SARASOTA, Fla. - It's been a criticism of the Orioles organization for a long time and it seems a valid one. The club has been lacking on the international front, especially in amateur signings and has been lagging behind many teams - well behind some - in producing foreign-born major league talent.
Orioles executive vice-president Dan Duquette wants to change that. In a lengthy one-on-one interview with MASNsports.com Wednesday, he explained some upgrades the club has made and some it still plans to make as part of a year-long restructuring to its Dominican Republic and Latin American operations.
"All you had to do was look at the production record of the major league team to objectively evaluate what the Orioles were getting out of Latin America," Duquette said. "We took a hard look at it and it's a combination of scouting and player development. You need both to be productive. There are plenty of ballplayers coming into the big leagues from the international marketplace. The Orioles (now) have the right combination of good scouts and effective player development. We've spent a lot time restructuring our program.
"Last year, we put together a productive recruiting (scouting) operation, getting some good players into the program because we haven't (previously) gotten any yield from our Dominican work and work in Latin America. Last year, we focused on getting our scouting operation going.
"(Orioles executive director of international recruiting) Fred Ferreira, who is a veteran talent hunter, brought with him a number of scouts who we added. We let go a number of scouts we had down there. We let go nine people in the operation and we hired seven. To me, it was getting the right people. It wasn't that we needed more people. We needed better recruiters and I'm confident we have the right people in player development, too."
Duquette said the seven scouts hired are all full-time and some may scout other areas in addition to the Dominican. He feels the hiring this month of Nelson Norman, a former big leaguer, to the position of director of baseball operations in the Dominican, was one of the final key pieces to the puzzle.
"Once we got our recruiting organized, we took a look at ways to improve our player development there and one way we did that was bringing in Nelson Norman," Duquette said. "He worked very effectively with our player development operation that was successful in Montreal and Boston. Those programs yielded players like Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez.
"Nelson is a veteran baseball guy with a successful track record and in the next couple of years, you will see good players coming from the Orioles scouting and player development operation in Latin America. It took a significant amount of time and energy to restructure the operation, but we have the right people now.
"The key names are Fred Ferreira and Nelson Norman. They have people that they know that they've worked with in the industry that are dependable. Those are two baseball men with experience and successful track records."
With his key people now in place, the next step, Duquette said, is upgrading the team's facilities in the Dominican. The club currently has a facility in Boca Chica.
"The next thing we need to look at is the quality of our facility and if our facility in the Dominican is up to standard for our player development purpose," Duquette said. "We are looking at the most efficient way to upgrade the facility and there are always other options in the Dominican.
"There is partnering with other teams. There are teams in Japan that have American partners there. There are established facilities that we could leverage that are already built. There is looking at building a potential facility, but I think that is the next step. This is something we are going to take a look at this year."
The Orioles have been criticized in the past for a lack of spending on the international front. I asked Duquette how much the Orioles spent last year on international player signing bonuses.
"I don't think that is something we would talk about publicly, but I can tell you that we have a good presence internationally and we have good scouts," he said. "Wei-Yin Chen was a good start. (Cuban outfielder Henry) Urrutia could be a capable major leaguer and that is a step in the right direction.
"Let me say something about that. The system has changed now, so if you spend your money wisely on the international market, there is a limit to what each team can spend. So there shouldn't be big discrepancies to what teams are spending from club to club. So it's really about having the right people. The scouting is very important."
Major League Baseball is now said to be pursuing a possible international draft. If that happens, it won't change any of the Orioles' plans and Duquette said the key is still the scouting of those players.
"That is something being considered," he said. "A structure is in place for that to happen. I'm not sure when it will happen. International recruiting is here to stay and the Orioles are active in markets all over the world."
Duquette has always had a passion for and interest in acquiring and producing international talent. He's had success doing that in Montreal and Boston and he intends to add Baltimore to that list.
"Yes, because I think aggressive scouting on the international market, if you do it right, can really help your club," he said. "We did it effectively along the way. The Orioles will be no different."