In the ongoing search to add young talent to the organization, the Orioles added two international prospects Jan. 30 when they signed 16-year-old third baseman Jomar Reyes and purchased 17-year-old first baseman Carlos Diaz from the Mexico City Reds.
They are two big kids that the Orioles believe show good power potential. Diaz, a lefty batter and first baseman from Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 200 lbs. Reyes, a right-handed hitter and third baseman from Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds.
Executive director of international recruiting Fred Ferreira signed both players. The day the club announced these additions, executive vice president Dan Duquette heaped some strong praise on the youngsters.
"I think Fred has hit on two potential everyday major league players who can hit in the middle of the lineup," Duquette said. "We've been developing pitching through the minor league system and these are two signings of top quality position player prospects to add to the position player depth of our minor league system."
During my stay at spring training in Sarasota, Fla., I had the chance to meet and interview both players with some interpreter help from Felipe Alou Jr. who is in his seventh year as the Orioles' coordinator of Dominican Operations.
Before the O's signed him, Reyes had taken part in some showcases in the Dominican and thought several teams were very interesting in him including the New York Yankees, Toronto, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.
The O's were not on that list, but then they turned out to be the team that signed him and he got a bonus Baseball America reported as $350,000. That was the largest expenditure of the 2013-14 international signing period by the Orioles, according to Baseball America.
"It had never crossed my mind," Reyes said. "I did a couple of showcases and had not talked to the Orioles then. It was a surprise, but I'm glad it happened. Very exciting. The first thing was to actually get a pro contract and it's special to be with the Orioles."
Reyes is one of those Dominican kids who grew up loving baseball. At age 14, he joined the International Academy run by Avel Guerra and he fully wanted and expected to sign at 16, as he did.
"It pretty much started with my dad who got me into baseball," Reyes said. "We watched games on TV. As a young kid, I got bigger, tried out for teams, started liking it and love it to this day.
"My main goal and dream once I got into baseball was to sign a pro contract. Once I was introduced to baseball, it was my life and I am very passionate about it."
How did his dad feel when he signed that contract?
"It was unbelievable. My dad never played, but he really enjoys watching games and is a big fan," Reyes said.
Don't cringe, O's fans, but Reyes said he mostly saw games featuring Boston and the New York Yankees on Dominican television. But he has a few players he admires and two of them are Orioles.
"(Robinson) Cano, Nelson Cruz, Manny Machado and Adrian Beltre," Reyes said when asked which players he admires the most. He hasn't met Cruz or Machado yet, but hopes to soon.
Now what about his large size and being so big at just age 16?
"That comes from my dad's side," Reyes said. "My dad is not very tall, but my grandfather was big and so are some of my cousins. It runs in my family."
That size has helped him drive the ball a long way and right now, driving the ball with pop is his biggest strength, he said.
"It's raw power at the plate and I'm confident I bring some power up to the plate," Reyes said. "I worked hard to get stronger and improve and that has helped me in that regard."
Even though he is just 16, Reyes seems to understand that he'll have to start out in the low minors and maybe there is a chance to play in the Gulf Coast League later this summer. There is a long road and a lot of steps for a young kid between the GCL and majors. But Reyes said he is up for the challenge.
"Hopefully I can get there in three to four years. That's my goal. Want to follow instructions, work hard, focus and try to get better every day," he said.
Special thanks to Alou for introducing me to and helping with the Reyes interview. I also talked with Diaz while in Florida and I'll have that interview here next week.