Major League Baseball will reportedly remove12 top prospects fromthe Atlanta Braves celebrated farm system and hinder the new-look front office's ability to participatein the international amateur market for the foreseeable future as a result of the leagues investigation into the organizations signing practices.
The infractions center around the organization's top international signings in the 2016-17 signing period, including switch-hitting standout Kevin Maitan, catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, infielders Yunior Severino and Livan Soto and pitchersJuan Contreras and Yefri del Rosario. Three prospects from the 2017-18 signing period, including Korean shortstopJi-hwan Bae, were also involved in MLB's penalties, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.
Commissioner Rob Manfreds office will declareeach player afree agent subject to international bonus pool restrictions. The Braves will forfeit the prospects original signing bonuses totaling more than $20 million.
League officials informed the prospects, whoare not eligible to re-sign with the Braves, of their status on Tuesday.
The league is alsoplacing punitive restrictions on signing future international prospects. The Braves were already limited to offering a maximum of $300,000 per player over the next two signing periods, but now reportedlycan only offer a maximum signing bonus of $10,000 during the 2019-20 period and will lose half their bonus pool in 2021. The penalties will dramatically affect how the Braves' new leadership restocks itsfarm system over the next four years.
The Braves will also forfeit their third-round pick in the 2018 domestic draft for offering second-round Drew Waters extra benefits, though he will remain in the system. Atlanta holds onto next summer's 8th overall pick.
League officials found the Braves were guilty of major infractions notably packaging signing bonuses in the 2016-17 and 2017-18 signing classes.
The improprieties led directly to the shakeup in the franchises baseball operations department, including the resignation of former general manager John Coppolella and international scouting director Gordon Blakeley. Former president of baseball operations John Hart left the organizationfollowingAtlanta's hire of new general manager and executive vice president Alex Anthopoulos.
Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk called the months his franchise was under investigation the toughest in the storied history of the Atlanta Braves franchise.
The Braves handed Maitan, the crown jewel of the 2016 international class, a $4.25 million signing bonus, headlining a star-studded amateur haulthat reportedly cost the franchise approximately $15 million. The switch-hitting shortstop drew comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and Miguel Sano during his rise as one of the most coveted international products in years. During spring training of 2017, Coppolella said another organization offered Maitan a $10 million signing bonus at the July 2 deadline. Maitan entered his first season ranked as a top-100 prospect in baseball by multiple outlets.
From what our scouts say, hes the best player to come out of Latin America in the last 10 years, Coppolella said of Maitan in July 2016. Its so hard to find offense in this game, as weve seen, and he has a chance to be a really special player.
Teenage prospects offerextreme high-risk, high-reward potential for clubs long-term bets still years away from approaching major-league success, if at all.
At 17 years old, Maitan played just 41 professional games in a Braves uniform, performing well in the Gulf Coast League before slashing just .220/.273/.323 at rookie-ball Danville. Questions about his future position and physical fitness remain, but opposing franchises will undoubtedly pursue the Venezuelan phenom.
Gutierrez, a 6-foot-2 Venezuelan product who trained with former big-leaguer Carlos Guillen as an amateur, ranked as the highest-rated catching prospect in the 2016 international class. In rookie ball this year, the 18-year-old hit .264/.319/.357 in 141 plate appearances. Even as the organization has stocked up on catching help Alex Jackson, William Contreras, Brett Cumberland and Lucas Herbert, to name a few through trades and the domestic draft, Gutierrezs upside made him one of the organizations most coveted names behind the plate.
Baseball America ranked Severino and Soto, shortstops from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, as top-20 prospects in their class. Severino played exclusively at second base and hit 25 percent above league average in the Gulf Coast League this past season, reportedly showcasing an advanced feel at the plate, while Soto carries a projectable frame and has flashed potential with his glove.
Bae was the newest high-profile international signee in the system. The 18-year-old Korean shortstop, who signed for right at Atlantas $300,000 limit, even drew comparisons to Nationals standout Trae Turner when he made his first trip to SunTrust Park in September.
The loss of 12 promising teenage prospects is the first significant setback to one of baseballs top farm systems since the franchise started rebuilding following the 2014 campaign.
By industry-wide consensus, the Braves claimed a top-three farm system heading into this offseason.
Major League Baseball approached the case with clear precedent: In July 2016, the Boston Red Sox lost five Venezuelan prospects and forfeited their signing bonuses after the league office discovered improprieties on the international market. After exceeding their bonus pool to sign Yoan Moncada during the 2014-15 signing period, the Red Sox packaged signing bonuses and funneled money to better prospects in order to circumvent their $300,000-per-player cap.
At his introductory news conference, Anthopoulos said the punishment, however punitive, did not affect his decision to take the position.
Long term from my standpoint the criteria for me, more than anything else, who are you going to work for and who are you going to work with? Regardless of what the fallout was going to be or what the sanctions may or may not be, thats not gonna change who Im gonna go to war with day in and day out, and who Im gonna work with, Anthopoulos said. Thats what excited me about this job.
"You just deal with those challenges and well get through them.