Well then… this was a surprise..
On Tuesday, Baseball America released their annual international signing bonus big board, this edition for the 2021-2022 signing class. The Mariners are listed as the favorites to sign two of the top 30 prospects on the board. While we were aware of Dominican shortstop Martin Gonzales, ranked no. 18 overall on the board, the big surprise came with Seattle listed as the favorite to sign no. 5 overall prospect Lazaro Montes, a 1B/OF out of Cuba.
Seattle spending big money on a single international free agent is a bit of a departure from what the organization has done in the past couple years. The most the team has ever spent on one single free agent is $2 million. That was Noelvi Marte in 2018. Julio Rodriguez was just a shade under that.
2019 and 2020 weren’t quite as beefy in terms of star power for the Mariners in the international signing period, but that appears to be changing course for the immediate future. Montes and Gonzales figure to eat up a decent chunk of the team’s bonus pool. In 2022-2023, the team is expected to sign shortstop Felnin Celesten to a bonus much larger than any international signing in team history.
So what are the Mariners getting in Montes? Well, he’s a massive 6-foo-4, 210-pound 16-year-old lefty slugger. Here’s what Ben Badler had to say:
Montes trains in the Dominican Republic with Aldo Marrero, who also trained Yordan Alvarez when he left Cuba. Like Alvarez, Montes is a physically imposing slugger, still 16 but with plus-plus raw power and good bat speed. For a hitter with such a large frame, Montes has a relatively compact swing with good path and leverage that helps him translate that power in games, with the ability to hit home runs to all fields against live pitching. Defensively, he is limited to either a corner outfield spot and possibly first base as he fills out, but the upside is a middle-of-the-lineup slugger. The Mariners are expected to land Montes.
Lazaro Montes has the upside of a middle-of-the-lineup slugger.
He works with the same trainer who worked with Yordan Alvarez.
And he’s expected to land one of the biggest bonuses of the 2021-22 class.
— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) March 2, 2021
Something considerable here is the fact a first baseman is ranked inside the top five prospects at all. Going back over the last decade of international free agent classes, there has never been a player with a first base designation listed inside the top five. There’s obviously still a chance Montes ends up in a corner outfield spot, but the fact first base is listed at all should be telling, in my opinion.
For what it’s worth, Yordan Alvarez received the 14th largest signing bonus of the 2015-2016 class. He was not ranked inside the Top 30 international prospects by MLB Pipeline.
Gonzales is another noteworthy prospects supposedly heading to Seattle when signing day finally arrives. Gonzales is a 5-foot-11, 160-pound gap-hitter for now:
Gonzales trains with Jaime Ramos, whose program for the 2020-21 class produced Hans Montero, a Dominican shortstop who signed with the Yankees for $1.6 million. Gonzales is a similar player and is expected to sign for similar money with the Mariners. He’s not a speedster but he is quick and athletic, with the actions and attributes to remain at shortstop. Gonzales has a short, level swing plane through the zone, which should lead to a high contact rate. He has mostly been a line-drive hitter with gap power, though he is starting to drive the ball with more impact as he’s gained strength over the past year.
16-year-old SS Martin Gonzales getting in some hacks in the Dominican Republic. Slick glove on the dirt too. Currently 6-0, 170. He figures to be one of the higher ranked prospects in the 2021 International Class.
— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) November 2, 2020
Last year, because of COVID, Major League Baseball, pushed back the international signing period from July 2, 2020 to January 15, 2021. Although nothing has been announced, that trend is likely to continue into 2021, so Montes and Gonzales may not be able to put pen-to-paper until January 15, 2022.
Certainly a nice surprise this morning for Mariners fans. Between Montes, Gonzales and the eventual Celesten, the Mariners have immense talent coming through their international pipeline right now. Tim Kissner and Frankie Thon Jr. has done a marvelous job with the international program over the past half-decade and their efforts should really be lauded by Mariners fans.