One of the constant criticisms about the Baltimore Orioles front office is their lack of involvement in the international market. The Orioles need to do whatever it takes to gain advantage over the Red Sox or Yankees, and one would think that increased spending — or at least stockpiling of international talent — would be a rather simple way of doing so.
However, Andy MacPhail has stated numerous times that scouting in Latin America is difficult, because the players are limited to performing in workouts and are not able to be seen in game action. Combine that with the fact that in Latin American steroid problems are common, and you can start to see where the Orioles’ hesitance comes from.
But teams like the Rockies, Mariners and Yankees have had success by increasing their international spending and stockpiling talent. It’s discouraging as a fan to see other teams having success in this area while the Orioles seem uneager to go out and duplicate other teams’ successes, and gain a much needed advantage to get out of the AL East cellar. And, as Luke Jackson stated on Twitter, it seems as if MacPhail’s statements are more of an excuse than a reason for being outdone.
Two years ago it seemed as if the Orioles had made strides as they gathered enough international players to field two Dominican Summer League teams. But prior to the 2011 season they returned to fielding just one DSL team.
While the loss of a DSL team is discouraging at a time when such great emphasis is being put on the Orioles’ international efforts, they are finally starting to show signs of life.
Both players impressed, but it was Schoop who stood out amongst the rest and his play made it obvious he was by far the best player on the field. His performance, obvious tools, and display of confidence led me to write up a detailed scouting report on the young infielder. About a quarter of the way through the GCL season, Schoop was promoted to Bluefield and finished the 2010 season there.
After the 2010 season came to a close, the hype surrounding what looked to be a legitimate international prospect was only beginning. Baseball America ranked Schoop the 10th best among Orioles prospects, while I placed Schoop at #8.
The Orioles displayed their confidence in the infielder from Curacoa when they named Schoop Delmarva’s starting third baseman to open the 2011 season. He didn’t disappoint, smashing 8 home runs for the Shorebirds — power that is rare to see at the age of 18. Not only did he hit eight homers, but posted an .890 OPS while displaying good control of the strike zone. Sally League pitchers weren’t posing enough of a challenge for Schoop, and the Orioles gave him the bump to Frederick.
The Orioles now have what is a true international prospect in Schoop, and someone who should form a nice duo with Manny Machado on the left side of the infield when they reach Baltimore.
Schoop hasn’t just gathered attention from just O’s fans, but nationally, as he will be representing the Orioles in the Futures Game as a member of the World Team. An Orioles prospect playing for Team World is something that most would have deemed impossible a year ago. Finally, signs of life on the international front.
But those signs don’t stop with Schoop. Venezuelan lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who’s currently playing with the GCL Orioles and signed for $175,000, also has significant potential.
“Rodriguez was a nice sign out of Venezuela last year. He’ll get it up to 90 mph with good movement and mixes in a changeup with some potential and he has good feel to pitch for his age,” said Ben Badler of Baseball America.
But Badler’s comments were based off of info from the 2010 season while Rodriguez was playing in the DSL. This season Rodriguez has made great strides. I spoke with two major league scouts throughout a GCL game on Friday, both who had seen Rodriguez pitch the day before.
“If Rodriguez stays healthy he’s going to the majors,” said one of the scouts.
Miguel Chalas, a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic who signed for $65,000, pitched in Friday’s game as well.
While Chalas’ small 6′ 0″ frame likely won’t play as a starter going forward, the scouts liked Chalas’ 92-95 mph fastball that touched 96 mph, and his slightly above-average breaking ball. He’s a potential big league reliever.
One more player who the scouts took note of was Roderick Bernadina, brother of Washington Nationals’ outfielder Roger Bernadina. Roderick signed for $35,000 out of Curacao in 2009 and has some good bat speed and a patient approach at the plate.
Another sign of advancement came when the Orioles set a club record for largest Latin American signing bonus when they gave Hector Veloz (Dominican Republic) a $300,000 signing bonus.
Veloz is a third baseman with plus raw power; he’s currently playing in the Dominican Summer League. Although he’s already tested positive for steroids, most thought Veloz would have pulled in a seven figure signing bonus if not for the positive test. There’s always risk, but it’s signings like Veloz that the Orioles need to make more of.
On top of Veloz, Rodriguez, Schoop, Chalas, Leonora, and Bernadina, there are other interesting international names in the system like Luis Noel and Luis Lebron. And let’s not forget Australian left-hander Chris Lamb who signed for $100,000 out of Australia in 2009.
With the July 2nd international signing day approaching, I’m hopeful that the Orioles can build on the progress they’ve made over the past two years. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll surprise us by handing out a few big bonuses to add to a slowly developing crop of international talent.