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Top 5 Diamondbacks 2021 international signings

In case you got excited: this top 5 is based on the amount of information that could be retrieved from the internet. Sorry.

Colorado Rockies v Arizona Diamondbacks
International signings can bring much joy.

Last January 15 the international signing period started. Normally this period starts in July and ends in June the following year, but due to the COVID pandemic the start date for the 2020 international signings period was shifted forward to January 15, 2021. As such, clubs will now be allowed to sign international amateurs till December 15, 2021. In 2022 the same period will be maintained.

During this time clubs can basically sign players that do not play on American soil, save those players that are draft eligible for the Korean and Japanese leagues. The majority of them comes from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Obviously international signings are a big hit and miss. Most of the players are signed when they are barely 16 years old and are still developing physically, and mentally. Most of the times we don’t know how they will pan out. Some got many $ and never reached the major leagues. Others were signed for bargains and became important major league players. Ketel Marte, for example, was signed for just $100,000 by the Seattle Mariners 10 years ago. Miguel Montero is said to have signed in 2001 for a $13,000 signing bonus.

In previous years there was a soft cap for international signings, which meant that clubs could spend more money on international signings than actually allowed without any penalty. The Padres and Rays took advantage of this. Now there is a hard cap on international signings, so clubs are not allowed to spend more than their bonus pool.

The bonus pool is based on team market size and as such the Diamondbacks are in the second tier and have $5,899,600 to spend in 2021. The club will probably use all of it since it is one of the best ways to sign cheap talent.

The players that sign are either pitcher, catcher, outfielder or shortstop. The chance of seeing a 1B, 2B or 3B sign are slim to none since the shortstop that does not stick, normally because he outgrows the position, will move over to either one of the spots on the diamond.

The biggest signings normally take place in the first days after the period starts. Most of the international signings will play this year with the DSL D-Backs 1 or 2 although the best ones might go to the AZL Diamondbacks.

I spent some time trying to find some information on this year’s signings. Due to their age and lack of track record it is hard to find meaningful information, but I think some of the information I could find is worth sharing.

1. Manuel Peña

  • DOB: 12/05/2003
  • Country: Dominican Republic
  • Position: SS
  • Signed: January 16, 2021

He wasn’t considered an international top 30 signing by international prospect watcher Jesse Sanchez of MLB, but is still widely regarded as one of the better signings out of Dominican Republic. He hasn’t represented the Dominican Republic at international level although it is very tough to stand out in that country at young age with all that talent over there. If you have a subscription to Baseball America you can apparently find a scouting report on him, but Peña, who reportedly signed somewhere in the range of $1,200,000-1,400,000 is not unknown to the prospect sites.

As there are several (tiny) scouting reports available, I will keep my comments limited and just say that the left-hitting kid seems to spread the ball well. Take a look over here for a quick assessment and a video.

Peña also immediately hit the 2021 top 46 Diamondbacks prospect ranking over at Fangraphs, entering the list at 20, where they rank him at 3B, with a FV of 40+. He is the only international prospect of this year’s class to hit the Diamondbacks’ prospect rankings.

He is certainly one of the kids to keep an eye on as he will work his way up through the minor league ranks.

2. Jefferson Peña (MiLB page)

  • DOB: 1/13/2004
  • Country: Venezuela
  • Position: SS
  • Signed: February 5, 2021

Jefferson Peña was ranked a top 100 international prospect by Baseball America as well and considered as one of the top signings out of Venezuela. I couldn’t find any information on the signing bonus, but it was probably a 6 figure sum.

The reports mention that he is considered to be agile at shortstop with some speed, although to me it reads like he is a bit big-boned for his height at 17 years of age.

See for yourself over here and read a bit more in this google translate article.

3. Kenny Castillo

  • DOB: 5/13/2004
  • Country: Venezuela
  • Position: C
  • Signed: January 16, 2021

The Venezuelan tradition of delivering interesting catching prospects continued in 2021 where two Venezuelan catchers made headlines as two of the biggest international prospects. Unfortunately, Kenny Castillo isn’t one of them but that doesn’t mean he might turn out to be one. Jesse Sanchez of MLB Pipeline gave him a honourable mention and there are several videos of him available over here.

4. Jakey Josepha (MiLB page)

  • DOB: 05/15/2004
  • Country: Curacao
  • Position: SS
  • Signed: January 16, 2021

What? You call me excited and biased because the Diamondbacks signed a kid from the Dutch Caribbean? Of course I am not.

Josepha is an infielder who pitches as well, which is not an unfamiliar combination of course at younger age, although for the Diamondbacks he will probably focus only on position play. Bradley Stuart, vice-president of the Curacao baseball federation, was the (freelance) D-Backs scout that signed him.

Josepha played in the 2016 Little League World Series for team Curacao and there is a fielding and hitting video of him from back then. He also played in the Senior League World Series in 2019 for the Curacao team.

Obviously it is too early to tell and I am not a scout nor do I know anything about hitting or pitching, but Josepha isn’t a top signing from Curacao. The better known talent from the small island signed up for other MLB teams, but what isn’t there yet doesn’t mean it won’t come. However, I couldn’t find any information on him having represented the Kingdom of The Netherlands at U15 level, which is a fine indicator of talent, although a worldwide pandemic without baseball tournaments doesn’t help that case either of course.

5. Ezequiel Surun

  • DOB: 07/02/2004
  • Country: Dominican Republic
  • Position: SS
  • Signed: January 25, 2021

You could say there is some confusion since American sources call him “Ezequiel” while his own baseball school lists the kid as “Ezequier”. His last name is Surun though, and we are pretty certain that is the same kid that signed for $425,000 with the D-Backs.

There is some footage of him. He is listed as 6’0, but looked a bit taller to me. There is some speed but other than that it all came over on me as a bit stiff. But you’d rather look for yourself as I could not find any more information on Surun. There is some information on him available on baseball america for those that have a subscription.

Other 2021 international signings: