Elias on “largest international signing period” club has ever had

While the Orioles are struggling at the major league level and have lost seven of eight and 17 of 22 games to fall to 15-33, the ball is rolling behind the scenes to continue to acquire young amateur talent, both on the domestic and international fronts.

During a wide-ranging interview with reporters this afternoon, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias updated the club’s efforts.

Elias-Watches-Spring-sidebar.jpgNot only do the Orioles have the top pick June 3 in the First-Year Player Draft, but a month later the Orioles are expected to announce a large batch of international amateur signings. A new international signing period begins July 2. And while some of the big-name players who will get the biggest bonuses are mostly or completely spoken for and have long since had team commitments, Elias said the Orioles will still be very active.

He agreed with reports that indicate the Orioles’ international scouts now have a bigger presence than they’ve had in years. Maybe ever.

“I think that is fair to say,” Elias said. “I think this was not a particularly active organization on that front. I think we had kind of a minimal operation that would sign players well after the July 2 signing date. Kind of lower-dollar, older players relative to most international signings.

“Now we are pushing out as a full-fledged international scouting operation. It takes some time. And the way the market works down there, some of the behind-scenes advance work that goes on has been done for two years now or more (leading to this July 2). So, we don’t have a full slate of players available to us. But that said, July 2 is coming up and the international signing period will open.

“It will be the largest international signing period, July 2, that the Orioles have ever had. We are doing a lot of work, Koby Perez (hired Jan. 2 as senior director of international scouting) and I and his group. His group is growing. They’re doing a lot of work right now, and it’s only going to increase.”

But at least for this year, the Orioles are not likely to be in on the highest-rated players, many of which had already made decisions and agreements with teams well before Elias was hired in November.

“There are players that will be significant dollar investments that we really like. Do I anticipate us having one of the top seven or top 10 signing bonuses on July 2? No. But that’s the kind of thing that takes more advance work than Koby and I had in coming here. But long-term, that is not a concern for us. We’re going to be fully operational going forward.”

Most recently, Elias has spent much of his time preparing for the upcoming draft. Not only do the Orioles have the No. 1 pick, but they also will select 42nd overall, and pick No. 71, No. 79 and No. 108 overall within the first four rounds.

The club’s bonus pool of $13.82 million is second only to Arizona’s $16.09 million.

So the day for the first pick is getting close, but Elias said the club’s decision on which player to select has not yet been made.

“We haven’t locked in, nor will we until later,” he said. “You know, we don’t have our scouts here yet and there is still information coming in. We are in the front office right now up there working on organizing the draft and the draft board and our information. We’re going to be kind of doing that day and night between now and the draft. Until we get all of our scouts in one room, until we have the conversations we need to have, until all the intel comes in, we won’t make a decision on that pick.”

Elias was involved with three drafts in which his former organization, the Houston Astros, had the No. 1 pick.

“You know, it’s a little different for me. I’m obviously spending a great deal of my time preparing for the draft. Just being new to the organization and wanting to install the processes that we want to have installed. And also wanting to personally evaluate some of the players, especially for the No. 1 pick.

“But we have so much else going on around the organization. There is the day-to-day roster management and responsibilities that can take up a lot of your time as a general manager. But we’ve also got big initiatives going on internationally. Getting our international scouting and player development up. On the player-development front, we are doing things. We are building analytic tools. So it’s definitely been more of a time-management challenge rather than just focusing on the draft as a scouting director.”

Elias admits there is pressure on him the club in selecting 1/1.

“It’s hard to understate it. It’s a huge opportunity, anytime you are picking high in the draft. Not just the No. 1 pick but high in the draft, a top 10 pick. You’ve got a pretty good shot of really getting a franchise cornerstone, but it’s not a 100 percent shot, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s probably more like 50-50 if you look at historical records. So, you feel a lot of pressure. And there is big upside to the opportunity. But no one has a crystal ball and it’s just not easy to nail. So, we just do as much work as we can going into it and do what we think is right,” Elias said.

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