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Friday, January 27, 2023

‘The seed is starting to pop up’ – Boston Herald

Looking back just more than four years ago, around when he was hired as the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, Koby Perez believes the organization planted a seed. On Sunday, it continued to sprout.

The Orioles’ start to each international signing period under Perez and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has been record-setting for the organization in quantity, total investment or individual signing bonuses. That remained the case in the Orioles’ fourth international signing class since Perez entered the organization in January 2019, with a 27-player class highlighted by the recipient of the largest signing bonus given to a Latin American amateur in team history.

Although the size of the club’s bonus pool prevented it from exceeding last year’s collection of talent totaling $6.3 million in bonuses, Baltimore signed Luis Almeyda, a 16-year-old shortstop who spent the past year in the Dominican Republic, to a franchise-record $2.3 million bonus, a source with direct knowledge of the agreement confirmed to The Baltimore Sun. All four of the Orioles’ seven-figure bonuses in this area have come in the past three signing classes, including outfielder Braylin Tavera ($1.7 million) in 2022 and catcher Samuel Basallo ($1.3 million) and infielder Maikol Hernández ($1.2 million) in 2021.

“It takes time,” Perez said. “It’s like when you’re growing a plant. You plant the seed, you can’t see anything. And then once the flowers start blooming, it becomes real pretty and nice. I feel that we’re at where the seed is starting to pop up and come up from under the ground, and hopefully, in the near future, it’ll be a nice, big flower. We feel really, really good about the work that’s been done.”

Like Perez, Almeyda grew up in New Jersey, and he was considered a well-regarded prospect in the 2025 draft class before his family moved to the Dominican Republic to be with his ailing grandmother. Now, the potential five-tool infielder will be in his third professional season when the 2025 draft takes place. A right-handed hitter, Almeyda — who goes by his middle name, Ayden, with those he’s close to — is listed at 6 feet 3 and 180 pounds, size that could lead to an eventual move to third base. His power potential would make him a fit at either position on the left side of the infield.

Unlike many international prospects, Almeyda has the advantages of already speaking English and having experience living in the United States. That should help his transition to professional baseball, though Perez said the organization will do what’s best for his development in determining the level at which he begins his career.

“Off the bat, I knew the Orioles was the organization for me,” said Almeyda, who the organization first saw at a tournament in Mexico. “I wanted to always develop. My decision was how I want to develop as a player, and I know the Baltimore Orioles have one of the best — I think the best — farm system, and for this organization, I know me as a person, I would like to develop as a baseball player with this organization, and I’m just very happy right now. I can’t wait for my journey to start.”

The Orioles, whose $5.8 million bonus pool trailed eight teams, announced the signings of Almeyda and 26 other international prospects Sunday, the first day of the international signing period. The size of the class ties the 2019 group — Elias and Perez’s first — for the largest initial signing class in team history, with 13 of the players receiving a bonus of at least $100,000, the Orioles announced. Perez said the organization still has about $500,000 left in its pool, in case a player unexpectedly becomes available later in the signing period. The club took advantage of that approach in the previous period, when it was able to sign infielder César Prieto for $650,000 after he defected from Cuba.

Regardless, Almeyda figures to be the centerpiece of the class.

“Anytime we give people significant money like this, we’ve got to check all the boxes and make sure that we’re doing it with the right kid and the right family, just to ensure that the kid can continue growing and progressing as a major league baseball player, which is our goal and the family’s goal,” Perez said. “I think it’s very personal to me because it’s the highest bonus that we’ve given out here, and it just says a lot to our faith and trust in this kid’s ability, not only as a player but as a person.”

This class could be the first to enjoy the Orioles’ new training academy in the Dominican Republic. Perez said he, Elias and assistant general manager Eve Rosenbaum toured the construction site earlier Sunday and that he believes the facility will open in 2023, something Elias said was a possibility in December. As desired, showcasing the academy as the players’ potential home has helped Baltimore’s recruiting efforts, with Perez saying a video highlighting amenities is a key part of the organization’s pitch.

“We want to give everybody a fair shake to develop them as best as they can,” Perez said, “and by having the best facilities, it really, really does that.”

Although international players aren’t eligible to sign until they are 16, these deals are typically agreed upon years in advance. With the Orioles largely inactive when it came to signing international amateurs until late in 2018, Elias, Perez and Baltimore’s scouts in Latin America have in many ways been playing catch-up in recent years. But Almeyda’s deal, which MLB Pipeline first reported the terms of, shows the Orioles are creeping closer to the top of the market, with Baseball America having his bonus among the 20 largest in the class.

Almeyda said his experience in the Dominican Republic showed him a “different type” of baseball. In the United States, players have multiple opportunities to be drafted, after high school and throughout their college careers, but the top Latin American players typically sign in their first year of eligibility, a more limited window.

