The Orioles' long-awaited entrance into the market for international amateurs began in earnest July 2 when the team
signed 27 Latin American prospects
from five different countries.
The signings, which included players between the ages of 16 and 19, are a sign the Orioles have finally started to catch up to the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball that have had a scouting presence in Latin America for years, according to Ben Badler of
"It's a pretty significant shift from anything that they've done before and that's a pretty low bar to clear," Badler said on
Glenn Clark Radio
July 3. "Up until this year, they've been operating like -- I don't even want to say 2009, maybe like 1999. I mean, such an antiquated approach from the top of the Orioles' organization to almost completely ignore the international market."
Meanwhile, the rest of the teams in the American League East have successfully mined the area for top players in recent years. The Toronto Blue Jays signed third baseman Vladimir Guererro Jr. (2015), the Boston Red Sox acquired third baseman Rafael Devers (2013), and the New York Yankees signed catcher Gary Sanchez (2009) and pitcher Luis Severino (2011). All four players hail from the Dominican Republic. And Dominican shortstop Wander Franco, the top prospect in baseball, signed with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017.
"There's just a ton of talent," Badler said, "and it's unbelievable they were not involved almost at all in this area up until this year."
But since Mike Elias became general manager in November and Koby Perez was hired as senior director of international scouting early this year, the team has made a concerted effort to scout players throughout the last seven months, establishing a burgeoning scouting infrastructure in Latin America in hopes of finding top talent.
Baltimore's efforts to sign top talent could still take a few years, Badler said, as many teams have already begun to scout, recruit and get commitments from players several years in advance. In the short term, the Orioles will have to focus on lesser-known, late-blooming players while simply getting lucky if a player falls through the cracks.
"You're signing these kids at 16, 17 years old. There's a lot of luck involved, but you've got to give yourself the opportunity to be lucky by going out and seeing all the players and actually signing those players and giving yourself an opportunity to get lucky on some of these guys," Badler said. "They're still in the infancy of building up that program. I think they are behind the eight-ball in getting started, but it's a good start for them so far this year."
The Orioles still have some international bonus pool money to play with since they entered the marketplace late, and the leftover cash could be used in several ways, Badler explained. A player's deal with another organization could fall through due to a failed physical, and a Cuban player could become available later in the international signing period. Another advantage is a rule change that has made bonus pools hard-capped, which has made pool money more valuable in trade.
"There are definitely some teams -- Yankees, for one -- who are trying to trade for more money, so this is more of a scarce resource," Badler said. "The value of trading international bonus pool money might be a little bit higher than in years past."
Of the Orioles 27 signings, 16 are from the Dominican Republic, eight are from Venezuela and one each hail from Aruba, the Bahamas and Colombia. Two Orioles prospects who stood out to Badler were left-hander Luis Ortiz and shortstop Leonel Sanchez, both from the Dominican Republic.
"This is a real, legitimate pull for the Orioles," Badler said of Ortiz. "A left-handed pitcher at 16 years old who has been up to 93 [mph]. If you think about major-league pitchers, it doesn't sound all that great with all the velocity we're seeing in the game today but for a 16-year-old kid, especially from the left side, that's really an advantage."
"And then Leonel Sanchez, a shortstop I saw out of the Dominican Republic -- definitely a defensive-oriented player. A very high probability to stick at shortstop and defend the position well," Badler continued. "He is super light on his feet at shortstop; very smooth actions, hands, transfer, internal clock at the position. You just watch him take ground balls and your eyes are drawn to a kid like that."
For more from Badler, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles