On each of the past eight Opening Days, and 16 times in the past 22 openers, the Twins have played a starting shortstop from Venezuela or the Dominican Republic who entered professional baseball as an international free agent, rather than through the draft.
They hope to extend that tradition — well, in six years or so — on Friday.
The Twins signed 16-year-old Danny De Andrade, a Venezuelan shortstop with whom they have been linked for more than a year, to a contract worth roughly $2.2 million. De Andrade has been in the Dominican Republic since last year in order to train for his professional career, and has been extensively scouted by the Twins.
But while De Andrade is expected to be their highest-rated prospect, a report in Baseball America said Thursday that at least three other notable amateur shortstops are expected to be in the Twins' haul when the international signing period, delayed since last July by the pandemic, opens on Friday.
Freddy La Flor, Luis Rodriguez and Santos Martinez, all Dominican shortstops, are likely to sign with the Twins, as well as Dominican outfielder Reynaldo Madrigal and Venezuelans Andres Centeno, an outfielder; Jose Olivares, a righthanded pitcher; and Deiner Contreras, a catcher.
Assistant general manager Rob Antony said the team would not confirm individual signings until each player has cleared a physical. But "we're excited. We feel really good about the talent level we're adding," Antony said. "We're put ourselves in position to sign a few big-leaguers."
They have a good history of doing so, considering three-fourths of their starting infield last season — shortstop Jorge Polanco, second baseman Luis Arraez and first baseman Miguel Sano — as well as outfielder Max Kepler entered the Twins' organization this way.
The Twins are one of six MLB teams eligible to spend the maximum — $6,431,000 — on their international free agents over the next 11 months, and they plan to use that bankroll to sign roughly two dozen players.
"You can go one of two different ways — you can give $4 million to Wander Javier [as they did in 2016] and don't have any money for anybody else. Or you can spread it out," Antony said, citing another highly touted shortstop whose career has so far been derailed by shoulder surgery and a hamstring injury. "And this is a year where it makes sense to spread it out. There are a lot of interesting players."
Looking for them was made harder by the pandemic, of course, especially since Americans cannot enter Venezuela due to unrest in that country. Eligible teenagers began traveling to neighboring Colombia to take part in showcases, and the Twins hired a scout based in Medellin, Andres Garcia, to evaluate players. The best of them relocated to the Dominican Republic, and "we feel like we got plenty of eyes" on potential signees.
Chief among them is De Andrade, whom Baseball America ranks as the ninth-best prospect in the class, describing him as a natural shortstop who was "a line-drive hitter with doubles power early on, [who] has grown into more over-the-fence power lately as he's added strength."