BALTIMORE—Some fans were excited when the Orioles announced they had signed outfielder Isaac Bellony, a native of the Dominican Republic, this week. It’s their first announced signing since the team decided last month it would re-enter the international market.
The Orioles haven’t produced a homegrown Dominican player since infielder Pedro Florimon played four games for the team in 2011, seven years after signing with them.
Bellony, who’s just 16, signed for a reported $220,000. Baseball America reported that another Dominican, shortstop Moises Ramirez, has also signed, but the Orioles have yet to announce that, and there’s word of other signings, too.
However, the Orioles have a long way to go to become a factor in the international market. According to Baseball America’s signing tracker, the Orioles have signed the fewest international free agents of any MLB team, and each of their American League East competitors have signed many more.
The Toronto Blue Jays have signed 28, most in the majors. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have each signed 23, and Tampa Bay has signed 11.
It’s been a long time since the Orioles announced international signings. In January 2014, a time when the Orioles hadn’t made many major offseason moves, they held a conference call to discuss the signings of Mexican first baseman Carlos Diaz and Dominican third baseman Jomar Reyes.
Diaz, a left-handed hitter, topped out at Short-Season Aberdeen, playing three games for the IronBirds in 2016 and 2017.
Reyes, who’s still just 21, is playing his third season at Class-A Frederick, and while he hasn’t dominated, has played reasonably well, possibly earning a promotion to Double-A Bowie in 2019.
Fans often want to know how the Orioles did immediately after June’s first-year draft, and the answer always is: wait three-to-five years for an evaluation. It’s an even longer horizon in the international market.
It’s sometimes hard even after five years since Hunter Harvey, the top pick in 2013, has yet to advance past Double-A Bowie because of injuries. Harvey, who has been shut down because of tendinitis in his right elbow, still has two options remaining after this year.
It took Mychal Givens, a second-round pick in 2009, six years and a position change from infield to pitcher before he made the Orioles.
Players from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico who are drafted are generally 18 or older. International signees are often as young as 16, and while they may be well-developed because they’re able to play baseball year-round, it’s still an uncertain market requiring extreme patience.
That’s one of the reasons the Orioles avoided it for so long. However, they’ve realized they can’t be a competitive major league team without being a player internationally. Still, it will take several years of fruitful signings to make them a challenger.
Most international players signed will have to stop for a year or two at one of the Orioles’ Dominican Summer League teams before even getting to Gulf Coast, which is their entry-level team in Sarasota.
The International signing period began July 1, and the Orioles got a late start, not announcing their intentions to become aggressive until the July 18 trade of shortstop Manny Machado.
Although many hope the Orioles can sign Cuban prodigy Victor Victor Mesa to a contract, Major League Baseball has yet to declare him eligible to sign.
If you’re looking for a reading on how the Orioles’ foray in the international market is going, you may need to check back in 2023.