The Baltimore Orioles on Monday signed 19-year-old Xu Guiyuan, the first player ever to come out of the league's Chinese Development program, according to MLB.com. The financial terms of the minor-league deal were not disclosed.
Xu, pronounced "shoe" and whose nickname is “Itchy,” is scheduled to remain in China where he will train with the development program's top team. He is expected to arrive at the Orioles spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla., later this summer, to be introduced to the team before heading back to China to finish his high school classes.
Xu's signing is seen as an important step in the redevelopment of baseball in China, which was banned by the late Mao Zedong from 1966 to 1976. Major League Baseball opened a development center in China in 2009 where high school-aged players attend school, live in dormitories and train for baseball on nights and weekends.
MLB's director of game development in Asia, Ricky Dell, discovered Xu as a 13-year-old playing in Shenzhen, according to the MLB.com report.
"Teams have to make a concerted effort to come to China to see our players," Dell said. "It's a very long trip, it's expensive and it requires a visa. You have to really care about going, and that really validates what we're doing over here."
Xu says his baseball idol is 10-time All-Star 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."