Despite Pandemic, Orioles Continuing To Make Strides Internationally Under Koby Perez

Koby Perez is playing a vital role in the renaissance of the Baltimore Orioles.

The team’s senior director of international scouting is creating a pipeline for young Latin American players to eventually make their way to Camden Yards as major leaguers.

Perez has already had huge success on the job since being hired in January 2019.

The Orioles signed a franchise-high 27 players at the start of the international signing period in 2019, most notably outfielder Luis Gonzalez, left-handed pitcher Luis Ortiz and shortstop Leonel Sanchez. Baltimore added seven more players in January.

That momentum carried over to this year. The club is expected to sign a pair of top-40 international prospects with catcher Samuel Basallo from the Dominican Republic and shortstop Maikol Hernandez from Venezuela, according to Baseball America.

“Our 2019 class was a big class,” Perez said. “We signed a lot of players. I don’t expect our 2020 class to be as big because we’re going to end up signing players with bigger bonuses — even some seven-figure guys. So, we’re looking like we’re going in the right direction. Our class will be smaller in terms of numbers, but I think we have some high-impact talent.

“We’re super excited. They’re players we really like and more importantly, they’re players that wanted to sign with us.”

The Orioles have been able to stay engaged on the international front amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc across the world. Regarding international prospects already in the organization, Perez said the team has been creative keeping them focused and has been using technology to keep them on track.

“It’s been tough. It’s been Zoom calls with our staff in Latin America and with the international league,” Perez said. “As far as players, we’ve been conducting Zoom calls with them as well, especially those in Latin America. Our education coordinator has probably been the busiest of all of us, just giving English classes and some educational classes on Zoom.

“I can’t wait for this to be over, hopefully, sooner than later.”

The Orioles have to be elated to add Basallo and Hernandez to the organization. Basallo is regarded as the top catching prospect in the Dominican Republic and will earn a bonus worth about $1.5 million from the Orioles, according to Baseball America. The 6-foot-3 Basallo has a solid arm and can hit from the left side of the plate.

At 6-foot-4, Hernandez follows a tradition of big, physical shortstops who add power to the lineup. He reportedly had overtures from the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates before deciding to sign with the Orioles.

The international signing period typically begins July 2 each year, but no specific start date has been set yet for this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The March agreement between MLB and the MLBPA stipulated that the next international signing period will begin sometime between July and January.

The owners and players are still trying to reach an agreement for when the 2020 MLB season will begin, if at all. That lull has not dramatically altered the Orioles’ progress in the international market so far. However, more challenges could crop up the longer MLB remains in limbo regarding a plan to move forward amid the pandemic.

MLB ordered clubs to halt all domestic and international scouting in March.

“A lot of the work is done ahead of time. We know the class,” Perez said of the next class of players. “We know who the players are. Quite frankly, they’ve already known what team they want to sign with and committed verbally to some teams. A lot of our work is done up front, so basically it’s just to keep tabs on our guys and making sure the guys we’re interested in are healthy by the time we get back on the road.

“What we’re hoping for is MLB to start playing. When that starts, then I think they’ll go from there. I think MLB wants to get their teams on the field before they do anything else.”

Prior to last year, the Orioles’ most productive amateur international signing had been Jonathan Schoop, who was signed as a 16-year-old from Curacao in 2008. He made his debut with the Orioles five years later before being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018.

Under the leadership of general manager Mike Elias, the Orioles have infused more money and resources to improve that area of the club. The team has upgraded facilities at its Latin American academies.

In addition, the Orioles are undergoing a massive rebuilding project after two consecutive 100-plus loss seasons. Young players see an opportunity in Baltimore and a chance to move through a minor-league system that is already enjoying vast improvement.

Double-A Bowie and Low-A Delmarva each qualified for the 2019 postseason. The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team also made the playoffs before the season was cut short because of Hurricane Dorian.

“They see there’s an opportunity here with our farm system improving,” Perez said of prospects on the international market. “We present them with our player development strategies and they think that our system is really good. They think our player development system will help them improve, will help them learn things they haven’t learned before or even heard of and I think they want to make the best of their experience and become the best player they can be. A lot of credit goes to our player development system.”

“Our pitching in the minor leagues was really good and that’s because of our player development system,” Perez added. “They want to be part of it.”

For now, Perez and the rest of his staff simply have to wait for MLB to announce the next step with the 2020 season. It’s a challenging time, but the club has done its best to make the proper adjustments.

“The Dominican Summer League would have been starting up at the end of May if things were normal,” Perez said. “We wish we could have had that development time. But hopefully, later in the fall, we can get some kind of league going and be able to advance on the time we lost.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Baltimore Orioles

Todd Karpovich

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