- Gabriel Burns
The 13 free-agent prospects following Major League Baseball’s probe into infractions committed by the Braves under former general manager John Coppolella became eligible to sign with new teams on Tuesday.
MLB found the Braves responsible for a slew of misconduct in the international market, much of which occurred during the 2015-16 signing period, in which the Braves relinquished nine signees.
Coppolella received a lifetime ban, while international scouting director Gordon Blakley was suspended for a year. The Braves will be heavily restricted over the next three international signing periods.
The sanctions tasked new general manager Alex Anthopoulos with a unique challenge of maintaining a top-flight farm system without virtually any help in international free agency.
Four of the new free-agent players have found new homes, including infielder Kevin Maitan, the consensus best among the prospects the Braves forfeited in the ruling.
Maitan signed with the Angels for $2.2 million. The 17-year-old joined the Braves for a Venezuelan-bonus record $4.25 million. He was largely considered the best prospect of the 2016 international signing period, drawing comparisons to Miguel Cabrera.
Maitan will immediately rank near or at the top of the Angels’ prospect rankings.
But the early returns in the Braves organization were underwhelming. In 42 games across two rookie-league affiliates, he hit .241 with a .290 on-base percentage and two homers. Still, Maitan is a coup for an Angels franchise desperate to upgrade its prospects base.
The Angels also signed former Braves shortstop Livan Soto for $850,000. Soto hit .225 in 173 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League, though the 17-year-old Venezuelan is more regarded for his defense.
Yefri del Rosario joined the Royals for $650,000. He reportedly declined more lucrative offers to join the Royals because the late Yordano Ventura was his idol.
Del Rosario had a 3.62 ERA and 36 strikeouts to 14 walks across 37 innings in the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League. Del Rosario, 18, has a mid-90s fastball that’s topped at 97 mph.
Catcher Abrahan Gutierrez was the Braves’ second-largest signing of the 2016 period behind Maitan, earning $3.5 million. Gutierrez, another Venezuelan, signed with the Phillies for $550,000.
Gutierrez slashed .264/.319/.367 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 129 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League. He was widely considered one of the best catchers available in the period.
Eight Braves prospects remain unsigned, in addition to infielder Jihwan Bae, whose contract agreement with the Braves was disapproved by commissioner Rob Manfred.
The prospects can double-dip, keeping their initial payments from Braves along with their new bonuses, provided they sign before Jan. 15.
They can re-sign with the Braves, albeit without an additional bonus, on May 1. But such scenario is unlikely, as David O’Brien explained.
The following one-time Braves signees remain free agents as of Dec. 6:
2B Yunior Severino
SS Jihwan Bae
SS Angel Rojas
SS Yenci Pena
RHP Guillermo Zuniga
RHP Juan Contreras
OF Juan Carlos Negret
OF Brandol Mezquita
OF Antonio Sucre