have two relievers from one class that they couldn’t spend more than $300,000 on a player might be quite a thing.
Initial grade: B
2017 – This year saw the Cubs still under restrictions as part of their penalty for 2015. But the Cubs went with bulk and a lot of the prospects are actually started to make it to Myrtle Beach last year and some of them were outstanding in the Arizona rookie league including pitching Luis Devers and catcher Miguel Fabrizio, who both were named All-Stars in the Arizona Complex League. Lefty pitcher Luis Rodriguez is also included in this class along with Fabian Pertuz, Reivaj Garcia, and Luis Verdugo, three young infielders who all have flashed at one point in their careers. You have to remember these guys are still 20 and 21-years-old and would basically be juniors in college next year.
Initial grade: C-
Once more of these players start making their way up to South Bend and into Tennessee, this grade will dramatically increase. The Cubs went for quantity and they may have found some quality.
2018 – This year saw the installation of a hard cap for international free agency. The Cubs were given a set amount of money to spend and they went out and got 3 top 30 players on the first day in Richard Gallardo, Jose Lopez, and Joel Machado. Gallardo looked to be coming into his on the second half of 2021 and Machado looked good but only got in a couple of games before he was put on the shelf again. The surprise of the class has been the emergence in 2021 of outfielders Yohendrick Pinango and Felix Stevens, Both of whom were outstanding. The guy who is actually moving the fastest right now is reliever Gabriel Jaramillo who throws in the mid 90s and was outstanding at Myrtle Beach and I got to see him pitch a couple of times for South Bend. I came away impressed with his stuff and his ability to take direction from catchers and pitching coaches.
Initial Grade: B-
As these guys move up, this grade will as well. Next year, if things fall right, a B+ might be in order as several of them could be in Tennessee at some point with only 3 seasons under their belt.
2019 and 2021 – Both of these classes did not get to play at all until this year. The Cubs did go out and sign some big names like Christian Hernandez and Ronnier Quintero. Hernandez had a good debut season in the Dominican at 17-years-old. The actual star of these two classes that appeared stateside was none other than shortstop Kevin Made. I’m interested to see him improve next year as he survived and did pretty well in the second half for an 18-year-old in Myrtle Beach. Two names to keep eyes on for next year are outfielder Anderson Suriel and catcher Moises Ballesteros, who both showed the ability to hit the baseball this year in the DSL along with infielder Pedro Ramirez who tore it up with a 155 wRC+.
Initial grades – Incomplete. Next year they will get an Initial grade when most of them get stateside.