On the first day of the new international signing period, the Astros substantiated the expected by blowing past their $2.197 million allotment.
The team on Saturday signed the first 12 players of their 2016-2017 class, a group of 16-year-olds headlined by Freudis Nova, a right-handed hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic. Nova, the fifth-best player in the class according to Baseball America, commanded a signing bonus of $1.2 million.
Venezuelan shortstop Yorbin Ceuta and Venezuelan righthander Angel Macuare were the next most-touted Astros signees. Ceuta, inked to a $1 million bonus, was ranked 11th by Baseball America and Macuare ($695,000) was ranked 40th.
The Astros also injected into their system two other shortstops, a second baseman, three other righthanders, two catchers and a center fielder.
Each of their signings hailed from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. All 12 will report to the Astros’ complex in the Dominican but won’t make their pro debuts until next year.
The Astros plan to continue to add players until the end of this international signing period, which runs through June 15. Their classes have averaged about 40 players a year.
This is the first time under fifth-year general manager Jeff Luhnow the Astros have exceeded their bonus pool, which means they will not be able to sign a player for more than a $300,000 bonus in each of the following two international periods. Ten teams are operating under that penalty for this period so the Astros decided to try and capitalize on the thinned competition pool.
“We feel great about the class and we feel very fortunate that ownership and Jeff and the front office have given us resources to go over our pool and pursue these players,” said Oz Ocampo, the Astros director of international.
Nova, the marquee name in the Astros’ class so far, was previously linked to the Miami Marlins before reportedly testing positive for steroids in February. Ocampo said the Astros conducted their own physical and medical assessments of Nova and were comfortable signing him based off all the information they collected.
“He’s one of the best athletes we’ve seen, one of the best athletes in this class,” Ocampo said. “He’s a shortstop with good defensive actions and a plus arm. Offensively, he’s got the tools to hit. He’s got a lot of bat speed.”
Ocampo called Ceuta one of the best pure hitters in the class, and said the Astros were especially impressed with his performance in games. Macuare is a 6-foot-3, 185-righthander with a fastball that already ranges from 90 to 94 mph and a power curveball, according to Ocampo.
The Astros’ first group of signings did not include any Cuban players despite multiple reports in April indicating the team agreed to commit $3.5 million to sign 22-year-old Cuban shortstop Anibal Sierra.
Ocampo said he could not comment on those reports.
“We’ve aggressively scouted all of the Cuban players in the market,” he said, “and certainly have and will continue to do our due diligence on all of those players.”