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SS Felnin Celesten headlines Mariners’ 2023 international amateur free agent class

Celesten’s contract is the largest for an IFA in club history

MLB: San Diego Padres at Seattle Mariners Lindsey Wasson-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 international amateur free agent period began on Sunday, January 15th, where it is now legal for teams to begin negotiating and signing contracts with players who will be at least 16 years old but under 25 years old on this date. The day was shifted from mid-summer to January in the past couple years, initially due to COVID but ultimately as an understandable shift, allowing newly-signed players to join the complex leagues the following summer. The international amateur market has been a source of some of the most important players in the Seattle Mariners’ return to the playoffs, including OF Julio Rodríguez (2017) and INF Noelvi Marte (2018), as well as several of their current top prospects like SS Axel Sanchez (2019), OF Gabriel Gonzalez (2020/21), and OF Lazaro Montes (2022).

Players from every country in the world outside of the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico are eligible for free agency through this system, whereas players from those three locales become eligible to enter the league only at the age of 18 via the MLB draft. The system for international amateur free agency has changed many times over the course of the league’s history, but after years of pure free agency MLB has placed increasing limitations on how much money teams are allowed to pay players under the age of 25 in international free agency. The current bonus pool system affords teams significant limitations, with each club receiving between around $4-6.5 million in bonuses to spread out each year (with Seattle in that top tier). Of course, unfortunately, MLB does not enforce or seemingly bother regulating its own rules, leading to a system wherein most or all of these deals are agreed upon by teams and trainers when players are much younger than the legal age of 16. Nonetheless, this is a celebratory day for many communities and families, as hundreds of players receive their first contract with an MLB team and begin the climb that will hopefully end at the top rung of the sport of baseball.

The Mariners announced seven deals on signing day, highlighted by SS Felnin Celesten, whose $4.7 million signing bonus is the highest total doled out by Seattle in franchise history to an international amateur signee. Celesten’s bonus is the second-highest handed out by a club in the 2023 IFA period; the Padres gave catcher Jorge Salas, the top-rated player in the class, $5.6M, which is the highest bonus ever in the modern hard-capped system. The Mariners are also likely to announce another pair of notable signings in a couple days, though Celesten understandably will occupy the majority of the spotlight.

Celesten is the highest-rated prospect from international free agency ever signed by Seattle, at 2nd by MLB Pipeline and 3rd by Baseball America, surpassing Noelvi Marte who was 7th and 4th respectively. The scouting report is strong: with a 6’1 frame that packs lean muscle, the Dominican Republic native switch-hits and has drawn rave reviews for his glovework and athleticism, as well as explosive pop and barrel control at the plate. Seattle obviously agrees, and the 17-year-old could quickly become the club’s top middle infield prospect, albeit several years from the bigs in the best of cases. Because of the improved physicality of Celesten, the comparisons have grown astronomically, to where his name is already in the mix with some of the best shortstop prospects of international signees in recent memory.

The Mariners are also excited about Celesten—whose nickname is “El Fénix” (The Phoenix)—as a person, with Mariners international scouting director Frankie Thon Jr. saying, “getting to know Felnin as a person has been just as rewarding as getting to evaluate him as a player. The flair, confidence, and swagger that he displays between the lines, is complimented by a soft-spoken, polite, and thoughtful disposition off the field. Felnin certainly has all the ingredients to eventually grow into an impactful member of the Mariners organization, in every sense of the word.”

The second-largest bonus in Seattle’s pool reportedly has gone to RHP Jeter Martinez, with $600k luring the Mexican hurler to the M’s. The 6’3 righty works in the upper-80s/low-90s with sink and has graded by MLB Pipeline as the best player out of Mexico this year.

