A lefty pitcher emerges at No. 2 as O's international prospect rankings list continues

Today, as we continue to rollout the MASNSports.com top 20 O’s international prospects, we find out yet again that teams can get big talents sometimes out of modest signing bonuses.

Some players sign late in the process as late bloomers and beyond that, it is just hard to project what someone at age 16 will look like and play like three, four, and six years down the road.

It is also quite exciting to see a pitcher ranked so highly now on this list as left-hander Luis De León, age 20, is the No. 2 prospect on the list for 2024.

He was signed by the club for just $30,000 in December of 2021 out of Barahona, Dominican Republic. He had an ERA of 5.14 in 28 innings in 2022 in the Dominican Summer League.

But last year, over six games in the rookie-level Florida Complex League and 10 for Single-A Delmarva, he went a combined 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 53 2/3 innings. It was a nice breakout performance by the lefty. Even after he moved up, he allowed just a .177 batting average and 2.39 ERA in his first go-around in full-season ball with the Shorebirds. De León walked 30 with 67 strikeouts (11.2 K per 9) and had a 1.30 WHIP. Among all O’s farm pitchers with 50 or more innings last season, his ERA was second-best.

De León made a big leap this year and the O’s heard rival clubs bring up his name in trade talks. The stuff looked real good, led by a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and touched 98 and 99 mph. His heater, slider and changeup are all, at times, plus pitches.

De León, who has drawn some comps to former big leaguer Francisco Liriano also from the DR, has a chance to break north with High-A Aberdeen, but more likely it seems he could go back to Delmarva for a bit more time/seasoning there.

De León is certainly getting noticed around the industry and is now ranked as the Orioles’ No. 16 prospect by Baseball America and BA also ranked him as the 14 prospect for 2023 among all players in the FCL.

In the first two O’s top 20 international rankings on MASNSports.com the highest rated pitcher in 2022 was Moisés Chace at No, 8 and last year was Luis Sánchez at No. 11. So a big jump up this year with De León at No. 2 on the list.

No. 3 – Infielder Luis Almeyda: Signed for $2.3 million on Jan. 15, 2023, Almeyda received the largest signing bonus the Orioles have ever given an international amateur.

A right-handed hitting shortstop, Almeyda had season-ending left shoulder surgery on Aug. 10 but is expected to be a full-go for spring training and looks strong in his rehab work in Florida. He will probably begin this season in the Florida Complex League with a chance to advance to Delmarva later in the season. He turns 18 on April 17.

He also dealt with a minor ankle issue last year and his stats were modest. He hit .190/.290/.310/.600 in 19 Dominican Summer League games with two homers and 14 RBIs. His last game was July 28.

Almeyda was born in the United States and grew up in New Jersey and before he entered high school, according to Baseball America, was already getting recruiting offers from some of the top programs in college baseball. Instead of staying in the United States and becoming a potential first-round pick for the 2025 high school class, Almeyda moved to the Dominican Republic and immediately drew attention. His mother and mother’s parents are from the Dominican Republic, and Major League Baseball qualified him as an international signing.

San Diego was in heavy pursuit of Almeyda, but when they signed the top player in the 2023 class, catcher Ethan Salas, for $5.6 million, the O’s landed Almeyda.

In Almeyda, the O’s believe they have a five-tool potential talent with a plus arm at short. He is ranked as the O’s No. 21 prospect by Baseball America.

No. 4 – Outfielder Braylin Tavera: Signed by the club to a bonus of 1.7 million on Jan. 15, 2022, out of the Dominican, Tavera put up solid numbers in 2023 over 35 games and 133 plate appearances in the FCL.

He hit .262/.391/.421/.812 with five doubles, four homers and 20 RBIs. He stole 13-of-18 bases and has 20 career steals in 82 games. In 2023, he also walked 22 times with 23 strikeouts. That produced strong walk (16.5) and K (17.3) rates.

With that solid year under his belt, he is now ranked No. 20 on the O’s top 30 by Baseball America. BA also rated him the No. 12 prospect in the FCL. In 2022 on this O’s top 20 international list, he was No. 4 and was No. 7 last year.

Tavera is a center fielder who also shows five-tool potential and has plus speed. He gets good reads in the outfield with above-average arm strength. He should break north as Delmarva’s center fielder on Opening Day at age 19.

No. 5 – Infielder Leandro Arias: Out of Santiago, Dominican Republic, the O’s signed Arias for $600,000 on Jan. 15, 2022. Through the signing class from this year, that amount ranks as the ninth-most handed out by the club under the Mike Elias front office.

A switch-hitting shortstop ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the FCL in 2023 by Baseball America, he hit .271/.370/.414/.784 with seven doubles, two triples, three homers and 19 RBIs in 44 games. To the O’s credit, many of their young international players showed solid plate discipline last summer as did Arias with 20 walks and strikeouts. That produced a 12.3 walk and K rate.

