In all the areas the Orioles were behind when Mike Elias took over the baseball operations department in November 2018, perhaps none has advanced more than the team’s international scouting.
That is expected to be on display Friday when the team announces its 2020 class, which was delayed from last July 2nd because of the pandemic.
For years, the Orioles eschewed high-dollar contracts for Latin American teenagers, but that’s expected to change when this class is unveiled.
How far behind have the Orioles been? On their 40-man roster, there are just six from Latin American countries: pitcher Cesar Valdez and catcher Pedro Severino (Dominican Republic); infielder Yolmer Sánchez and outfielder Anthony Santander (Venezuela); infielder Ramón Urias (Mexico); and outfielder Yusniel Diaz (Cuba).
None was originally signed by the Orioles.
They have another pitcher, Jorge López from Puerto Rico, who isn’t an Orioles product, either, but Puerto Rican players are eligible for the First Year Player Draft.
There’s an eighth player not from the United States, left-handed pitcher Alexander Wells, but the Australian is an Orioles product.
At a time when Latin American players play a larger role in the game, the Orioles are rying to make up for years of neglect.
Managing partner Peter Angelos didn’t want to do business with the agents for many of the prospects from the Dominican Republic. Angelos thought that the buscones were unethical, and he wanted to avoid the market.
As a result, the Orioles haven’t produced a home-grown player from the Dominican Republic since utilityman Pedro Florimon appeared in four games in 2011.
And, they’ve never developed a player from Venezuela. There have been 394 major league players from Venezuela.
In 2014, their best Venezuelan prospect, Eduardo Rodriguez, was traded to the Boston Red Sox for reliever Andrew Miller.
The Orioles have welcomed players from the Dominican and Venezuela when they acquired them in free agency or trades. They just haven’t spent much money on them.
Elias’ predecessor, Dan Duquette, chafed at the restriction, knowing how much talent the Orioles were bypassing. Under Duquette, the Orioles did sign some lesser prospects.
One was third baseman Jomar Reyes, who signed as a 16-year-old in January 2014. He and 17-year-old first baseman Carlos Diaz, from Mexico, were trumpeted by Duquette as “potential everyday major league players that can hit in the middle of the lineup.”
Reyes spent four seasons at High-A Frederick and got one at-bat in Double-A Bowie in 2019 before he was released by the Orioles in May 2020.
Diaz, whose contract was purchased from the Mexican City Red Devils, didn’t advance beyond two games at Short-Season A Aberdeen in 2017 before his release.
The Orioles have done well in niche markets. Wells’ signing looks promising, and the team hit the jackpot when they signed second baseman Jonathan Schoop as a 16-year-old from Curacao in 2008. Schoop was a key figure from 2014-2018.
After the Orioles traded Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018, Duquette said in a conference call that the team was beginning a rebuild and would eagerly enter the Latin American markets it avoided.
Unfortunately for Duquette, the early July signing period had just passed, and the team could barely participate.
Elias hired Koby Perez to head up international scouting in January 2019. Knowing that it would take several years to catch up, the team was able to sign a class of 27 players on July 2, 2019. The biggest names were left-handed pitcher Luis Ortiz, who is No. 30 on the team’s list of top prospects, and outfielder Luis Gonzalez.
In 2021 and 2022, the international signing period runs from January 15th through December 15th. This year, the Orioles have $5,899,600 in international bonus pool money. Unlike in past years, that money can’t be traded.
According to Baseball America, some of the prospects expected to sign with the Orioles are catcher Samuel Basallo, the top catching prospect in the Dominican Republic, who could get a bonus between $1 million and $1.5 million.
Others linked with the Orioles are Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernandez, Dominican corner outfielder Wilmer Feliciano, and three other Dominicans — outfielder Teudis Cortorreal, shortstop Victor Celedonio and catcher Aneudis Mordan.