That most essential — and most difficult —position MLB teams seek to fill, shortstop, is where the Tigers are spending much of their 2022 international bonus pool, as reported by Baseball America.
The Tigers are expected to soon sign two teen shortstops listed among Baseball America’s top 21 prospects. Saturday is the first day international amateurs can sign professional contracts.
Javier Osorio, a 6-foot, 172-pound, right-handed hitter, who turns 17 in March, is a Venezuela native ranked 10th on Baseball America’s list of top 50 international talents.
Samuel Gil, 17, is another Venezuelan right-handed hitter, 5-9 and 154 pounds, and ranked 21st among Baseball America’s top 50.
The Tigers are barred from any conversation during the current lockout as MLB owners and the players association work to finalize a new contract ahead of the 2022 season. Team officials were unavailable to respond to questions concerning Osorio and Gil.
From Baseball America’s scouting report on Osorio:
“Osorio was an early standout in the scouting process as one of the most advanced players in the 2021 class. He has high-end bat speed for his age, with quick wrists and an aggressive swing that he snaps through the zone quickly. That bat speed helps him drive the ball with impact and gives him a chance to develop into a power-hitting shortstop as he fills out. Osorio’s best tools are on the offensive side, but he has the actions, athleticism and arm strength that could allow him to stay at shortstop.”
Baseball America’s summary on Gil was likewise impressive:
“Gil drew a lot of attention from scouts, moreso for his in-game skills than his raw tools. He’s an instinctive, high baseball IQ player who puts together consistent quality at-bats with an easy swing, good contact skills and an all-fields approach to get on base frequently. Gil isn’t a huge power threat, but he puts a surprising charge into the ball for his smaller, slender size. His game savvy also shows up in the field, where he has a good internal clock, plays under control and has a strong arm.”
The Tigers have a 2022 international bonus pool of $5,721,200. The pools are firmly policed by commissioner Rob Manfred’s office, with penalties for any excessive overruns. They have the same allowance as the Reds, Marlins, Rays, Brewers, and Twins — the second-biggest pool allocated by MLB, which bases its international budgets on market size.
The most generous pool ($6,262,600) goes to six teams ranked as competing in MLB’s smallest markets: Diamondbacks, Orioles, Guardians (formerly Indians), Rockies, Royals, Pirates, Padres and Cardinals.
The Tigers have been spending team-record sums on their earliest picks during two of the previous three drafts: $2.85 million in 2019 for outfielder Roberto Campos; and slightly more than $2.85 million a year ago on shortstop Cristian Santana.
They spent heavily, also, last year on another shortstop, Abel Bastidas. Santana was ranked 15th on the 2022 Detroit News Top 20 Tigers Prospects list, while Bastidas was 20th.
Yet another Latin teen and shortstop, Manuel Sequera, finished 14th. Sequera, 19, was signed in the same 2019 class as Campos.
The top-ranked 2022 international talent, in the view of Baseball America’s scouts, is Cristian Vaquero, an outfielder from Cuba who is expected to sign with the Nationals.
It is a different landscape, the Latin American baseball hatchery, than it was even a decade ago.
MLB teams now enter into “agreements” with superior Latin prospects as early as age 13, even though they cannot sign until 16.
It is one reason why MLB teams have been pushing for an international draft, mirroring the United States amateur draft, which is a key bargaining point as the owners and players haggle on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.