The Nationals have signed Dominican outfielder Juan Soto to a $1.5 million bonus, the organization's first international signing of any significant consequence since the notorious Esmailyn Gonzalez fiasco nearly a decade ago.
The signing has not been formally announced yet, but it was confirmed by a club source. MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez first reported the deal.
Soto, 16, is a natural right fielder with a "smooth lefty cut and projectable frame with above average power potential," according to a Fangraphs scouting report. He was rated the 13th-best prospect in this year's international class, according to Baseball America, 22nd by MLB.com.
The signing (which occurred on the annual July 2 date when international players become eligible) is particularly notable for the Nationals, who have completely shied away from major international signings since the Gonzalez case rocked the organization six years ago.
The Nationals signed a Dominican shortstop who claimed to be a 16-year-old named Esmailyn Gonzalez on July 2, 2006, handing him a club-record bonus of $1.4 million. Three years later, the organization learned Gonzalez had lied about his age and identity; he actually was four years older than he claimed and was named Carlos Alvarez.
That revelation, along with inquiries into allegations of part of the bonus money being skimmed by team officials, led to the firing of special assistant Jose Rijo and director of Dominican operations Jose Baez in February 2009. General manager Jim Bowden resigned three days later, ultimately paving the way for Mike Rizzo to take over the Nationals' baseball operations department.
After being burned so publicly by the Gonzalez scandal, the Nationals stayed almost entirely out of the international market since, signing mostly less-touted prospects for far less money. Some of those players have developed into top organizational prospects, most notably infielder Wilmer Difo and right-hander Reynoldo Lopez.
Thursday's signing of Soto to a new club record bonus suggests the franchise finally is comfortable delving back into the prominent international market.
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