If there’s an overarching theme to the moves the Cubs’ front office makes, it would probably be the never-ending search for market inefficiencies. The current regime always seeks to find new ways to evaluate and develop talent, ways to get a jump on what everyone else is doing. Whether that is using computer simulations to map the neural pathways of elite hitters or drafting bats instead of arms, their strategies seem to have worked out pretty well so far.
Though it’s not received as much fanfare as some of their other initiatives, the Cubs’ focus on Mexico as a haven for international free agents may yield significant results over the next few years. Recent free-agency periods have seen them sign players like Carlos Sepulveda, Jose Albertos (more on him here), and Isaac Paredes, among others. They’re all very young yet, but getting out ahead of so many other clubs has helped the Cubs to establish a nice little pipeline.
There’s another reason for the interest in Mexico, though, one that goes beyond talent alone. Because of their big spending in previous international signing periods, the Cubs are handcuffed by restrictions that hold them to a max of $300,000 on any individual prospect. Considering that most top-30 international players sign for at least $750,000, you can see how those caps could really hamper a team’s efforts.
The rules in Mexico, however, allow MLB teams to significantly increase their spending power. Because a player’s local team keeps as much as 75 percent of his bonus money, and because MLB only counts the player’s portion of that bonus, the Cubs could potentially pay up to four times their limit without being penalized.
So it was that they were able to land Mexico’s top position-player prospect, Luis Verdugo, along with one of the country’s top pitchers, Florencio Serrano. The former was reportedly signed for $1 million and the latter’s deal is expected to be in the same neighborhood.
The 16-year-old Verdugo, a slick-fielding shortstop ranked No. 30 by MLB Pipeline, should enter the Cubs’ Dominican academy to begin his professional development. According to MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, Verdugo “has shown solid defensive actions and good footwork” and “is considered a contact hitter with a good bat path through the strike zone.”
He’s got a little room to add to his 6-foot-2, 180-pound frame, which should happen naturally as he matures. Verdugo also possesses the strong makeup this organization so covets.
The 17-year-old Serrano was not among those listed in MLB Pipeline’s top 30, though he came in at No. 29 on Baseball America’s list. After starting starting out at Robstown High School in Texas (just west of Corpus Christi), Serrano transferred to Tijuana Toros Academy. He reportedly features a projectable low-90’s fastball, a curve that scouts say could be a plus pitch, a slider, and a change.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Serrano’s got a decent build for a teenager, though he’s reportedly got a little effort in his delivery and could end up being more of a fit for the bullpen.
It’ll be several years before we can even think about either of these players making an impact in Chicago, if they make it that far. But when you consider the exorbitant cost of free agency and the restrictions placed on them on the international front, a couple million dollars on a pair of prospects is a great investment for the Cubs. And it kind of feels like they’re getting out ahead of the market, which adds a little fun to the whole thing.