O’s international efforts will soon take another big step

The Orioles continue to make some huge strides in their pursuit of international amateur talent. A class of what would eventually be 44 players was added in the signing period that began July 2, 2019 and ended in October. The Orioles will sign fewer players in the coming class, but were involved with many more players commanding bigger signing bonuses.

This is the latest sign that the club is serious about becoming a player on the international front and the club will be making history when it can officially announce a new class of signees in a few days on Jan. 15.

It has been previously reported, but the Orioles will sign their first two international amateurs to seven-figure bonuses. MASNsports.com has learned that the club has agreements with eight players who will get bonuses of $300,000 or more. There were entire years in the past where the O’s total international spending has not been much more than that.

According to Baseball America, the O’s spent just $260,000 on their whole class for the 2016 calender year and just $535,000 in 2017. Now they will spend $2.5 million combined on just two players with several other significant dollar signings.

Perez-Koby-Plaid-sidebar.jpgFor the Orioles, the times are clearly changing under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez.

Since Elias was not hired until November 2018 and Perez not until January 2019, the duo and their international staff got a late start on their first signing class with the first batch of those players that was announced July 2, 2019. Most of the top players had been spoken for by the time of their hires. But while the club will sign fewer players this time, the quality of player seems higher - if signing bonuses tell us anything.

The pandemic and late start to the 2020 Major League Baseball season led to a changing of the international signing period dates. What once began each year on July 2 was this year pushed back to Jan. 15, 2021.

The club is expected to announce a class of 20 players a week from Friday. The group is headed up by 16-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo from the Dominican Republic and 17-year-old shortstop Maikol Hernandez from Venezuela. Industry sources say Basallo will get a $1.3 million bonus and Hernandez will get $1.2 million. In Baseball America’s projections for the new class, Basallo was projected to have the No. 29 highest bonus and Hernandez was at No. 33.

Basallo, who turned 16 on Aug. 13, has some raw power and an arm that gets some 60 grades from scouts. But he is a big catcher already at 6-foot-3 and 198 lbs. and could outgrow the catching position. A lefty batter, he was once linked to the Yankees. Hernandez is 6-foot-4 and 175 lbs., and has several impressive tools with a strong arm and power. He’s drawn some comparisons to bigger shortstops at young ages like Carlos Correa and Manny Machado. He is considered a plus runner with a strong arm and power. He was previously linked to the Cardinals and Pirates.

The Orioles have a group of six other players expected to get bonuses between $300,000 and $400,000.

This group includes corner outfielder Wilmer Feliciano from the Dominican. He is a 6-foot-2 lefty batter with power and is expected to get the club’s third-highest bonus in this class. It includes lefty-hitting center fielder Teudis Cortorreal of the Dominican, a player with power potential, and Dominican-born shortstop Victor Celedonio, a switch-hitter. There are also Dominican shortstops Eruviel Castillo and Anderson De Lo Santos and Venezuelan lefty-hitting catcher Yasmil Bucce, a solid hitting prospect.

Two players that are expected to sign in the $200,000 or slightly above range are shortstop Angel Tejada from the Dominican and catcher Aneudis Mordan from the Dominican.

Three players that will sign for slightly under $200,000 are Dominican center fielders Junior Lara and Angel Pena and Dominican lefty pitcher Daivy Cruz. It is believed that all of these players, save for Hernandez, are currently 16.

While I believe some of these players are being noted for the first time, others were previously reported by Baseball America in this entry from June (subscription required), which includes video on some of the players.

This group of 13 players will eat up the bulk of the club’s international bonus pool of $5,889,600. The club may have only about $100,000 remaining. The Orioles were placed with a group of seven other teams in getting this amount of pool money. Six teams got the highest amounts of $6,431,000. And while the O’s have few remaining dollars to sign international amateurs in a signing period that will run through Dec. 15, 2021, they got some of their top targets and the club will have signed 64 players under Elias/Perez and their staff when this class is announced.

Also, for this class, MLB has mandated that international bonus slots can no longer be traded, so it’s not like the Orioles will lose out on any opportunities to acquire players there, with most of their pool spoken for.

During a recent interview, Perez could not comment about any of these players, since they are not officially signed yet. But he could and did talk in general terms about the club being involved with players demanding higher bonuses in this class.

“That began this year,” he said. “The reason for it is our presence in Latin America has been a lot stronger. Even though the pandemic slowed it down a bit in March. We were still able before that to make many trips to the D.R., with our general manager involved in those trips himself. Our top baseball operations officials showing themselves down there really puts us in a good position to get the best talent.

“We’re excited about this class. We’re adding really good talent. We’re frontrunners for a couple of guys we really like. Hopefully, we are able to put pen to paper on Friday (the 15th).”

And while the first international class under Elias included around 24 pitchers in a class of 44, the group of the 13 players we have noted here includes 12 position players and just one pitcher. No doubt the club’s focus shifted in year two on the international front.

“This is definitely a position player-heavy class,” said Perez. “We are targeting up-the-middle players. You’ll see catchers, you’ll see shortstops and center fielders. That is who we are targeting after going pitching-heavy last year. This balances us out pretty good and hopefully we pull some big leaguers out of this.”

The Orioles plan to field two teams in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League again in 2021. Each roster can hold as many as 35 players.

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