The Detroit Tigers opened the 2024 international signing period on Monday looking to change their long-standing poor fortunes in talent acquisition in the international free agent market. Of course, they’ve said that for a long, long time, and whether the new front office has done so or not, we won’t know for years to come.
This is the second IFA signing period under President of Baseball Ops Scott Harris, but as these relationships often take years to develop, Harris and Rob Metzler, the Tigers VP of Scouting, likely didn’t have much influence last time around. Since taking over, the pair have developed big plans for a new Tigers high tech training academy in the Dominican Republic, but this will take several more years to fully come to fruition. Harris and Metzler retained Tom Moore as director of international operations, and Miguel Garcia as director of Latin American operations, as holdovers from Al Avila’s front office group. Euclides Rojas remains in charge of Latin American player development as well. So, while the executives running the organization are different, the men directly in charge of the international side of their operations remain unchanged.
Obviously the international free agent market was one of Avila’s biggest weaknesses in running the Tigers. Despite he and his family’s long history of scouting the Caribbean and Venezuela, those contacts and that experience never translated into top talent being acquired and coming stateside. Some of their biggest expenditures, like Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos, haven’t worked out to date, and they haven’t really seen many smaller signings turn into complimentary prospects either.
There were a few more positive signs in 2023, as Venezuelan right-handed starting pitcher Keider Montero broke out in his age 22 season. Always lauded around here for his outstanding stuff, Montero took big steps in putting the whole arsenal together with better command. He started the year in High-A, and by late August he was pitching for the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens and looking, debatably, like the Tigers second best pitching prospect.
Venezuelan catcher Josue Briceno was another IFA signing who made a move this year. While his skills behind the plate need a lot of polishing, and may not ultimately be good enough to stick as a full-time catcher, the bat is the most impressive we’ve seen from a catching prospect in a long time. The now 19-year-old came stateside for his age 18 season and impressed with a 55 games stint in the Complex League and Low-A ball where he walked nearly as often as he struck out, and launched seven home runs. Infielder Cristian Santana was the top international player in the system this time last year, but struggled with some swing changes at the Low-A level in his age-19 season in 2023. Look for him to rebound this year.
Beyond them, the Tigers haven’t managed to find much at all since 2015 when Avila took over. That has to change, as the club continues to struggle in a market that constitutes nearly a third of all Major League Baseball players.
The Tigers had $6.52 million to spend on signing bonuses, in the group with second highest allotment. The Diamondbacks, Guardians, Orioles, Pirates, Rockies, and the Royals all receiving the biggest spending pool at $7.11 million apiece.
3B Nestor Miranda and OF Jesus Pinto
On Monday, the Tigers reportedly committed $1.5 million of their $6.52 million signing pool to Venezuelan third baseman Nestor Miranda. The 45th ranked player on MLB Pipeline’s international free agent rankings, Miranda is trained by Enrique Soto in Bani, in the Dominican Republic. He’ll turn 18 years old next month.
MLB Pipeline reports that the 6’3” 225 pound Miranda impresses with pitch recognition and advanced plate discipline for his age, showing the developing power to drive the ball out of the park to all fields as he fills out. Scouts also note that his overall athleticism improved in 2023, and better quickness, hands, and footwork make it more and more likely that he’ll stick at the third base position as he grows.
The Tigers have signed 3B Nestor Miranda (6-3, 225) from the Dominican Republic to a Minor League contract.— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) January 15, 2024
Miranda is ranked as the No. 45 international prospect by @MLBPipeline. pic.twitter.com/RCEnGIxQQX
The Tigers also signed Baseball America’s 41st ranked international free agent prospect, 16-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Jesus Pinto for a $900,000 bonus. Baseball America reports that Pinto has plus speed and a strong arm, potentially allowing him to stick in center field despite already being fairly well built for a 16-year-old. He combines that with quick hands at the plate, and developing power that could reach plus as his 6’0” frame adds muscle in pro ball.
Six more players announced
The Tigers also announced the signings of six more players, four from the Dominican Republic. All the rest are unranked by MLB Pipeline. Shortstop Jose Dickson, whose slender 6’2”, 158 pound frame looks like he could add significant muscle and power, was the next addition signed for $400,000. Shortstop Ronald Ramirez signed for $400,000, while outfielder Jonathan Moya signed for $270,000. Right-hander Albert Ramos, who stands 6’3” already and weights 185 pounds, rounded out the list for the DR.
RHP Branell Anderson, who checks in at 6’4”, 180 pounds, was also signed out of Nicaragua, a country that rarely features a lot of prospect talent but presumably isn’t typically as well scouted as many others, for $250,000. The Tigers did sign Nicaraguan right-hander Duque Hebbert after he showed out in the WBC last March. Finally, Venezuelan catching prospect Armando Lao signed for $300,000.
The Tigers committed about 35 percent of their bonus pool to Miranda and Pinto. With the other known signings on Baseball America’s board, we’ll roughly estimate that they have something like $2 million remaining, but that will probably change quickly in the days ahead.
The Tigers aren’t landing the top guys in this arena, but more so than any other talent pool, the teenagers signed as IFA’s are hardest to predict and project. Landing the top guys at this point in their development doesn’t necessarily mean much and is often a waste of money compared to just signing as many good young athletes as possible and seeing how they develop. Still, it’s worth noting that the Tigers haven’t really made any big changes to their international scouting and development yet since Harris and Metzler took over. We’d expect that to get increased focused now that other new staff is in place in most other departments.
The international signing period runs from January 15, 2024 to December 15, 2024.
The Tigers have agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with SS Jose Dickson (6-2, 158) from the Dominican Republic. pic.twitter.com/TMjBCjblRK— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) January 15, 2024
The Tigers have agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with RHP Branell Anderson (6-4, 180) from Nicaragua. pic.twitter.com/yo1VYlnGpF— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) January 15, 2024
The Tigers have signed OF Jonathan Moya (5-11, 203) from the Dominican Republic to a Minor League contract. pic.twitter.com/UWj2BLGjHz— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) January 15, 2024