The Orioles' international signings in recent years have been rated poor by many of the so-called experts, but there were some indications this year that the Orioles may have made one or two gains on the international front in 2011.
While I put almost no stock in a minor league team's record as it relates to their quality of prospects, the Orioles' Dominican Summer League team this year did finish in first place in its division and made the playoffs with a 46-24 record.
Jonathan Schoop from Curacao was named the Orioles' minor league Player of the Year. Some others showed some promise, like pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez (Venezuela) and Miguel Chalas (Dominican), catcher Gabriel Lino (Venezuela) and outfielder Roderick Bernadina (Curacao).
Earlier this year at the All-Star break, I published a series of articles about the Orioles' mostly lacking international efforts and got several opinions on that. Among them was the well-respected opinion of Baseball America writer Ben Badler, who is very clued in to the international scene.
As a follow-up, I spoke with Badler this week to see how he sees the Orioles doing on the international front now that the season is over.
"I think it is fair to say it's a little better than it was," Badler said. "Schoop is clearly the best of that group right now. He will have to prove that he can hit upper-level pitching in the minors, but he certainly has power in his swing. If he can learn how to recognize offspeed stuff and mature as a hitter, he is definitely an interesting guy to have in the system.
"They did have some interesting guys on their Gulf Coast League team this year. Players like Bernadina, Eduardo Rodriguez, Miguel Chalas. They have some interesting guys there.
"It's probably a little better but pretty much every team in the Gulf League had one or two Latin guys that are raw with decent tools. They have some guys that are a long, long ways away, but could potentially turn themselves into better prospects in future years."
Badler was aware the Orioles' Dominican Summer League team finished in first place and made the DSL playoffs, but he said that solid record does not indicate that the O's are doing any better with their Dominican program.
"No, I don't think even the teams really put much stock into that. Minor league records are not something that we or any scouts focus on, even in say the U.S full-season leagues, but even moreso in the Dominican," he said.
"Some clubs put together great Dominican teams with more 19- or 20-year-old players that are more experienced. You can put together a more advanced team there and win a lot of games in the DSL but some of those guys won't even make it to the U.S to play in the Gulf Coast League. The (won-loss) record is not as important relative to the individual players and how they project."
Badler was honest to admit he is still putting some scouting reports together on some of the players from the Dominican this season and wanted to wait until later to offer any possible in-depth scouting reports on this year's Orioles' DSL team.
But Badler did author Baseball America's ranking of the top 20 prospects in the Gulf Coast League from 2011 and he ranked Bernadina as the 12th-best prospect in that league and Rodriguez as No. 18.
The 19-year-old Bernadina played in 51 games in the Gulf Coast League this year and hit .239 with 14 doubles, three triples, four homers and a .754 OPS. He mostly batted third as the GCL O's everyday right-fielder. His older brother Roger plays for the Nationals.
The right-handed hitter is from Willemstad, Curacao, and was signed by Ernst Meyer for the Orioles on July 31, 2009.
Here is Badler's take on Bernadina:
"He is a sleeper-type of prospect. He can do a bit of everything on the field. Good bat speed. Has average to probably a tick above average raw power. Really good fastball hitter that will have to learn to adjust to the offspeed like a lot of young hitters. Otherwise has a pretty solid approach at the plate and will go the other way.
"Defensively, is a solid defender with an average arm. There is no glaring weakness among his tools, he is pretty solid across the board. He is definitely a guy that can be a sleeper and move up the rankings next year."
An 18-year-old lefty from Valencia, Venezuela, Rodriguez went 1-1 with an ERA of 1.81 this year in the GCL. Over 44 2/3 innings, he allowed just 28 hits, including no homers, with 17 walks and 46 strikeouts. Opposing batters hit just .177 off him and left-handed hitters posted an average of just .115 against Rodriguez, who was signed by former Oriole Calvin Maduro.
Here is Badler's take on Rodriguez:
"He was one of their bigger signs (signings by the Orioles) over the last few years out of Venezuela. Not a guy with huge, huge stuff, but he'll touch 93 (mph) and mix in a breaking ball and changeup. He has a pretty good feel of how to pitch at a very young age.
"He throws strikes and his fastball moves well and he can work with it in and out. He may not be a frontline starter most likely, but maybe a guy that could be solid in the back of the rotation if everything works out for him.
"He's 88 to 91 (mph) with his fastball, touching 93. So he's not overpowering but it's enough velocity for a lefty and being 18 from Venezuela, some of those guys add velocity as they mature physically. He's not going to be a guy that throws smoke but has a good feel for pitching."
I thank Badler for taking the time for a lengthy interview and you will be reading more of his opinions here in the coming days.
In case you missed it the first time, here is Badler's take from July on the Orioles' international efforts.