O's international program keeps taking steps forward and a new class is coming

The Orioles continue to see strong signs that their international program is really starting to hum. As they get set to open a brand-new Dominican complex, in recent weeks they had four international players ranked among the top prospects in the Florida Complex League. They had seven players taken in September in the Dominican Winter League draft, led by catching prospect Samuel Basallo.

Basallo is the shining star right now among the O’s international talent, but is far from the only talent starting to get noticed.

“In recent years we planted some seeds and the flowers are starting to come up,” said the O’s Koby Perez, promoted recently from senior director of international scouting to vice president of international scouting and operations. “Our staff and scouts on the ground have done a fantastic job finding talent and I can’t say enough about our player development system. Some of the fruits of our labor are starting to show.”

Perez and the Orioles will unveil a new international signing class when the signing date arrives on Jan. 15.

“We feel good about this upcoming class,” Perez told me at the Winter Meetings in Nashville. “We feel like we’re going to have a couple of players that are publicly ranked in the signing class. And there are other guys, maybe not publicly ranked, but that we value highly as we have in the past. We’re excited and can’t wait to Jan. 15 to get these guys under wraps.”

In September, Licey selected Basallo in the first round of the Dominican Winter League draft, but he is not expected to play any winter ball this year.

“He’s in a strength-and-conditioning program, so we want him to come back and be ready to go," Perez said. "Just maintaining his athleticism. Maintain his swing and just kind of physically prepare for the grind of the minor league season. Last year was his first year in full-season minor league ball.”

Some analysts wonder if the organization will move the 6-foot-3 Basallo away from the catching position despite his strong arm. But he has said he wants to continue to catch.

“Right. And he has all the tools to do it," Perez said. "It’s all about now catching the quality pitching and the movements of the ball and making sure everything is good. We know the tools are there.”

So why do some analysts keep talking about Basallo possibly ending up at first base or even a corner outfield spot?

“If you look at our major league team, those are some assumptions, because we have a very, very good catcher in the majors," Perez said, referring to Adley Rutschman. "And I’m sure that we would want to leverage our best players in the big leagues. So if he has to move, I would assume it would be because we’ve got a guy,”

Other O’s players taken in the Dominican Winter League draft include lefty pitchers Luis De Leon and Deivy Cruz and right-handed pitchers Juan Nunez, Brayner Sánchez, Edgar Portes and Yaqui Rivera.

Plus, Baseball America recently listed four of the Orioles' international prospects in its listing of top 20 Florida Complex League prospects. Outfielder Braylin Tavera, signed for $1.7 million in January, came in at No. 12 after producing an .812 OPS. The lefty De Leon, who was the first pitcher taken in the Dominican Winter League draft, was No. 14 on that list. Infielder Leandro Arias, who had a .784 OPS, was No. 18. Outfielder Thomas Sosa, who had a .877 OPS, was rated No. 20.

In the last three signings classes, the Orioles have signed four players to bonuses of $1 million or more. In 2021 they got Basallo for $1.3 million and infielder Maikol Hernandez for $1.2 million. In 2022 they added Tavera at that $1.7 million bonus. In 2023 they added shortstop Luis Almeyda for $2.3 million.

Perez said players and their representatives in places like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have long since noticed that the O’s are making noise with their international program.

“I think you know we’re taken seriously with the agents and the kids watching some of our players be selected in the Dominican Winter League draft," he said. "Some of our players are performing now in Venezuela in the Winter League. I think it really motivates kids to say "Maybe I want to sign with that organization, because the players that sign there move up the line and are recognized.'”

The O’s have not had many players yet playing winter ball, but two that have gotten some time are Frederick Bencosme, in the Dominican, and pitcher Moisés Chace, in Venezuela.

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