The Dominican Summer League is seen as a proving ground for prospects from the Caribbean, Central and South America. While divisional foes have effectively used the region to replenish their farm systems, the Orioles record in that area is thin. Could things be turning around?
One of the major knocks on the MacPhail Era of Orioles management was a lack of addressing and exploiting the international game. At one point, the Orioles under MacPhail expanded their presence in the Dominican Republic Summer League to two teams, but the move seemingly had little to no impact on the number or quality of international players graduating to the mainland. Upon his hiring in 2011, Dan Duquette pledged that he would ramp up international efforts. While the new regime's exploits in Asia received considerably more press, the progress it made in Latin America should not be understated, though dabbling with the likes of Henry Urrutia and Leo Heras (who is no longer with the organization) does not really constitute a great leap forward.
When looking at the 2012 DSL O's compared to the 2011 DSL O's, one thing that leaps out at you is the 2012 team's international flavor. In 2011, the roster was overwhelmingly composed of players from the island of Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) with one Argentine and seven Venezuelans. The 2012 roster featured 12 Venezuelans, three players from Curacao and one from each of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Guatemala. This may be significant because while there is unquestionably a lot of talent on the island there is also a lot of scouting and development undertaken there by other organizations. If the Orioles are to succeed in the international marketplace, they have to focus on under exploited sources of talent. It's worth keeping an eye on the Blue Jays, who are setting up camp in Brazil. Three decades ago, they rose to prominence in the AL East on the backs of D.R. products like Jorge Bell, Tony Fernandez and Damaso Garcia.
When considering the proposition of finding talent in unexpected places, it's also worth noting some of the conversion projects the Orioles began last year.Something I watched in 2011, was how the Orioles had converted a rocket-armed, light hitting catching prospect named Luis Bernardo into a reliever. We saw the trend continue this year higher up the chain as 2011 infield draftee Tom Winegardner started the year in the field and ended it with 10 saves. Back at Boca Chica Baseball City, outfielders Dioni Dominguez and Alexander Santana became relievers Dioni Dominguez and Alexander Santana. Both showed K/9s over 10, with Santana even demonstrating a modicum of control with a 3.1 BB/9.
Another distinguishing characteristic of this year's roster was it's relative youth. The 2012 DSL O's featured thirty players under the age of 20, whereas 15 players over the age of 20 played for the previous year's model. Of course, this leads back to the point that the Orioles are expanding the map with respect to their scouting efforts. Of the fourteen 17 year olds that logged time with the DSL O's in 2012, ten came from beyond the island.
One more item of note was the fact that more players were promoted stateside from the DSL O's in 2012 than I can recall in past years. Whether this reflects a more aggressive promotion strategy or moves strictly on the merits, I cannot say. In addition to the previously mentioned Alexander Santana and Dioni Dominguez, Elias PInales and Alexander Mercedes also moved from the island to Sarasota. Also, 17 year olds Rafael Moreno and Yariel Vargas were invited to work out in instructional league this past September along with 19 year old Ronarsy Ledesma.
It may be some time before we know how effective Dan Duquette's efforts in Latin America have been, but on a superficial level, things seem to be pointing in a positive direction. After all, MacPhail was roundly mocked for shying away from big signings in Latin America, but Jonathan Schoop is the vanguard of a promising group of players from the Caribbean signed during the MacPhail era (including Hector Veloz, Eduardo Rodriguez, Miguel Chalas and Roderick Bernadina) that have made their way stateside. As a postscript, I'll also mention that Fred Ferreira, one of Duquette's early hires who is known as a Latin America wiz, was named International Scout of the Year by MLB.