Due to a widespread MLB investigation, the Atlanta Braves are likely to lose a number of top prospects to free agency in the near future, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Among those players is Kevin Maitan, a 17-year-old Venezuelan infielder who signed with the Braves for $4.25 million in 2016. The Braves may also lose other international prospects signed around the same time period.
Why is this happening?: The Braves have been under investigation for the past two months due to a breach of MLB rules regarding the international player market. Those infractions, committed under former general manager John Coppolella, are apparently egregious enough to warrant unprecedented action from the commissioner’s office. The Boston Red Sox had five prospects taken from them in 2016 following infractions of a similar nature, but Atlanta’s transgressions appear much worse. Our friends at Talking Chop have been all over every news angle from this investigation if you’re interested in reading further.
Who else is involved?: Maitan is the big fish, but catcher Abrahan Gutierrez also seems likely to have his contract voided. Gutierrez, 18, also signed with the Braves in 2016. He is the No. 30 prospect in Atlanta’s system, according to MLB Pipeline. There will likely be more players on the way, but none as important as Maitan or Gutierrez. Players acquired in the amateur draft, like pitchers Kyle Wright and Kolby Allard, among others, won’t be implicated. The same goes for top prospect Ronald Acuna, who signed with the Braves two year earlier than Maitan.
Why does this matter for the Tigers?: Because Maitan is really, really good. Even though he’s still light years from the majors, Baseball Prospectus recently ranked him as the No. 9 prospect in a loaded Braves farm system. He was considered the top prospect in the 2016 international amateur free agent class, and has even been compared to fellow Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera. Now that Maitan is a free agent, Tigers fans will be hoping he follows in Cabrera’s footsteps in Detroit.
Update: Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, among others, has confirmed that the Braves will lose 12 minor league players, including Kevin Maitan, as part of the punishment for breaking rules governing the signing of international players. All 12 players will be free to sign with any team of their choosing, and each will keep the bonus paid them by the Braves. Teams may make offers using their current bonus pool, or by using next year’s bonus pool, but cannot combine money from both pools to make a signing.
In addition, former Braves GM, John Coppolella has been banned from major league baseball. The Braves will also forfeit a draft pick next year, and will also be banned from spending more than ten thousand dollars on any international player in 2019-2020, and for two years beyond that will have their bonus pool cut in half. The ruling is likely the harshest punishment ever incurred for attempting to game the international free agent market.