Yoan Moncada is the biggest prospect in the game, thought he only started making waves in the media just last week. He's a nineteen year old from Cuba currently working out for all 30 teams (yes, all of them) in Guatemala, and he's about to blow the international signing process to pieces.
The young switch-hitting infielder, whose name is pronounced similar to "Johan", is a known commodity -- so known in fact that the Cuban government has accepted that he's destined for greatness, and allowed him to travel to and from the country freely to work out for major league teams.
This stands in sharp contrast to the tales of smuggling and failed escapes and bribery that surrounded players like Puig, Fernandez, or Cespedes. Other players have been granted permission to go to and from the country in the past, but they were always required to sign in Japan to maintain contact with family and friends back home.
It's not clear why Moncada was granted a Cuban passport, or if the player has some sort of deal with the government to make this possible, but the new process could be landmark for any other players who may follow in his footsteps and want to escape the dangers of trafficking by those looking for a payout from a prospective sports agent.
Ben Badler, writing for Baseball America, notes the curious case of Moncada as one of very real hype. He notes that scouts love to share whenever they feel a player is getting too much buzz, that it's a way of setting themselves apart from the pack. Except this time around, everyone is in on Moncada.
MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo spoke to multiple scouts who were on-hand, with one scout giving Moncada a 60 hit-tool, 60 power, 70 speed, a 60 arm and a 50 in terms of fielding. That's a five tool athlete. He's considered on par for his age with Yasiel Puig for the leagues he played in, and projected to be better than Rusney Castillo or Yasmany Tomas.
Due to his status as an amateur, Moncada will be subject to international signing limits and the bonus pool system, which is normally not the case for players out of Cuba. Consequently, his payout is likely to be more focused on a signing bonus -- a massive one.
According to Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports, who spoke to four team executives around the league, Moncada is expected to land a massive $30-40 million bonus. Teams would then be required to pay a 100 percent luxury tax on such a bonus. Furthermore, that team would then be limited to just $300,000 for the following two international signing periods, a full two years of restrictions, which adds to feeling of what Rays owner Stu Sternberg has described in the past as a signing system that actually penalized small-market teams.
Exactly when Moncada is ruled eligible to sign will also greatly impact the potential of certain teams to sign him. Major League Baseball has already declared him a free agent, but the Office of Foreign Assets Control (which is part of the United States Department of the Treasury) must grant him a license to work in the US.
The Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels have already exceeded their current signing bonus pool and will be restricted in the next period, which begins June 16, 2015. They would prefer Moncada be allowed to sign prior to that date.
On the flip side, the Rangers and Cubs would prefer the decision be delayed until the next period, as they are currently restricted due to excessive contracts in 2013-14. Unfortunately for each team's preferences, you can't rush the government.
Photo Credit: js.mlblogs.com
So what could this mean for the Rays?
Every team is in on Moncada, but the Rays have far different monetary restrictions than most of the league. The expected signing bonus and its penalty combine to equal the Rays' projected payroll for the 2015 season; however, there are a few factors that could be in the Rays' favor -- starting with the player's agent.
Moncada is not being represented by a sports agent. Instead he's chosen a CPA from St. Petersburg who has never negotiated a baseball contract before. Kiley McDaniel interviewed the as-yet-nameless agent at a recent showcase on Nov. 12 for Fangraphs:
From my conversation with this agent, he doesn't plan to bring in more seasoned baseball representation to assist him, either. He told me he wanted to keep his profile low and not let this negotiation turn into a circus or to be about him... That said, his involvement is a big part of this story. How this guy got hooked up with one of the best amateur talents in the world while the dozen or so agents that represent basically all Cuban players whiffed is only fueling the fire that there's more than a few things we don't know about this situation.
Nothing that's happened so far suggests that this agent can't properly handle the duties necessary for this situation (contract negotiations, coordinating workouts, managing expectations, dealing with the media, filing the mountains of paperwork, etc.) but you can be sure that some people are doubting him.
Who is this mystery man from the Rays' backyard? Handshake agreements are not uncommon for international signings, could it be the Rays are somehow in play? McDaniel went on to note that two agents from Scott Boras' agency attempted to attend the showcase but were removed from the premises by armed guards.
A curious case, indeed.
There's an expectation that Moncada may still need a year or two in the minors, but he's old enough to be a near-impact prospect, not a sixteen year old gamble like recent Rays signee Adrian Rondon.
If the Rays were to be in play for Moncada, it would be the second time this year they had targeted the top international prospect in baseball. Last July, at the start of the current signing period, the Rays landed Baseball America's No. 1 non-US prospect on his sixteenth birthday, the Dominican shortstop Rondon. And somehow there was never a question where he would go, it was always the Rays.
With comparisons made to Hanley Ramirez, the marks on Rondon are already high enough to place him in the top-five of the Rays top prospects list, which is not common for international prospects. In order to land such a player, the Rays spent nearly $3 million on Rondon, which exceeded the 15% cap above their assigned bonus pool this period.
In other words, the Rays are already in the same group with the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels. For the next two years, beginning June 16, 2015, these four teams will not be allowed to sign an international players for more than $300,000. That restriction, which may scare off many other clubs from signing Moncada for a huge deal, is already in place.
This too could play to the Rays' advantage, even if it means entering a bidding war with three of the richest teams in baseball. You can't be penalized twice in the same period.
Should future all-star Yoan Moncada be cleared to sign by the Office of Foreign Assets Control before June 15, 2015, and if the new front office believes the hype, you never know whether Stu Sternberg and Co. might break out the checkbook or score a behind-the-scenes deal.
There are few known commodities in minor league baseball and amateur scouting, but Yoan Moncada just might be one of them.