Every team in baseball — except the all-but-banned Braves — splashed money around yesterday with the official onset of the 2019-20 international amateur market. That statement is unremarkable in general, but it’s significant for an Orioles franchise that has largely watched from the sidelines in recent years in Latin America.
The rest of the industry has dropped over $150MM annually on youthful, unproven, uber-talented ballplayers from North America’s neighbors to the south. Meanwhile, the Baltimore organization has typically traded away its allotted international spending capacity to its rivals in exchange for generally less interesting but more advanced prospects.
It has been known for some time that the new Baltimore regime, led by GM Mike Elias, would be reentering the Latin American market. But it’s notable nevertheless to see the club finally do so with gusto, particularly since its initial efforts in the prior signing period didn’t shake out quite as hoped.
Baltimore didn’t chase after the biggest names of this year’s class, many of whom had long since agreed to big bonuses with other clubs that possess much-more-established scouting and developmental networks. The three players highlighted in the club’s press release — outfielder Luis Gonzalez, lefty Luis Ortiz, and shortstop Leonel Sanchez — were note cited as elite prospects by Baseball America (scouting links), MLB.com, or Fangraphs. Gonzalez and Ortiz each received sub-$500K bonuses, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, on Twitter.
Instead, the O’s went for volume, inking 27 new players yesterday alone — most from the Dominican Republic, but also including eight Venezuelans and one apiece from Aruba, the Bahamas, and Colombia. As Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper points out on Twitter, that haul handily exceeded the team’s total international signings in each of the past five years.
In their announcement, the O’s made clear this is just the tip of the iceberg. In a prepared statement, Elias said:
“This July 2 is a big day for our franchise. These young players from all parts of Latin America will bolster our burgeoning farm system and jumpstart the continual flow of talent we are building. Today is only the beginning of our efforts, as we will continue to sign more players throughout the 2019-20 signing period. Our International Scouting staff has already begun laying the groundwork for future classes.”
That international scouting staff is led by Koby Perez, who is now introducing his first class just six months after taking the helm. He chatted recently with Dan Connolly of The Athletic (subscription link), explaining that he’s overseeing a “smaller staff” than he has been involved with in other clubs. While Perez didn’t have much time to lay groundwork, he notes that he and Elias already had quite a lot of knowledge about this year’s class. The group “just got right to work with trying to make the best decisions” this year, jumping on uncommitted players they had their eyes on along with “some late bloomers.”
While the Orioles didn’t secure any “big fish,” Perez says that approach could be available in the future. The club anticipates signing more than ten players to $100K+ bonuses — as note above, a reflection of the reality of the timing of the O’s entry onto the market. Perez says the organization has also held some of its spending availability in reserve, with something in the realm of thirty to forty percent of the $6,481,200 initial bonus pool still left to utilize on “some players that may or may not come out later, and also for the late bloomers.” There’s plenty more insight available in the interview, which is essential reading for O’s fans and close followers of the international market.
Plenty of work remains for the Baltimore organization. Getting into the Latin American amateur market hardly ensures success; making efficient use of it will require further investment in facilities and human resources. But even as they work to develop a sound, long-term decisionmaking process, the Orioles have already opened a valuable new talent pipeline.