Cuban right-hander Luis Morales, a coveted 19-year-old prospect who is expected to demand a record-breaking sum for a pitcher from the international bonus pool, will be eligible to sign with an MLB team on Sept. 7 after being declared a free agent on Thursday, a source confirmed to ESPN.
The Oakland Athletics are considered heavy favorites to sign Morales, who peaked at 97 or 99 mph in various workouts for MLB teams. He defected from the Cuban U-23 team in Mexico City in September 2021.
Morales, who held open showcases for teams in January and April in Mexico City, has a breaking ball that projects to be above average, but his changeup is a clear third pitch and his command still comes and goes, as is common for pitchers with that kind of velocity as a teenager.
Since most of the pool money in this current international signing period has been spent, Morales is expected to sign when the next period begins on Jan. 15.
The biggest bonus given to a pitcher since the international bonus pool was capped was to Cuban right-hander Sandy Gaston, who was given $2.61 million by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018. Shohei Ohtani received $2.315 million from the Los Angeles Angels in Dec. 2017.
Oakland has had a strategy of spending at the top of the international market of late. If the Athletics can land Morales as expected, it would have echoes of a bold move from the team's past. Prior to the salary cap, the A's set an international bonus record in 2008 by signing Dominican right-hander Michael Ynoa to a $4.25 million bonus.
Overall international pool amounts for each MLB team range from approximately $4.5 million to just over $6 million each year. The highest bonus for a pitcher in this current period was $1.7 million to Jarlin Susana, an 18-year-old right-hander who has already hit triple digits with his fastball and was included in the Juan Soto trade package from San Diego to Washington.
Pitchers are seen as a much bigger risk to teams at this age, with the top players usually signing at age 16. The top 15 bonuses in the current international signing period have all gone to position players, and at least one position player has received at least $4 million each year under this system.
Beisbolfr.com first reported the news of Morales being declared a free agent by MLB.