Orioles Executive Vice President and General Manager, Mike Elias and and Orioles Senior Director, International Scouting, Koby Perez talks about the 27-player international signing class.
A new signing period for international amateur free agents began Tuesday with the Orioles making their most significant early outlay on the July 2 opening date in recent memory. The signings were accompanied by a level of fanfare that suggests a new dawn in Baltimore, but the club still has much work to do to get up to speed in the market.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias was at the team's complex in the Dominican Republic with senior director of international scouting Koby Perez completing the agreements. The ultimate haul on the first day of the 2019-2020 signing period featured 27 players from five countries — 16 from the Dominican Republic, eight from Venezuela and one each from Aruba, Bahamas and Colombia.
The club highlighted outfielder Luis González, left-hander Luis Ortiz and shortstop Leonel Sánchez — all from the Dominican Republic — as the featured players of a class that came together in essentially seven months since Perez was hired in January.
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“This July 2 is a big day for our franchise,” Elias said in a statement. “These young players from all parts of Latin America will bolster our burgeoning farm system and jumpstart the continual flow of talent we are building. Today is only the beginning of our efforts, as we will continue to sign more players throughout the 2019-20 signing period.”
Perez added: “We are excited about the round of talent we were able to bring in with this first group of signings. Everyone in the organization hit the ground running after our department was put together, and it’s a testament to their hard work that we were able to sign the quality group of players joining us today."
According to MLB.com, González and Ortiz represent two of the Orioles' highest bonuses in the class at $450,000 and $400,000, respectively. According to Perez and the Orioles' scouts in the team's announcement, the 16-year-old González "could develop into an impact bat" with "great power potential from the left side of the plate."
Ortiz, 16, commands three pitches, including a fastball that's already over 90 mph and a curveball that the team's scouts think is his out pitch, along with a changeup.
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Sánchez, 16, is a right-handed hitter with gap power, a solid arm and smooth footwork, according to Perez and his scouts.
They represent three players in a class Elias previously heralded as the largest July 2 group in Orioles history, though considering the club’s previous commitment was limited to trying to find undiscovered gems and over-age players, such an announcement was never necessary.
This year, the Orioles created a social media channel to highlight the progress at the Dominican academy and produced T-shirts with the shorthand "J2" on a logo to sell at the team store.
The size of this class, however, belies the level of players available to a team with little Latin American scouting infrastructure before Perez was hired. They spent over $1 million on bonuses since January in last year's signing period to supplement nearly $1 million in bonuses handed out after July 2 last year by the staff of former executive vice president Dan Duquette.
But most of the highly coveted players in the Latin American market are committed years before they're eligible to actually sign, with seven-figure bonuses the norm for such players. The Yankees reportedly signed outfielder Jasson Dominguez, MLB.com's top prospect in the international class, to a bonus exceeding $5 million.
Of the top 30 players in MLB.com's rankings, all but one — seventh-ranked Cuban shortstop Yiddi Cappe — was signed or otherwise committed to a team Tuesday, and 22 had bonuses exceeding $1 million.
With teams and players already well into commitments for 2020 and 2021, the Orioles' focus will be trying to play in that level of the market, something Elias and Perez know is a priority and have the contacts to make happen. They alluded to the future in the market just as much as their signings in Tuesday’s announcement.
"Our international scouting staff has already begun laying the groundwork for future classes," Elias said.