International program's contribution to the elite talent pipeline

With a new academy coming in the Dominican Republic and their latest signing class announced yesterday, the Orioles' resurgent international program keeps growing and getting better.

The elite talent pipeline, international division, got better as a result.

On one Saturday afternoon, the Orioles announced the signings of 24 players and spent their entire pool allotment of over $6.2 million, according to Koby Perez, the club's senior director of international scouting.

Where the Orioles once neglected this market and might have an entire international class of signings for $200,000 or $300,000, on Saturday the team signed its third international amateur to a seven-figure bonus in the last two years. They added catcher Samuel Basallo for $1.3 million last January, along with shortstop Maikol Hernández for $1.2 million. Yesterday's signing of 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Braylin Tavera for $1.7 million was a team record for a bonus in this marketplace.

If the Orioles, as seems likely, have two or more players from this class break into their top 30 prospects list, they will have at least five international amateurs in the top 30. As of now on the list, Hernández is No. 19, Basallo No. 24 and outfielder Luis Gonzalez, signed for $475,000 on July 2, 2019, is No. 28.

It is not a stretch to feel that at least Tavera and 22-year-old Cuban infielder César Prieto will break into the top 30 list - and there could be more.

The Orioles signed five of the 24 players yesterday to bonuses totaling $4 million of their allotment of $6,262,600, or about 64 percent spent on that group. After Tavera at $1.7 million, Prieto and Dominican infielder Edwin Amparo got $650,000. Domincan shortstop Leandro Arias got $600,000 and Dominican outfielder Thomas Sosa got $400,000.

orioles-dugout-sidebar.jpgWhen executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias hired Perez, the duo pledged to get more and more involved with big name players that command the biggest bonuses in Latin America. In their first class, Gonzalez at $475,000 got the biggest bonus in 2019. Last January, that was Basallo, and now Tavera, ranked No. 22 on the top 50 international prospects, tops them all.

"With Braylin Tavera, we see a player that has ability to hit for power, speed and play good defense," Perez said during a Zoom interview with Orioles reporters. "We think he's got a chance to be a complete player. He's 16 and has a long way to go, but the tools that he's showing are of a player that has the ability to just succeed, assuming his development goes as planned."

Prieto was the only player who has already played pro ball and also is not 16 or 17 in this class. Prieto has played since 2017 in a Cuban pro league, where last year he batted .403/.463/.579/1.042 in 74 games. He walked 31 times and fanned just 11 times.

"We were fortunate to be honest in the timing he came out," Perez said of Prieto who was cleared in November to sign with Major League Baseball. "You know, most of the other teams had committed their pools and we were able to provide a good place for him. Even though the money - his profile doesn't exactly amount to the money. That being said, he chose us. He liked the opportunity that the Orioles can offer him as compared to other teams that were involved. You know, he decided on us. There were other suitors. We're excited he wants to take his journey with us. The recruiting tool of Brandon (Hyde) and Mike.

"His talent ability probably puts him in the mid to upper levels (of the O's farm system) right out of the gate. But you have to remember, he's only been in the U.S. three or four months. He's got a learning curve as far as the U.S. culture and language."

Perez was asked for a comp for Prieto.

"With César Prieto, his track record and just his skill set, some of our scouts say has resembled Nick Madrigal, who is a former first-round pick (No. 4 overall in 2018 out of Oregon State) in the past. Just the on-base skills, the bat to ball. He walks much more than he strikes out and he brings a lot of baseball knowledge to the game. So we'll be happy if he turns out to be that type of player."

Madrigal is a former top 100 prospect and former Adley Rutschman college teammate who hit over .300 in the minors and has batted .317 the last two years in 83 games with the Chicago White Sox. Madrigal was traded to the Cubs last summer.

Here are, by my records, the top 11 bonuses under Perez/Elias in their three signing classes:

* $1.7M - outfielder Braylin Tavera, Jan. 15, 2022
* $1.3M - catcher Samuel Basallo, Jan. 15, 2022
* $1.2M - shortstop Maikol Hernández, Jan. 15, 2021
* $650,000 - infielder César Prieto, Jan. 15, 2022, and shortstop Edwin Amparo, Jan. 15, 2022
* $600,000 - shortstop Leandro Arias, Jan. 15, 2022
* $475,000 - outfielder Luis Gonzalez, July 2, 2019
* $400.000 - outfielder Wilmer Feliciano, January 15, 2021; outfielder Thomas Sosa, Jan. 15, 2022; shortstop Leonel Sanchez, July 2, 2019; and left-hander Luis Ortiz, July 2, 2019

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