Cubs Sign Dominican Pitcher Yohan Gonzalez

July 2 is deemed as the annual starting period in which teams can sign young players on the international free agent market. In actuality, that's just another date on the calendar for the Chicago Cubs, who "scout year round" as one top club executive is quick to point out.

In truth, players from the international market can be signed 365 days out of the year. But it is the July 2 date that international players who are 16 or older (or will be 16 at the end of the current minor league season) can be signed to professional baseball contracts for the following season.

If a player does not turn 16 prior to the end of the current minor league season, he is not eligible to sign until the following July.

It's called the International Signing Period and the Cubs have made a few gambles on young talent from Latin America and other areas over the years.

If you were to compile a list of several of the Cubs' most notable signings from the "July 2" period over the past few years, that list would surely include such players as pitchers Juan Mateo and Carlos Marmol, and outfielder Felix Pie, the Cubs top prospect.

In 2006, the club's most promising signing was pitcher Larry Suarez, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound 17-year-old right-hander from Venezuela that Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita termed the best amateur pitcher in his country.

Another July 2 signing period commenced earlier this month and the headliner of that group's crop from the Cubs' perspective appears to be Yohan Gonzalez, a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic.

"He was probably the top pitcher that we signed this year," Fleita said of the 17-year-old Gonzalez, listed as 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. "He's a fastball-slider-changeup guy with a really good delivery and really good command."

No "official" list of signees from the July 2 period have been released by the Cubs – in part because the organization does not limit their presence on the international signing spree to just two months out of the year.

For instance, Chicago was able to sign two pitchers on the international market this past off-season thanks to the help of Steve Wilson, the recently appointed Cubs head of scouting in the Pacific Rim.

Those pitchers were Ryan Searle, a 17-year-old right-hander from Australia, and Hung Wen-Chen, a right-hander from Taiwan.

Searle reported to Mesa, Ariz., in time for Minor League Spring Training earlier this year to meet some of his future teammates and get acclimated to the U.S. before returning to Australia for the annual Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program.

Chen expects to make his Arizona Rookie League debut some time over the next several weeks in Mesa, Fleita said.

"We've had a lot of success signing players later on in the winter," said Fleita. "Our guys work year round and you never know when the next big player is going to come about. That's kind of how we like to approach it. I don't want them (the scouts) to think they just work and achieve to get to one date and the rest of the year is like a holiday.

"We're trying to approach it as though there's a player to be found every day, and our job is to get up in the morning and do the best we can to try and find that guy," Fleita added.

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