It was a list of the top 100 international prospect signings for the period that began July 2, 2019 and will end on June 15. The Orioles had two players on this top 100. The author of the list saw some players play in the Tricky League, where some international amateurs play right after signing. It runs concurrent with the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, but is not a sanctioned league that keeps records or stats. It’s just an opportunity for young prospects to play and get better. Most of the players signed last July 2 will play for the first time in the DSL in June.
The first Oriole on this list was left-handed pitcher Luis Ortiz from the Dominican Republic. He was signed for a bonus of $400,000. Recently I interviewed Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting about seven recent signees. During that interview, he provided some details on the two O’s players rated on this Baseball America list.
Perez on Ortiz: “He is a very good left-handed pitching prospect. He kind of embodies what we are looking for in a young kid, which is pitchability plus stuff. It gives us a good advantage when he can command that stuff at such a young age. He has a very good curveball and his fastball is consistently in the low 90s. He can get some extra when he needs it. He’s a mature body kid, physically mature for his age. The fact he can command pitches and go right after hitters, we’re super excited about him.”
Perez also spoke of right-handed pitcher Raul Rangel out of Venezuela, whose signing was rated No. 51. The Orioles gave Rangel (pronounced Ran-hell) a bonus of $150,000.
Perez on Rangel: “He performed really well in all the MLB events and the showcases. He was able to get a lot of strikeouts and get through his innings quickly. He continued that for us in the Tricky League. We were very fortunate to be able to get him. As he was getting these outs in showcases, at the time he was 85, 86 mph and teams were lukewarm. Later, towards the end when we got him, he started getting a little stronger and started touching 90, 91, 92 (mph). And that is where we were able to land the player. He has a ton of upside. He’s rail thin, probably about 160 lbs., and already throwing that velo. Once we get him on a good diet at the academy and our strength and conditioning group gets him stronger, those velocities could get near the mid-90s fairly quickly. His arm action and delivery is real good.”
The Orioles’ signing class, which now numbers 34, features several pitchers with good velocity for such young ages. Some of this group could add velocity as they develop their bodies and pitches more in the coming years.
Just to mention a few that were signed last July 2, right-hander Erick Caines has touched 93 mph, right-hander Charbel Abboud hit 94 mph and right-hander Randy Beriguete reached the mid-90s.
Since Perez was not hired until Jan. 2, 2019 and the top players for the class that could be signed starting on July 2 were already spoken for, Perez and the Orioles had to do the best they could with a limited pool of talent. But Perez said there was a benefit to the Orioles with some pitchers that were not signed earlier but were making recent improvements. The Orioles could target a group of pitchers that were showing more velocity than they had earlier.
“It’s not surprising that down in Latin America, you find a lot of good arms,” Perez said. “We’re excited that most of the guys are able to pitch (with a bigger arsenal) as well. One of the benefits we had with our approach to attack pitching starting so late, you know how quickly this market moves. Once it moves quickly with the position players, kids at 14 might not be throwing in the 90s, but the low 80s and teams can be hesitant to commit to those kids so early. So when we came in sitting on money, most of the teams had already spent a lot of their money.
“Now some of these kids (they were scouting were) 15 or older and are now touching 90 or 91 (mph). Now they are showing more what they are going to be. We were able to kind of pounce on those guys because we had a large amount of money available. And we had some real good evaluations. Once the kids starting coming on closer to the signing period, we were in a good situation - although not by design. We’re really excited about the pitching we landed.”
Now Orioles fans want to know if and when the team will sign some of the biggest dollar international players? That day is coming, Perez said. But since players commit to teams sometimes years in advance, teams have to work years ahead. That means scouting players as young as 13 that can be signed at 16.
Even with the signing period coming July 2, 2020, the top players are already committed and have been for a while. It’s almost like recruiting college basketball players that are sophomore and juniors in high school.
“We are looking at players that are eligible in 2022 - some are 13 years old,” said Perez. “We are working on our 2021 class and feel like we are the frontrunners on a couple of high-end guys. Hopefully, we will be able to sign those players come (July) 2021.
“The majority of the top guys for 2020 are already committed. We have a good group of players that we really like and I think our group will be stronger than 2019 because we had a little more time. That being said, the top 30 guys were spoken for by the time we were able to do anything.”