Koby Perez was hardly the only person hired by the Orioles under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias who had a tall task ahead of him. As the senior director of international scouting, Perez was charged with taking a facet of the organization that was largely nonexistent and building it into a functional arm of the team’s desired player development machine.
Since his hire was announced a year ago last week, Perez and the Orioles are well underway doing just that. The 2019 amateur signing class was the largest in franchise history and is still growing, with more signings still to be announced. They’re building a large class for 2020, as well, and expect to be able to sign at the top of the market by 2021.
Given the way international amateur players can agree with teams years before they’re eligible to sign, it’s a growth line that puts them on the fastest schedule possible to signing. And it came from a corner of the organization that was barely utilized before.
“It was pretty much a clean slate,” Perez said.
That clean slate was somewhat intentional, as the Orioles sat out the international amateur market because of ownership’s reticence toward the market for the better part of this decade. While recent changes to the signing structure for international amateurs have kept prices down, teams are allotted a certain amount of signing bonus pool money that allows them to spend up to a certain point in that market without penalty.
Under former executive vice president Dan Duquette, the Orioles began to use their substantial allotment of international bonus pool money late in 2018 after the team initiated the teardown and rebuild that would continue under Elias. Roughly $1 million was spent under that regime, mostly under the leadership of assistant director of minor league and international operations Cale Cox.
Perez and his staff added another $1 million in late-bloomer signings before the 2019 signing period began, and announced a 27-player class July 2. The top bonuses of that period, according to Baseball America, were outfielder Luis Gonzalez ($475,000), left-hander Luis Ortiz ($400,000), and shortstop Leonel Sanchez ($400,000).
Between the remainder of the 2018 bonus pool money and what the Orioles had for 2019, with the top signees for 2019 already committed to sign elsewhere, Perez said the strategy was a volume-based one.
“We decided to go with a second team to best allocate our resources in our budget,” he said. “Our pool was pretty hefty, and most of the players in the class were gone. So the best way we thought we could allocate and do the best we can with what was available was trying to sign basically a whole second team, which is what we did. We feel good about some of the players we added. Some of them will be in Sarasota this year in the Gulf Coast League, and we’re hoping to score some prospects from that class.”
As they made those signings, there was plenty of infrastructure and staffing work being done as well. Perez said there wasn’t a centralized reporting system or information center for their international scouting reports, and that was rectified “quickly.”
He also added staff in the form of Michael Cruz (scouting assistant), Geraldo Cabrera (Dominican scouting supervisor), Francisco Rosario and Rafael Belen (Dominican Republic area scouts), and Adel Granadillo (Venezuelan area scout), with Luis Noel remaining an area scout in the Dominican Republic.
There are more hires to come, Perez said, though he buys into Elias’ idea that making the right hire is more important than making a quick one.
Still, he feels “really, really good” about the way the Orioles have built their front office and leadership team in the last year. Like Elias, director of baseball development Eve Rosenbaum has international scouting experience from her time with the Houston Astros as well. Her role as a synergy-creator between departments will further integrate the growth in analytics and player development over the last year to the Latin American operation.
“We’re getting a lot of perspectives,” Perez said. “We’re getting a lot of ideas with what we’ve seen work, and what we’ve seen not work helps us avoid some of those pitfalls.”
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Combine the team’s direction with the relationships that he and Elias have in Latin America, plus the fact that the Orioles have plenty of money available and not committed years down the road the way other teams do, and the organization’s reputation is changing quickly.
“The relationships that Mike Elias and myself have is that our word is bond,” Perez said. “We’ve done business well in the past with our previous teams, so basically, we’re able to be first in line with certain players just based on the situation.”
“With 2019 and 2020, we’re probably the organization that [players] mostly call now, because they know that we have the money, we’re able to spend it, because a lot of the other clubs that are big-players in Latin America [committed theirs].”
Perez equated the situation to college recruiting, where prospective players know when a school is out of scholarships and turn to schools that have opportunities for them to play.
“We are fortunately in a good situation for the players available, that they know that we have scholarships available,” Perez said. “They know we’re an up-and-coming organization that’s planning well for the future. Monetary-wise, it’s a good situation, and also, it’s an organization that definitely wants to sign the best players we can, so they can some day be up here in Baltimore. They know that we’re able to do that.”
Perez anticipates that will continue with a spread-it-out approach for the 2020 period, but could put the Orioles in a position to sign at the top of the market for the 2021 signing period.
“We should be signing some of those top guys in 2021,” Perez said. “We have a lot of work done with some 2021 players that we feel that we are the front-runners to sign.”