As new Orioles senior director of international scouting Koby Perez takes over one of the several tall tasks facing the rebuilding franchise as it looks to modernize its baseball operation, he said he believes the organization can quickly begin making an impact in a Latin American market it has mostly neglected this decade.
"When I was called to come aboard, I was ecstatic about the situation that we can put ourselves in here, to try and hit the ground running and try to add some prospects so we can give [executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias] some chips there for the future," Perez said on a conference call Wednesday.
Elias made Perez, 40, his latest significant hire Tuesday, joining assistant general manager Sig Mejdal, manager Brandon Hyde and minor league pitching coordinator Chris Holt as new additions tasked with executing the new baseball operations chief's vision for a modern club. Perez, most recently the Cleveland Indians director of Latin American scouting with more than a decade of experience in that market, fills what Elias described as a difficult role to hire for in January.
"In searching for the right leader for this position, it was very important to me to find someone with a great deal of experience operating in those markets with a great deal of credibility, and also a lot of connections, in addition to everything else you look for in a scouting director in terms of baseball knowledge and evaluation abilities," Elias said. "So much of the activity that takes place in the international arena is dependent on relationships and reputation, and to get it in one package — this package — is very difficult. I'm very fortunate, this time of year especially, to have been able to bring Koby in, who has experience as a Latin American scouting director already."
That experience will be crucial to the first of Perez's major tasks with the Orioles, which is to bring in a representative class for the 2019 signing period that begins July 2. While players can't sign until they are 16 and a new batch of 16-year-olds floods the market on that date every year, those relationships begin years in advance, and deals are agreed to on a handshake basis long before the actual signing period opens.
That's why the Orioles didn't have much they could do with the massive pool of money they acquired last summer — and still have — for what Perez called "late bloomers" if they pop up on the market before the 2018 signing period ends. It’s also why they could be challenged to put together an impactful class for 2019. But Perez said he doesn't anticipate that being too much of a problem for a variety of reasons.
"I'm coming off of being the director of Latin American scouting for the Indians, so I have a running pref list," Perez said. "That, along with what Calvin Maduro and the staff that's in place now [have], we've met. We have a lot of names that we need to track down and kind of sift through, and I think we're in a pretty good spot to hit the ground running.”
Perez said the Orioles are going to "do the best we can here with the timing of it," and said the fact that there are also late bloomers who could be eligible for the 2019 period but emerge after other teams have committed their bonus pools elsewhere could also help the club land talent.
"The other thing is Mike has made me aware that he's there for us in this department to show face in the Dominican Republic and make trips down there if that's necessary," Perez said. "Things like that go a long way in Latin America, when your general manager is going down there. And not only that, he did some international work as well, so they know the face, they know the name and I think it really puts us in a good spot moving forward."
Perez indicated the ever-shifting rules in Latin America mean he's comfortable waiting to make more scouting hires beyond the staff he's inherited so the Orioles can better know the landscape and hire the right people. The perpetual chatter on an international draft would change things drastically, but Perez has shown the ability to change and adapt wherever he is.
Like Elias and everyone else the Orioles have brought in this winter, Perez is credited with being fluent in modern technology and data analysis as well as traditional scouting. He started out as an area scout with the St. Louis Cardinals, same as Elias, before working under Philadelphia Phillies international scouting director Sal Agostinelli and playing a role in signing several major league players, including Maikel Franco.
With the Indians, who he joined as an international cross checker in 2014 and later became a director, Elias credited him with being "a big part of building up and modernizing their operation into what is today a very vibrant, modern international scouting department.”
"He uses a lot of technology, but also has synthesized the use of traditional scouting methods really well," Elias said.
However, it's the relationships that matter to Perez, which he believes will help the Orioles get up to speed quickly to begin making an impact in the Latin American market.
"Given the [bonus] pools are similar, we should be able to compete with even the bigger-market teams in this market," Perez said. "The most important thing for me is identifying guys early. If you can identify a guy as early as you can, get to know him, his family, his makeup, and of course the ability being the first thing. But once your scouts and yourself and your staff identify who they are, the sooner you identify, the sooner you can make better decisions."