Another look at how Suárez came to the Orioles

KANSAS CITY - Albert Suárez didn’t fall into the Orioles laps. They tracked him, tried to get him, stayed persistent and were rewarded. This wasn’t about luck.

Well, maybe just a little.

A leg injury put Suárez back on the market last summer. The Orioles caught a break more than a falling star. Opportunity aligned with availability.

They had taken some swings at the right-hander in the past and wouldn’t be caught looking this time.

“We pounced on him,” Mike Snyder, the Orioles’ senior director of pro scouting, said of the minor league deal agreed upon in September. “It’s always nice to get some offseason shopping done early.”

The Orioles actually came in late considering how far back their interest dated, before his career carried him overseas and led to a seven-year absence from the majors.

“He was loosely on our radar coming up through the minors and in his big league time with San Francisco,” Snyder said. “On my end, the first time I really dove in on him was the 2017 Rule 5 draft. From there, we followed him in Japan and Korea. I was infatuated with his brother Robert in 2016 but that’s a different story.”

Albert’s tale is worth retelling. And it grew with Wednesday’s start against the Twins, when he tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings.

“We actually had hoped to sign Albert one year prior, at the end of 2022, but he had a strong opportunity with the seven-figure guarantee to return to Samsung and that topped the major league opportunities he was seeing,” Snyder said. “But last August he suffered a calf strain and because KBO teams have a cap on the number of import players they’re able to roster they’ll often release their foreign players if injured, so they can sign a replacement. We stayed plugged in to Japan, Korea, and our scouting group – Ben MacLean and Will Robertson in particular – had liked him.”

The Orioles were intrigued by what they saw and what they envisioned.

What they got Wednesday was the version of Suárez who pounded the strike zone like it owed money and left to a standing ovation. He spun the bad news about Tyler Wells’ elbow inflammation into a heartwarming reward for his perseverance.

Súarez got a no-decision. The Orioles’ front office scored another victory.

“In broad strokes, he was a strike thrower with a high pitching IQ. With feel for three secondary offerings, and with real fastball velocity in the tank to bully hitters when he wanted to," said Snyder, whose Orioles career began with a baseball operations internship in 2009.

“We had seen his velocity climb first in 2018, a little bit in relief, and then in Asia sitting 94-95, touching 97-98. And he’d seen some tough luck in 2023 in particular, but the slider, the changeup, the curveball were all intact. The velocity was still in there.

“We felt he could be more effective in the U.S. perhaps, away from what tends to be more of a contact approach from international hitters. We coordinated with our pitching group – Mitch Plassmeyer, Adam Shuck in particular, Forrest Herrmann and Drew French this spring training, among others – just on some minor suggestions for ways he might be able to tinker with his pitch usage and location patterns and some delivery work. And those guys deserve a ton of credit on the pitching end.

“Albert’s a pro and knows what he wants to do and the spring was impressive.”

The Orioles made another smart move with Suárez by signing him to a two-year contract in September. They knew what they’d ask from him and how it could contradict, and they didn’t want to give him any reasons to resist.

“We didn’t want to waste any time working with him, so right after signing him, we got him into our pitching camp last September to get going with him,” Snyder said. “We were working closely with the pitching group, with the strength and high-performance departments and the medical side to put together a plan. He could start building relationships and we could maximize our time working through a pitching plan before he went off to winter ball.

“It’s not easy if a player reports in February and the team’s message is, ‘Go win a big league job, but by the way, we want you to make this tweak here, adjust this piece here.’ That’s tough on a player when he’s trying to showcase himself in spring training to earn a major league roster spot, and meanwhile, he’s trying to make all these adjustments. Even if they are small. To whatever degree they are. It’s a bit smoother when we’re able to initiate those conversations in advance.”

Word spreads quickly and Suárez heard about the Orioles' modernized methods of instruction and the resources made available. They are steadfastly confident in their program and the people executing it, and in the scouting that begins the entire process.  

“We’re constantly hashing out with our pitching group and our strength group and all of player development in general on ways that we might be able to strengthen the organization and areas that we might be able to tap into,” Snyder said.

“The acquisition science, it’s tough. A lot of times in minor league free agency, waiver claims, this sort of thing, there are 40-man rosters and 30 teams, so you’re working through a list of players who have essentially been deemed by the league to be outside that top 1,200 most desirable players. So, it’s probably not a finished product, it’s probably not perfection for that player, but we’re looking for ways that it could pop, we’re looking for scenarios where things could break right. And sometimes a player may show promise in the past, but for whatever reason, injury or otherwise, maybe it’s been a year or three since he’s shown those flashes and it doesn’t take that much for that to come about again. And perhaps he’s a little more off the radar. But this is never easy.

“This is a humbling sport, and we don’t ever think that we can magically snap our fingers and produce quality players left and right after we’re dealing in the markets that we’re dealing in. But we’re trying to communicate as much as possible with our departments and try to place the best bets we can. We’re also conscious of the opportunity we have, and it’s much easier when we have runway for players. There’s certain positions sometimes where we might have a better landing spot and a little more runway for those outcomes to materialize. So that’s much easier. And relationships help, as well. Contacts in Asia can pass along tips. Agents can help. Albert’s agent, Peter Greenberg, has done really well with him finding him opportunities around the world.”

The Orioles won’t always promise the world, which puts them on the more conservative side. The truth might hurt them, but they won’t stray from it.

“There are times perhaps we’ve lost a player by being overly honest if the player believes the story the other club is selling him, but in the long run that’s helped us I think be successful in our negotiations,” Snyder said.

“When we talk to Peter and we say we have this opportunity, we mean it, and we’re not going to flood the organization with another 15 signings.”

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias built departments from the ground up or oversaw major renovations. He kept adding from the outside or promoting from within. Snyder fit in the latter category, with his various titles and roles also including assistant director of scouting and player development, assistant director of player personnel, director of Pacific Rim operations and baseball development, and director of pro scouting. The most recent bump came over the winter.

The Orioles are able to find and follow players in areas where scouts aren’t based.

“We have comfort in Asia based on our history and our work there in past years, our contacts, and we feel comfortable following it mainly from the United States with all the video and the data and the occasional trip,” Snyder said. “Putting that together, there’s a lot of information sources that we’re able to use to stay on top of this market as well as one can.”

They never gave up on Suárez – through his time in the Giants system and his days in Japan and Korea. They helped with the adjustments in his delivery and grips, got him back to the majors and found their replacement for Wells.

At least for more than one start. And exactly how it should have played out, given what they did as a group so many years ago and through the spring.

"I just want to give credit to our pro scouting department, front office," manager Brandon Hyde said after Wednesday’s game "That's an amazing sign right there.”

That's how the Orioles do it. Suárez isn't the first and he won't be the last.

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