Arias, age 19, showed a plus arm with some speed and solid tools as well in 2023. Ranked No. 6 and No. 8 on this list the past two years, Arias is a solid defender at short, that also has seen some time at second and third base.

No. 6 – Infielder Joshua Liranzo: Signed to a bonus of $500,000 on Jan. 15, 2023, out of the Dominican, Liranzo had a solid 2023 season playing 50 games in the Dominican Summer League.

He hit .244/.393/.400/.793 with six doubles, two triples, five homers and 23 RBIs with 31 walks to 48 strikeouts. He was trying to do too much when the DSL season begin and posted a .521 OPS in June. But that went up to .808 in July and to 1.030 in August when he hit .345. He shows strong bat speed with a loose swing. He had a 15.4 walk and 23.9 K rate in his debut season. 

One scout noted that Liranzo had better DSL stats in a season where he played mostly at 16, turning 17 in August, than Samuel Basallo did at a similar stage.

Another player that other clubs sought in trades, Liranzo played almost exclusively at third base in his pro debut season.

His brother, Thayron, is a 20-year-old catcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. He hit 24 homers with a .962 OPS last summer in Low-A ball. The younger Liranzo should play this year in the FCL.

No. 7 – Outfielder Thomas Sosa: Signed by the Orioles for $400,000 on Jan. 15, 2022, from the Dominican, he re-emerges on this list after being rated No. 13 in 2022 and unranked last year. After a season that was really strong on the stat sheet, he was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 20 prospect in the FCL.

The lefty batter who turned 19 last month, hit .290/.385/.492/.877 in 39 FCL games with seven doubles, three triples, four homers and 25 RBIs. His plate discipline skills improved from the year before when he played in the Dominican Summer League. His walk rate jumped year-over-year to 11.9 from 8.8 and his K rate dropped from 26.3 in 2022 to 21.7 in 2023. Sosa hit big, with a .967 OPS off right-handed pitching but just .554 versus southpaws. 

Baseball America said in the FCL, Sosa showed "an intriguing mix of upside and production."

The Orioles see big power potential from an athletic player that runs well. He has played all three outfield spots but most of the starts have come in center. He should break north with Delmarva.

No. 8 – Infielder Frederick Bencosme: Bencosme was No. 11 when we first ranked the international prospects in 2022. But he hit .311 with a .793 at three levels in 2022 and rose to No. 2 on the list this time last year. In fact, that year among O’s farmhands with 250 or more at-bats, his batting average ranked first.

But he had his ups and downs at High-A Aberdeen where he played all season last year, and now settles in at No. 8 on this list.

Over 114 games with the IronBirds, this lefty swinger hit .246/.338/.319/.657 with 18 doubles, three triples, two homers and 49 RBIs. The plate discipline was solid again with an 11.6 walk rate and 14.1 K rate.

Defensively, he made 58 starts at shortstop and 43 at second base (many while Jackson Holliday was in Aberdeen) and eight at third base. His defense has been solid and there may be some power still to come as he continues to get stronger. He played some winter ball this offseason.

Born on Christmas Day 2002, Bencosme, now 21, has a good chance to make a run for a Double-A Bowie roster spot for Opening Day.

He is further proof, not all international players that show promise were signed for big bucks. The Orioles got him for $10,000 on Aug. 14, 2020. Bencosme is ranked as the club’s No. 30 prospect by Baseball America and was No. 29 this point last year via BA.

No. 9 – Infielder Emilio Sánchez: At this spot on the list we find Sánchez, officially an Oriole for about a month after signing a bonus of $1.3 million on Jan. 15, 2024. That was the biggest bonus from a class of 19 and the only seven-figure bonus this class for the Orioles. His bonus ranks tied for third-most under the Mike Elias front office, behind only Almeyda and Tavera.

A shortstop and lefty hitter, Sánchez, 16, was born in San Juan De La Maguana, Dominican Republic. He is ranked as the club’s No. 25 prospect via Baseball America.

Sánchez got 50 tool grades across the board via MLBPipeline.com, but a 55 for his hit tool. He is considered to have a solid approach with good bat speed. The O’s believe he has a chance to be an everyday player capable of plus offense with average defense. He will begin his career at shortstop but could move to third base as he physically matures and gets stronger. He will begin his pro career this season in Dominican Summer League.

No. 10 – Outfielder Stiven Martínez: Another member of the O’s 2024 signing class, Martínez, 16, from the Dominican Republic, signed for $950,000, the sixth-highest bonus from the Elias regime to an international amateur.

A righty hitter and thrower, the Orioles see a player here also with five-tool potential and with nice power potential. He was rated the No. 28 international prospect in the 2024 class by MLB Pipeline, where he gets 50 grade tools across the board except a 55 for his power. He carries a plus arm with that big raw power and is one of the youngest players in this class. Defensively, Martínez shows proper throwing mechanics and some scouts project him as a corner outfielder.

As a player born in August, he will play most of this season at age 16 in the DSL. He is ranked No. 26 on the O's team top 30 by BA which provides 60 grade tools for his power and arm. 

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