Image credit: Moises Ramirez (Photo by Stacy Jo Grant)
This is part of Ben Badler’s 2018-19 International Reviews series chronicling all the moves made by teams on the international market over the prior year. To see all 30 teams, click here.
Total 2018 (Jan. 1 – Dec. 31, 2018) signings: 13
The Orioles spent $1.1 million on international players during the 2018 calendar year. That’s the lowest spending of any team in baseball. They signed 13 players in that time, up from the nine players they signed in 2017, but still the lowest number of international signings in baseball.
After years of squandering opportunities, Orioles ownership is starting to make long overdue changes toward their international strategy. One of the most important changes the Orioles have made is ending a club policy that the team could not sign any international player unless ownership signed off on the deal.
Think about that.
Every signing—even a $1,000 deal—had to get ownership approval before the contract could be completed with the commissioner’s office. Forget about signing top players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Eloy Jimenez or Wander Franco. If you need ownership to sign off on your $10,000 signings, you can barely do anything.
Trainers for players stopped bothering to deal with the Orioles for even smaller signings. They grew frustrated with the Orioles, who would agree to sign an eligible player for a small bonus, only for that player to still be waiting months later for ownership approval. In some cases, trainers were told that ownership didn’t sign off and that they should have their players sign elsewhere.
So not only were the Orioles missing the top prospects every year, they couldn’t sign lower level players without obstacles, resulting in fewer overall signings and a lack of bargain signs who have developed into quality prospects. As an international scouting department, there isn’t any strategy you can take to overcome that level of interference, which left has their farm system nearly devoid of homegrown international prospects.
Thankfully for Orioles fans, that policy is no longer in place. The Orioles hired Mike Elias as their new general manager in November, then in January they hired Koby Perez as their international scouting director. Going forward, it looks like ownership is going to give them more freedom to run a competitive international scouting department.
Baltimore’s top signing last year was Moises Ramirez, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop who got $225,000 in August. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Ramirez has a mature, physical frame with a smooth swing from the right side and flashes of above-average power potential, with up-and-down game performance. Ramirez gained significant size over the scouting process, so he’s likely to change positions, with third base a possibility.
Isaac Bellony was born in St. Thomas but lives in the Dominican Republic, where he signed with the Orioles for $220,000 in July. Bellony, 17, is 6-foot-1, 180 pounds with a stockier build and scouts highest on him liked his hitting ability from both sides of the plate, with a line-drive approach and gap power. Bellony doesn’t have one standout tool but is steady across the board, with average speed and arm strength in center field.
The Orioles signed Damian Valdez, a lefthanded Dominican outfielder, for $220,000 in August. Valdez is a 17-year-old with a projectable, 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame whose calling card is his power, which should continue to grow as he puts on size and strength. He’s a below-average runner who fits best in a corner.
In September, the Orioles signed Kevin Infante, an 18-year-old Cuban outfielder, for $175,000. Valdez played for Holguin in Cuba’s 15U national league in 2015, when he hit .391/.535/.573 with 31 walks and five strikeouts in 145 plate appearances. Infante ranked third in the league in batting average, fourth in slugging and fifth in walks, including a league-high 15 intentional walks. He’s 6 feet, 180 pounds, with experience in both the outfield and the infield and an advanced hitting approach from the right side of the plate, showing a balance of hitting ability and power in games when he got to the Dominican Republic. Infante runs well now, though he probably will play an outfield corner.