With 17 international free agents signed Friday, including two signed to the first seven-figure bonuses in club history, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias heralded it a “landmark day” in the team’s rebuilding efforts.
“Being really good in this market is essential to any team,” Elias said. “We still have some catch-up to do, but this class is a gigantic step. [Senior director of international scouting Koby Perez] started with us in January of 2019 and because of how this market works, that’s a pretty late start on what really was going to be a 2020 July 2 signing class that obviously got shifted because of the coronavirus to this January.
“To get two of the premiere guys in the class, starting that late, is difficult. Koby was opportunistic, and we’re excited about these players and the rest of the class.”
Elias, who had international scouting experience when he was hired in late 2018, brought Pérez and his staff on quickly to help jump-start a facet of the organization that was dormant for much of the previous decade. The most promising Latin American players often require seven-figure bonuses and are recruited years in advance. Perez said Elias made visits to the Dominican Republic to aid that effort, a show of how committed the Orioles are in that market.
“I think that the importance of the Latin American, July 2-style international scouting has been fueled by the changes we’ve seen in the game of baseball the last 20 years,” Elias said. “The younger players being able to come up and impact the game so immediately because of the quality of player development that has improved across the game, and also the quality of player development in these countries. Now, they comprise about a third of the overall talent in Major League Baseball, and it’s arguably more of the star talent right now.”
The two largest bonuses of the newly signed group belong to catcher Samuel Basallo, whose $1.3 million bonus is the largest the club has given out to a Latin American amateur player, and Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández.
The Orioles described Basallo as having above-average raw power and an above-average arm behind the plate, while they said Hernandez has “five-tool potential” and good ability at shortstop.
While they represent nearly half the $5.25 million the Orioles are permitted to spend in the international market this signing period, the rest is spread around on six-figure bonuses. Outfielder William Feliciano of the Dominican Republic signed for $400,000, with shortstop Victor Celedonio signing for $360,000. Dominican outfielder Teudis Cortorreal and shortstops Euribiel Castillo and Anderson de los Santos signed for $350,000 apiece.
Perez said earlier this week that the high-profile signings were ones that have taken years to develop, dating back to before he and Elias joined the Orioles organization in the 2018 offseason. He said Friday that this signing period shows the Orioles are “ready to go” as major players in the market going forward.
“We’ve already put our feet in the fire down here, and we’re seeing all the top guys,” Perez said. “We’re in a good situation.”
Elias said putting together such a class in 2020 seemed far-fetched when he took the Orioles’ top job, given how far in advance the international market works. Some players commit to clubs years in advance, even if they can’t sign until the July 2 period in their age-16 season.
“I thought it was going to be … difficult to put together a class with real headliners in 2020, and I think, like I said earlier, this is a tribute to the connections and experience that Koby has that he found ways to do that with guys that, obviously, we like these players with the bonuses that we’re giving them, but the industry and the publications, for what that’s worth, recognize that these are our top players in the class, as well, so that’s not easy to do,” Elias said. “I think as we go forward here in the next couple of years, the lack of activity prior will haunt us less and less as we go forward with these classes.”
Looking back at the 2019 signing period, which was hastily put together, the Orioles came away with several six-figure signings who look promising. Left-handed hitting outfielder Luis González signed for $475,000 in the 2019 signing period — the team’s largest bonus that year — and impressed at the team’s fall instructional camp in Sarasota, Florida.
González was one of 14 international signees who came to the United States for instructional camp in October. That progress, plus the team’s continued acquisition of teenage Latin American players in their trades over the last two years, has shown the club’s commitment to tapping and eventually benefiting from this market going forward.
Those players signed in 2019 will be in a similar position as this signing class in that the beginning of their careers is uncertain. There was no Dominican Summer League in 2020, and it’s unclear whether that league will be held in 2021. Pérez said player development staff was discussing the possibility of a camp for the new signees, but that they’d otherwise already been in touch with the organization on individual training plans going forward.
Elias noted that the team was pleased with the work the players are doing to develop on their own during a pivotal stage in their lives.
Orioles 2020 international signings
C Samuel Basallo, Dominican Republic
C Yasmil Bucce, Venezuela
SS Eruviel Castillo, Dominican Republic
SS Victor Celedonio, Dominican Republic
OF Teudis Cortorreal, Dominican Republic
LHP Deivy Cruz, Dominican Republic
SS Anderson De Los Santos, Dominican Republic
OF Wilmer Feliciano, Dominican Republic
SS Maikol Hernández, Venezuela
OF Héctor Jiménez, Dominican Republic
OF Junior Lara, Dominican Republic
Baltimore Orioles Insider
C Aneudis Mordán, Dominican Republic
OF Ángel Peña, Dominican Republic
LHP Elvis Polanco, Dominican Republic
C Carlos Rodríguez, Venezuela
OF Grabiel Salazar, Venezuela
SS Angel Tejada, Dominican Republic
This story will be updated.