In addition, a little-known but also very important date in helping to fill the prospect pipeline occurred earlier this month. Starting on July 2 each year, 16-year-old international players can be signed as free agents without having to go through the draft.
Foreign-born players from just about every nation other than the USA, Canada and Japan are fair game. Prime Latin American hotbeds include the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico and Panama, but Pacific Rim nations such as South Korea, Taiwan and Australia also play.
These youngsters may sign with any of the 30 Major League organizations during the international signing period, which runs from July 2 to August 31. To be eligible, a player must be 16 years old by the signing date and turn 17 by either September 1 or the end of his first professional season, whichever is later.
This period represents a very competitive time for scouts, as without the structure of a draft, finding and signing top players can become an all-out war, complete with battle plans and a good amount of international intrigue and secrecy. Some of the top international prospects already rumored to have been signed by the Yankees, Braves and Red Sox could be receiving signing bonuses of between $1 million and $2 million.
With their renewed push into the international markets that began several years ago, the Cardinals added a number of premium players last season. They included shortstop Rómulo Ruiz and outfielder Frederick Parejo, Venezuelans currently competing for the Cards' new Gulf Coast League entry. At the age of 17, the two are the youngest players on their team.
To carry out their scouting and signing efforts in Latin America this year, the Cardinals have invested in an increasingly-larger contingent of scouts, including seven who now work for the organization full-time. They are Rene Rojas and Domingo Garcia in the Dominican Republic, Wilmer Becerra and Gregorio Gonzalez in Venezuela, Neder Horta in Colombia and Karl Heron and Carlos Heron in Panama. The club also employs a scout in Curacao, Fermin Coronel.
Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow describes how the work all came together this year. "Oz Ocampo managed the July 2nd process for us this time and did an outstanding job. We had scouting reports on well over 100 players across the DR, Venezuela, Panama, and Colombia," Luhnow explained.
The work of the local scouts was augmented by other experienced personnel from the Cardinals' American-based operations. Said Luhnow, "In addition to our in-country coverage, we utilized several US scouts to cross check the prospects, including Mike Roberts, Roger Smith, Joe Rigoli, Charlie Gonzalez, Steve Turco and Steve Gossett. Each of these US scouts made at least one trip to Latin America during the spring to evaluate the players. Enrique Brito covered all the top prospects, as he has done in the past, and I was able to see a majority of the top players during four trips to Latin America prior to the signing date."
Next was bringing all the information together into a game plan for July 2 and after. Luhnow gives a glimpse into how that was carried out. "We had a July 2nd planning meeting in Curacao in June with all of the Latin American scouts, Ocampo, Brito and myself. We spent three full days discussing the players, reviewing video, and planning our strategy."
The bottom line results to date are that the Cardinals have signed ten players to 2008 contracts, have offers pending to several others and expect to land at least one more top prospect before the end of this signing period.
While bonus amounts were not divulged, Luhnow was quick to point out the Cardinals should be considered serious players in this process. "We made offers on several players that received top bonus amounts, including three players that ultimately signed with other teams. In all three cases, we were either the highest or the second highest bidder," he said.
To cement the point, Luhnow closed with a general statement to reaffirm the organization's commitment to remaining competitive in the July 2nd process. "We invested more money in Latin America this year than any year in the past." It is worth noting this statement was made even prior to knowing if this year's signings are complete.
Want to learn about each of the ten newest Cardinals? Subscribers to Scout.com can review biographical information and insider scouting reports on each of the new players by clicking on this link.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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