The Orioles’ landmark 2019 international signing class was in many ways record-breaking for the franchise, though that was partly because the team had long ignored that pipeline for acquiring talent. The bar had been raised, and the Orioles surpassed it mightily with a 2020 class that featured the team’s first seven-figure bonuses for Latin American teenagers.
Baltimore has once again set a new standard. With the latest international signing period opening Saturday, the Orioles announced an initial 24-player class that, by combined singing bonuses, is the biggest in franchise history and includes the largest signing bonus they have ever given to a Latin American teenager.
Braylin Tavera, a 16-year-old center fielder out of the Dominican Republic, received a $1.7 million signing bonus, according to a source with direct knowledge of the agreement, an amount Baseball America considers one of the 20 largest in the league this signing period. The Orioles were tied for the largest possible bonus pool at almost $6.3 million, per Baseball America, and spent all of it, senior director of international scouting Koby Perez said.
“We’ve been here three years, so these signings that we’re signing today, we’ve been working with them and their agents for three years,” Perez said Saturday in a Zoom call. “That is the reason that we’ve been able to go a little bit toward the top of the signing classes, and in future years, we’ll continue to do that.”
Tavera projects as a potential five-tool player, Perez said. His speed could combine with his bat-to-ball skills and blooming power to allow him to be an impact offensive player in center field. Tavera’s bonus surpasses the $1.3 million Baltimore gave to Dominican catcher Samuel Basallo last year. Basallo and Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández ($1.2 million) were the first two Latin American amateurs to receive seven-figure bonuses from the Orioles.
“Braylin’s a really interesting kid,” Perez said. “He’s got a chance at five tools. He does everything easily and effortlessly. He was a player who was highly coveted by most of the teams in the league, and a lot of it had to do with us offering the opportunity. I think us not having given out these types of bonuses in our history, it makes the player feel special to be the highest-paid international player, so I think that really helped us land Braylin because there was definitely a lot of competition for his services.”
Along with Tavera, the Orioles signed Dominican shortstop Leandro Arias, 16, who MLB Pipeline ranked as a top 50 prospect in the class, for $600,000. Cuban infielder César Prieto and Dominican shortstop Edwin Amparo, 17, received bonuses of $650,000. These agreements are permitted under the MLB owners’ current lockout of the players because they do not impact teams’ 40-man rosters.
As a 22-year-old with experience playing for the Cuban national team, Prieto could be pushing toward the majors much sooner than many of the Orioles’ other recent signings. Perez said he’ll begin play in the mid-to-upper minors, while the rest of the signees will likely head to the Dominican Summer League for their introductions to professional baseball.
Prieto is a talent deserving of a higher bonus, Perez said, but by the time MLB ruled him eligible to sign during this period in November, many other teams had already committed their pools. As a result, Perez said the Orioles feel they got a talented infielder who holds the Cuban hitting streak record at a discount.
“That being said, he chose us,” Perez said. “He liked the opportunity that the Orioles can offer him as compared to other teams that were involved.”
Arias and Amparo are switch-hitters who have similar profiles, Perez said, noting their speed, ability to stick at shortstop, and knacks for barreling the ball and getting on base. Tavera, Prieto, Amparo and Arias will receive four of the six largest international signing bonuses the Orioles have given out under Elias and Perez, with outfielder Thomas Sosa receiving $400,000. Those five account for $4 million of the Orioles’ bonus pool, while the team said another 10 members of the class received a six-figure bonus.
Baltimore might hand out some smaller bonuses going forward in this period, Perez said, as bonuses under $10,000 don’t count against the team’s pool. But most of their focus will be on continuing to build relationships with players in the upcoming classes.
“To be honest with you, we’ve been working on these players for years now,” Perez said. ”Scouting down here, you really, really got to know the players, right when they come into their teams. Our scouts do a really good job of bringing them to the forefront.”
The Orioles had historically been inactive in this market until late in Dan Duquette’s tenure as general manager, typically trading away international bonus pool slots rather than spending them on young talent that has grown to make up a large portion of major league rosters. One of Mike Elias’ earliest hires as executive vice president and general manager was Perez, and the two fully committed the organization to pursuing international talent. Given that these deals are generally agreed upon years in advance, Elias, Perez and the Orioles have largely been working from behind in putting together their classes, but Saturday’s group, along with October’s groundbreaking for a new academy in the Dominican Republic, shows their progress toward catching up.
“If you’re an agent or you’re a player and you see that your player’s coming into this situation, it gives you just more confidence in what we’re doing and what we’re investing,” Perez said. “I think it definitely has helped in our recruitment, and I think going forward, once it gets closer and once it’s open, I think it’ll just increase the interest in us.”
Although many of the players who signed Saturday are teenagers years away from reaching Camden Yards, the Orioles are already experiencing benefits from their recent investments, with several members of previous classes set to play for full-season minor league affiliates for the first time in 2022. Perez noted that Basallo would be a high school junior a year away from draft eligibility in the United States, but he already has a year of Dominican Summer League experience and is set to come stateside to play in the Florida Complex League in 2022.
Perez also pointed out the importance of Elias’ involvement in these efforts, as the GM frequently travels to Latin America to personally scout players. Perez compared the impact of Elias’ presence with the influence a visit from Alabama football coach Nick Saban can have on a high school player’s recruiting decision.
“When we talk to these families and agents, they realize that we want the best for their players,” Perez said. “We’re showing that not only because of the academy that we’re building, but our general manager makes a presence in the Dominican Republic. He comes down, he’s a scout in heart, so he likes coming down and seeing the players.
“Mike is always looking forward to come in and scouting, and I think that’s really, really helped us acquire good talent.”
Orioles’ international signing class
SS Edwin Amparo, Domincan Republic
SS Leandro Arias, Dominican Republic
SS Cristian Benavides, Venezuela
RHP Ezequiel Bonilla, Panama
SS Edrei Campos, Dominican Republic
SS Elis Cuevas, Dominican Republic
RHP Adrián Delgado, Venezuela
INF Aron Estrada, Venezuela
OF Jean Mata, Venezuela
RHP Elías Moscoso, Venezuela
C José Noguera, Venezuela
C Andrés Nolaya, Venezuela
RHP Jesús Palacios, Venezuela
LHP Andrés Parra, Venezuela
SS Fernando Peguero, Dominican Republic
RHP Juan Peña, Dominican Republic
INF César Prieto, Cuba
Baltimore Orioles Insider
OF Raylin Ramos, Dominican Republic
OF Yirber Ruiz, Dominican Republic
SS Adriam Santos, Dominican Republic
OF Thomas Sosa, Dominican Republic
OF Braylin Tavera, Dominican Republic
RHP Henry Tejada, Dominican Republic
INF Alfredo Velásquez, Venezuela