Orioles tap New Zealand for 17-year-old prospect

The Baltimore Sun

There's never been a major league baseball player to come out of New Zealand. And despite reports from the country that 17-year-old first baseman Pita Rona has signed a seven-year "major league" contract with the Orioles, it's actually far from that.

The Orioles have signed the 6-foot-5, 175-pound Rona to a minor-league deal and he will report to Major League Baseball's developmental academy in Australia. Rona, who has played for the New Zealand men's national softball team (commonly referred to as the Black Sox), shifted his focus to baseball last year. His father, Brad, is also a prominent softball player in New Zealand and together they were the first father-son duo to play for the national team at the same time.

The fact that Rona is reporting to the Australian academy indicates he's a raw player. Usually players will play there for one to two years and then those deemed as real prospects come to the states at the lowest level of minor league baseball.

So maybe you see him in the Gulf Coast League in 2013 at the earliest. Needless to say, he's a long way from the majors -- both literally and figuratively. But it is another sign that the Orioles are willing to span the globe for international talent.

One other note, former Orioles catcher Craig Tatum was designated for assignment by the Astros on Wednesday in order to create a roster spot for the newly-acquired Jack Cust. Houston claimed Tatum, who hit .195 in 87 major league at bats last season, off waivers from the Orioles in October.

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