Players entering professional baseball via the Amateur draft tend to get most of the attention from dynasty owners. The trio of shortstops; Dansby Swanson, Brendan Rogers, and Alex Bregman will be the first names off of every draft board. Their development path is linear and they appear to carry far less risk. But if you aren't lucky enough to grab one of the top options in the first half of Round One, international free agents are the perfect high-risk/high-reward play that offer upside unmatched in the latter rounds of rookie drafts. I've ranked my top 20 international free agents and provided a round I feel comfortable drafting them in, if I'm picking in 12-team dynasty rookie.
*A general note before looking into these rankings. My philosophy on building a farm system is to go heavy on hitting. Pitching prospects are just too risky to justify carrying a 50/50 split. As a result, my rankings are top-heavy with offensive prospects.
- Eddy Julio Martinez - OF (Cubs) - Arguably the top offensive prospect to come out of Cuba this year, Martinez ultimately ended up signing with the Cubs after a supposed deal with the Giants fell through. Martinez is a CF prospect with solid power and speed and a well-rounded set of skills. I give him the slight edge over Diaz due to the power potential and would gladly use a mid-1st round pick on EJM.
- Yusniel Diaz - OF (Dodgers) - Diaz should be able to handle CF and his defensive capabilities will keep him on prospect radar even if he struggles in his stateside debut. His approach and his plus speed will make him relevant in fantasy leagues, but his power is a question mark at this point. If the power grows along with his reported physical stature, Diaz will shoot up prospect lists in the next year or two. He's a worthwhile risk just outside the Top 15 rookie prospects.
- Kenta Maeda - RHP (Free Agent) - An ultra-successful career in Japan gives Maeda credibility as he attempts to sign with an MLB club. The jump from the NPB to the MLB has been met with mixed results in the past few years, which puts a ton of risk on Maeda as a high draft pick. He is 27 years old, and I don't mind spending a late 1st round pick on him in dynasty drafts. If you're picking there, you're team had success last year, and you're going to get an immediate return on this pick (assuming he signs).
- Lucius Fox - SS (Giants) - Fox is all raw projection at this point. A 6'2" frame who plays an excellent shortstop or second base and boasts plus speed is a rarity in an 18 year old. Fox makes consistent contact despite little power to-date, but if the frame fills out as he matures he could take off on prospect lists. This could be a sneaky great sign for San Francisco. He's not falling past the second round in any of my drafts.
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. - OF (Blue Jays) - The comps to his father are obvious and aplenty. He owns possibly the best raw power on this list outside of Jhailyn Ortiz, and his fantasy value is minimally impacted by the demerits he receives for his size and likely shift down the defensive spectrum. Vlad Guerrero Jr. has an all-bat profile and should be a lot of fun to watch rise up the prospect lists.
- Yadier Alvarez - RHP (Dodgers) - Given the second largest bonus ($16 million) ever to an amateur, Alvarez has the most buzz of anyone on this list. He's 19 years old and going to move slowly through the organization after spending all of last season in the Dominican. The biggest risk in Alvarez's profile is that we don't know yet that he's a sure-fire starter. He's shown a fastball, slider, and changeup mix so far which hints at a future in the rotation, but both his command of those pitches and the development of his body are a few years away before we know what the true upside looks like. I'm looking at Alvarez in the 2nd and 3rd Rounds of draft, which given the buzz around his name, means I won't be drafting him anywhere.
- Vladimir Gutierrez - RHP - A 19 year old Cuban defector, Gutierrez is a projectable arm with a longer track record than Yadier Alvarez. His performance in Cuba leaves me a little more comfortable with Gutierrez over Alvarez since Yadier Alvarez came out of nowhere on to the prospect scene. He has a fastball/curveball combo and a frame of a future starter if he can fill out. Similar to Alvarez, his future role as starter vs. reliever is probably another year or two from being realized, but at the price he'll cost you, Vladimir Gutierrez provides excellent value. I'm looking at Gutierrez in Round 3 or 4 of a rookie draft.
- Byung Ho Park - 1B (Twins) - I'm extremely cautious investing in Park, who is 29 years old and has an incredible resume in Korea. I don't know how the power will translate, and I don't believe the stat line will hold up in standard formats compared to the rest of his 1B peers.
