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How the Yankees’ recent IFA classes fared in their debut seasons

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Players from the last two international signing periods made their debuts in 2021, here is how some of the more notable names fared in their first professional season.

MiLB: JUL 18 Low-A SouthEast League - Lakeland Flying Tigers at the Tampa Tarpons Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This coming Saturday, Major League Baseball’s international free agency (IFA) period will open as a new group of prospects will become eligible to sign their first professional contracts. The Yankees are expected to make a big splash, using most of their bonus pool to sign Dominican shortstop Roderick Arias.

Arias is rated as the top available prospect in this signing period by MLB.com and while he has not garnered the same hype as Jasson Dominguez did leading into signing day in 2019, Arias will still likely be installed as one of the Yankees’ top-15, if not top-10 prospects the moment he officially joins the team. With a new wave of international talent preparing to enter the system, it’s worth taking a quick look at some of the notable names from the past two signing classes who made their professional debuts in 2021.

The most anticipated debut in the Yankees organization and all of baseball this past season belonged to the aforementioned Dominguez. After losing the 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic, the wunderkind debuted in the Florida Complex League in late June before climbing to Low-A Tampa a few weeks later. At the Low-A level, where the average pitcher was nearly 22 years-old, Dominguez flashed his potential while struggling at times against more advanced competition than many of his 18-year-old peers were seeing at the complex league levels.

Dominguez’s best stretch of the season came in the 22 games from August 18th through September 15th, when he hit .313/.412/.482 as the Tarpons wrapped up their division title. He slumped in his last six games, including Tampa’s three playoff games. Baseball America analyst Josh Norris recently said that “There were no reports that matched the hype, period. There were also no reports that completely canned him either.”

Even leading into the season, many were speculating that it would be impossible for Dominguez to live up to the hype being thrown his way. That proved true, and yet most of the major organizations that rank future talent still have him listed as one of the top 100 prospects in the sport.

Signed at the same time as Dominguez but with much lesser acclaim were third baseman Enger Castellano and catcher Manuel Palencia. Both players made their professional debuts this past season in the Dominican Summer League. Castellano struggled with his bat, posting just a .650 OPS. Palencia drew strong reviews for his bat leading up to his signing, but faced questions on his ability to stay behind the plate. Nonetheless, he put together a solid campaign, slashing .302/.374/.371 while catching in all 33 games that he played. He did not display much power, with eight doubles making up his entire extra-base hit output for the season, but he also only struck out 15 times in 131 plate appearances.

The group of prospects set to see their International Free Agent class open on July 2, 2020, had to wait due to the COVID epidemic. Those players became eligible to sign on January 15th of last year, and the Yankees inked a number of players who began their careers in the DSL just a few months later.

The highest profile signing from that class was shortstop Hans Montero, a well-rounded shortstop who was well regarded as a prospect but not in the same echelon as Arias is this coming signing period. Montero struggled with the bat this year posting just a .592 OPS but still showed a knack for getting on base as he walked 14 percent of the time he came to the plate.

Immediately prior to the international signing period opening last season, a buzz developed around Fidel Montero (no relation to Hans). Not considered one of the better prospects in the class prior to COVID shutting down scouting, Montero developed physically and displayed better tools across the board when scouts saw him again in the lead up to January 15th. It was reported that several teams made a late run at signing Montero away from his commitment to the Yankees.

While Montero’s physical tools, including improved speed, a strong throwing arm, and plus raw power are enough to see him ranked as the Yankees 28th-best prospect by MLB.com, his performance on the field is still a work in progress. He struck out an alarming 90 times in 225 plate appearances while hitting under the Mendoza line for the year.

Several signees were flying under the radar when the Yankees inked them to professional contracts, but they produced in a solid manner upon reaching the field for the first time.

Left-handed pitcher Allen Facundo was not a January 15th signee but signed on May 15, 2021, just about two months before the start of the DSL season. Once play kicked off, he displayed an ability to miss bats throughout the summer campaign. On the season, Facundo finished with 84 strikeouts in 48.2 innings pitched. Fellow Venezuelan pitcher Luis Arejula also put together a strong debut season on the mound in the DSL. He struck out 12.3 batters per 9 innings while posting a 2.7 BB/9 in 44 innings of work.

On the offensive side of the ball, Daury Arias made a strong impact. A 5-foot-10 outfielder who signed with the Yankees in December of 2019, he hit eight home runs, which tied him for the most among Yankees players in the DSL. He also walked eight more times than he struck out on the season.

It may be hard to fully judge the players from the last two international signing class based on one season. The COVID pandemic disrupted the training, and competition cycle for the players who are often the youngest professionals in the sport. Several recognizable names struggled in their debuts, while other lesser-known talents performed when lined up on the same fields. For players this young, the final story is a long way from being written, but a new wave is about to see their stories begin.