“Having this experience being down here, I learned different ways of how we approach baseball,” Almeyda said. “I’m a kid from the States. I did travel ball. I’ve done a little bit more organized ball. But now where I came here, I learned that these kids here have a dream, like these kids are, ‘I want to sign. I have to have that eagerness to sign.’ In the States, we have the same thing, but we have setbacks, people go to college. These kids are like, ‘If I don’t sign now, I’m not going to sign.’

“I’ve matured more here as a baseball player and as a person off the field.”

In announcing the class, the Orioles also highlighted shortstops Joshua Liranzo, Félix Amparo and Luis Guevara; infielder José Mejía; right-handed pitcher Keeler Morfe; and left-handed pitcher Francisco Morao. The class includes nine pitchers, eight infielders, six catchers and four outfielders. Fourteen of the players are from the Dominican Republic, with 11 from Venezuela and one each from Colombia and Cuba.

The Orioles say Liranzo, a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic, has “plus-plus bat speed.” Amparo, 16, is expected to stick at shortstop, considered a plus runner and thrower. Speed is also a strength of Guevara’s game, with the Orioles saying the 16-year-old switch-hitter has “excellent leadoff hitter makeup.” Morfe’s fastball gets up to 95 mph with sink, and the 16-year-old Venezuelan’s repertoire also includes a low 80s slider and mid-80s changeup. Mejía, 17, is projected to have a plus hit tool and develop into a second baseman with an offensive skill set. Morao is regarded as a strike-thrower, with a low 90s fastball, a sharp curveball and a changeup the Orioles believe will improve as the 17-year-old develops. The class also includes catcher Luis Vicioso, the younger brother of Orioles shortstop Jorge Mateo.

Given how young players are when they sign, the Orioles have yet to see substantial benefits from their increased investments in the international marketplace, but that could change quickly. Several products of the pipeline played for Low-A Delmarva last season, with infielder Frederick Bencosme shining there to earn a promotion to High-A Aberdeen. After playing in the Florida Complex League in 2022, Basallo and Hernández are among those who figure to move to affiliated ball in 2023.

Throughout their rebuild, the Orioles supplemented their international efforts by acquiring young Latin American players in trades, but as their depth in that area has improved, they could shift to the opposite end of such deals as they look to improve a contending roster. First baseman/outfielder Luis De La Cruz, a member of Elias and Perez’s first international signing class in 2019, was traded to the New York Mets last week to complete their late December trade for catcher James McCann.

“We’re in a good place now,” Perez said. “We’re already working on next year’s class.”

Orioles 2022-23 international signing class

Position, name, hits, throws, date of birth, home country

SS Luis Almeyda, R/R, April 17, 2006, Dominican Republic

RHP Xavier Alvero, R/R, Dec. 1, 2005, Cuba

SS Félix Amparo, R/R, Feb. 27, 2006, Dominican Republic

SS Junior Aybar, L/R, July 14, 2006, Dominican Republic

RHP Luis Beltrán, R/R, April 6, 2004, Dominican Republic

OF Abraham Cohen, L/L, June 15, 2006, Venezuela

SS Sebastián De Los Santos, S/R, June 16, 2006, Dominican Republic

RHP Javier González, R/R, Sept. 22, 2005, Colombia

SS Luis Guevara, S/R, Feb. 6, 2006, Venezuela

OF Raúl Leonte, L/L, May 7, 2006, Dominican Republic

SS Joshua Liranzo, R/R, Aug. 25, 2006, Dominican Republic

C Adriander Mejía, R/R, Aug. 29, 2006, Venezuela

INF José Mejía, R/R, Sept. 29, 2005, Dominican Republic

LHP Francisco Morao, L/L, Nov. 15, 2005, Venezuela

RHP Keeler Morfe, R/R, June 9, 2006, Venezuela

C Juan Ortega, R/R, April 10, 2006, Venezuela

INF Diorky Ortiz S/R, Nov. 15, 2005, Dominican Republic

OF Breiny Ramírez, L/L, May 19, 2006, Dominican Republic

RHP Juan Rasquín, R/R, Dec. 24, 2005, Venezuela

C Jhonanderson Robain, R/R, Jan. 14, 2006, Venezuela

C Miguel Rodríguez, R/R, Dec. 29, 2005, Venezuela

OF Elvis Rojas, L/L, Sept. 25, 2005, Dominican Republic

RHP Raymond Sosa, R/R, May 3, 2006, Dominican Republic

RHP Rafael Suero, R/R, May 7, 2006, Dominican Republic

C Omar Urbina, R/R, Sept. 1, 2005, Venezuela

RHP Kevin Velasco, R/R, Jan. 11, 2006, Venezuela

C Luis Vicioso, R/R, May 7, 2003, Dominican Republic

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