Cruz’s bonus is the highest Washington has given to an international prospect, tying what shortstop Yasel Antuna secured in 2016. Yes, that means Cruz, who turns 17 on Saturday, signed for more money than Juan Soto, Victor Robles and Luis García. That’s a product of a more competitive market and the club’s excitement for Cruz, who was fifth in MLB.com’s international rankings. He is listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, and he is a highly skilled infielder. The hope is that, down the line, his right-handed bat catches up to his defense.
Below is a full list of players the Nationals added on the first day of the international signing period. Moved from July because of the coronavirus pandemic, this period stretches from Friday to Dec. 15.
- Armando Cruz, SS, Dominican Republic — $3.9 million
- Gustavo Rivas, RHP, Venezuela (17 years old) — $450,000
- Enmanuel Ramirez, OF, Dominican Republic (17) — $200,000
- Doimil Perez, RHP, Dominican Republic (17) — $200,000
- Genderson Zapata, RHP, Venezuela (16) — $200,000
- Gabriel Agostini, LHP, Venezuela (16) — $170,000
- Jean Estrada, OF, Venezuela (16) — $90,000
- Cristian Batista, OF, Dominican Republic (16) — $75,000
- Winder Diaz, SS, Dominican Republic (18) — $20,000
- Edward de la Cruz, C, Dominican Republic (18) — $10,000
- Jefrem Leon, RHP, Aruba (18) — $10,000
The Nationals had $5,348,100 of international bonus money to spend this year. Any signings of $10,000 or less do not count toward that total. This year’s class, headlined by Cruz, is a familiar mix of shortstops, center fielders, a catcher and young arms to develop. One of the Nationals’ acquisition tenets is to accrue talent up the middle and let it fan out from there. It becomes more relevant when dealing with teenagers.
By signing with Washington, Cruz adds to a big group from the Dominican. Soto and Robles are starting outfielders for the Nationals. García, 20, was the everyday second baseman last summer after Starlin Castro broke his wrist. Antuna, 21, was added to the 40-man roster this offseason. And Eddy Yean, a 19-year-old pitcher, was the centerpiece of a trade package that brought Josh Bell to the Nationals on Christmas Eve.
That’s just the start of the team’s Dominican pipeline. Johnny DiPuglia, the Nationals’ assistant general manager in charge of international operations, has made huge inroads in the area since he joined the organization in 2009. His initial charge was to straighten a scouting operation riddled by scandal. Then the talent poured in.
Robles debuted as a 20-year-old in 2017. Soto followed at 19 in 2018, and García arrived in August at 20. Their success — and the Nationals’ willingness to fast-track them through their system — will put pressure on a major signing such as Cruz. But he now enters a mix of many budding shortstops, given the Nationals’ preference to build from that spot.
They drafted Carter Kieboom as a shortstop in 2016 before moving him to third base. They signed García as a shortstop, and he cracked the majors at second. In June, they used a second-round draft pick on Sammy Infante, a high school shortstop from Hialeah, Fla. Infante, Antuna and Jackson Cluff — a sixth-round pick out of BYU in 2019 — are the top shortstops in the system, aside from García.
Soon, though, Cruz will enter the minors and look to add himself to that list. Maybe he will leap above the others. The Nationals paid him as if he could.