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Don’t overreact to the international class

These signings are entirely unpredictable

East Fall Stars v. West Fall Stars Photo by Norm Hall/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2023 international signing period has come and gone. The Royals were not in on this year’s top prospects, with their highest rated being RHP Marwys Jorge. Many fans have not been thrilled with this signing class. This feeling is by no means restricted to Royals fans. I was motivated to pen this when I saw a tweet from Grant Brisbee in response to similar sentiments from Giants fans:

I think perpetually second-guessing what the front office does is just part of being a sports fan, but it is rather silly to stress about which dudes born in 2006 are being signed. Last August, I wrote about the struggles the Royals have been having for much of the past decade with signing and developing international talent. To quote a version of myself five months younger than I am now:

If the first-year player draft is a crapshoot, signing international players is trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet whilst wearing a blindfold, riding a horse. For every Framber Valdez, there’s 100 Yadier Álvarez’s.

Today I’d like to put some numbers to this to really illustrate the nature of international signings, and how their ratings as amateur prospects don’t really matter. To accomplish this, we will look at the top 30 international prospects for each class from 2013 to 2016. 2013 because that’s the earliest year MLB Pipeline provides international rankings, through 2016 for reasons I will explain in a moment. Among these prospects, we will see how many have reached the majors, how productive those graduates have been, and how many still play affiliated baseball. Let us begin.


2016 International Prospects

Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
40.00% 75.00% 0.00% 25.00% 23.33%

I’m using 2016 as the most recent year to illustrate a point. Most of these guys are around 23 years old. Those that haven’t yet reached the majors will hit minor league free agency after this season. That means that for many of these guys, 2023 is their last shot at making something of themselves in pro ball. If you’re 23 and entering your fourth season in A+, this is likely the last time you’ll see action in affiliated baseball. Expect the washout rate to be much higher for the classes prior to this one.

This class has had a pretty solid graduation rate with seven of the top eight prospects having reached the majors, though most graduates have been replacement level. The most productive so far has actually been #21 Randy Arozarena, who has put up 7.5 fWAR in parts of four seasons, 6.5 of which have come since the start of 2021. #1 prospect Luis Robert still has the most star potential in this class, but he will likely always be limited by his approach and he has been injury-prone of late. #8 Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is the only other guy in this group that has established himself as a solid regular.

Other notable players from this signing class that were not among the top 30 include Yordan Alvarez (who looks like the best player in this class), Oswald Peraza, and Luis Patiño.


2015 International Prospects

Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
33.33% 50.00% 10.00% 40.00% 46.67%

This is a fascinating signing class as it has produced a remarkable amount of high-end talent that were not necessarily the highest-rated prospects. The top ten in the class includes four players that are out of affiliated baseball (including three of the top five), three players that have been roughly replacement level, and Vlad Guerrero Jr, who was the seventh ranked prospect in the class. He wasn’t even the highest ranked Vladimir. The back half of the top 30 is even more impressive. The best player in the class was its #26 prospect: Juan Soto, who has already produced 22.8 fWAR. The #30 prospect has also developed into an MVP-caliber talent in Fernando Tatis Jr, while #19 Andrés Giménez has developed into a solid player as well.

A ton of talent came outside the top 30, including Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Emmanuel Clase, and Jazz Chisholm Jr. Everybody I have mentioned in this section save Guerrero was a lower-rated prospect than our good friend Seuly Matias, who is back on a minor league deal after striking out over a third of the time in AA in 2022.


2014 International Prospects

Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
16.67% 80.00% 20.00% 0.00% 76.67%

If 2015 showed how good an international class could be, 2014 showed how bad it could be. The top 30 have been nothing short of disastrous — just five players have reached the majors and only one has been better than replacement level. That one is Huascar Ynoa, who was the 18th-ranked prospect and has produced 1.2 fWAR in 122.1 big league innings. Nobody in the top 30 has established themselves as a major league regular and, though some members of this class are still young, a turnaround seems unlikely.

The best players from this class both came from outside the top 30 in Ronald Acuña Jr and Ozzie Albies. The Braves made out like bandits while no other team got much of anything out of this international class.


2013 International Class

Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
Graduated <1 fWAR 1-5 fWAR 5< fWAR Washed out
23.33% 57.14% 0.00% 42.86% 70.00%

This class can essentially be split into three segments. The top ten fared pretty well: six of them have reached the majors and three of those have developed into impact players. The best of them is Red Sox star Rafael Devers, the #6 prospect in the class. Eloy Jiménez and Gleyber Torres - #1 and #3 in the class, respectively - have also developed into solid pieces. The Royals secured the fourth-best prospect in the class in Marten Gasparini. He had only 50 career plate appearances above A-ball.

After the top ten, the quality drops off drastically. Only one prospect ranked #11-30 ever reached the majors and just three are still playing affiliated baseball today. The one that did make it, Jen-Ho Tseng, totaled eight innings for the Cubs between 2017-2018 and has not pitched in affiliated ball since 2019. Every single one of these mid-level prospects peaked as organizational depth.

Beyond the top 30 was a surprising amount of arm talent as Freddy Peralta, Pablo López, and 2022 NL Cy Young winner Sandy Alcantara were all graduates of this class. 2022 AL batting title winner Luis Arraez was also signed in this class.

My point here is that you should not get up-in-arms about the prospect rankings for the guys whom the Royals sign from the international pool. These types of rankings are almost entirely based on projection, which is incredibly difficult to do with 16-year-olds. The bust rate is extremely high whether a kid is a top-five prospect or an unknown that signs for ten grand. Oftentimes, the best player from a class flew under the radar at the time of signing.

We have clear examples of this currently on the roster. Salvador Perez was on nobody’s prospect list when he signed in 2006. He has developed into a franchise icon and one of the best signings from that international class. On the other hand we have Erick Peña, who was one of the highest-rated prospects in the 2019 class. He’s still young but already looks like a bust.

There are many reasons to be upset with the Royals. Be upset about poor player development. About the prices for tickets, concessions, parking. About the abysmal pedestrian access to the stadium. About the seeming lack of a clear plan. About the excuses to not spend money to improve the team. About the organization’s complacency and apathy towards entering every season with 90+ loss projections. But being upset about which teenagers from the Carribean the Royals sign is a trivial exercise.