Orioles sign 19-year-old Xu Guiyuan, 1st player from development centers

In what Major League Baseball hopes is an indication of its advance into a sparsely covered region of the world, the Baltimore Orioles signed the first prospect from one of MLB's China development centers on Monday, according to an MLB.com report.

Xu Guiyuan, a 19-year-old outfielder/first baseman, signed a minor league contract tied to next season, before which he'll report to Orioles spring training and be assigned to one of the team's minor league affiliates.

"Xu has been working hard at the MLB Development Center, and we hope he'll be the first of many future major league players from China," Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said of the two-time China youth league MVP, according to MLB.com. "He has excellent balance at the plate and very good left-handed power, which we think will play well at Oriole Park at Camden Yards."

Xu emerged from the development center in Wuxi, a city in the Jiangsu province. That center is one of three in the nation of well more than 1 billion people.

Called "Itchy" by staff members at the center, Xu says his baseball idol is Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.

"Ichiro is a hitting god, and I love hitting, and I want to work hard to be as good as he is," Xu said. "I am excited to have a chance to go to MLB and play baseball, and I'm happy the Orioles gave me this opportunity."

The Orioles tweeted a photo of Xu's signing:

Rick Dell, MLB's director of game development for Asia and the evaluator who discovered Xu, offered an appraisal similar to Duquette's.

"You have to like his hitting," Dell said. "He really swings the bat well and has been doing a lot to continuously improve. He's a lefty hitter with a good swing and good bat speed."