The Baltimore Orioles need to prioritize signing Cuban defector Yolbert Sanchez
By Tim Smart
Cuban defector Yolbert Sanchez has been cleared by Major League Baseball to sign with any club, starting February 5th. The Baltimore Orioles need to make a serious push to sign him
When the Baltimore Orioles hired new Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Elias, who had recently served as the International Scouting Director for the Houston Astros, they did so in part to develop a better presence in the international market, and specifically in Latin America and the Caribbean. Signing Cuban defector Yolbert Sanchez would be a big step in the right direction for Elias and the Orioles.
Fangraphs.com prospect writers Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen released a report stating that Sanchez had been cleared by MLB early on Tuesday afternoon, and that he would be available to sign as of February 5th. Sanchez will reportedly hold workouts for MLB teams later this week, and the Orioles will surely be in attendance.
Sanchez is a 21-year-old shortstop who, prior to defecting, had played in Cuba’s top professional league. The Baltimore Orioles have a notable dearth of elite middle-infield prospects, made apparent by their decisions during the Rule 5 draft (selected SS Richie Martin, traded for SS/2B Drew Jackson).
I don’t have any unique scouting information on Sanchez, but McDaniel and Longenhagen suggested that “Sanchez is seen by scouts as a $2-4 million type prospect”. Not only would Sanchez fit into the Orioles organization positionally, but they are also the only team in MLB with more than ~$3 million in international bonus pool money.
The Orioles have somewhere in the $5.5 million range left in their international bonus pool budget, giving them a distinct advantage over the remaining MLB teams vying for Sanchez’s services. Even if Sanchez isn’t a generational talent, this is a move that the Orioles need to make. The organization has the money; they just need to spend it.
The Orioles missed out on signing top-tier international prospects this year, including Victor Victor Mesa earlier this offseason, but that’s due in part to the Orioles not having an on-the-ground presence in the region.
Senior Director of International Scouting Koby Perez was hired just weeks ago to help build the Orioles’ operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. It’ll take time for the O’s to get everything up and running and to build relationships with the players in the region, but Sanchez is a unique case.
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Elite-level prospects don’t often enter the market in an unexpected fashion like this, and we’re specifically not used to seeing the Orioles in such a prime position to sign an international prospect of Sanchez’s caliber.
From a fan’s perspective, this is what Mike Elias was brought in for: to start building a more sustainable organization from the ground up. Maybe Sanchez won’t want to sign with the Orioles, or maybe Elias and his scouts will see something egregiously wrong with Sanchez and won’t seriously pursue signing him.
But this is a move the Orioles have never made. Orioles fans have long watched the organization ignore players like Yolbert Sanchez. It’s time for the Orioles to capitalize on prospects in the international market, especially considering that the Orioles have the money to do it, and that Sanchez fills an organizational need.