The international free agent signing period will get underway on January 15th. After being delayed by the pandemic, the current crop of IFAs can sign with MLB teams provided they turn 17 before September 1st, 2022. This week at Twins Daily, Cody Christie and I will look at the Twins history in International Free Agency, dating back to 2009. What were the Twins' biggest swings and misses? Where did they acquire or miss out on value? Later in the week, we’ll provide offensive and defensive profiles for three prospects likely to sign with the Twins.
Note: The current MLB lockout WILL NOT impact international free agent signing as this period has been delayed since last summer.
2009 - The 99th Percentile Outcome Year
In 2009, the Twins had a defining year in international free agency. They signed:
- Miguel Sano to a $3.15 million signing bonus
- Max Kepler to an $800,000 signing bonus
- Jorge Polanco to a $700,000 signing bonus
The majority of international free agents don’t make it to the majors, let alone have multi-year MLB careers, let alone get extended by the teams that signed them. To have signed three players which fit that description in one signing cycle is a remarkable outcome. It’s not melodramatic to suggest that the IFA period in 2009 changed the trajectory of the Twins franchise.
In 2021, Sano, Kepler, and Polanco formed core pieces in the Twins lineup. Kepler and Polanco, in particular, are signed to owner-friendly long-term deals. Last season, the three combined for 6.2 fWAR, just south of $50 million in value. Not bad for a $4.6 million investment.
2013 - 2017 - Twins Find Value, Miss on Big Names
In 2013, the Twins signed a diminutive Venezuelan infielder to a $40,000 signing bonus. For an international free agent, this money is an afterthought, a lottery ticket. Throughout six MiLB seasons, he managed a .310 AVG, and .385 OBP. He already had a nickname when he came into the Twins system, ‘La Regadera’ (the sprinkler) due to his ability to spray the ball all over the field. His name? Luis Arraez. Arraez is a great reminder that international free agency is a lottery. Often the biggest name prospects underachieve, and players signed to middling or small bonuses can become superstars.
In 2014 the Twins signed Huascar Ynoa for an $800,000 bonus. He was later traded to Atlanta for Jaime Garcia. Ynoa put up 1.4 fWAR in just 17 starts for the Braves in 2021, managing a 27% K%. Another significant free-agent signing in 2014 was from the Diamondbacks organization. Jhoan Duran, a lanky, hard-throwing RHP, signed for just $65,000. He’s now the #5 overall prospect in the Twins organization.
In 2015 the Twins went bigger, signing Wander Javier, the #8 overall prospect, to a $4 million bonus. Javier’s career has been largely derailed by injuries. He struck out 34% of the time and managed just a 86 wRC+ at A+ Cedar Rapids in 2021.
Gilberto Celestino was also signed by the Astros in 2015. The #7 prospect came to the Twins by way of the Ryan Pressly trade. Lastly, of note, two prospects further down the MLB Pipeline rankings in 2015? Juan Soto (#22) and Fernando Tatis Jr (#27).
2018 - Current - Too Early to Tell
It’s difficult to draw conclusions from 2018 onwards as prospects have had limited time in the minors, particularly when considering a lost 2020 season. In 2018, Misael Urbina was signed to a $2.75 million bonus. The Venezuelan OF struggled at A ball last season, but with time on his side at just 19 years old, is an extremely promising prospect and ranked #12 overall in the Twins system.
Emmanuel Rodriguez was the big get in 2019. He was signed to a $2.5 million bonus. The left-handed OF is currently the Twins #20 overall prospect, after being ranked #8 in his international free agent class. Rodriguez’s professional career began in earnest in 2021, where he managed a 124 wRC+ and slugged 10 HR in just 37 games. Rodriguez is one to keep an eye on in 2022.
Finally, in 2020, the Twins signed Danny De Andrade, another diminutive infield prospect, who currently sits at #24 in the Twins system. Ranked as the #16 IFA in his class, De Andrade projects as a strong hitter for both average and solid power and has the defensive chops to remain at shortstop. De Andrade managed a .340 OBP in his first season with the DSL Twins.
International scouting, and free agency, is a complex, challenging lottery. For a mid-market organization like the Twins, it’s critical in adding organizational talent, and potentially, adding impact MLB level talent. Throughout the week, Cody and I will have offensive and defensive profiles of the three major prospects linked to Minnesota, starting tomorrow with the younger brother of an MLB superstar.