- Leodys Taveras - OF (Rangers) - A switch-hitting outfielder, Taveras has the athleticism and all-around toolset to make a big jump during his development. The package is unrefined, as you'd expect for any 17 year old, but the Rangers have an excellent track record of developing international prospects so I like what his future has in store.
- Wander Javier - SS (Twins) - A very interesting profile for Wander Javier who is built like a prototypical SS but shows the power and contact skills many of his defensive peers lack. We'll want to see the power displayed for an extended basis, but this ranking could look way too low in two years.
- Andres Gimenez - SS (Mets) - A sparkplug personality, Gimenez is often described as a future top-of-the-order player. He has plus speed and the defensive actions to stick at SS. No real power to speak of and while he shows the ability to make consistent contact, his bat will get challenged as he rises up the ranks. There's a deep tier of SS prospects behind Lucius Fox and Gimenez is one of my favorite in the bunch.
- Starling Heredia - OF (Dodgers) - Heredia is another raw power prospect and son of a major-leaguer. He's only 16 and is already 6'1" 215 lbs so we'll have to see how his body ages, but he could end up being the best corner outfield prospect in this class. He's also forever, forever away from The Show which hurts his stock a little bit. If you have deep minor league rosters, stash Heredia for 3 or 4 years for a shot at a future slugger.
- Jhailyn Ortiz - OF (Phillies) - The best raw power in this class, Ortiz is a masher. At 17 years old he's already 6'2" 260 lbs. so the body draws a huge red flag. The power is so legit that a move to 1B doesn't kill his value, but if the athleticism is lacking, he'll have trouble adjusting at the upper levels and won't be able to bring all of his raw power into the game.
- Jonatan Machado - OF - A Cuban speedster, Machado is super young (16 years old) and advanced for his age. He has excellent contact skills and flies on the bases. He's forever away from making any sort of impact, but we'll see him on organization Top 10's in a few years.
- Gilberto Celestino - OF (Astros) - A future CF prospect, Celestino draws praise for his defensive capabilities and his ability to put the bat on the ball. He lacks the power or speed skills to make him a top fantasy prospect, but he's a kid who could stay on the radar due to his ability to stay on the field and receive opportunities. All 16 year olds come with an extreme level of risk, but within that context, he's got about a high of a floor as you can get.
- Seuly Matias - OF (Royals) - Matias doesn't have the power of Ortiz or Heredia, but has the more complete package that could allow him to become the better long-term prospect. There is legit power in his profile but we'll have to see how it materializes in game situations.
- Jose Miguel Fernandez - 2B - Jose Miguel Fernandez is an intriguing name who just recently became available to MLB clubs. He missed all of last year due to suspension for attempting to flee the country, so there is likely some rust to shake off when he does sign. Fernandez does not have an athletic build and lacks above-average power or speed. What he does provide is plus contact skills and plate discipline. He gets on-base at an exceptional clip and has the kind of bat that can translate well to the States. He lacks true upside, but is an interesting name to take a flier on.
- Cristian Pache - OF (Braves) - Pache shows good speed in the OF and on the basepaths and fringy hit and power tools. He's a name to keep in mind, but one that could end up being available again next year.
- Omar Estevez - 2B (Dodgers) - A recent Cuban signee by the Dodgers, Estevez is a solid org guy. Polished for his age, the bat could play up as he develops but he's very much wait-and-see for now.
- Alvaro Seijas - RHP (Cardinals) - A 17 year old with a 94 mph fastball gives Seijas a starting point not many teenagers can match. The secondary pitches will need to come along in the next few years, but as he fills out and adds velocity on the fastball he has a future in the bullpen even if he can't hang as a starter.
- Derian Cruz *Bonus - SS (Braves) - The fastest player in the class, Cruz gets the last spot on the list due to his plus-plus speed. If he sticks at SS and shows enough stick to advance a few levels, Cruz could make his way on to fantasy radars.
- Gregory Guerrero - SS (Mets)
- Jeison Guzman - SS (Royals)
- Aramis Ademan - SS (Cubs)
- Juan Soto - OF (Nationals)