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The O’s Top 5 international signings of all time

May 8, 2020

While the baseball world continues to wait out the coronavirus pandemic, one goalpost on the normal calendar unlikely to be affected is July 2, when the Orioles plan to announce a slew of signings meant to mark their continued emergence as a major player in the international market. Though the

While the baseball world continues to wait out the coronavirus pandemic, one goalpost on the normal calendar unlikely to be affected is July 2, when the Orioles plan to announce a slew of signings meant to mark their continued emergence as a major player in the international market.

Though the lack of amateur baseball in Latin America this spring could affect future signing periods, Baltimore has been planting the seeds for the Class of 2020 for roughly 18 months, since Mike Elias took over baseball operations in November 2018 vowing to make bolstering the club’s presence in the region a priority. The O’s have since expanded operations in Latin America significantly under Elias and international scouting director Koby Perez.

The result was a club-record 27-player class last year, headlined by No. 30 prospect Luis Ortiz and talented outfielder Luis Gonzalez. The Orioles announced seven more players this January, ultimately spending $4.9 million of their $6.48 million bonus pool on the 34-player haul.

Here are 2020’s Top 30 international prospects

MLB Pipeline recently released its annual Top 30 International Prospects list for players eligible to sign in the 2020-21 signing period. These young players are the game’s international stars of tomorrow and are following in the footsteps of thousands of international players who laid the groundwork before them. One day, these young men could be remembered among the best players in team history.

These are the Orioles' Top 5 international prospects of all time.

Dennis Martinez
Position: SP
Signing year: 1973
Country: Nicaragua
WAR with Orioles: 10 WAR

The Orioles’ most successful international signing ever, Martinez became the first Nicaraguan to play in the Majors when he debuted in 1976, and remains the most accomplished to this day. For 20 years, Martinez held the record for wins for a pitcher from Latin America, his 245 standing until Bartolo Colon eclipsed the mark in 2018.

The plurality of those victories came in Baltimore, where Martinez went 108-93 with a 4.16 ERA from 1976-86. A four-time All-Star later in his career, “El Presidente” led American League hurlers in starts, complete games, and innings in ’79 with the Orioles, and won an AL wins title in ’81.

Jonathan Schoop
Position: 2B
Signing year: 2008
Country: Curaçao
WAR with Orioles: 15 WAR

The tiny island nation of Curaçao, a sovereign state off the coast of Venezuela that is now an independent member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, has only produced 15 big leaguers. But they have almost exclusively been really good big leaguers, including longtime Braves star Andruw Jones, All-Star closer Kenley Jansen, all-world shortstop Andrelton Simmons, Ozzie Albies and others. It is also where the Orioles found their best second baseman of the past decade.

A veteran of the 2004 Little League World Series champion Curaçao team, Schoop signed with the O’s four years later as a 17-year-old. He made it to the Majors less than five years later, earning everyday reps at second base the following season at age 22. Schoop grew into a defensive asset and a key member of high-powered Orioles lineups from 2014-18, hitting 105 homers across parts of five seasons.

He made the American League All-Star team in 2017, hitting .293 with a .841 OPS, 32 homers and 105 RBIs that year -- the latter two being single-season franchise records for a second baseman.

By the time Schoop left for Milwaukee via a Trade Deadline deal in 2018, he was the O’s all-time home run leader at the position.

Wei-Yin Chen
Position: SP
Signing year: 2012
Country: Taiwan
WAR with Orioles: 9 WAR

The Orioles made their largest investment in the Asian market on Jan. 10, 2012, bolstering their starting rotation by inking Chen to a three-year deal worth $11.3 million. The left-hander would be the club's most durable and dependable starter for the next four seasons, pitching to a 46-32 record and a 3.72 ERA across 117 starts before leaving for a lucrative contract with the Marlins in '16.

Along the way, the O’s handed Chen the ball for some of their most important games of the past decade, including postseason starts in 2012 and '14. He helped beat the Yankees in the '12 American League Division Series and started Baltimore’s thrilling Game 2 victory over Detroit in the '14 ALDS, known famously as the Delmon Young game. Chen represents one of the club’s several successful plunges into the Asian market, which also produced closer Koji Uehara in '09 and outfielder Hyun Soo Kim in '15.

Sidney Ponson
Position: RHP
Signing year: 1994
Country: Aruba
WAR with Orioles: 12 WAR

While the Orioles long sat out of the international market in hotspots like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, they have historically cornered the (much smaller) market in Aruba. Four of the five players to reach the Majors from Aruba have played for the Orioles, a product of former pitcher and longtime scout Calvin Maduro’s reach and influence on the island. For several reasons, Ponson stands out above the rest.

The talented but troubled right-hander was the third Aruba native to reach the big leagues when he debuted at age 21 in 1998, drawing comparisons to future Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon at the time. But poor production and troubles with alcohol and the law ultimately overshadowed what ended up being a turbulent, disappointing 12-year big league career for Ponson, parts of eight seasons of which were spent in Baltimore. By virtue of the 5.05 ERA he posted (with seven teams) from 2000-09, Ponson earned ground for consideration as MLB’s worst starting pitcher of the decade.

He went 73-85 with a 4.86 ERA across two stints with the Orioles, the second of which resulted in the club trying to void his $22.5 million contract after Ponson’s second drunk driving arrest in 2005. His best season came in ‘03, when he went 17-12 with a 3.75 ERA across 31 starts for the Orioles and Giants. But never replicated that production before or after.

Eduardo Rodriguez
Position: SP
Signing year: 2010
Country: Venezuela
WAR with Orioles: 0 WAR

Though Rodriguez never stepped on the mound for the Orioles, he provides an example of the value strong international scouting can bring to an organization in other ways. Four years after signing as a teenager out of Venezuela, Rodriguez was the Red Sox’s top target when shopping talented setup man Andrew Miller at the 2014 Trade Deadline. Looking to secure their first division title in 17 years, the Orioles were in dire enough need of bullpen help to trade Rodriguez, then a consensus Top 100 pitching prospect, for two months of Miller.

Both sides got what they wanted in the deal. Miller played a key role in Baltimore down the stretch, then signed a lucrative free-agent contract with the Yankees that offseason. Rodriguez debuted in 2015 at age 22 and quickly became a valuable (if injury-prone) rotation piece for Boston, winning a World Series ring in '18. He blossomed into a Cy Young candidate in '19.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.