Orioles general manager Mike Elias isn’t rushing into any hires. Koby Perez knows that beefing up the team’s international scouting operation will take time.
Perez, who was introduced as the Orioles’ international scouting director on a Thursday conference call, has worked as the Cleveland Indians’ director of Latin American scouting for the past three years.
That experience, and his years working as a scout in the Dominican Republic with Cleveland and Philadelphia, should allow the Orioles to penetrate an area they’ve largely avoided for years.
Although they’ve signed a handful of mid-range prospects, those players have been given bonuses that are usually handed out to ninth- or 10th-round domestic draft choices, and they muffed on signing the Cuban prospects Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr. and Sandy Gaston in October.
The Orioles stocked up on international signing bonus money at the trading deadline, adding $2.75 million from the Atlanta Braves in trades for Brad Brach and Kevin Gausman. Before their trade for Rule 5 pick Drew Jackson with the Philadelphia Phillies last month, the Orioles had $6,563,500 to spend, but it’s unlikely that most of that money will be spent on signing international players.
Elias’ predecessor, Dan Duquette, demonstrated his naivete in accumulating so much money without a scouting infrastructure in place.
Elias and Perez reiterated that signing international players is a complex process and that relationships have to be built. Perez, a native of the Dominican Republic who grew up in Northern New Jersey, has connections in Latin America.
Perez had 13 Latin American scouts in Cleveland. For now, he has only Calvin Maduro, an Aruban, whom he said had done a “decent” job in accumulating a list of prospects.
While the next signing period doesn’t start for another six months, recruiting efforts must begin and the Orioles need to show that they’re serious about doing business.
The international signing bonus money, which is what the Orioles are allowed to spend, is money from their budget. In the past, they spent little of it, trading most of it away. Some of the money was used to acquire two pitchers on the team, Paul Fry and Yefry Ramirez.
If that $6 million isn’t used by June 15, it can’t be spent. Elias said that the Orioles wouldn’t spend money in the next five months just to spend it. That money can be used elsewhere.
There’s still the possibility that the money can be spent on prospects, though not from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela. Elias said that if a prospect from Cuba or Asia materializes the Orioles can pounce.
In the past, the Orioles paid bonuses to Cuban prospects Dariel Alvarez, Ariel Miranda and Henry Urrutia, but none became breakout major leaguers.
The Orioles haven’t had a homegrown Dominican since infielder Pedro Florimon appeared in four games in 2011. Florimon signed as a 17-year-old, and it took seven years for him to make his way to the majors.
That type of patience is going to be necessary with the players Perez signs. Many will be 16 or 17 and will have to play in the Dominican Summer League before they’re ready for Gulf Coast or Aberdeen.
A worthy goal might be to develop the club’s first homegrown Venezuelan. It appeared as if left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez would be the first until the Orioles traded him to Boston for Andrew Miller in July 2014.
Elias said that he would allow Mike Snyder to continue the Orioles’ Asian scouting department. The talent coming from Asia pales in comparison to the number of Latin American players.
The Orioles have had success in signing Asian players. Koji Uehara, signed in 2009 from Japan, Taiwanese pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, who was an early Duquette masterstroke in January 2012, and South Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim all contributed.
But, as Elias acknowledged, Latin America is where the action is, particularly for position players. With Perez’s hiring, the Orioles finally appear to be on the right path internationally.