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Jim Henneman: Will Orioles' International Haul Bring Quality? Time Will Tell

July 5, 2019
The Orioles have pretty much completed the most productive international signing period (do they call this the ISP?) in club history, which has stirred up a lot of interest and at least a little excitement around these parts.

But the bottom line is, as crapshoots go this is about as big as it gets, which is as good a reason as any why principal owner Peter Angelos shied away from this market for so long. 

Trying to separate potential Hall of Famers from career D-Leaguers at the age of 15-16 can be like the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. Explaining the difference between amateur players in what amounts to an open market internationally and the draft we have in this country may be even more difficult.

It was a point driven home to me last December when, while at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, I learned about a midweek "tryout" session at a nearby field for a few hundred teenagers. "Aren't they in school now?" I asked one of my scout friends, wondering how so many youngsters could be available for a workout -- revealing how naive I was about the process.

The "prospects" were all from Latin countries, mostly the Dominican Republic, brought in specifically for this workout. With very few exceptions, none of them were eligible to sign before the beginning of the period that started July 2. Also, with very few exceptions, it turned out most had already made commitments through their representatives -- at the ripe age of 15. 

That, of course, seemed to raise a very good question about the necessity/validity of this workout/tryout: Why bother?

Major League Baseball also conducts similar camps for prospects in this country (plus Canada and Puerto Rico) through various "showcase" events. The big difference, of course, is those players are subject to an amateur draft, which makes it a process of evaluation rather than commitment for the 30 major-league teams.

A team like the Orioles, who have been no more than bit players in the international marketplace, is at an obvious competitive disadvantage relying solely on a balanced draft as an organizational foundation. They are playing "catch up" in places like the Dominican and Venezuela, much like American League teams were 60-70 years ago when the National League followed the signing of Jackie Robinson by dominating the pursuit of African-American (and Latin) players.

For whatever reason, the possibility of an international draft has been deemed unworkable, certainly by the teams with the most (unlimited?) resources that routinely funnel millions of dollars through agents representing teenagers who for whatever reason can't sign a contract until they're 16, but apparently can make a commitment anytime.

In an effort to keep the international market somewhat balanced, MLB has a formula that slots "pool" money for its 30 teams. For example, for this current session, the Orioles are allowed to spend just under $6.5 million, while the New York Yankees' allotment is $5.4 million. Each team is allowed to spend as much as it wants up to those limits.

How the Orioles and Yankees divided up their stash provides an interesting contrast.

General manager Mike Elias, in charge of the Orioles' rebuilding effort, expressed a lot of satisfaction about the 27 players signed, and with the highest bonus being a reported $450,000, that leaves a little in the kitty for future use.

The Yankees, on the other hand, went all in for the consensus No. 1 player available, Dominican outfielder Jasson Dominguez, giving him all but $300,000 of their $5.4 million pool. Keep in mind, we're talking about 16-year-olds.

Will the quantity match the quality? These kids will be 21 years old in five years -- check back then.

Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles