New Dominican academy latest win for Orioles in international market

In order for the Orioles to come out clean on the other side of their teardown and rebuild, they had to create a presence in the international market. Spend money in it. Find the right people with solid reputations and name and face recognition instead of being invisible.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias made one of his most important moves in January 2019, two months after joining the Orioles, by hiring Cleveland’s Koby Perez as senior director of international scouting. Elias called it “the first major step in improving our footing in Latin America.”

“His experience, connections and reputation built across a fast-rising career in multiple successful organizations will immediately elevate our capabilities in this critical market,” Elias said that day.

The department lacked a formal leader since Fred Ferreria was dismissed after the 2017 season. Assistant director of minor league and international operations Cale Cox was let go in October 2018.

The Orioles played on the fringes of the market. Now, they’re in the deep end.

Today marks the beginning of the next international signing period, and has reported that the Orioles’ expected haul is around 20 players, led by 16-year-old shortstop Emilio Sanchez and 16-year-old outfielder Stiven Martinez from the Dominican Republic.

Sanchez is expected to sign for just over $1 million and Martinez for just under $1 million. Also, 16-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Elvin Garcia from the Dominican Republic is likely to receive the third-highest Orioles bonus in this class at approximately $500,000.

(Steve Melewski will track today’s news and file a report.)

Illustrating the shift in philosophy, the Orioles have produced two of the largest signing classes in club history in 2019-20 and 2022-23. They reeled in the team’s first seven-figure signings in Samuel Basallo and Maikol Hernández in 2020-21, set the franchise record for a bonus given to an international player in Braylin Tavera in 2021-22, and broke that record with the signing of Luis Almeyda last year.

Six of the current top 30 Orioles prospects per MLB Pipeline are international players signed by the organization.

Perez was promoted in October to vice president of international scouting and operations. He continued to oversee all aspects of the team’s international scouting operations and management of the bonus pool, but also assumed supervision of operations at the training academy in the Dominican Republic.

The state-of-the-art facility in Guerra officially opens on Tuesday with a ceremony that runs from 10 a.m.-noon and includes Elias, Perez, Dominican Republic president Luis Abinader, vice minister of sports Elvis Duarte and commissioner of baseball Junior Noboa. 

The Orioles first broke ground on the project in the fall of 2021. Questions about its completion are finally over.

The 22.5-acre complex is home to the Orioles’ regional facility for Caribbean, Central, and South American player development operations, and it includes three full fields, a sports turf agility field, batting and pitching tunnels, administrative buildings, dormitories, and educational facilities. More than 100 players, coaches and staff can be housed, and the amenities include entertainment spaces, three classrooms and a computer lab that provide on-site learning and an education plan for each player. The dining room offers daily nutritious meals.

Sales pitch perfect when recruiting players.

“This academy is the culmination of years of hard work by so many people, and I am grateful to everyone who made this a reality,” Elias said in a statement released last week. “For the last several years, one of the main goals of our partnership group and front office has been to excel in Latin America, and I am very pleased by what we as an organization, led by Koby Perez, have accomplished in this sector. This grand opening marks another major milestone in scouting and player development that will keep our minor league pipeline flowing and preserve winning baseball in Baltimore for years to come.”

“I am incredibly proud to say that the Baltimore Orioles now have one of finest training facilities in the Dominican Republic,” Perez said in the statement. “The impact this complex will have on the future success of the Orioles, and the young players that we recruit and sign, is immeasurable. Having a state-of-the-art facility will not only allow us to continue to attract top international talent to the organization but will also allow us to teach them valuable life skills off the field that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

Two current Orioles will join in the celebration – closer Félix Bautista and shortstop Jorge Mateo. Former Orioles scheduled to appear include Vladimir Guerrero Sr., Nelson Cruz, Miguel Tejada, Hanser Alberto, Daniel Cabrera, Melvin Mora and Radhames Liz.

Mora is a native of Venezuela, but he can appreciate a state-of-the-art academy.

Positive reviews from outside the organization already are pouring in, and I’ve heard that teams are disappointed to see the Orioles in their current form because they never factored into the Dominican bidding.

The old facility was outdated, just like Twins Lakes Park before its renovations, and owner Peter Angelos thought it was financially irresponsible to throw money at teenagers in Latin America with shady representation who were harder to project as prospects. Too much of a gamble.

They were one club that you didn’t need to worry about.

Now, you do.

And they’re building advantages brick by brick.

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