In an attempt to improve an international scouting system widely considered among the worst in Major League Baseball, the Orioles have agreed to an extended lease on a new baseball academy in the Dominican Republic, just east of the island's capital city of Santo Domingo.
The facility, which is more than half-completed, will be in Boca Chica, between Santo Domingo and San Pedro de Macoris, where the Orioles currently run a Spartan operation that basically consists of two barracks and a field for 50 players.
Expected to be up and running by April 1, the new Orioles facility will have two full fields, will house 75 players and includes full lodging, classrooms and a kitchen. It is part of a complex being rented by five other teams.
"At least a third of the players in professional baseball come from this area of the world," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said about Latin America. "It's important to have facilities and an infrastructure there to compete with other clubs and procure as much talent as you possibly can. This is what we're doing. It's important to make that investment."
Since MacPhail took over the team in June, there have been few tangible changes to the club's roster and management hierarchy. But, from the beginning, MacPhail promised a reconstruction of the organization's foundation with a renewed emphasis on signing and development. The Dominican endeavor is considered the first significant move toward that goal.
"We have other issues that we need to attend to," MacPhail said. "We'll be happy when [the academy deal] is finalized. This is a meaningful step, but we have other meaningful steps to take."
The Orioles have no extended presence in any other Latin American or Asian country.
MacPhail acknowledged that building a facility might be more beneficial over time, but for now said it wasn't practical because of concerns with time and resources. The Orioles will be in this facility for three years with an option to extend the agreement through 2012.
"Our facilities need improving," he said. "Now, we'll have something that is up and running where our players will be on the field after spring training."
David Stockstill, Orioles director of minor league operations, will oversee the academy and its Dominican Summer League team. The operation was previously run by former Orioles coach Carlos Bernhardt, a San Pedro native who will continue to be a scout "responsible for finding and procuring talent in that area," MacPhail said.
The Orioles have 10 Latinos on their 40-man roster, but only three were signed and developed by the organization: Dominican-born pitchers Daniel Cabrera, Radhames Liz and Fredy Deza.
In the past decade, the Orioles have concentrated primarily on signing talent through free agency and the amateur draft. In one recent two-year stretch, the club spent a total of $750,000 in international signing bonuses - one of the lowest figures in the majors. In contrast, they signed last year's first-round pick, Matt Wieters, for $6 million.