After funneling little to no resources into their international presence for years, the Orioles started increasing their efforts under general manager Mike Elias. They’ve broken their individual international signing bonus record three years in a row, slowly adding top talent from outside of the United States into their No. 1 farm system.

The Orioles, though, are still behind in the region, using a facility in the Dominican Republic that was outdated and lacking resources, putting them decades behind the rest of the league.

For a 16-year-old kid with multiple offers on the table, that can make a big difference. The Orioles are hoping their new multimillion-dollar facility will prove persuasive. After breaking ground in 2021, the academy in Guerra, Dominican Republic — about 20 miles from the Dominican Republic’s capital Santo Domingo — will open on Jan. 16.

“I liken it to colleges, if they have good facilities sometimes you can lure the athlete to your school,” said Koby Perez, the Orioles’ vice president of international scouting. “I don’t think we missed out on having players for not having a brand new facility, but I think it was a lot more work to try to recruit them. Sometimes you had to pay a little more than the next team.”

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Among the amenities at the new facility: three full baseball fields; a field for agility drills; a state-of-the-art weight room, batting and pitching tunnels; housing for 100 players; and classrooms for on-site education, including English classes. This will not bring them above the rest of the league, but will simply catch them up to others who have been lapping them in the Caribbean.

The Rangers — the reigning World Series champions who knocked the Orioles out of the American League Division Series — opened their academy in 2019 and had two homegrown international players on their roster. The Orioles had none. Aside from closer Félix Bautista, who was on the injured list for the playoffs and initially signed as an amateur with the Marlins, the Orioles have not had a homegrown international player make a significant impact since Jonathan Schoop left the team in 2018.

“We’re excited about opening it,” Perez said. “It’s going to really help the Orioles by allowing our player development to have the best facilities to make the players better.”

While American draft picks head to the Orioles’ Sarasota, Florida, complex after signing, international signees go to the academy in the Dominican Republic first. Most will spend two to three years there before heading to the United States, where they will merge with the American players in the Orioles’ minor league system.

Even though both are part of the same organization, those who started their careers in the Dominican Republic would oftentimes be behind those coming from Sarasota. The technology and weight room equipment were not the same, and players from the academy would have to re-learn some things they worked on in the early part of their career.

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The new academy will change that, and the added education classes will also help lessen the divide. The Orioles also plan to have employees go back and forth between the United States and Guerra so players already have a relationship with their staff.

“I think streamlining our processes starting from the DR will be really, really helpful for when the player travels to the USA, so they are familiar with everything we do,” Perez said. “We feel good about what we are doing ... they get to the states and they can hit the ground running.”

The facility will also be open for offseason workouts for more experienced players, such as Orioles’ infielder Jorge Mateo or No. 5 prospect Samuel Basallo, who, at the time of his signing in 2021, received the largest bonus in franchise history at $1.3 million. Both Mateo and Basallo are from Santo Domingo and spend their winters in the Dominican Republic.

Their newest international class — which consists of about 20 players — will sign on Monday and be the first to experience the new academy. A day later, the Orioles will host their formal opening with Elias, Perez, Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader, and other top officials, the team said.

Some current and former players will be there, too, including Bautista and Mateo, and alums Vladimir Guerrero Sr., Hanser Alberto, Daniel Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Radhames Liz, Melvin Mora, and Miguel Tejada.

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This won’t make up for the years they spent as a dormant in the region. But now, the Orioles are one step closer to catching up to the rest of the league.

“People are excited — would you rather go to a Fairfield or a JW [Marriott]?” Perez said. “It’s a pretty good set-up that we are going to have here now.”

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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