Felipe Rojas Alou Jr., the director of the Orioles’ Dominican Republic academy, recently got a look at many of the prospects the club added in its most recent international signing class, which at the time was its biggest investment in that market.
Only a couple of months later, it’s seemingly been surpassed. The Orioles announced Tuesday their plans for a 22 ½-acre development and educational complex in the Dominican Republic, which executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias called “a significant, multimillion-dollar investment.”
To Alou, the project’s completion in the next couple of years means the Orioles will have an academy to match the young talent they’re adding to the organization.
“At the moment, we’re running a camp, and we’re pretty excited,” Alou said. “We just brought the players that we just signed in mid-January, and we’re really excited. Really looking forward to bringing this talent to that first-class facility.
“Hopefully within the next year or so, [we’ll] have the facility to develop and maximize these players to the level that we want.”
That aligns with the Orioles’ general development approach since Elias took charge of baseball operations after the 2018 season.
“Since I’ve been here, updating the infrastructure of this organization has been priority No. 1, internationally in particular,” Elias said. “For me and our front office, this is a huge milestone knowing that this was a big checklist item for us. It’s not an easy thing to do. It requires significant investment, and I thank our partnership group very dearly for their commitment to this and their willingness to embark on a project like this.”
Elias said that project began only weeks after he was hired to lead the Orioles’ rebuild. As payroll on the major league roster has been shed in that time — with the byproduct having the second- and fifth-worst records in baseball the past two seasons and expected to be in that range again in 2021 — investments have been made elsewhere, particularly in technology and the international realm, with the Orioles’ latest international signing class including the first Latin amateurs they’ve given seven-figure bonuses to.
“This is something I think that’s very important for us in what we’ve set out to do, which is have an elite player development system from its inception, whether that’s the July 2 international market or the draft and making sure that our players are receiving a first-rate development experience in terms of technology, education and facilities, nutrition,” Elias said. “We can’t do that without the right facilities.”
In that way, Tuesday’s announcement represented a significant step in Baltimore’s rebuild. On a video conference call, Elias and Alou both described the Orioles’ current facility in the Dominican Republic as “fine,” with Elias noting that it’s been at least a couple of decades since teams’ trend toward Dominican complexes really got going, meaning that many of the buildings constructed then “are coming of age for new projects,” as he put it.
Construction of the Orioles’ new site in Guerra will start soon and take 12-16 months. In the meantime, the Orioles will happily continue to use their current setup in Boca Chica.
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“We have good neighbors, but we’ve been there awhile, it’s old, and the threshold for these across the league has risen, as have other demands in player development, in terms of space and technology and living quarters,” Elias said. “We continue to be content and make good use of our facility, but as these things go, you tend to seek new situations as the years tick off.”
Along those lines, the Orioles’ newest facility will feature several non-baseball amenities for their prospects, including a computer lab, classrooms and dormitories to house over 100 players, coaches and staff. A turf agility field and indoor training areas will allow players to continue to work even if it rains.
As international scouting director Koby Perez works to push the Orioles closer to the top of the market with each signing period, the new complex will help not only to develop the players Baltimore has already signed, but also to convince other amateurs to join them.
“Being able to present to these families where their kids are coming to and what other areas we can offer to their lives, good educational program and having the structure to present that is huge to selling a player, bringing a player to your academy,” Alou said.
Perez noted repeatedly Tuesday that the new complex wouldn’t be beneficial for only the teenagers on the Orioles’ Dominican Summer League rosters. It will also serve as a great site for Latin players with Baltimore’s stateside affiliates or even of the major league roster to train in during the offseason. For the Orioles’ rebuild to be successful, there will need to be growth from the bottom of the organization to the top, and the hope is for the new complex to allow for exactly that.
“[It’s] going to be a good opportunity to anyone who needs development and wants to come in,” Perez said. “We have plenty of space and we have all the required needs for them to succeed.
“I’m sure that everyone in the organization’s going to benefit.”