Orioles need to invest heavily in Latin America - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Orioles need to invest heavily in Latin America

Photo of Koby Perez courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

Near the end of the Orioles’ video conference call with Mike Elias and Koby Perez, a question about the lack of pitchers signed among the team’s 17-player international signing class drew an illuminating response from Elias, the Orioles’ GM.

“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.”

The players signed were 16 or 17 except for 19-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Gabriel Salazar. The two pitchers who did sign were Dominican left-handers — 16-year-old Deivy Cruz and 17-year-old Elvis Polanco.

Elias’ honesty about the reality of the Orioles and other major league teams scouting players as young as 13 provoked  skepticism from some readers.

The business of dealing with buscones, the trainer/agents for many young Dominican players, is the reason the Orioles, under managing partner Peter Angelos, avoided the market.

Under Angelos, the Orioles did sign players from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, but they were fringe prospects signed for mostly minimal money.

International signing bonus money was often traded, and one such trade turned out well for the Orioles when they acquired left-hander Paul Fry from the Seattle Mariners for cash.

While the majority of the $5,899,600 of the signing pool allocated to the Orioles has been used to sign players, additional players who sign for $10,000 or less aren’t counted against the pool. Teams cannot trade remaining money from this year’s signing period, which runs through December 15th.

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With Angelos’s sons, John and Louis, now in charge of the team because of their father’s declining health, there’s been a change in philosophy. Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, has been aggressive in implementing the new direction.

While it might seem unseemly to fans for the Orioles to scout young teenagers, it’s a reality that’s long existed in Latin America. Baseball is king in the Dominican, and teams can’t afford to ignore this motherlode of talent.

Unlike in the United States, where talented young athletes participate in a number of sports, that’s not the case in the Dominican.

Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter was curious about young players from the U.S. He thought that if they played baseball and no other sport, they could be more susceptible to injury because of overuse of the same muscles. In the Dominican, it’s rare to find a multi-sport athlete.

Perez has often compared the preparation for a signing class to recruiting college athletes.

If the Orioles want to join other top teams in recruiting Dominican players, they must compete in the market much like teams in college basketball that want to keep up with Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina. College basketball teams navigate the muddy waters of young amateur and travel teams.

In the Dominican Republic, it’s the same.

If you look at a list of the best players under 25, you’ll find Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña, Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto, Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers, New York Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres, Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis.

All are from either the Dominican or, in the case of Acuña and Torres, Venezuela.

You can’t write the story of contemporary baseball without players from Latin America.

Now that the Orioles have signed two classes of players, it should be easier to compete for the biggest names in the 2022 signing period.

For those concerned that the Orioles spent $1.3 million on 16-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo after they drafted Adley Rutschman, keep in mind that Rutschman’s bonus of $8.1 million is more than six times as large.

The bonuses paid to Basallo and 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández ($1.2 million) were large by Oriole standards by not by amateur ones.

The bonuses for Basallo and Hernández were what a late second-round pick in last June’s draft could have expected.

Basallo is 6 ½ years younger than Rutschman, who will turn 23 next month. Rutschman could make his major league debut later this year. Basallo is years away.

Major League Baseball has tried to curb spending and the role for handlers for teenaged players by proposing an International Draft. The Players Association has opposed one but perhaps in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will include one.

The recently signed players probably will play on one of the two Orioles’ Dominican Summer League teams this year. The advanced ones could move stateside to play in the Gulf Coast League in a year or two.

Orioles re-sign Eshelman: Thomas Eshelman, who was released by the Orioles on December 3rd, has re-signed as a minor league free agent.

Eshelman and Travis Lakins each had three wins in 2020, which tied for the team lead. Eshelman was 3-1 with a 3.89 ERA in 12 games, four starts.

His versatility makes him valuable, and it’s a good bet he’ll see some action with the team in 2021.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Orial

    January 18, 2021 at 8:39 am

    Good article Rich. With the lack of African Americans coming to baseball as in the 50s/60s(wow there some great black stars back then),baseball fields presently staying empty,kids focusing in other directions, and the sport being perceived as dull-Latin America will become the last great bastion of hope. Rich why exactly did Angelos shun the process? Did he cary personal vendettas/stubborn beliefs as do some modern “politicians”?

