The Orioles began the international signing period by announcing on Saturday that they had signed 24 players.
Outfielder Braylin Tavera, a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic who was rated as the 18th-best prospect by Baseball America and rated 22nd by MLB Pipeline, signed for $1.7 million, the most given by an international prospect by the Orioles, according to MLB Pipeline.
César Prieto, a 22-year-old Cuban second baseman, signed for a reported $650,000, and Leandro Arias, a 16-year-old switch-hitting shortstop from the Dominican Republic, signed for $600,000. Arias was the 46th-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
The bonuses for Prieto and Arias’ signings were reported by MLB Pipeline.
“We’ve been here three years,” Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, said. “We’ve been working with [the top prospects] and their agents for three years. That’s the reason we’ve been able to go a little bit towards the top of the signing classes. In future years, we’ll continue to do that. It takes time to get these players to commit to us. We’ve been working on these players for two or three years now.”
Tavera is a potential five-tool player, according to Perez.
“He does everything easily and effortlessly,” Perez said. “He was a player who was highly coveted by most of the teams in the league. A lot of it had to do with us offering the opportunity. I think us not having given out these types of bonuses in our history makes the player feels special to be the highest-paid international player. I think that helped us land Braylin because there was a lot of competition for his services.”
Other top prospects are 17-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Edwin Amparo, and left-handed hitting outfielder Thomas Sosa, who turns 17 on Tuesday. Both are from the Dominican Republic.
Perez said Amparo and Sosa signed for about the same as Prieto and Arias.
“These kids are so young when we sign them,” Perez said. “We’re happy that we’re able to land this type of talent.”
Perez said that the international players have a head start on American high school players. Most of the players the Orioles signed a year ago would be eligible for this summer’s draft. One of them, catcher Samuel Basallo, would only be a high school junior.
“Hopefully, when they’re 19, 20 years old, they’re on their way [to] the upper levels of our affiliates,” Perez said.
Prieto was able to be signed because most teams had already committed money to this year’s class when he was declared eligible by Major League Baseball in November after his defection from Cuba.
“He chose us,” Perez said. “He liked the opportunity the Orioles can offer him.”
Perez said executive vice president/baseball operations Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde helped recruit Prieto, who’ll attend a minicamp in Sarasota this month.
“His talent ability probably puts him in the mid- to upper levels [of the minor leagues] right out of the gate,” Perez said. “You’ve got to remember he’s been in the U.S. only three or four years. He’s got a lot of a learning curve as far as the U.S. culture and language. We’re going to try to put him in a situation where he can succeed and feel good.”
Other players signed by the Orioles are: 16-year-old shortstop Cristian Benavides, from Venezuela; 16-year-old right-handed pitcher Ezequiel Bonilla, from Panama; 16 year-old shortstop Edrei Campos and 17-year-old shortstop Elis Cuevas, both from the Dominican Republic; 16-year-old right-handed pitcher Adrián Delgado, 17-year-old infielder Aron Estrada, 17-year-old outfielder Jean Mata, 16-year-old right-hander Elías Moscoso, 16-year-old catchers José Noguero and Andés Nolaya, 16-year-old righthander Jesús Palacios, 16-year-old left-hander Andrés Parra, all from Venezuela; 17-year-old shortstop Fernando Peguero, 17-year-old right-hander Juan Peña, 17-year-old outfielders Raylin Ramos and Yirber Ruiz, 17-year-old shortstop Adriam Santos, 17-year-old right-hander Henry Tejada, all from the Dominican Republic; and 17-year-old infielder Alfredo Velásquez, from Venezuela.
The Orioles haven’t had a player signed from the Dominican Republic play for them since Pedro Florimon in 2011 and have never had a player signed from Venezuela play for them. This year, they signed 10.
“There’s a lot of talent in Venezuela,” Perez said. “It’s a difficult country to get to right now with the politics. I go there every month. Geraldo Cabrera, our Latin American supervisor goes there every month, and we have a staff there, which we didn’t have in the past. We’ve been combing that area really, really well, and we think that we’re going to get some talent out of there.”
The Orioles had $6,262,600 to spend, and Perez said that money was already spent. They can sign players for less than $10,000, and that money isn’t counted against the bonus pool.