When baseball’s international signing period began on July 2, the Royals began serving a two-year penalty for blowing past their bonus pool in 2015. The club exceeded its allotted pool by more than 15 percent last year, and in accordance with baseball rules on international spending, it will be prohibited from signing international amateur players for more $300,000 for the next two spending periods.
But that doesn’t mean the Royals haven’t been busy on the international scene, assistant general manager Rene Francisco said. The team has signed more than 20 international amateur free agents since the period began in July, Francisco said.
“I think we did good with what we got,” said Francisco, who runs the club’s international operations. “We gave $50,000 here, $100,000, $75,000, $150,000 — we just kind of spread out the money.”
This year, the Royals’ international bonus pool consisted of $2,081,200, which ranked in the bottom third of baseball. They opened the period in July by signing outfielder Daytan Biegel of Curacao and outfielder Randor Vargas of the Dominican Republic, according to Baseball America. But most of the club’s signings will fall into the under-the-radar category.
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The financial constraints are the price for employing an aggressive strategy last year. In 2015, the Royals also had an international signing pool of just more than $2 million, according to baseball’s slotting system. But they ended up doling out $5.64 million in bonuses, according to Baseball America, blowing past the budget.
Seeing an opportunity to strike, the Royals signed Dominican outfielder Seuly Matias, the seventh-ranked player in the 2015 class, for $2.25 million and spent $1.5 million on Dominican shortstop Jeison Guzman.
Francisco said Matias, 18, and Guzman, 17, finished this season playing for the Royals’ rookie-league team in Surprise, Ariz., after beginning the year at the Dominican Academy. They could be players to watch in the long term.
The club also had two other big signings in 2015 — Venezuelan catcher Sebastian Rivero ($450,000) and Dominican shortstop Angel Medina ($425,000).
Despite the spendings restrictions over the next two years, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said he was confident the club could still scout and sign talent in the international ranks. And considering the track record, it’s easy to see why.
Royals catcher Salvador Perez and right-handers Yordano Ventura and Kelvin Herrera were all signed to bonuses of less than $100,000. (Ventura’s was a paltry $28,000.) All three were critical pieces of consecutive American League championships.
“You can get players at all levels,” Moore said. “The money doesn’t make the player.”
Young catcher Viloria turning heads
If you’re looking for a young international Royals prospect to track in the coming years, here’s one: Meibrys Viloria, a 19-year-old catcher from Colombia.
Viloria batted .376 with a .436 on-base percentage and six homers in 58 games this season at Idaho Falls, the Royals’ Rookie League affiliate in the Pioneer League. He finished the short season with an on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.042.
Signed out of Cartagena, Colombia, for $400,000 in 2013, Viloria spent part of 2014 playing for the Royals’ team in the Dominican Summer League before graduating to Rookie League Burlington (N.C.) for portions of 2014 and 2015. His offensive game, however, took off this season.
Royals officials caution against reading too much into the numbers at Idaho Falls — the ball flies in the high altitudes of the Pioneer League. But Viloria has flashed some impressive tools.
“I think he’s going to hit, and he’s going to be able to catch and throw,” Francisco said. “He’s a left-handed hitter. I think we got a good player.”
According to Francisco, the Royals found Viloria playing shortstop in his native Colombia but soon recognized he had a history of playing catcher.
“Our scout knew the kid well,” Francisco said. “So I went to see him, we had him behind the plate, and we signed him as a catcher.”