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Oakland A’s sign Robert Puason as international free agent

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The deal isn’t official, but was reported by MLB insider Jesse Sanchez.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have signed international free agent Robert Puason, reports MLB insider Jesse Sanchez. The team has not yet officially announced the deal, but it’s expected to be for at least $5 million.

UPDATE (1:00 p.m.): The signing is now official. This post is updated with a few more notes from the team’s press release.

Puason is a 16-year-old shortstop out of the Dominican Republic, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as the second-best international prospect of this summer’s class. Here’s their full scouting report:

Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 50 | Run: 65 | Arm: 60 | Field: 55

Puason has been on the radar for international scouts for several years and it’s easy to see why. The shortstop is lean, wiry and projectable with a durable frame. His tools are undeniable and his combination of speed and athleticism makes him a special prospect.

Overall, Puason is a fast-twitch athlete that makes solid contact from both sides of the plate. He has shown a polished approach with fluid swings and the ability to sprays line drives to all fields. He has good barrel control and extension for his age. Like most prospects his age, he continues to work on his hitting mechanics, and it’s the development of the hit tool that could make him an everyday player in the big leagues one day. For now, he uses a semi-open stance and semi-uppercut swing from both sides of the plate and projects to have average power. He’s already an above average runner.

On defense, he shows fluid actions and good footwork. He has an above-average throwing arm now with solid carry and it’s expected to get better as he develops. Add good hands along with great instincts, and it makes for an above-average package that could keep Puason at shortstop for the rest of his career.

Puason trains with JD Ozuna in the Dominican Republic. He’s expected to sign with Oakland.

As you can see from that last sentence, this signing doesn’t come as a surprise. Puason and the A’s have been linked for a while now, though no official relationship could be formed until the 2019-20 international market opened on July 2 (which is today).

FanGraphs gives Puason a grade of 45 Future Value, which would have placed him in the 4th-7th range on their A’s prospect list last winter (behind Luzardo, Murphy, Puk; tied with Beck, Mateo, Hannah; and just ahead of Armenteros, Neuse, Eierman). As with Pipeline’s rankings, FanGraphs had Puason as the clear second-best prospect in this international class.

Assistant GM Dan Feinstein said the following in the team’s press release: “Robert is a dynamic switch-hitter with the tools to play a premium position at a very high level,” said Feinstein. “He embodies everything our scouts look for in a young player, and we’re looking forward to his continued development as an Athletic.”

Hot takes

This is a massive deal for Oakland. Puason is a significant prospect, and I’d imagine he easily slots into the Top 10 of our Community Prospect List next winter. His signing bonus will be nearly twice as much as what they gave Lazaro Armenteros a few years ago, despite coming in today’s more restrictive spending environment — that’s not a precise measure, but it gives an idea of how highly regarded Puason’s tools are.

If you want to get big-picture with this, then adding this level of talent on the international market helps take the sting out of losing the No. 9 overall pick in the 2018 draft, when Kyler Murray left for the NFL. Granted, the two situations aren’t connected in any way, nor were they mutually exclusive options. But the point is, just as every team doesn’t lose a top draft pick to another sport, not every team scores this big of a prospect on the open market. You win some and you lose some, and the same front office was responsible for both results.

Of course, patience will be required, as Puason needs years of development before reaching the majors. Just speculating based on past precedent, Oakland’s recent top international prospects have generally debuted in the Arizona Rookie League at age 18, or occasionally age 17, which means we could hope to see Puason stateside in the minors in 2020 or 2021 (his 17th birthday is in September).

Bonus pool

I’m not 100% versed in the finer details of the int’l bonus pools, but the short version is that every team now has a set number of dollars and they are hard-capped at that amount. They can trade away the pool money, or acquire some extra (up to 60% of their original number), but at the end of the day there is a maximum they can spend on int’l amateur prospects.

There are no more unlimited bidding wars for top talents, and there is no more blowing past your cap and incurring future penalties to hoard top talent, like the A’s did to get Armenteros, Marcos Brito, and others in 2016. The playing field is now relatively level, with a few mechanisms built in to give smaller-budget teams a slight leg up via marginally bigger bonus pools.

The A’s began this 2019-20 signing period with a pool of $5,939,800, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America. What I’m not clear on is which recent trades affect that pool (if any) and which ones were attributed to last year’s pool, so let’s discuss further in the comments. (Did they pick up some extra 2019-20 pool from New York in the Kendrys Morales trade in May?) One way or other, though, they had enough to ink Puason, so the only question is whether they have more to spend on other int’l amateurs this summer or if they went all-in for this one big catch.

His name is Robert Puason.

Update: The A’s also signed 10 more players, though none are listed on the big boards (Top 30 or 40) at either Pipeline or FanGraphs. It’s not clear how much they signed for, but anyone who got $10,000 or less doesn’t count against the bonus pool.

  • Dominican Republic: RHP Yehizon Sanchez, RHP Jesus Silverio, and C Luis Marinez.
  • Venezuela: RHP Marco Breindembach, RHP Pedro Torrealba, C Carlos Franco, C Jayson Gainza, OF Moises Gallardo, and OF Joseph Rodriguez.
  • Colombia: OF Jasmed Diaz