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

American-born, Dominican-raised Luis Almeyda is the headliner for this year’s class

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles
It’s a big day for Mike Elias and his international scouting team
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The days of the Orioles having nothing to do with signing each year’s class of international amateur players are now years in the rear view mirror. January 15 marks the start of another class of players being signed and for the third straight year it will see the team hand out 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 bonus of $2.3 million from the team.

Almeyda’s bonus tops the $1.7 million given last year to outfielder Braylin Tavera, whose own bonus beat out the previous 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 probably be adding new names to the seven-figure bonus list annually, at least unless the owners succeed in establishing an international draft.

For this year’s signing class, the Orioles have an available bonus pool of $5,825,000. That’s a bit less than last year due to the way MLB allocates the bonus pools. Teams like the O’s who had Competitive Balance picks in Round A of last year’s draft (after the first round) get about half a million less in the next year’s international bonus pool than teams with Competitive Balance picks in Round B. The O’s also acquired a Round B pick from the Marlins, which doesn’t affect this year’s international bonus pool.

These two groups switch yearly; the Orioles will presumably be back in the top group next year as their CB pick will be back in Round B.

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

Teams have been locking these players up to verbal deals for as much as two years before they actually signed today - some prospects are spoken for as early as age 14. It’s wacky to think about it, but that’s the way it works. Previous Orioles regimes that did not participate in this process shut themselves out from a group of players that generally makes up a third or so of the game’s top prospects at any given time. The most recent MLB Pipeline top Orioles prospects list features six players signed by the O’s in the international markets.

It should be fun when those players start getting closer to MLB. For now, the most advanced is Basallo, who performed well in the rookie Florida Complex League last year and is probably ticketed for Low-A Delmarva to start this season. The only way to build the pipeline is to keep building it, even when the results are years away from affecting the big league team.

Almeyda ranked as the #20 prospect on Pipeline’s top 50 international prospects list from this class, with this report on his skills and potential:

He runs well for his size (listed at 6’2”, 180 lbs.) and has a chance to be a five-tool player if he continues to develop. As with many large middle infielders, there’s a chance Almeyda will outgrow shortstop and eventually move to third base, but the adjustment to a new position should not be a problem. He’s a smart hitter with a good approach at the plate and tons of at-bats under his belt thanks to his time in the United States. He plays solid defense, in large part because of his soft hands, good footwork and internal 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 does have some experience playing youth baseball in the US. That’s not enough to where he’s the top prospect in the class getting a $5.6 million bonus - Venezuelan catcher Ethan Salas has gotten that from the Padres this year - but it does make him stand out.

Former Orioles beat writer Jon Meoli speculated on his Substack that Almeyda could potentially be advanced enough due to his reps in America to skip the usual Dominican Summer League level entirely and start at the Florida Complex League. Tracking his progress as a 17-year-old (his birthday is in April) at that league would certainly be more interesting than the average one of these signings in their first professional season.

Almeyda in action in video provided by the Orioles:

The Orioles press release announcing the signings indicated that the team gave bonuses in the range of six figures to an additional six players beyond Almeyda. Those may or may not be the other six names the team highlighted in their press release:

Joshua Liranzo, 16, is a shortstop from the Dominican Republic who showcases immense power with a loose swing and plus-plus bat speed. His power and hit tools give him the makings to be an everyday player capable of plus offensive production. In the field, he shows loose defensive action with good footwork and a plus arm.

José Mejía, 17, a native of the Dominican Republic, profiles as an offensive second baseman. He is regarded as one of the best hitters in the 2022-23 class. A strong fastball hitter who can see spin, he projects to have a hit tool of 60 with a chance to develop 50 power. Defensively, he is solid in the infield and makes the routine plays. A natural leader with good instincts, Mejía also speaks English, which can make for an easier transition to playing in the United States.

Félix Amparo, 16, is a shortstop from the Dominican Republic with a chance to be a plus hitter in the future. Standing five feet, 10 inches tall and weighing in at 145 pounds, he showcases surprising pop for his frame and is an excellent fastball hitter. On the dirt, he has good feet and soft hands with superb body control and a plus arm. A plus runner, his combination of offense and speed will see him stick at shortstop.

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

Luis Guevara, 16, is a switch-hitting shortstop from Venezuela with excellent leadoff hitter makeup. One of the better Venezuelan hitters in the 2022-23 class, he has outstanding bat-to-ball skills and a nice, easy swing through the zone from both sides of the plate. He showcases advanced hitting ability and power potential to the gaps. He is sound defensively and flows with loose, controlled movements. He projects to remain in the middle infield and shows plus arm strength. He grades out as a 65 runner who will be a threat on the basepaths.

Francisco Morao, 17, is a left-handed pitcher from Venezuela who projects as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. At six feet, two inches tall and 180 pounds, he has an impressive, athletic frame and a strong presence on the mound. A strike thrower, his pitch mix includes a fastball that reaches 92 mph with a lot of movement and plus life, a decent changeup that will be average in the future, and his strikeout pitch, a sharp 12-6 curveball with good rotation.

The full list of signings announced by the team, 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 Beltrán, Dominican Republic
  • OF Abraham Cohen, Venezuela
  • SS Sebastián de los Santos, Dominican Republic
  • RHP Javier González, Colombia
  • SS Luis Guevara, Venezuela
  • OF 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 Rasquín, Venezuela
  • C Johnanderson Robain, Venezuela
  • C Miguel Rodríguez, Venezuela
  • OF 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