The Orioles tried but failed to sign any of the big three international prospects that were most recently available. Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr. signed with Miami. Pitcher Sandy Gastón signed with Tampa Bay.
So now what?
The Orioles still reportedly have something north of $6 million remaining in their pool amount to sign international amateurs. But many of the top players were scooped up when the signing period officially began July 2. Teams can still sign players though through next June 15. No team has more money remaining in their pool than Baltimore does.
Can the Orioles still do some good with that money? Well, maybe. I asked Baseball America’s Ben Badler, one of the top reporters covering the international market.
“Most of the top international prospects have signed at this point, and it’s difficult now to come away with top talent,” Badler said. “But, at the same time, there are always guys that pop up later in the process. And if you’re aggressive in scouting those players, you can have an advantage to sign them.
“The second thing is there are always surprise entries to the pool. Obviously, last year you had Shohei Ohtani and then Julio Pablo Martinez. I don’t see anybody that will become available from Japan or Cuba that will be in that group of player. But with some of the Cubans, it is hard to tell sometimes.”
Martinez was declared eligible to sign last March, and Texas got the 21-year-old outfielder for a $2.8 million bonus.
“Also last year there was Jelfrey Marté, who signed a contract with the Twins,” Badler added. “He was one of the top international prospects in the 2017 class. The Twins wound up voiding his contract over an issue with his physical. Then the Rays signed him for, I think it was $825,000. There are always some surprise situations that pop up. We can’t say what they will be, because that is the definition of a surprise. But there is bound to be something that pops up between now and the end of the current period in June.”
The Twins signed Marté, a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican, for a $3 million bonus on July 2, 2017. They voided that deal last November due to a vision issue. On December 12, 2017, he was signed by the Rays, who had to acquire more bonus pool space to complete the acquisition. Baseball America ranked Marté as the No. 13 international prospect.
So Badler is saying there’s still a chance for the Orioles.
“You still have to go out every day in the Dominican, and throughout Latin America, and see these players and try to sign them. It’s a difficult situation that they’ve put themselves into, but if they are committed to improving their farm system through international signings, there will still be players available,” Badler said. “Some we’ll look back on in five years, or less than that, and realize there were still some good prospects out there at this time. There is still talent available.”
One of the players the Orioles have signed that the team is high on is 16-year-old shortstop Moises Ramirez. He was signed in late August out of the Dominican Republic for $225,000. He’s a right-handed hitter and is 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs. Ramirez will turn 17 in February.
“I saw him play in the Dominican Prospect League,” Badler said. “He’s got an athletic body and he’s an offensive-minded shortstop. Not sure if he can stay there. But some intriguing athleticism there.”
When a player signs at 16, he may often play short-season ball for a few years, and his first one, two or more seasons could be in the Dominican Summer League. But not every player signed that young has to start out in the Dominican. In 2014, at age 17, the Orioles sent Dominican-born third baseman Jomar Reyes to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League to start his pro career, bypassing the DSL. He held his own, batting .285/.333/.425 in 53 games in Florida.
“Typically, a lot of times not long after players sign, teams will have a Dominican instructional league over the winter. It’s a way for players to get acclimated into their team’s academy in the Dominican Republic. And to get used to the pro ball routine and learn what the daily routine is like,” Badler continued. “These are the lowest levels of professional baseball development, and you are really trying to grill the fundamentals. They learn some of the basics.
“After that, players report to that academy in the spring, and often their first seasons are in the Dominican Summer League. Some of the best players come over to the United States for fall instructional league after the season. By the time they are 18, some of them could still repeat the DSL, but some of the better players play in the Gulf Coast League by then. At that point, they are on equal age footing with high school players drafted that join them in the GCL,” Badler said.
Since August, four Orioles signees have reportedly been signed to bonuses between $175,000 and $225,000. They are 16-year-old outfielder Isaac Bellony of the Dominican, shortstop Moises Ramirez from the Dominican, outfielder Damian Valdez from the Dominican and Cuban outfielder Kevin Infante.
Sometimes players signed for bonuses in this range do turn into quality players, maybe even stars. In 2013, outfielder Victor Robles was signed by Washington out of the Dominican for $225,000.
Badler took a guess that a bonus of that amount in 2018 would rank in the top 250 or so among all of the 1,000 or more players signed during the year internationally.
“Generally speaking, you can find good players at all price points in the draft and the international market. Even at the major league level, as the World Series MVP proved,” he said. “We’ve seen some quality pitching, especially, emerge out of Latin America with pitchers signed for lower dollar amounts,” he said.
Ranking the free agents: Fancred Sports ranked 131 major league free agents and made predictions on the contracts they would get, citing an unnamed baseball expert and reporter Jon Heyman.
Washington’s Bryce Harper was rated the No. 1 free agent. The expert predicted Harper would get an 11-year deal worth $374 million. Heyman went for 11 years and $330 million.
Manny Machado was ranked as the No. 2 free agent. The expert predicted a deal of 10 years for $325 million, and Heyman went 10 for $300 million. He also reported that at least one big-market team has sworn off Machado.