O's make splash by signing 17 int'l prospects

January 15th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- Since the day he took over baseball operations in November 2018, Orioles general manager/executive vice president Mike Elias pledged to make the organization active players in the amateur international market, which other regimes eschewed for decades previously. Baltimore's international scouting department consisted of two employees when Elias arrived; that staff has grown considerably under director of international scouting director Koby Perez, as the O's slowly made inroads in a landscape they envision yielding great dividends down the road.

On Friday, they made their first major splash. Baltimore celebrated the beginning of the 2020-21 international signing period by unveiling easily the most expensive international class in franchise history, signing two players to a seven-figure bonus and eight others to a bonus of $300,000 or more, according to multiple sources. The O's used roughly $5.75 million of their $5.9 million pool on 17 players in an effort they feel signals their emergence in Latin America.

"Today is a landmark day for the Orioles organization and its international efforts," Elias said in a statement, saying later on a Zoom call with reporters: "Being good in this market is essential to any team. We had and still have some catch up to do still, but this class was a gigantic step."

The headliners of Baltimore's haul are Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández, who signed for $1.2 million, and Dominican catcher Samuel Basallo, who signed for $1.3 million, per multiple sources. Hernández, 17, and Basallo, 16, are the first international amateurs the O's have signed to seven-figure bonuses.

Ranked the No. 30 international prospect by MLB Pipeline, Hernández is a lean, athletic shortstop who draws companions to Alex Rodriguez, Manny Machado and Carlos Correa because of his body type. Hernández is a 6-foot-3, 175-pound right-handed hitter with the potential for five tools, already displaying plus speed and arm strength. He also drew heavy interest from the Cardinals, Pirates and Marlins.

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Basallo is of the youngest players in this entire class, a bat-first, left-handed-hitting catcher who stands out for his physique and raw power to all fields. He produces precocious strength from his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame, posting exit velocity readings as high as 104 mph (with a wood bat) in batting practice, according to sources. Scouts also give Basallo high marks for his arm and flexibility behind the plate, while noting he could grow out of the position in time.

Six others received a bonus of between $300,000-$400,000, per sources: Dominican outfielder Wilmer Feliciano, Dominican center fielder Teudis Cortorreal, Dominican shortstops Victor Celedoni, Eruviel Castillo and Anderson De Lo Santos, and Venezuelan catcher Yasmil Bucce. Baltimore only signed three players to similar bonuses in the 2018-19 class: outfielder Luis Gonzalez, left-hander Luis Ortiz and right-hander Luis Sanchez.

"This year we shown we're ready to go all-in," Perez said. "We've already put our feet in the fire down here and we're seeing all the top guys, so we're in a good situation."

Perez noted Elias' frequent personal trips to Latin America as key to legitimizing the Orioles' newfound presence there; before the pandemic, Elias, a former scout, took a more hands-on approach than most GMs with an eye toward changing the O's reputation in the international market, where word of mouth counts for a lot. For years, the organization was widely viewed as a team unserious about investing internationally, and not unreasonably. That appears to be changing.

The bonuses given to Hernández and Basallo alone are more than the O's spent on the international market in 2016 and '17 combined; in other years, they spent less than $300,000 total in Latin America.

All told, Elias and Perez have signed 61 players over the past two signing periods, with a few more expected to trickle in during the coming weeks.

"When we came in, I thought it would be difficult to put together a class with real headliners in 2020, and I think this is a tribute to the connections and experience Koby has, that he found ways to do that," Elias said. "As we go forward in the next couple of years, the lack of activity prior will haunt us less and less."