I’d love to provide a meaty update on the Orioles’ interest in Cuban outfielders Victor Victor Mesa and Victor Mesa Jr. and pitcher Sandy Gastón. However, there isn’t much more to write beyond the presence of five representatives at the workout in Miami, the meeting that transpired the following day with the players, their families and agent Barry Praver, and the likelihood that an offer has been submitted for Victor Victor.
The Orioles are keeping their business out of the press, whether it involves these negotiations or their search for a president of baseball operations, which will lead to the hiring of a GM type and manager.
I’ve talked to a few talent evaluators who rate Victor Victor Mesa, regarded as the top international prospect left on the market, a notch below Double-A Bowie outfielder Yusniel Díaz.
Díaz is regarded as the prize in the flurry of July trades that brought back 15 players. He was slow to make the adjustment to a new organization, posting a .314/.428/.477 slash line in 59 games at Double-A Tulsa and a .239/.329/.403 slash line in 38 games with Double-A Bowie. He went 3-for-4 in his penultimate game and was 8-for-23 in his last six.
Mesa projects as a center fielder, where he’s already rated as a plus defender, while Díaz eventually could move to right field.
The Orioles already like their outfield depth, but they’re making an aggressive push for Mesa and also like his younger brother, who is considered a good fit for left field.
Cedric Mullins is expected to be in center field on opening day. DJ Stewart had three doubles, three home runs and an .890 OPS in 17 games after the Orioles selected his contract. Austin Hays is one season removed from being the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year, and a healthy spring should get him back on track. Ryan McKenna is off to a good start in the Arizona Fall League after the Orioles moved him up from Single-A Frederick to Bowie. Former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander remains in the organization and the Orioles haven’t given up on him.
Trey Mancini is stuck in left field with Chris Davis at first base, but they could get at-bats as the designated hitter if Mark Trumbo isn’t ready. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on Sept. 7 to repair the cartilage in his right knee.
I’ve written how the Mesas are viewed within the industry as a package deal, but that might be overblown. Signing one isn’t a requirement to get the other. They aren’t joined at the hip.
Victor Mesa Jr. is only 16, creating the challenge of projecting just how good he can become. Gastón is only 17, but he carries an upper-90s fastball and developing secondary stuff.
There’s always the chance that Victor Mesa Jr. and Gastón remain free agents until July 2019 when the international signing bonus slots are reset and more teams can become involved in the bidding. The Orioles, with the worst record in the majors, will continue to hold a financial edge, but there’s no carryover from this year.
Those slots, or whatever you want to call them, will disappear.
The biggest return for trading Kevin Gausman to the Braves, beyond salary relief that included dumping the $9 million owed to Darren O’Day, was the $2.5 million in international signing bonus slots. Not putting them to use really impacts the value of that trade.
The Orioles promise to get more involved in the international market as part of their rebuild, but it takes more than just acquiring the bonus slots.
Perhaps one day we’ll find out whether there’s more behind the story of the Orioles sending $750,000 worth to the Phillies in August for minor league infielder Jack Zoellner, a 23-year-old corner infielder who’s spent the last two seasons in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and batted .240/.358/.401 with seven home runs in 58 games.
The Orioles saw plenty of him while scouting the Phillies system and liked his ability to get on base. I’ve heard that the Phillies were far less enthusiastic about Zoellner and might have released him.
The average age of players in the Gulf Coast League is three years younger than Zoellner, so the Orioles need to move him up and see if he’s just a late bloomer. Assuming that they hold onto him now that Dan Duquette no longer is executive vice president of baseball operations.
The new hires might have other ideas.