We're just a few days away from July 2, which is basically signing day for the top international amateur prospects.
The July 2 signing period works like this: If you turned 16 years at some point since September 1 of last year, you are eligible to sign beginning on July 2. And if you turn 16 by the end of August, you are eligible to sign on your birthday. Each team is given a bonus pool based on their place in last year's standings, with the worst teams getting the most money to spend. As a result, you'll see a lot of players signing with teams that may not seem obvious, and that has a lot to do with relationships certain scouts have built with players, as well as certain clubs being willing to sign a larger percentage of their pool on a given player.
This signing period does not get as much hype as the draft, but just take one look at the organizational depth charts of teams and you'll see why this period is such an important time for the building of franchises.
"Some people call it a crapshoot, but that's not fair," an NL international scout said. "Yes, there are plenty of guys who get big bonuses who don't pan out, and plenty more who don't get that cash and become all-stars or solid regulars, but that's true about tons of aspects of baseball. The fact of the matter is that you simply cannot have organizational depth unless you do a good job on July 2, it's that important a timeframe."
While it's not a lock that all of these guys will sign immediately, and keeping in mind that you're unlikely to see any of these kids on a major league roster for several years, here are the 10 best international free agents -- five pitchers and five hitters-- who are eligible to sign in 2014.
(Note: The scouting grades listed are projections based on potential.)
1. Gilbert Lara, SS, San Cristobal, Dominican Republic
Potential scouting grades: 60 hit, 60 power, 50 speed, 60 arm, 50 glove
You wouldn't guess Lara won't be 17 until the end of October by looking at him, as he has one of the better bodies of any prospects in this year's class, already standing 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. He uses that strength to create a good deal of leverage and hit tape-measure shots to the pull side, although there is some violence to his swing that will have to be toned down if he's going to have a plus hit tool at the big league level.