If the Orioles are going to build that elite talent pipeline to get back to winning baseball, they are going to need international talent to be a big element of that effort.
Under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez, the Orioles are trying to quickly bring their international program up to speed.
The Tampa Bay Rays placed a major leagues-leading eight players on the latest Baseball America top 100 prospects list and two of those eight are international signings. They include baseball’s No. 1 prospect, shortstop Wander Franco from the Dominican Republic. The No. 2 prospect on the top 100 is Cuban outfielder Luis Robert of the White Sox.
The last three No. 1 players on the Baseball America top 100 are international signings, with Ronald Acuña in 2018 and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2019 before Franco. The significance of having a strong international program is clear.
In a video interview yesterday, I talked with Ben Badler of Baseball America. He’s been one of the top authorities on international signings in Major League Baseball for years. Monday he published this article (subscription required) on the Orioles’ upcoming signings class.
We should point out that the normal period for teams to sign international amateurs - players that can be signed at age 16 - runs from July 2 through June 15. This year that date is flexible, per the agreement in March between the MLB players and owners. It has not been announced yet - even though we are now in June - when the 2020-21 signing period will begin. It could start as late as Jan. 15, 2021. So the players mentioned in that article are players the club has agreed with but whose signings are not yet announced or official.
Under the latest collective bargaining agreement, teams are given a finite amount of money to sign these amateurs. The amount has been frozen from the last period, which should mean the Orioles have $6.481 million for the upcoming period.
Last year on July 2, the Orioles announced the signings of 27 international amateurs. In January they added a group of seven more players. The class of 34 featured 23 from the Dominican and eight from Venezuela. It included 19 pitchers. It included at least 20 players signed to bonuses of six figures, led by outfielder Luis Gonzalez, who signed for $475,000.
Now the O’s are about to add to that group in the important effort to upgrade their international program.
“It’s an enormous shift from what they were doing previously,” Badler said. “Since Mike Elias came in and hired Koby Perez and got that commitment from ownership to spend on international players, we started to see a little bit of an uptick in 2019 in terms of the signing class they added. Getting a late start put them at a disadvantage there. They did some get pretty interesting arms. But 2020, I think, is going to be the biggest international signing period for them yet.”
Again, keep in mind that the players Badler reported on this week have not been signed yet because they can’t be added yet. We are still waiting for MLB to announce the official signing date. But they have agreed to terms with these players, and per his reporting they’ll add two players who could top the highest bonus from last period.
The O’s have agreed with catcher Samuel Basallo, according to Baseball America. He’s considered the top catching prospect in the Dominican and Baseball America projects his bonus to fall between $1 and $1.5 million. He will turn 16 on Aug. 13. Basallo was once linked to the Yankees.
“He’s 6-foot-3 at 15” Badler said of Basallo. “We often see bigger guys with longer swings, but he doesn’t have that. It’s a pretty short swing from the left side. What really stands out is the power with him. Two power tools - the raw power that he has and the strong arm behind the plate. And if he gets even bigger and stronger both of those tools have a chance to tick up. You have a chance to get a power-hitting catcher.”
The O’s added corner outfielder Wilmer Feliciano, who is projected to get a bonus of just under $500,000.
“Big left-handed raw power,” said Badler. “I was at a showcase that MLB ran in November in Arizona and he was hitting balls out of a major league park at 16. Don’t see that too often. Big raw power from the left side. There is more swing and miss to his game. Going to have to make a few adjustments to get more frequent contact. You don’t have to project on the power for him, that’s already there.”
They have added a tall and lean shortstop prospect in Maikol Hernandez from Venezuela. He was previously linked to St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
“At 6-foot-4, 175, there are so many different ways a player like that can go,” Badler said. “Is he going to stay lean and athletic like he is right now and be that 6-foot-4, 200-pound shortstop? Or does he grow to 230 and maybe end up moving off the position. For right now he is tall and lean and athletic, and you usually don’t see guys with that size with that power-and-speed combination. He’s a plus runner right now and generates power relatively easily with a lot of bat speed.”
Badler and I talked on other topics, including how teams are choosing to spend their international pool amounts, how soon the O’s will be in play for the biggest-dollar players and the prospect of an international draft coming to MLB.