BALTIMORE—The Orioles are hoping to continue their makeover in another way when the international signing period begins on Tuesday.
For years, the Orioles have largely avoided paying large bonuses to international prospects, but after Manny Machado was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, Dan Duquette, who was then running baseball operations, announced that the team would re-enter the market.
When Mike Elias was hired last November, he re-emphasized that, and hired Koby Perez to direct the Orioles’ international operations.
“I just think it’s going to be a very fun day for this organization to have an infusion of Dominican and Venezuelan and even guys from the Bahamas. There’s going to be a lot of international talent coming in, and it’s going to be inspiring,” Elias said on Thursday.
“Because we hadn’t been particularly active in the July 2nd market, we’re in a little bit of arrears in terms of these guys coming up and helping the [Gulf Coast League] clubs,” Elias said. “We’re playing catchup a little bit, but we’ll get caught up.”
Along with seven other teams, the Orioles will have $6,481,200 to spend on international signings, though they can always trade for additional funds.
While the international signing period runs through next June 15, the top prospects are usually signed quickly.
Top prospects in the June draft typically can help major league teams much sooner than international signees. The Orioles recently signed catcher Adley Rutschman, the first overall pick from Oregon State who could be in the major leagues by mid-2021 if things work out well.
A top Dominican or Venezuelan prospect who signs at 16 may not even reach the Gulf Coast League for two years, after they’ve played on the Dominican Summer League teams.
“I think Mike’s made it pretty clear that we’re going to be aggressive going forward,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “He’s going to sign a ton of guys … and we know we’re going to be a presence there in the future.
“Look around the league. I’m excited that we’re growing our international department, and I’m excited we’re going to be more of a presence, and I think it’s going to be a big part of us.”
The Orioles have never had much of a presence in Latin America. Perhaps their best known player from the Dominican Republic was Armando Benitez. The hard-throwing right-hander was signed at 16 in 1990, and reached the Orioles in 1994 and pitched five seasons for them.
They haven’t developed a player from the Dominican Republic since infielder Pedro Florimon, who played four games for the Orioles in 2011, and have never signed a player from Venezuela who reached the major leagues with them. Left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez could have been the first, but he was traded to Boston in July 2014 for reliever Andrew Miller.
The Orioles have two players they’ve signed in the higher minor leagues: outfielder Ademar Rifaela, from Curacao, who is at Triple-A Norfolk, and right-handed reliever Francisco Jimenez, a Dominican, at Double-A Bowie.
Jimenez, who has also pitched at Norfolk and High-A Frederick this year, began playing for the Dominican Summer League team at 17 in 2012.
The Orioles were hoping that Jomar Reyes, a third baseman who was signed in January 2014, would have produced by now, but the 22-year-old Reyes has been stuck at Frederick for the last four seasons.
Renato Nunez, who is one of seven Latin Americans on the club, none of whom were originally signed by the Orioles, said that Baltimore never scouted him as a young player in Venezuela. He thinks that the team can make up ground rapidly in his country and elsewhere in Latin America.
“I think it’s great that the Orioles are making a commitment to signing young Latin players, and hopefully they can sign a couple of guys who’ll help the team in the future,” Nunez said.
“I think they can go quickly. If you want to sign the best guys from that year, you have to spend some money. I think it depends on what they want, and what they’re looking for. If they want some pitchers, some position players. I think they’re doing a good job, and if they continue doing it, they can sign a couple of guys.”