Here (pictured above) were 11 of the 14 new Washington Nationals prospects signed officially one year ago today as part of this International Free Agency (IFA) class of 2023 as reported by Anthony Puesán and @NationalsSource. Today, the Nats will announce a class led by OF Victor Hurtado and SS Angel Feliz that should eclipse the size of last year’s class. Speaking of size, there are some big-bodies teenagers in this group. Hurtado is 6’3″ at 16 years old, and Feliz is 6’2″. Many of these prospects can still grow in height, and as usual their weight will increase as their frames widen.
“[Feliz] has a very advanced approach at the plate, hitting ability, but he’s also got the ability to hit for power, and for being a big kid, he can really play shortstop. At the beginning, we were kind of wondering if he’s going to play there, or is he going to play third base. But the more I saw him, he made all the plays, routine, and [they were] difficult plays. He’s got a strong arm. He’s somebody that’s a leader, that’s got unbelievable makeup also.”— Fausto Severino, Nationals’ Director of International Operations
Most of the names are known at the higher end of this IFA class as players commitments are not a well-kept secret. Also, each team has a hard spending cap, and only players signed for $10,000 and less are exempt from that cap. The Nats have a cap this year at $5,925,000. While Baseball America’s article is a good read on the top prospects in this 2024 IFA class, they only rank the players based on their bonus amounts. Hurtado is listed as the 7th highest bonus this year, and Feliz is ranked 16th. Other sites rank the prospects on the 20/80 prospects scale. On MLB Pipeline, they rank Hurtado at No. 20 and Feliz No. 23.
There will be more names that are not on that list in this IFA class, and certainly the big names you will hear initially signed by the Nationals will be Hurtado and Feliz. This certainly sets up a nice class with the Nats getting away from what they had done in the past with spending most of their money on one top player, like they did with Yasel Antuna, Armando Cruz, and Cristhian Vaquero. That strategy leaves little room in spending on other players. For instance, the Nats paid Vaquero a total of $4.925 million, Cruz to $3.9 million, and Antuna got $3.85 million back in 2016. In contrast, Hurtado is expected to sign for just under $2.8 million and Feliz at $1.7 million per MLB Pipeline. Hurtado is repped by Klutch Sports.
— Severino said
“[Hurtado] is a kid that, as soon as we saw him, we fell in love with. He did everything with ease. As far as upside, he’s someone that we’re projecting to hit in the middle of the lineup when it’s all said and done, and someone who can actually play the field. A kid that works very hard, unbelievable makeup and flair. He’s kid that carries himself with a lot of confidence, and we like that a lot about him.”
Some teams have shown better results going with more top players, and a reminder that Juan Soto was the 22nd ranked player in his signing class back in 2015. If you think it is tough to sign 21 year old college players, the IFA process has you scouting players while they are in Middle School and committing to them at 15 years old. International players are officially eligible to sign with MLB teams when they are at least the age of 16, and must be born between Sept. 1, 2006, and Aug. 31, 2007 for this class.
Last year, the Nats signed three Top-50 IFA’s per MLB Pipeline in that class with SS Manuel Cabrera ($500,000 signing bonus) and ranked #39 on the International Prospect list, OF Andy Acevedo ($1,200,000 signing bonus) and ranked #45, and SS Edwin Solano ($1,200,000 signing bonus) and the #46 ranked prospect.
In 2022, the Nats signed the #2 IFA in that class as they inked the 17-year-old Cuban outfielder, Vaquero, to that team-record $4.925 million signing bonus. That had become the norm for the Nats over the years to spend about 80 percent or more of their IFA pool on one player.
Last year, the Nats had to pivot in strategy because of their top prospect, Anthony Gutierrez, reclassified to the previous year, and signed with the Texas Rangers. Not having the available pool money to sign him in 2022, the Nats pivoted to signing more mid-level prospects than ever before in this IFA class. As you saw in DSL play last year, that was a weak team. The architect behind it all, Johnny DiPuglia, had a parting of ways with the team after the 2023 season per general manager Mike Rizzo as it was reported that DiPuglia resigned, and Rizzo made sure in a radio interview to let it be known that it was a mutual decision.
After DiPuglia’s departure, the Nats named Fausto Severino as their Director of International Operations with Riki Vasquez as his crosschecker, and several scouts below him. Severino joined the Nats in 2009 as an administrator in their Dominican Academy.
“You have a different plan of attack for each year. This year, we got Hurtado and Feliz, and as time went on — and we could attack some of those other players, a lot of the kids in this market are very young, and you end up getting a lot of late-bloomers, kids that come out later that we really liked and pursued them. That’s our mentality to try to get the best players, and we had the budget for it, so we went and got some guys aside from those two prospects.”— Severino said today
This new class of prospects will all be part of the Nats’ Dominican Academy and should all be participating in the DSL this summer.
UPDATED: The Washington Nationals agreed to terms with 20 international free agents today from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Haiti. General Manager Mike Rizzo and Director of International Operations Fausto Severino made the joint announcement.
Here is the information on those 20 players: