Orioles open 2023 international signing period with new team-record bonus

Orioles open 2023 international signing period with new team-record bonus

The days of the Orioles, which had nothing to do with signing a class of international amateur players each year, are now years in the rearview mirror. January 15 will mark the start of another class of players to be signed and for the third straight year the team will award a new team-record signing bonus to a player from the Dominican Republic. 16-year-old shortstop Luis Almeyda, who was born in the United States before moving there, has received a reported $2.3 million bonus from the team.

Almeyda’s bonus tops the $1.7 million paid to outfielder Braylin Tavera last year, whose own bonus exceeded last year’s bonuses given to shortstop Maikol Hernandez and catcher Samuel Basallo. Now that the Orioles are fully active participants in this market, they will likely add new names to the seven-figure bonus list every year, at least unless the owners manage to establish an international draft.

For this year’s autograph session, the Orioles have an available bonus pool of $5,825,000. That’s slightly down from last year due to the way MLB allocates bonus pools. Teams like the O’s who had Competitive Balance picks in Round A of last year’s draft (after the first round) will receive about half a million less in next year’s international bonus pool than teams with Competitive Balance picks in Round B. The O’s earned also a Round B selection from the Marlins not affecting this year’s international bonus pool.

These two groups alternate annually; The Orioles are expected to be back in the top flight next year as their CB selection will be back in Round B.

On the day the signing period opened, the team announced a signing class of 27 players. This almost certainly makes up almost if not all of the available bonus pool. That’s a little more than last year when they signed 24 players, even with the smaller bonus pool and a bigger chunk of the pool going to one player.

Teams have placed these players on verbal agreements for up to two years before actually signing them today – talks as young as 14 for some prospects. It’s crazy to think about, but that’s how it works. Previous Orioles regimes that did not participate in this process excluded themselves from a group of players that generally make up about a third of the game’s best prospects at any given point in time. The latest MLB pipeline top Orioles prospects list includes six players signed by the O’s in international markets.

It should be fun as these players get closer to MLB. The furthest along for now is Basallo, who performed well in the rookie Florida Complex League last year and is likely to be nominated to start this season for Low-A Delmarva. The only way to build the pipeline is to keep building it, even if the results are years away from influencing the big league team.

Almeyda ranked #20 on the list of Pipeline’s Top 50 International Prospects in its Class with this account of his skills and potential:

He walks well for his height (listed at 6’2”, 180 lbs.) and has a chance of becoming a five tool player as he progresses. As with many big midfielders, there’s a chance Almeyda could grow out of shortstop and eventually move to third base, but adjusting to a new position shouldn’t be a problem. Thanks to his time in the United States, he’s a smart hitter with a good approach to the plate and tons of at-bats under his belt. He plays solid defense, in large part due to his soft hands, good footwork and body clock. He also projects to have a plus arm.

One thing that makes Almeyda interesting compared to other players in this group is that he has some experience playing youth baseball in the United States. That’s not enough to earn a $5.6 million bonus as the top contender in the class — he got Venezuelan catcher Ethan Salas from the Padres this year — but it does make him stand out.

Former Orioles beat writer Jon Meoli speculated in his substack that Almeyda may have progressed far enough due to its ambassadors in America to completely skip the usual Dominican Summer League level and start in the Florida Complex League. Watching his progress as a 17-year-old (his birthday is in April) in this league would certainly be more interesting than the average of these signings in their first professional season.

Almeyda in action in a video provided by the Orioles:

The Orioles press release announcing the signings stated that the team awarded six-figure bonuses to six other players alongside Almeyda. These may or may not be the other six names the team highlighted in their press release:

Joshua Liranzo, 16, is a Dominican Republic shortstop who displays immense power with an easy swing and plus-plus racquet speed. His power and hitting tools give him the makings of an everyday player capable of more offensive power. On the pitch, he shows loose defensive actions with good footwork and a plus arm.

José Mejía, 17, a native Dominican, is considered an attacking second baseman. He is considered one of the best players in the 2022-23 class. A strong fastball hitter who can see spin, he predicts a 60 hitting tool with a chance to develop 50 power. Defensively he is solid in the infield and makes the routine games. A natural leader with good instincts, Mejía also speaks English, which can ease the transition to playing in the United States.

Félix Amparo, 16, is a shortstop from the Dominican Republic with a chance of becoming a plus hitter in the future. Standing at 5’11”, 10″ tall and weighing 145 pounds, he shows surprising pop for his build and is an excellent fastball hitter. On the dirt he has good feet and soft hands with excellent body control and a plus arm. A plus runner, his combination of offense and speed will keep him at the shortstop.

Keeler Morfe, a 16-year-old right-hander from Venezuela, is considered one of the better pitchers in the 2022-23 class (ed.: citation needed). He features three plus pitches: a fastball that touches 95 mph with sinking action and plus command, a sharp slider that hits 81-83 mph with a hard three-quarter rotation that’s especially effective against right-handed hitters, and a misleading 85-87 mph changeup with plus command. His throwing ability is advanced for his age and his overall makeup is impressive.

Luis Guevara, 16, is a Switch-hitting shortstop from Venezuela with excellent lead-off hitter makeup. One of the better Venezuelan attackers in the 2022-23 class, he has excellent hit-to-ball skills and a nice easy swing through the zone from either side of the plate. He shows advanced hitting ability and power potential for the gaps. He’s solid defensively and flows with easy, controlled movements. He plans to stay in midfield and is showing more arm strength. He’s cutting off as a 65 runner who will be a threat on the basepaths.

Francisco Morao, 17, is a left-handed pitcher from Venezuela who poses as a mid-rotation starter. At six feet two inches tall and 180 pounds, he has an impressive, athletic build and a strong presence on the hill. As a strike thrower, his pitch mix includes a fastball that hits 92 mph with lots of movement and more life, a decent change that will be average going forward, and his strikeout pitch, a sharp 12-6 curveball with good rotation .

The full list of the team’s announced signings, in alphabetical order by last name:

  • SS Luis Almeyda, Dominican Republic
  • RHP Xavier Alvero, Cuba
  • SS Félix Amparo, Dominican Republic
  • SS Junior Aybar, Dominican Republic
  • RHP Luis Beltran, Dominican Republic
  • BY Abraham Cohen, Venezuela
  • SS Sebastián de los Santos, Dominican Republic
  • RHP Javier González, Colombia
  • SS Luis Guevara, Venezuela
  • BY Raúl Leonte, Dominican Republic
  • SS Joshua Liranzo, Dominican Republic
  • C Adriander Mejía, Venezuela
  • INF José Mejía, Dominican Republic
  • LHP Francisco Morao, Venezuela
  • RHP Keeler Morfe, Venezuela
  • C Juan Ortega, Venezuela
  • INF Diorky Hernandez, Dominican Republic
  • OF Breiny Ramírez, Dominican Republic
  • RHP Juan Rasquin, Venezuela
  • C. Johnanderson Robain, Venezuela
  • C Miguel Rodríguez, Venezuela
  • BY Elvis Rojas, Dominican Republic
  • RHP Raymond Sosa, Dominican Republic
  • RHP Rafael Suero, Dominican Republic
  • C Omar Urbina, Venezuela
  • RHP Kevin Velasco, Venezuela
  • C Luis Vicioso, Dominican Republic

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