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 18, 2021 at 8:48 am

      As I wrote in the article, he didn’t like the process of dealing with young, teenaged players.

  2. Tony Paparella

    January 18, 2021 at 9:21 am

    Yes, great insight into the Orioles exploration and participation in the Dominican and related areas.A lot if it sounds like a crap shoot but one in which ( because of the success with those players) the Orioles must participate in order to stay on a competitive line. Signing a catcher 6 years younger than Rutschman makes sense if you figure many stars seem to stick with a team about that long before opting for a mote monetary contract, lol. At least that is my observation. Also what makes your article interesting is to learn that there is a preference to waiting to sign pitchers when they reach age 17 or later in order to get a better read on there potential. Then again looking at 13, 14 year olds is interesting.It is also realized from your article there must be some apprehension in dealing with the so called agents of a lot off those players because of the trust in that process. I may be wrong about that but it seems to me that may be a hindrance. All in all great insight into one part of the process in MLB.

  3. Boog Robinson Robinson

    January 18, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Rich, one thing that was never touched on in these past 2 articles, is the validity of the age of Latin American, specifically Dominican players. I know that in past years, the ages these players claimed to be often proved to be several years than they actually were.

    Are you aware if Is this still an issue?

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 18, 2021 at 11:11 am

      On their release, the Orioles list their dates of birth, so I think they’ve been vetted, Ken.

  4. Baltimore Castaway

    January 18, 2021 at 11:35 am

    Interesting subject that you are covering here Rich.

    It’s really all about obtaining and developing talent for the Orioles organization in a multi-dimensional way.

    Some thoughts on these matters;

    – The International Market is just beginning to open up for the Orioles. They are likely another year or two away from rising to the upper tier of Teams w access and juice w the best prospects in that Market

    – In thinking about this Market, I am beginning to think that John and Louis saw a value-added dimension to Elias’s strengths in that he knows this Market well and was able to pick-off Koby Perez from the Indians

    – Many American kids don’t seem to be attracted as much to the game of Baseball. This seems to be the case w young African American Kids who are more attracted to Basketball and Football.

    – It also has been manifesting itself for quite some time w so many kids playing Lacrosse. This is sadly now the case even for regions outside of the mid-Atlantic area.. Lacrosse is a nice “Club Team” sport, but if you are a highly gifted athlete with a desire to maybe play at a Professional level you are totally squandering your future in the silly game of Lacrosse. I see this with so many people who almost exclusively played Lacrosse and don’t know the first thing about baseball and it’s traditions….it’s almost like they’re Aliens amongst us. Oh, and don’t talk to me about being a
    “Professional” Lacrosse Player–they make like $300+ per game–or less….craziness at best.

    -Elias sure does love his Shortstops and Outfielders…it’s likely a good strategy. If several of them turn-out well he will have strong Draft Capital.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      January 18, 2021 at 12:58 pm

      BC…you’re pretty spot on with your assesments, but you seem to have left Quidditch out of your equation.

      And don’t get me going (again) on why our youth don’t play baseball like past generations. It’s greed, travel teams and MLB itself that is killing the game..

      I can’t imagine being a 9 to 12 year old and not having little league games all summer long …it’s sad.

      • Baltimore Castaway

        January 18, 2021 at 1:26 pm

        BRR,

        You caused me to look-up the definition of Quidditch…..got me on that one…

        Agree about Little League baseball. Parents are losing their minds in not having their children (boys and girls) from playing baseball…I don’t want to hear about the “B” word—-Boring people are easily bored….

        We’ve lost an entire region of future baseball players …..to a ridiculous knock you with a stick Jock sport.

  5. CalsPals

    January 18, 2021 at 12:36 pm

    Google vanderbilts baseball coach, a great article a few years back where he would concentrate on great multi-sport athletes that would really excel when they concentrated on one sport in college, remember the Central American baseball players per your articles have nothing else (soccer?) to do but baseball, no guarantees in anything, I think I’d rather take a stab at US kids than gamble on the Central American ones, be interesting to see some numbers on the success rates vs non…go O’s…

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