While the Tigers usually reserve their bigger amateur signings for the traditional international signing period in midsummer, they pulled off a big signing last week from the Dominican Prospect League, an emerging winter event designed to showcase the Dominican Republic's teenage talent for Major League scouts. There, the Tigers watched and signed outfielder Ignacio Valdez, whom they see as a potential power-hitting prospect.
According to the Dominican Prospect League website, Valdez signed with Detroit for a $280,000 bonus. It's a significant investment for an organization that has traditionally spread out its international money over several small and mid-level signings, but has pursued and signed some bigger talent over the last couple of years.
It's also a statement about the level of talent the Tigers see in a 16-year-old who's already listed at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds. David Rawnsley of perfectgame.org ranked Valdez as the ninth-best prospect in the league, but the top prospect who was eligible to sign this winter.
Valdez was one of six players eligible to sign out of the Dominican Prospect League's All-Star Game, but the first to reach a deal. Brian Mejia of DPLbaseball.com compared Valdez's style to Vladimir Guerrero, a very aggressive hitter with power potential, speed and room to grow into his already big frame. The Tigers reportedly had been following him throughout the prospect league campaign.
Tigers vice president Al Avila, who's in the Dominican for the annual Caribbean Series, confirmed the signing in an e-mail to MLB.com.
"Valdez is a very good athlete that has big power," Avila said. He added that Valdez has "raw tools now that, if they develop, can be a real force."
Avila didn't offer specifics on the contract, but there's an advantage to a big-bonus signing now in the wake of the collective bargaining agreement MLB and the Players Association approved in the fall. With spending to be capped shortly on international free agents, deals like this could be tougher to fit in the coming years. That cap will become tied to teams' records in later years.
Similarly, the Tigers invested big money in a Dominican prospect seven months ago, when they signed third baseman Adelin Santa to a reported $750,000 bonus. A year earlier, they spent big on Venezuelan outfielder Danry Vasquez, who made his pro debut in the United States this past summer in the Gulf Coast League.
The Tigers should still be able to fit in some bigger signings such as those under the new CBA, though it could limit the number of free agents they can sign out of Latin America. One of the club's strengths in recent years, however, has been its efforts to scout areas in Venezuela and other Latin American countries for under-the-radar talent.
As for Cespedes, his pursuit doesn't fit under an international salary cap, either. The Tigers have been steadfastly limited in their comments about the five-tool talent, more established at age 26 through the Cuban professional leagues and international tournaments yet untested in the United States. Still, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News on Monday that "it's correct to say" they're not out of the running for him, even after investing big money on Prince Fielder.