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Ahead of another international investment, Orioles’ dive into Latin American market already proving worthwhile

Since the Orioles’ rebuild began, the organization has consistently diverted resources away from the major league payroll and toward other aspects of its operations.

Perhaps no area of the franchise has benefited more from those efforts than international scouting and development, and that’s a trend that seems likely to continue when the international signing period opens Saturday. Given that the signings won’t be adding players to teams’ 40-man rosters, the transactions are allowed as MLB owners continue to lock out the players while the sides work toward a new collective bargaining agreement.

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Baseball America reported the Orioles will sign Dominican center fielder Braylin Tavera, 16, for a bonus north of $1.5 million, the largest in franchise history and one of the 20 highest among all teams in this year’s international class. MLB.com has also linked Baltimore to well-regarded infielders César Prieto and Leandro Arias.

These deals are typically agreed to years in advance, meaning executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, senior director of international scouting Koby Perez and their staff have largely been playing catch-up in the market since joining the Orioles late in the offseason heading into the 2019 campaign. They’ve still managed to add to that pipeline in recent years after the preceding front office largely ignored it.

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Most notably, the Orioles last year broke ground on a 22.5-acre training academy in the Dominican Republic that will feature training fields, dormitories and educational facilities and serve as the hub of Baltimore’s Latin American development and recruitment efforts.

Months after announcing plans for the complex, the Orioles’ international signing class included catcher Samuel Basallo and shortstop Maikol Hernández, who received the first seven-figure signing bonuses to Latin American teenagers in team history at $1.3 million and $1.2 million, respectively. The 2019 class, the last before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the international signing period from its traditional July 2 start date, featured outfielder Luis González, left-hander Luis Ortiz and shortstop Leonel Sánchez among a massive group that was pieced together in only a handful of months.

Along the way, Elias has supplemented that area of the club’s farm system with trades, with the returns in many of his deals including players from other organizations’ Dominican Summer League teams. Right-hander Jean Pinto, outfielder Mishael Deson and infielder Isaac De Leon — players received as part of the packages for pitchers Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier, respectively — are among the most notable acquisitions in that regard.

When Baseball America unveils its top 30 Orioles prospects later this month, it’s likely a quarter of the list is made up of these players.

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“We’re really excited about it,” Orioles director of player development Matt Blood said. “Either through the players that we’ve signed or the players that we’ve gotten in trades, you can just see the depth of talent starting to reveal itself as the players are matriculating up from the DSL to the [Florida Complex League], and now to this coming season, you’re gonna see a bunch of them in Low A. Each year, it’s just going to keep spreading throughout the entire org[anization]. The more competition we have, the more depth of talent we have, the better, and so it’s really exciting from an org[anization] perspective to see these guys making their way into now the full season.”

The Orioles last year broke ground on a 22.5-acre training academy in the Dominican Republic that will feature training fields, dormitories and educational facilities and serve as the hub of Baltimore’s Latin American development and recruitment efforts.
The Orioles last year broke ground on a 22.5-acre training academy in the Dominican Republic that will feature training fields, dormitories and educational facilities and serve as the hub of Baltimore’s Latin American development and recruitment efforts.

Pinto, 21, might lead the charge. Signed late in the Los Angeles Angels’ 2018 class, the right-hander thrived in his first showing stateside, posting a 2.30 ERA and striking out nearly a third of the batters he faced between the FCL and Low-A Delmarva. De Leon, Deson and González could join Pinto in full-season ball in 2022, Blood said. He also listed infielder Moisés Ramírez, signed under the previous front office’s late effort to become involved in the market after the rebuild-sparking trades of 2018, and outfielder Stiven Acevedo, a Perez signee in early 2019 using remaining international bonus pool slots from the prior regime.

“Those guys are all very interesting names,” Blood said. “Every name I just mentioned, they’re all big, strong, physical, young, athletic kids with just raw ability.”

Basallo and Hernández will be among the crop playing with a United States affiliate for the first time in the FCL, preparing them for a jump to full-season ball in 2023. The cycle will continue with Tavera and the rest of this year’s class, all building toward an infusion of homegrown international talent on the Orioles’ major league roster in the years to come.

“I think what we’re doing is mandatory,” Blood said. “I think Mike Elias has had a great vision and plan from the beginning and recognized that this was an area the org[anization] needed to pursue and did it immediately. This is something that takes a long time to come to fruition, and he acted very quickly whenever he came on board here, and thankfully, he did.

“I think that we’re now seeing that start to show some signs of value, and for the org[anization], it’s absolutely necessary to compete in this division and in this league. We need players, we need a lot of talent, and you look across the major leagues, a large percentage of the talent comes from Latin America, so it’s really encouraging for all of us to have talent now starting to matriculate up into the full seasons and beyond from Latin America.”

Sarasota mini-camps begin

Fourteen pitchers from the Orioles’ 2021 draft and undrafted free agent classes are at the Orioles’ complex in Sarasota, Florida, this week for a mini-camp leading up to spring training. Justin Ramsey, who served as Double-A Bowie’s pitching coach in 2021, is assisting at the camp, as are Joe Haumacher, a pitching coach for one of the Orioles’ two FCL teams last season, and Ryan Goll, High-A Aberdeen’s development coach.

The team will have other camps for players throughout the month.

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“We just want to provide the players the best opportunity to be ready for spring training,” Blood said. “That’s really what the camps are about, is getting players that need to be on-site to make sure that they have the resources or the knowledge that they need in order to show up later, whether it be in February or March, ready. The last thing you want is for players to show up not prepared, and then delay their timeline for the season. Sometimes, just from ignorance or from not having experienced it before, that mistake will be made, and these camps are, for the most part, designed to try and prevent that from occurring as much as we can.”

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