Orioles sign 16-year-old shortstop Luis Ayden Almeyda for club-record bonus

For the third straight offseason, the Orioles have broken their record international signing bonus. This time, Almeyda signed for $2.3 million.

Published 1/15/2023 5:18 p.m. EST

Another year, another record.

The Orioles continued their commitment to international scouting by signing 16-year-old Luis Ayden Almeyda on the first day of the international signing period with a signing bonus of $2.3 million, a source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Baltimore Banner.

It’s the third straight year Baltimore has doled out a record-setting bonus to an international prospect, underscoring the increased dedication in an area that was previously underutilized by the organization. International scouting director Koby Perez and executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias have now given four signing bonuses of more than $1 million, and 13 of the 27 players Baltimore signed Sunday received signing bonuses of at least $100,000 or more.

Last year, outfielder Braylin Tavera earned a signing bonus of $1.7 million. The year before that, catcher Samuel Basallo received $1.3 million and shortstop Maikol Hernández garnered a $1.2 million signing bonus.

To ramp up even further for Almeyda emphasizes how strongly Perez and the organization believe in his future.

“Any time we give people significant money like this, we’ve got to check all the boxes and we’re doing it with the right kid and the right family, just to ensure the kid can continue growing and progressing as a major league baseball player,” Perez said. “It’s very personal to me. It’s the highest bonus we’ve given out here and it just says a lot to our faith and trust in this kid’s ability, not only as a player, but as a person.”

Most times, deals for international free agents are negotiated and agreed upon years in advance. It has led to the Orioles being behind the curve in some ways.

Players can sign at 16, which leaves — for most — a long path toward the majors. Tavera played in the Dominican Summer League last year; Basallo and Hernández competed in the Florida Complex League. All three, despite their lofty signing bonuses, are still considered a way off from the majors.

“It takes time,” Perez said. “It’s like when you’re growing a plant. You plant the seed. You can’t see anything. And then once the flowers start blooming, they become real pretty and nice, and that’s kind of where I feel we’re at, where the seed is starting to pop up and come out of the ground. And hopefully in the near future it’ll be a nice, big flower.”

The 27 players signed Sunday ties for the most international signings in a single window in club history, joining the 2019-2020 class. The group includes nine pitchers, eight infielders, six catchers and four outfielders, with 14 players from the Dominican Republic representing the largest national contingent.

Almeyda, who is called his middle name Ayden by those closest to him, has five-tool potential. He grew up in New Jersey and rose to No. 4 on Perfect Game’s rankings of top college prospects in the class of 2025, but Almeyda and his family moved to the Dominican Republic when he was 15 because his grandmother had developed Alzheimer’s Disease.

The move helped him grow as a player and a person, Almeyda said. He became more mature, gained an appreciation for the different way people play baseball and he became more motivated than ever to sign with a major league club.

He ranks as Baseball America’s No. 17 international prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 20 prospect. His decision to sign with the Orioles also likely saddened the swath of colleges interested in him, but Almeyda felt ready for the jump to Baltimore’s organization.

“I knew right off the bat, I knew the Orioles were the organization for me,” Almeyda said. “My decision is how I want to develop as a player, and I know the Baltimore Orioles have one of the best — or, I think the best — farm system.”

Long term, Almeyda could project as a third baseman. He’s already 6-foot-2 at 16. But according to Baseball America’s scouting report, Almeyda has the potential to develop more power and has “smooth actions and is light on his feet at shortstop.”

Other highlights in the class include shortstop Joshua Liranzo, infielder José Mejía, shortstop Félix Amparo, right-hander Keeler Morfe, shortstop Luis Guevara and left-hander Francisco Morao.

Liranzo, 16, has shown plenty of power already. The 17-year-old Mejía is considered one of the top hitters in the signing class, projecting as an offensive-first second baseman in the future. Sixteen-year-olds Guevara and Amparo both have strong running skills and excel in the field.

Morfe and Morao each boast fastballs with movement, with Morfe’s showing sinking action around 95 mph and Morao’s coupling with a high-upside 12-6 curveball.

Baltimore had a total bonus pool of just over $5.8 million. Any signings who receive a bonus at $10,000 or less don’t count against the bonus pool. Perez said the club had spent around $5.3 million, leaving half a million in bonus pool money available in case a player crops up on their radar late.

“When we like a player, we just have to keep watching him and fencing off other suitors,” Perez said. “Being that we’ve been here, this is my fifth year, we’ve been able to see these future classes and start kind of lining them up and it gives us a good opportunity to get to know the families and them get to know us, and these players make their decision.”

Before Elias joined the Orioles, the club infrequently delved into the international amateur market. Since Perez joined in 2019, though, the Orioles have increased their spending — and overall quantity of signings — in international markets, taking a page from what helped the Houston Astros reach the next level.

Elias, who served as Houston’s director of amateur scouting before arriving in Baltimore, saw firsthand how an international signing can lift an organization: The Astros signed a then-unheralded Jose Altuve in 2007 as a 16-year-old.

Baltimore’s commitment to their international development includes the construction of an academy in the Dominican Republic that could open this year. It will feature three full fields and other amenities as part of the 22.5-acre campus, and many in this latest group of signings could benefit from that complex.

Perez said Elias and assistant general manager Eve Rosenbaum took a tour of the construction site Sunday. Perez said “hopefully, we have some good news shortly,” but a video of the facility was part of the pitch to incoming players.

It appeared to work.

“We feel it’s an advantage when we present that opportunity to players,” Perez said. “We want to give everyone a fair shake to develop as best as they can, and having the best facilities really does that.”

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