After three straight years with the Baseball America No. 1 player, could O's extend streak?

When I interviewed Baseball America’s JJ Cooper this week to talk about the Orioles making history in the BA top 100, becoming the first team to have three No. 1 players in three straight years, he had an interesting comment.

“It’s hard to imagine we are going to see this again anytime soon,” he said.

To that point, many in Birdland may have thought “unless the O’s Samuel Basallo (No. 10 right now) makes it four in a row for the Orioles this time next year.”

And that was my follow up to Cooper in that interview. Well, what about a Baltimore four-peat this time with Basallo in 2025?

“It is absolutely a possibility,” said Cooper noting that several players ranked ahead of Basallo currently in their new top 10 are likely to graduate from list eligibility during the new season and he could move up several spots based on that alone. 

And then Basallo will need to go out and have another big year for the Orioles after playing last year at Low-A Delmarva, High-A Aberdeen and a few games at the end of the season at Double-A Bowie. If he does that, he could be a threat to be a No. 1 rated player.

The current No. 8 ranked player on the new top 100 is 17-year-old catcher Ethan Salas of the San Diego Padres. He was an international signee for a staggering $5.6 million in January of 2023. Then last season he played in 48 games at Low-A, nine at High-A and ended the year with nine at Double-A. At just 17. He had an OPS of .752 over the season, but the kid has enormous talent, and he could also make a run at being the No. 1 prospect down the road.

Basallo is not the only star but is a real shining star in the O’s international program, after signing a $1.3 million dollar bonus in January of 2021.

In 2021 and 2022, he posted a combined OPS of .762 over those two seasons between the Dominican Summer League and the Florida Complex League.

He moved to full-season ball last year and homered in each of first two games last April at Low-A Delmarva to begin the year. By the end of the year, he was tearing it up at High-A Aberdeen and even ended his season playing in four games with Double-A Bowie, where he should begin next season.

Since 2012, just four O's minor league players have reached Bowie at age 19. Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy did that in 2012 and Basallo and Jackson Holliday (who later of course moved to Triple-A) did that last season.

For as good as Holliday is as the current No. 1 player, Basallo can produce stats to match him, and he is actually younger. Holliday turned 20 last Dec. 4 while Basallo will not turn 20 until next Aug. 13.

In 114 games in the 2023 season, he hit .313/.402/.551/.953 with 26 doubles, seven triples, 20 homers, 75 runs and 86 RBIs. Basallo posted a 162 wRC+ to top all O’s farm hitters with Holliday next at 159 and then Coby Mayo at 156.

Among all O’s farm hitters with 200 plate appearances, Mayo led them all in OPS at .974 and Kyle Stowers was at .954 and then came Basallo at .953 and Holliday at .941.

In a six-game stretch last September at Aberdeen, right before the Orioles moved him to Bowie, Basallo went 12-for-22 with two doubles, six homers and 13 RBIs. The lefty batter has big power to all fields and in 27 games at Aberdeen, he walked 19 times with 20 strikeouts. He already produces above-average walk rates and below average strikeout rates.

Baseball America grades his tools this way: 55 for hit tool, 70 for power, 40 for running, 45 for fielding and 70 for arm.

On the minor league baseball website, he is listed at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds but 6-foot-4 and 220 is likely more accurate. He’s big with big talent and big power and as I found out when I met him in person for the first time late last year, has an engaging personality and an easy smile. It's easy to see there is a ton to like about this young man. 

And those that have worked with him on the Baltimore farm, say hard work seems to come naturally for Basallo, a player described as very, very driven to be good by those around him.

“He wants to be the best,” said High-A Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado in an interview last September. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself sometimes and may not realize he’s a special player.”

But he looks special and if O’s fans look at the five players that have gotten a top 10 or higher ranking from Baseball American since 2022, they’ve already seen Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez thrive in the bigs. Now Holliday and Basallo are on deck.

Some on the O’s farm I’ve talked with believe Basallo could stay as a catcher on defense, although he also played first base last summer. Basallo said he wants that to be the case and is driven to prove his defensive doubters wrong. Baseball America’s scouting report said that not only does he have a cannon for an arm getting those 70 grades but that it is above average in accuracy.

Still staying at catcher could be difficult.

“It is going to be a challenge I would say,” said Cooper this week. “Because when you have a player as advanced as he is offensively, you are going to have an inflection point, a decision point at some time. Because if you look at it over the years, when you have a player who as a hitter it’s not crazy to think he could be ready by the end of 2024. He reached Double-A last year. If you said, is that a player that could be big league ready in 2025, yeah. He moved fast but he did reach Double-A and played very well in High-A.

“But is his glove going to be ready to be a big league catcher by the end of 2024? That seems a tougher assignment. So, then it’s do you want him to spend more time in the minors until the glove catches up? Or do you say is this our right fielder or does he play somewhere else because the bat is ready. It doesn’t always go the way of, ‘Hey we are going to let the bat play.’ But a lot of times it does. Especially if you happen to have the best catcher in the American League already on his team.”

Basallo has in a short amount of time, become a top prospect. If he earns the BA No. 1 ranking, he would be just the fourth catcher to do it in the 35-year-history of the ratings, joining two Orioles and Joe Mauer, who was their No. 1 in 2004-2005. Matt Wieters got to No. 1 in 2009 and Rutschman in 2022.

If Basallo is there in the preseason list release this time next year by Baseball America, the O’s place at the top of these rankings would stretch to a remarkable four-year run.



A little look ahead to Orioles spring training
Rolling out more random Orioles thoughts and obser...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to