Indians Reload Lower-Minors Through Bold Gamble

If the Major League Baseball Draft was the C-list Celebrity nobody pays attention to, the international signing period is Macaulay Culkin. Indeed, outside of the occasional injection of elite talent from Cuba, Japan, or Korea, the international signing period– often referred to as the July 2 signing period– is a time where Major League Baseball teams dream upon on the development of young latin players and gamble on physical profiles growing. Indeed, while high upside adds can be made, the fanfare is limited because the players are so far from the big leagues. In 2017, Shohei Ohtani threw a wrench into the process considering his bonus was to be applied to the bonus cap. With close to half of teams awaiting one swing at Ohtani, the Indians found an opportunity to make an aggressive move in the market.

The Indians must have felt bringing Ohtani could be a difficult task, so they utilized their 5.75 million dollar bonus pool to poach top non-Ohtani talent and refuel the bottom of their minor league system. The Indians pushed a large portion of their bonus pool in on two key players; George Valera and Aaron Bracho. According to major talent evaluation centers, each was near the top of the international class. According to Baseball America Valera was the No. 5 overall prospect during this international signing period and Bracho was No. 17. Fangraphs had them at No. 8 and No. 13 respectively. In order to provide context, both would grade out as late first round/supplemental round drafts picks in the amateur draft.

Valera is a toolsy outfielder described thus by Fangraphs prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen:

Thought not especially projectable, Valera has loose, quick wrists as well as natural feel for contact. He loads his hands low, allowing his bat to mirror that path of pitches and lift them in the air. He has some of the best natural hitting ability in the class and, as a corner outfield prospect without huge power projection, it will have to carry him.

Of course, projecting 16 year old players is as far from an exact science as is possible, yet, scouting has success and value in these contexts and the Indians have purchased a lottery ticket for $1.3 million with massive upside.

As for Bracho, he represents another high upside middle infielder in an organization with Lindor, Ramirez, Chang, and Castro. Lindor, however, will likely be out of Cleveland before Bracho enters AA, if he ever makes it that far. Still, Bracho brings an exciting skillset.

While he isn’t a lock to stay at shortstop, Bracho has a chance to hit and hit for power from both sides of the plate and should do enough of that to profile at either second or third base. He’s short to the ball and long through it, creating hard, all-fields contact.

In an international signing period where Ohtani represented the center of the market, the Indians spent the majority of their bonus pool quickly to jump on high upside in the Latin American market.  Ostensibly, the Indians zigged while other organizations zagged. The success or failure of this gamble, however, will not be discovered for half a decade.