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Chicago Cubs Connected to Two of the Top 20 International Free Agent Prospect Bonuses

Recently, Baseball America talked up some of the top shortstop prospects in the coming International Free Agent class (January), and the Cubs were connected to one in the Dominican Republic. But that’s actually not the only top prospect to whom the Cubs are connected.

This week, Baseball America unveiled its top 20 IFA prospect list, and there are TWO Cubs-connected prospects on the list. The list goes by the size of the projected signing bonus, which is not a PERFECT ranking from a scouting perspective – those will likely come later – but it’s a pretty good quick-and-dirty way to rank prospects on whom we otherwise have very little information.

The first of two very-likely-to-sign-with-the-Cubs-in-January prospects:

11. Derniche Valdez
Dominican Republic, SS
Born: March 29, 2006. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 165. BT: RR.

Valdez has quick-twitch actions that show up in the batter’s box, where he has fast hands to snap the barrel through the zone with good bat speed. His swing comes through the zone well with a good bat path, which along with his bat speed helps him square up high-end velocity. Scouts highest on Valdez thought he had a good eye and showed the ability to square up breaking stuff, though others thought he would need to become a more selective hitter. He uses the whole field and has surprising impact for his lean, wiry frame thanks to his bat speed, driving balls out of the park in games with more power projection remaining. A plus runner with a plus arm, Valdez also has the bouncy athleticism and tools to be able to handle a shortstop.

Valdez is the third-highest Dominican shortstop on the list, which might sound super specific, but at this age, most of the top position prospects are currently playing shortstop, and a disproportionate volume of the most heavily-scouted prospects come from the Dominican Republic . So being top three in that specific group is quite solid.

And just sneaking onto the list, another shortstop prospect – and he’s got a family connection:

20. Ludwing Espinoza
Venezuela, SS
Born: Dec. 10, 2005. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 178. BT: BR.

The Cubs have several siblings in their system with the Hernandez brothers (Cristian and Alexis Hernandez), the Morels (Christopher and Rafael) and the Altuves (Brayan and Carlos) They are set to add another player with family ties to the system in Ludwing Espinoza , whose older brother Leonel is a Venezuelan shortstop the Cubs signed after the 2020 season who spent 2021 in the Dominican Summer League. Ludwing does a bit of everything well with good all-around instincts for the game. He has a sound swing, a mature approach and good bat-to-ball skills from both sides of the plate with gap power, showing a little more juice from the left side. A plus runner, Espinoza has a chance to stick at shortstop, though he could end up at second base. He has good hands, at least an average arm and is a savvy, fundamentally sound player who reads hops well and shows a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Given the nature of the IFA bonus pool – it’s a hard cap, and large-market clubs like the Cubs have the smallest pools – I’m surprised the Cubs are able to finagle two of the top 20 signing bonuses in the class. It suggests a disproportionate chunk of their pool money will be going to just these two players.

We’ll get more info on the coming IFA class as we get closer to the calendar flip. These players cannot officially sign until January 15, even if the “agreements” are in place long before that. Note that, while no international draft was installed this year, the whole wink-wink system might still change soon if a lawsuit in the Dominican Republic is successful.

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