International Reviews: Baltimore Orioles

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Baseball America's annual International Reviews begin today in the American League East, with scouting reports on every team's top international amateur signings from the 2012 calendar year, as well as a look at any notable signings from the Cuban market.

See also: 2011 American League East International Review

Baltimore Orioles

Top signing: LHP Yi-Hsiang Lin, Taiwan, $150,000.
Six-figure signings: OF Carlos Rodriguez (Venezuela), 2B Yariel Vargas (Dominican Republic).
Notable Cuban signings: OF Henry Urrutia.

The Orioles had an eventful year abroad in general manager Dan Duquette's first season. Their international scouting department deserves credit for immediately helping their major league rotation with the signing of lefthander Wei-Yin Chen from Taiwan and righthander Miguel Gonzalez, who they signed after international recruiting director Fred Ferreira recommended him from his winter ball performance in the Mexican Pacific League.

Yet the most notable move for the Orioles was when they violated the Asian protocol agreement by not performing a status check before signing Korean high school lefthander Seong-Min Kim for a $575,000 bonus that was wildly out of line with his talent. The Orioles' scouting reports on Kim shared little resemblance to the reports from several other teams who had seen Kim, a player other organizations considered a solid arm for the Korean Baseball Organization but a non-prospect for major league clubs. The signing never came to fruition, as Major League Baseball put the kibosh on the deal.

The Orioles also signed lefthander Yi-Hsiang Lin out of Taiwan for $150,000 in February, though the team hasn't signed anyone else out of Asia since the Kim controversy. Lin, 20, is 6 feet, 175 pounds and posted a 6.68 ERA in 32 1/3 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League with 22 strikeouts and 16 walks.

In July, Baltimore signed 25-year-old Cuban outfielder Henry Urrutia to a minor league contract with a $778,500 bonus. Even though Urrutia signed after July 2, his bonus won't count against Baltimore's 2012-13 international bonus pool because he's older than 23 and has at least three seasons playing professionally in Cuba, so his bonus is exempt. He's still waiting on his visa, however, after he initially became a free agent using permanent Haitian residency documents.

Urrutia, who was represented by Bart Hernandez of Praver Shapiro Sports Management, hit .397/.461/.597 in 305 at-bats with 12 home runs, 32 walks and 23 strikeouts for Las Tunas in his final season in Cuba in 2009-10. His father is Ermidelio Urrutia, who had played on the Cuban national team in the 1992 Olympics and at several other international tournaments and was Henry's manager for Las Tunas. Urrutia is 6-foot-3, 180 pounds with a level swing from both sides of the plate, though it's better from the left side. Urrutia is a corner outfielder with average pop, so scouts have questions about whether he has enough power to be an everyday player in the big leagues. Urrutia doesn't have much projection left but he's advanced enough that he should head to Double-A once he gets his visa.

In the Latin American amateur market, the Orioles were relatively quiet last year. They signed only two players from the region to six-figure bonuses, giving $100,000 each to Venezuelan outfielder Carlos Rodriguez and Yariel Vargas from the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez, who signed in November, trained with Alberto Rivas, is 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and impressed the Orioles with his potential to hit for power and stay in center field.

Vargas, who was an outfielder when the Orioles signed him from the Arias and Goodman academy, moved to second base after signing. With average speed and below-average power from the right side of the plate, Vargas didn't profile well in the outfield, so the move to the dirt will be important for Vargas. He had some infield experience prior to signing, but he's learning how to handle the new position.

The Orioles are close with Arias and Goodman (Ferreira was involved in a fantasy camp of theirs before his hiring) and they also signed 18-year-old Carlos Laureano from them for $50,000 in June. Laureano is a 6-foot-1 righthanded hitter with some power and a pull-oriented approach.
The Orioles were also active in countries that typically don't produce professional baseball players. Baltimore added the only two players from Guatemala who signed with major league teams in 2012: 19-year-old center fielder Juan Aguilar ($75,000 in February) and 19-year-old outfielder Paolo Pezzarossi (video), who was the subject of a Guatemalan TV news report after he signed for $5,000 in May.

Baltimore also signed 17-year-old New Zealand first baseman Pita Rona for $25,000 last year in January and 18-year-old Czech Republic lefthander Jan Novak for $40,000 in November. Novak pitched at the MLB European academy and posted a 2.45 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 22 innings in academy games from 2011-12. He also pitched at the 18U World Championships in South Korea in September, when he allowed 10 runs (six earned) in 10 innings with nine strikeouts and six walks.