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International signees worth keeping an eye on

Shortstop Wander Franco, who is in the Rays system, was arguably the best 16-year-old in the 2017 class of international free agents. Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

Monday marked the start of the new international free agent (IFA) signing period in Major League Baseball, a time frame that lasts until June 2019, when there's a two-week hiatus preceding the next IFA year. This is when amateur players from foreign (mostly Latin American) countries sign their first pro contracts, and most of them do so on the first eligible day.

Thus begins a long journey that for even the best among this group of mostly 16-year-olds takes four or five years of development in the minors before the casual fan becomes aware of their existence. For even the most well-read fan with interest in prospects, the players who signed this week quickly vanish into obscurity and aren't heard from again until they pop up in a minor league box score almost a year from now.

In the time between when players sign and when they start seeing time in affiliated games, they are playing baseball. It's meaningful, scoutable baseball that an increasing number of teams are evaluating, but it takes place in a controlled environment with zero emphasis on the outcome of the games. During this time, individuals can significantly alter the way teams have evaluated them, in part because so much physical development is occurring for these players in their late teens. These important months for scouting and player development are lost amid the baseball-loving public's other priorities.