By Rob Rains
The start of the signing period for international amateur free agents almost always comes without drama as players and teams make official deals that have been in place for months if not longer.
The Cardinals completed two of those deals on Saturday for players regarded among the best in this year’s class – but also added an unexpected signing from an unusual spot for high school talent.
Won-Bin Cho, a power-hitting outfielder from South Korea, was one of 12 players signed by the Cardinals and immediately becomes one of the organization’s most-intriguing prospects.
Cho, 18, is a left-handed hitter who played center field for his high school team in South Korea. He has appeared on the international showcase circuit in front of scouts, including winning home run derby contests.
Cho announced last August that he was withdrawing his name from the Korea Baseball Organization draft so he could pursue signing with a major-league organization.
Other than announcing the signing, the Cardinals did not comment on Cho or any of the other player signed on Saturday. The team has established a policy of not making officials available to the media during the MLB lockout.
Terms of Cho’s contract, and those of the other players signed on Saturday, were not disclosed. The Cardinals had a $6.2 million bonus pool available.
Cho, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, was considered by some scouts as a five-tool prospect and had been projected as a top pick had he remained in the KBO draft. He is the first Asian amateur player signed by the Cardinals.
In addition to signing Cho, the Cardinals finalized deals with two players ranked among the top 26 players in this year’s international class by Baseball America – 16-year-old shortstop Jonathan Mejia from the Dominican Republic, and 17-year-old catcher Luis Rodriguez from Venezuela.
Mejia, a switch-hitter who will turn 17 in April, was ranked 12th by Baseball America while Rodriguez was ranked 26th. The rankings are almost always exclusively for players from Latin America.
The nine other players signing with the Cardinals included seven pitchers, another shortstop and another outfielder. One prospect was from Mexico, the rest from either the Dominican Republic or Venezuela.
It is likely that most of these players will spend this summer on one of the Cardinals’ two teams based at their training academy in the Dominican Republic.
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Photo, left to right, Han Lee (Cho’s agent), Cho and Cardinals’ executive Matt Slater. Photo courtesy of the Cardinals