Over the past several years, the Orioles have emerged as players on the international market under general manager Mike Elias and director of international scouting Koby Perez, after decades of largely eschewing Latin America as a potential talent pool.
The results of these efforts will take time to see, but one thing is already clear: Elias has made good on his promise to prioritize the club’s presence in the region.
These are the Orioles' Top 5 international prospects of all time.
Signing year: 1973
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.
Signing year: 2008
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.
Signing year: 2012
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.
Signing year: 1994
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.
Signing year: 2010
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.