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Tigers sign SS Cristian Santana, six other international free agents

Detroit got busy on the first day of this season’s international free agency period

Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Friday marked the opening of the 2020-2021 signing period for teams to come to terms with amateur international free agents. Accordingly, the Detroit Tigers announced contracts with seven players today.

The Tigers had the highest bonus pool in the league this year, and leveraged it to acquire two of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 international prospects in the class. The pool amount totaled $6.43 million, the result of the club’s brutal 2019 season which left them with the worst record in the game.

The standard operating procedure by which teams are able to finalize deals with players is famously shady, which is why they are able to close in on players so quickly compared to post-draft haggling. Thus, the Tigers were long projected to ink contracts with two of the more anticipated prospects on the market this year — Dominican shortstop Cristian Santana and Venezuelan shortstop Abel Bastidas — and did so swiftly after the window was opened to do so.

Cristian Santana

Santana is reminiscent of a number of the players Detroit has plucked from the international market in recent years. He’s a physically mature 17-year-old with a compact swing and an eye for breaking balls. With a more polished approach than many players his age, he’s likely to tear up the complex leagues and come stateside in a few years with a full head of steam. However, he’s not the most athletically gifted player and could move off the shortstop position down the line, but that’s not the end of the world.

Santana is the cousin of Tigers prospect Wenceel Perez, but they’re players cut from drastically different cloth. If he continues to develop power and continues to resist when pitchers try to bait him out of the zone with breaking balls, the bat could mature quickly along the lines of current Tigers prospect Isaac Paredes. The Tigers paid Santana a $2.95 million bonus, the largest general manager Al Avila has given to an international free agent while leading the team. Santana was the 14th ranked prospect in the class according to MLB Pipeline.

Abel Bastidas

Whereas Santana has less projection left than many of his peers, the book on Bastidas is all about projection. He has aptitude for the game, but continued growth in his slender frame will go a long way toward determining what kind of player he will be. The Tigers clearly see something they can work with, as they handed him a cool $1.175 million bonus. His reputation as a defender at short is all over the place — here’s what we wrote on the topic back in October.

MLB 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.

Scouting reports on the 17-year-old also note that, for a player with a slight build, he has some surprising juice in his swing. A good bat path and balanced mechanics go a long way toward making up for lacking physical strength, and he utilizes both traits well. While Santana will draw more eyes as he climbs the organizational ladder, Bastidas will perhaps become the more interesting player to follow because his range of outcomes is dizzying. He was Pipeline’s 27th ranked player in the class.

Other Players

The Tigers also agreed to terms with right-handed pitchers Joel Baez and Rayner Castillo, shortstop Jensy De Leon, and outfielders Carlos Pelegrín and Elian Riera.

Both Castillo and Pelegrín have been linked to the Tigers for months now, although this is the first time we’ve heard about the other thee players. Perfect Game noted that Castillo’s fastball already reaches the low-90s and his curveball has good action, but his tunneling of the two pitches is underdeveloped, decreasing their effectiveness.

The available video of Pelegrín, although brief, reveals a long and somewhat inconsistent swing. The Tigers were intrigued nonetheless, and signed him with a $550,000 bonus. “He’s a little more advanced than the rest of the kids because he’s older,” said Tom Moore, the Tigers’ director of international operations. “Power hasn’t really been much of his game in terms of performance, but he’s got raw power. Certainly to the pull side, he can really launch a ball.”

The Tigers are also expected to sign Yimmy Diaz, a shortstop who plays hard on defense but has a small frame and a flat swing, which caps his potential in the modern game. The fact that he didn’t sign immediately doesn’t mean anything in particular, and it’s probable that a contract will be announced within the next few days.

If the timing of all this seems a little strange to you, well spotted! In recent years, the signing period has opened on July 2nd, a date so important in the world of prospect reporting that it has become synonymous with the concept of international free agency itself. However, as one of the many consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, the 2019-2020 period was extended into October and date for the 2020-21 period to begin was shifted to January.

The path for international free agents to reach quality prospect status is a long one. It’s quite difficult to project players still just 16 or 17 years old, and we won’t get a good feel for them until they’re stateside and playing against higher quality competition.

Thus far, the Tigers newfound spending over the past few seasons has yet to see anyone break out, but for the most part their big ticket items are still just 18 or 19 years old. Outfielder Jose de la Cruz and infielder Adinso Reyes are two names to watch in 2021 as they make their way into full season ball. Hopefully, someone from this year’s class will follow quickly in their paths.