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Tigers expected to sign SS Cristian Santana, other IFAs in January

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The list of international players expected to sign with Detroit has a few other interesting guys as well.

Tampa Bay Rays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Among the many ramifications of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus on baseball was the delay of the 2020-2021 international free agency period. Normally, the window to sign players from the upcoming group of international free agents opens on July 2nd. Instead, players will ink their first professional contracts on January 15th.

Unlike in the MLB draft, players often agree to handshake deals with teams well in advance of being eligible to sign. Because of this somewhat shady element to the process, well-connected media outlets are usually able to get a good idea of where the best players in the class are headed. There are some notable exceptions; for example, Detroit’s signing of Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos for $2.85 million took the prospect world by surprise. In a world as well-reported as baseball, though, there’s few stones left unturned.

In short, while nothing is set in stone until the pen and paper meet, we have a general sense of which players will be joining Detroit’s farm system from the international market this winter. Now that the offseason is right on our doorstep, it seems like a good time for a look at the key prospects the Tigers are expected to scoop up.

SS Cristian Santana

It’s not especially surprising to see the Tigers interested in the 16-year-old Santana. They’ve been consistently attached to him over the past year. He also checks many of same boxes found in their top international signings in recent years. Always mentioned in scouting reports is his advanced approach at the plate; he’s able to spot breaking balls and find the barrel with more consistency than others. Baseball America praises his “compact righthanded swing” and his knack for “making frequent contact.”

He’s also more physically mature than his peers, but his body composition is fine, which is an excellent sign in terms of his athletic ability and strength projection. “He’s not a flashy defender, but he’s steady,” notes MLB Pipeline. The upside with Santana is an average shortstop who makes his money at the plate by drawing walks, fighting off bad pitches, and punishing mistakes.

SS Abel Bastidas

The experts at Baseball America and MLB Pipeline disagree on what to make of Bastidas’ glove. Pipeline sees a young man with the chance to be a very exciting prospect if everything clicks. It’s easy to be excited after reading their scouting report. They throw around nearly every superlative in the book when describing his defensive attributes, from his hands to his accuracy to his instincts. Baseball America is far less committal, saying that his motions are smooth but he could outgrow the position. If that happens, his destination will depend on how his bat has progressed, with a move to second or third base, or possibly a corner outfield spot, as his future defensive home.

At the plate, it’s all about projection. Standing at 6-foot-2 and rail thin, it’s easy to understand why the sources agree that he needs to fill out to reach his power potential. If the expected muscle arrives on schedule, he has a good chance to hit for power. Unlike many young players with disproportionate bodies, he sports a “smooth, fluid swing” with “good balance [and] some lift” The upside with Bastidas depends quite a lot on how his body composition changes in the next few years and his development will be a fascinating story to track.

In addition, the Baseball America report name-drops outfielder Carlos Pelegrin, right-handed pitcher Rainer Castillo, and shortstop Yimmy Diaz. There’s not much out there on the trio, but there is footage on YouTube of Pelegrin and Diaz here and here, respectively.

Baseball America notes that Castillo throws in the low 90s with projection for more velocity. He was a lanky 6’4” with room to add good muscle at his most recent viewings. Perfect Game’s profile on Castillo is from a 2019 world showcase, but notes good potential for his curveball as well. You can get a look at him here. Castillo isn’t a top prospect in the class, but is likely to command upwards of $500K for his signing bonus.