An Orioles franchise that has previously invested little in the Latin American market showed the first sign of changing that with word that the club has serious interest in outfielder Victor Victor Mesa, the top Cuban prospect who could become available to major league clubs during the international signing period that began at the beginning of this month.
According to an industry source, Mesa — who also goes by Victor Victor — is being targeted by the Orioles, but he has not yet been cleared to become a free agent by Major League Baseball so he’s still unable to be signed by any club.
It’s unclear when Mesa would gain clearance to sign, but the Orioles intend to make a strong run at him once he becomes a free agent. The team has been following Mesa, will continue to do so while he attempts to gain free-agency status and intends to scout his showcases when he’s cleared, according to a source.
Baseball America called Mesa the best young Cuban prospect since Chicago White Sox second baseman Yoán Moncada signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2015. The publication also compares the 21-year-old Mesa to Washington Nationals top outfield prospect Victor Robles, who is Baseball America’s sixth-best prospect overall.
Playing in the Cuban National Series league in 2016-17, Mesa hit .354/.399/.539 in 70 games for Matanzas. He also was 40-for-50 on stolen-base attempts and had more extra-base hits (27) than strikeouts (19).
Signing Mesa would allow the Orioles to invest immediately in a Latin American market that has become much like college recruiting, where international prospects commit to sign with teams years before they’re eligible.
With the team’s ownership in transition — managing partner Peter G. Angelos has ceded more control of the club’s daily operations to his sons, John and Louis — the Orioles have said they will invest more resources in the Latin American market, and executive vice president Dan Duquette said last week it would be a part of the team’s rebuilding efforts.
The Orioles are positioned to make a run. They have the international bonus slot availability to pursue a player such as Mesa, who could be seeking a signing bonus in the range of $3 million to $4 million, which would be an unprecedented international investment for the Orioles.
The Orioles will also benefit from a new hard spending cap on international signings that eliminated signing bonus bidding wars and granted higher bonus pools to competitive balance teams. That system was created going into last signing period as part of the new collective bargaining agreement.
The Orioles have $5.504 million in bonus pool allotment for this period, which began July 1, to spend if they wish. While other clubs have spent most of their allotments on previous commitments, the Orioles have kept theirs. The Orioles have also not traded bonus slots away in minor trades, something they were doing early during last year’s signing period.
The Orioles have signed several Cuban players in recent years — Henry Urrutia, Dariel Álvarez, Lazaro Leyva and Aríel Miranda among them — but they haven’t given a bonus of more than $800,000 to a Cuban player.
And the return on those signing has been little. Urrutia and Leyva are no longer in the system, Álvarez is recovering from Tommy John surgery after his conversion from outfielder to pitcher, and Miranda was traded to the Seattle Mariners for left-hander Wade Miley in 2016.
The Orioles traditionally have invested little in the Latin American market that’s becoming the lifeblood for many organizations. The Orioles haven’t spent more than $1 million in the past two signing periods combined.
Last year, no major league club invested less on international than the Orioles. In the most recent signing period, they spent just $535,000, which was less than 10 percent of their allotted signing bonus pool, according to Baseball America. They signed just nine players during the last period, including just one bonus of over $100,000, according to Baseball America — the $150,000 signing bonus given to Venezuelan outfielder Ricardo Castro.