Signing teenaged players in Latin America is a long process. The 16-year-olds who were signed on Friday by the Orioles have been in team’s sights for several years.
“We started working on these guys even before I started with the Orioles,” Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, said in a video conference call.
Perez came to the Orioles in January 2019.
“These guys had been followed from beforehand, so we knew who they were coming in. I think we did a really good job of recruiting them once they came in.”
Perez has lauded Mike Elias, the Orioles’ executive vice president/general manager, for personally scouting players in the Dominican.
“These players that we got were very eager to sign with us,” Perez said.
The biggest price tags were the reported $1.3 million bonus given to 16-year-old Dominican catcher Samuel Bassalo and another seven figure deal for 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández, the most handed out to international amateur players.
Elias praised Perez, who had roughly 18 months before the July 2, 2020 signings were scheduled. The announcement was pushed back to January 15th because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Teams can sign players through December 15th. In 2022, the signing period will also begin January 15th.
“To get two of the premier guys in the class, starting that late is difficult, “ Elias said, “Koby was opportunistic, and we’re excited about these players and others in the class.
“I thought it was going to be difficult to put together a class with real headliners in 2020, and I think this is a tribute to the connections and experience that Koby has that he found ways to do that.”
In Perez’s first signing period, July 2, 2019, outfielder Luis Gonzalez received the highest bonus, $475,000. Another player signed then, left-hander Luis Ortiz, is the 30th -anked prospect on MLB Pipeline.
“I do think we’ve got guys here who immediately enter the conversation for some of our top prospects,” Elias said. “It’s going to be exciting to see a couple of these guys play well and rise up the ranks, a big step for us.”
Perez thinks the Orioles are now considered seriously as an international player.
“This year, we’ve kind of shown that we’re ready to go all in,” Perez said. “Year-by-year, it’s going to be different. We’ve just got to weigh the market and analyze what’s best for the Orioles and make a decision. We’ve already put our feet to the fire down here, and we’re seeing all the top guys. We’re in a good situation there.”
The Orioles were allowed to spend $5,899,600, and most of it was spent on the 17 players signed Friday.
“We still do have remaining money, and it’s very likely that we will see a few more guys before the signing period is over,” Perez said.
For years, the Orioles avoided large dollar signings in the international market and were not considered a serious contender to deal with top prospects, but that is changing.
“The lack of activity will haunt us less and less as we go forward,” Elias said.
Perez isn’t sure where the players will start 2021. The Orioles have two Dominican Summer League teams and perhaps some of the more advanced ones could play for one of the two teams the Orioles will have in the Gulf Coast League.
Just two pitchers were among the 17 signed.
“Part of that was just random,” Elias said, “and the other part of it was these players are so young, and pitchers have a much stronger tendency to evolve late in life. Teams, overall, I think, are less oriented to signing 16-year-old pitchers on the signing date whereas the premium positional talent, it’s a much more stable evaluation when you’re watching them when they’re 13, 14, 15 years old, and even those guys change a lot, too.
“For pitchers, velocity is such a huge part of it, and you don’t get that part of the picture, often until they’re 17 or 18, so it just leads to a lot of later, older pitcher signings in the Dominican in particular.”
Elias is pleased with the Orioles’ growth in Latin America.
“The importance of the Latin American, July 2nd-style international scouting has been fueled by the changes we’ve seen in the game of baseball the last 20 years,” Elias said.
“Younger players being able to come up and impact the game so immediately because of the quality of player development that’s improved across the game, and also the quality of player development in these countries. Now, they comprise about 30 percent of the overall talent in Major League Baseball, and I think it’s arguably more in the star talent right now. It’s looking that way.
“Being really good in this market is essential to any team. We had and really have some catch-up to do still, but this class was a gigantic step.”