In addition to Celesten, Mariners have officially signed four other players out of the Dominican Republic. Not to be confused with Top-100 Cubs prospect Kevin Alcantara, Kelvin Alcantara is a six-foot outfielder who is 17 years old. Thon Jr. describes him as “one of the best gap-to-gap hitters in the signing class, complimented by solid defensive skills.” Left-handed-hitting Delfry Carrasco, also from the DR, is an older signing, at 18; he profiles as a versatile defender who can play all over the dirt, and per Thon Jr., has an on-base-oriented approach at the plate. (We’re not sure if he’s related to Astros prospect Deury Carrasco, but the two do follow each other on Instagram.) OF Kay Robles is another older signing, at 18; he’s 6’2” with a strong, athletic body and is probably close to maxed-out physically, but Thon Jr. describes him as a “unique athlete” with plus speed and raw strength from the right side. He profiles as a centerfielder. RHP Ruddy Navarro, whose nickname is “Cabra” (“goat), is already 6’1” at just 16 years old; Thon Jr. describes Navarro as a “good athlete” who possesses a fastball and changeup already, and he’s working on a slider.

The Mariners also signed 16-year-old Sebastian de Andrade, a catcher from Venezuela. Built like a fire hydrant, de Andrade has a big, aggressive, uppercut swing from the right side. Thon Jr. describes him as having a solid set of tools behind the plate.

Seattle also made a signing out of Nicaragua, a relative rarity for the club: RHP Kendal Meza. Meza, 17, profiles as a power pitcher, with a fastball that already sits in the mid-to-low-90s paired with a solid breaking ball and, per Thon Jr., an up-tempo, aggressive approach on the mound.

Updated signings:

Because of logistics, not every signing has been made official yet, such as Jeter Martinez. However, there are a few other players who should be joining up with the organization over the coming weeks; we’ll update you on them here. UPDATE: Six more players have officially been made Mariners, the team announced on Tuesday. In addition to Jeter Martinez, profiled earlier here, they are:

RHP Dylan Wilson, Curaçao:

Wilson is another hard-throwing youngster who has significant experience playing in Curaçao’s Liga Pabou Little League. At just 17, he’s already reportedly in the 90s with his fastball and also flashes a plus curve. Wilson hasn’t been officially announced yet, but his Instagram (dylanwilsonbaseball) shows pictures of him signing his professional contract, along with his chosen number (44, if that tells you anything about his personality). Thon Jr. notes that in addition to the whiff-getting potential of his curveball, he has plus mechanics and utilizes his long, athletic frame well.

SS Gustavo Beltran, Venezuela

Like Wilson, Beltran has also posted a video of him signing his professional contract and donning his Mariners jersey on Instagram. Sadly that’s about all we know about him, other than the fact that he uses the otter emoji on many of his posts, which makes us really hope his nickname is “La Nutria.” Update: Per Thon Jr., the 5’8” Beltran is a plus runner with a compact swing. Although listed as a shortstop, he plays primarily second base.

OF Jean Carlos Gutierrez, Barquisimeto, Venezuela

Gutierrez’s Instagram shows a tall, well-built kid, which makes sense as he profiles as a power-hitting corner outfielder. Thon Jr. describes the 17-year-old as an above-average athlete with plus raw power and solid speed. In Venezuela, Gutierrez played for the Liga Izturis, a league founded by 13-year MLB player César Izturis (who is also the father of current Mariners prospect Cesar Izturis Jr.).

INF Alexander Garcia, Venezuela

Per Thon Jr.: The 17-year-old is “a 5-foot-11 infielder who is a plus-athlete and can play multiple positions. He has raw strength and an aggressive approach at the plate, with good range on defense.”

RHP Jose Romero, Venezuela

Per Thon Jr.: The 18-year-old is “a 6-foot-1 right-handed pitcher with an aggressive mentality on the mound. He has a solid breaking ball and his present velocity reaches the low 90s.”

It’s likely the club will make plenty more signings of lower profile in the coming weeks and months, but congratulations to all these players on taking a massive step towards their dreams.

Update, 2/6/23:

The Mariners have signed two more players to this IFA class: RHP Connor Prins from the Netherlands and RHP Francisco Pazos out of Mexico. Prins is 19, and recently played with Team Netherlands in the U18 World Cup. Pazos, 17, is from Sinaloa, and was signed by Mariners scout David Velásquez. His fastball clocks in at 93 mph, touching 94, and he was training with the Mexican Winter League team Algodoneros del Unión Laguna before being signed by Seattle. Pazos and current Mariners pitcher Andrés Muñoz both hail from the area of Los Mochis, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. (The Pazos signing hasn’t made it to the transactions log yet but per his Instagram, he has signed the contract.)