Top 10 MLB International Signing Classes Since 1989
While international players have a long, rich history in the major leagues, their prominence has never been greater.
A total of 251 players born outside the United States were on Opening Day rosters or injured lists in 2019, the third-highest total since Major League Baseball began releasing such data in 1995. The two highest totals came in 2017 (259) and 2018 (254).
The rise of so many international players has led to increased awareness of and attention to the international signing period, which begins annually on July 2. Instituted shortly after the entry method for players from Puerto Rico was changed from free agency to the draft in 1989, the July 2 calendar introduced a formal period of signing eligibility to what had previously been a largely unregulated international market.
Just as certain draft classes were better than others, certain international signing classes stand out for being particularly talented.
Here are the best international signing classes since 1989, the first year players from Puerto Rico were included in the draft.
Foreign professionals who signed major league contracts, such as Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui or Yu Darvish from Japan or Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu or Aroldis Chapman from Cuba are not included.
Largest Bonus: Jose Pett, RHP, Blue Jays, $675,000
Top Signees: OF Vladimir Guerrero, 1B David Ortiz, RHP Bartolo Colon, 2B Luis Castillo, SS Carlos Guillen, SS Orlando Cabrera, OF Juan Encarnacion, OF Jose Guillen, RHP Kelvim Escobar.
With one Hall of Famer (Guerrero), another possible Hall of Famer (Ortiz), a Cy Young Award winner (Colon) and multiple-time all-stars all around, this class stands alone. Guerrero signed with the Expos for just $2,500 and Ortiz, then known as David Arias, signed with the Mariners for $3,500.
Largest Bonus: Miguel Sano, SS, Twins, $3.15 million
Top Signees: SS Xander Bogaerts, 3B Jose Ramirez, C Gary Sanchez, 3B Miguel Sano, C Willson Contreras, OF Max Kepler, SS Jorge Polanco, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, RHP Frankie Montas.
Bogaerts, Ramirez and Sanchez are franchise talents, and the Twins laid the foundation for success by signing Sano, Kepler and Polanco. 3B Maikel Franco, 2B Jurickson Profar, C Jorge Alfaro and 1B Ji-Man Choi further add to this class’ loaded position player group.
Largest Bonus: Willy Aybar, SS, Dodgers, $1.6 million
Top Signees: 2B Robinson Cano, SS Hanley Ramirez, OF Shin-Soo Choo, RHP Ervin Santana, RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, LHP Francisco Liriano, RHP Anibal Sanchez, 3B Martin Prado, C Miguel Montero.
The Red Sox began to assert their might internationally by signing Ramirez and Sanchez in this class. Both were traded as prospects in the deal that brought Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett to Boston and helped the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series.
Largest Bonus: Glenn Williams, SS, Braves, $925,000
Top Signees: OF Andruw Jones, SS Miguel Tejada, OF Carlos Lee, RHP Freddy Garcia, RHP Chan Ho Park, C Ramon Hernandez, SS Alex Gonzalez, SS Rey Ordoñez, RHP Francisco Cordero.
The impact of this class helped expand new talent pipelines. Jones was the first star from Curacao, and Park became the first South Korea-born player to reach the majors. Garcia’s signing marked the fourth straight period the Astros, owing to pioneering scout Andre Reiner, signed a future standout from Venezuela, following Bobby Abreu in 1990, Richard Hidalgo in 1991 and Carlos Guillen in 1992.
Largest Bonus: Eloy Jimenez, OF, Cubs, $2.8 million
Top Signees: SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Rafael Devers, 2B Ozzie Albies, OF Eloy Jimenez, OF Victor Robles, RHP Sandy Alcantara, RHP Dinelson Lamet, 2B Luis Arraez.
This class rose remarkably fast to make its impact on the majors. Devers, Albies and Robles all reached the majors by 20, Torres and Alcantara were right behind them at 21 and Jimenez and Arraez debuted last season at 22.
Largest Bonus: Lucius Fox, SS, Giants, $6 million
Top Signees: OF Juan Soto, SS Fernando Tatis Jr., 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. OF Yordan Alvarez.
Soto, Tatis and Guerrero all reached the majors by 20 and rank among baseball’s brightest young talents, while Alvarez is one of the game’s most dangerous sluggers at 22. Center fielder Cristian Pache and shortstop Jazz Chisholm are Top 100 prospects who could add to this class’ collective excellence shortly.
How Many Prospects Does A Team Actually Have? More Than You Might Think.
We examined every team’s farm system from 1998 to 2012 to see how many future major leaguers they had each year.
Highest Bonus: Angel Villalona, 3B, Giants, $2.1 million
Top Signees: 2B Jose Altuve, C Salvador Perez, OF Starling Marte, SS Jean Segura, SS Starlin Castro, RHP Kelvin Herrera, RHP Danny Salazar, SS Freddy Galvis, 2B Cesar Hernandez, RHP Alex Colome, RHP Liam Hendriks.
Altuve is one of the all-time great international signing stories after the Astros first turned him away from a tryout camp and later signed him for just $15,000. He heads a particularly impressive group of middle infielders in this class.
Highest Bonus: Unknown
Top Signees: C Carlos Santana, RHP Kenley Jansen, SS Elvis Andrus, OF David Peralta, OF Gerardo Parra, C Wilson Ramos, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Neftali Feliz, RHP Jhoulys Chacin.
This class is notable for how many converted position players became stars. Santana signed as a third baseman and converted to catcher, Jansen signed as a catcher before converting to the mound and Peralta signed as a lefthanded pitcher before reinventing himself as an outfielder.
Largest Bonus: Unknown
Top Signees: OF Magglio Ordoñez, OF Bobby Abreu, 3B Edgardo Alfonzo, RHP Ugueth Urbina, 3B Tony Batista, OF Roger Cedeño, RHP Ismael Valdez, OF Melvin Mora, LHP Omar Daal.
The Dodgers capped an incredible 12-year stretch of international signings by signing six long-time big leaguers in this class: Cedeño, Valdez, Daal, second baseman Miguel Cairo, righthander Antonio Osuna and shortstop Juan Castro. Abreu and Mora were two of the Astros’ early signings in a banner five-year run.
Largest Bonus: Jackson Melian, OF, Yankees, $1.6 million
Top Signees: C Victor Martinez, SS Rafael Furcal, SS Juan Uribe, RHP Jose Valverde, RHP Rafael Soriano, SS Cesar Izturis, RHP Grant Balfour, C Miguel Olivo.
Martinez signed with the Indians for $8,000 and Furcal signed with the Braves for just $5,000, but both became multiple-time all-stars among the best at their positions. Balfour has the most innings, saves and strikeouts of any Australian.