Orioles Bring In Rona From Unusual Source
BALTIMORE—The Orioles' efforts to expand their presence internationally have taken them to an unlikely place: New Zealand.
The club signed 17-year-old Pita Rona to a minor league contract, and he'll attempt to become the first major league player from New Zealand.
Rona is a former softball player who switched up so he could concentrate on baseball. The Orioles scouted and signed him within a week, and they'll send him to Major League Baseball's developmental academy in Australia.
If Rona develops as the Orioles are hoping, they'll eventually assign him to their Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate. They envision Rona, who's listed at 6-foot-5 and 175 pounds, as a third baseman.
"Pita Rona is a very athletic young player who has been successful at softball, a big game internationally for New Zealand," director of international operations David Stockstill said. "He runs well, has good bat accuracy, shows good power potential and has good throwing accuracy. He's 6-feet-5. He's been a softball player and is switching over to baseball. We believe he has the raw tools and the ability to make the switch and become a very good baseball player. We believe his foot quickness and arm strength will allow him to make the adjustment from softball shortstop to baseball third base."
Rona's father, Brad, is a renowned softball pitcher in New Zealand.
"The change to baseball will take some time and patience, as many of the actions will need to be adjusted to be more effective in baseball, but he has the ability to make those adjustments," Stockstill said. "We expect him to play in the Major League Baseball Australian Baseball Academy this summer, and we'll make necessary decisions based upon his progress.
"Brett Ward has been scouting him and has stayed ready for the moment he changed sports so that we'd be prepared to try to sign him when he made the switch in sports."
• The Orioles designated righthander Rick Vanden Hurk for assignment to make room for third baseman Wilson Betemit on the 40-man roster. Vanden Hurk, 26, allowed eight earned runs in nine innings over four games with the Orioles last season. He was 9-13, 4.43 in 26 starts for Triple-A Norfolk.
• The Orioles released outfielder Kyle Hudson after designating him for assignment to make room for Taiwanese lefthander Wei-Yin Chen on the 40-man roster. Hudson couldn't be waived and outrighted because his contract was purchased too late in the 2011 season. The Orioles can re-sign him, but he wouldn't be able to play for them before May 15.