Must-Click Link: Scouting 14-year-olds in Latin America

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Ben Badler has an eye-opening report for Baseball America about how teams are scouting and committing to international prospects. Sometimes kids as young as 12 or 13-years-old, with 14-year-olds becoming the norm:

In Latin America, this sight is not unusual. The system now in place with Major League Baseball drives teams to aggressively scout 14-year-old boys, with trainers and agents looking for the next great 12-year-old. Want to sign one of the top 16-year-old players for this year? You’re probably too late. The aggressive nature of international scouting, combined with MLB’s bonus pool system, gives players incentive to reach agreements with teams earlier than ever. The 2014-15 international signing period begins on July 2, but for some teams, it’s already over, and has been for several months. The race is on to sign the top players for 2015.

Competition for talent is one driver, but another driver is the caps on bonuses to international players imposed in the last collective bargaining agreement. With only so much to spend — and with every team given the same amount to spend — the race is on to lock up more players at younger ages for cheaper amounts lest they have to pay way more when the player approaches 16, blowing their budgets. Or, to find out as international signing day comes closer, that no legitimate players are left, leaving them with unused bonus money.

The logistics of it all aside, it seems so unseemly. This exchange captures it for me:

They both look young—too young to be July 2 players for this year. One wears a Nationals shirt and carries a Phillies equipment bag. He looks like he belongs in Little League. He has the mechanics of a child and the arm strength to match.

“He looks like he could be a guy,” said an agent, using the industry nomenclature for a legitimate prospect.

No, he’s a kid. And baseball is treating kids like meat.

It’s a must-read.

Orioles acquire Jeremy Hellickson from Phillies

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In their second trade on Friday, the Phillies dealt right-hander Jeremy Hellickson to the Orioles for outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, minor league lefty Garrett Cleavinger and international signing bonus slots. The Orioles will also receive cash considerations from the Phillies.

Hellickson will bolster a pitching staff that, while not well-positioned to contend for a division title, still stands a slim chance of reaching the postseason this year. The Orioles have not yet revealed where he’ll land in the rotation, though MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli speculates that the right-hander could supplant either Chris Tillman or Ubaldo Jimenez.

The 30-year-old righty went 6-5 in 20 starts with the Phillies, racking up a 4.75 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 5.2 SO/9 through 112 1/3 innings in 2017. It’s a bit of a comedown from his performance in 2016, during which he maintained a sub-4.00 ERA for the first time since 2012. While Hellickson’s numbers haven’t been outstanding, he’s been relatively healthy and hasn’t sustained anything more serious than a mild knee sprain and back tightness over the last year. His presence should bring some consistency to an ailing Orioles rotation that currently ranks third-worst in the league with a cumulative 5.90 ERA and 2.2 fWAR.

The Phillies will receive some outfield depth in 29-year-old left fielder Hyun Soo Kim, who carries an underwhelming .232/.305/.288 batting line with five extra bases and 10 RBI through his first 142 PA in 2017. He made just 33 starts in left field this season and could step into a similarly limited role in Philadelphia’s outfield after the club traded Howie Kendrick to the Nationals on Friday.

Cleavinger, 23, has seen mixed results in his first Double-A stint this season. The left-hander dragged a 6.28 ERA, 5.4 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through 38 2/3 innings with Double-A Bowie and has struggled to improve both his control and velocity during three seasons in the Orioles’ farm system.

Although the deal netted Baltimore some much-needed pitching depth, they still have a long way to go before they can give the AL’s top teams a run for their money. Per FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, it doesn’t look like they’re done adding at the deadline just yet:

Mets acquire AJ Ramos from Marlins

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The Mets acquired closer AJ Ramos from the Marlins, the team reported Friday. The Marlins will receive two prospects in the deal, right-hander Merandy Gonzalez and outfielder Ricardo Cespedes.

The trade comes as some surprise given the Mets’ current status as non-contenders in the NL East, though MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo points out that they could position themselves for the division title again in 2018. They also have a proven closer in right-hander Addison Reed and will presumably continue to field offers for him before he hits free agency following the 2017 season.

Ramos, 30, is coming off of his first All-Star campaign with the Marlins in 2016. He racked up 20 saves in 40 appearances and compiled a 3.63 ERA, 5.0 BB/9 and 10.7 SO/9 over 39 2/3 innings in 2017. He’s due $6.55 million this season and will remain under team control through 2019.

The Marlins, meanwhile, will receive the Mets’ No. 9 and No. 22 prospects. Gonzalez, 21, began the season in rookie ball and advanced to High-A St. Lucie in June, pitching to a cumulative 1.78 ERA, 1.7 BB/9 and 8.4 SO/9 through 106 innings. He was ranked No. 5 among the Mets’ pitching prospects and No. 9 in their system, and has found some success in the lowest rungs of New York’s farm system despite some command issues and trouble defining his breaking balls.

Cespedes, 19, progressed to Short-Season A Brooklyn in 2017 after several stints in rookie ball. In 81 PA with Brooklyn, the center fielder slashed .240/.278/.280 with a double and 12 RBI before getting sidelined with an undisclosed injury.