Sánchez, Martínez, García, Nuel head up O's latest class of international signings (updated)

Koby-Perez

With catcher Samuel Basallo now ranked as the club’s No. 2 prospect by Baseball America and with MLBPipeline.com ranking seven O’s international prospects among the club’s top 28 prospects already, the Orioles unveiled a new international signing class today.

The class of 19, per the O’s announcement, is headed up by shortstop Emilio Sánchez, outfielder Stiven Martínez, shortstops Elvin García and Jemone Nuel, right-handed pitcher Yaki Mondesir, outfielder Ángel García and right-hander Esteban Mejía.

Sánchez, 16, was born in San Juan De La Maguana, Dominican Republic, and agreed to a bonus of $1.3 million, per various sources. That is the fifth bonus of $1 million or more the club has handed out to an international amateur since 2021. It ranks as tied for third-most in dollars by the club under the Mike Elias front office. The highest bonus was the $2.3 million by infielder Luis Almeyda last Jan. 15 and outfielder Braylin Tavera signed for $1.7 million in 2022. Basallo also got $1.3 million when he signed on Jan. 15, 2021.

Sánchez is ranked 30th by MLBPipeline.com and No. 31 by Baseball America, which lists prospects by bonus amount. He gets 50 tool grades across the board via MLBPipeline but a 55 for his hit tool. He is considered to have a solid approach with good bat speed. The O’s report says 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.

Martínez, 16, an outfielder from the Dominican Republic, signed for a bonus of $950,000. The O’s believe he has the potential to be a five-tool player. He is ranked as the No. 28 international prospect by MLB Pipeline, where he gets 50 grade tools across the board except a 55 for his power. He carries a plus arm and big raw power and is one of the youngest players in this class. Defensively, Martínez has a very strong arm with proper mechanics and an on-line carry. Some scouts project him as a corner outfielder.  

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How more first-pitch swinging could help at least one Oriole

Adley Rutschman

The Orioles All-Star catcher Adley Rutschman had such a good season in 2023 that MLB Network recently ranked him as the No. 1 catcher in the sport right now. Hard to be better than No. 1.

Despite that, Rutschman, who will turn 26 on Feb. 6, could still finding another gear for his offense and he is coming into what should be his most productive years as he gets closer to age 30.

Over 154 games last season he batted .277/.374/.435/.809 with 31 doubles, a triple, 20 homers, 84 runs, 92 walks and 80 RBIs. His strikeout rate dropped from the year before from 18.3 to 14.7 and his walk-rate, already strong, held steady at 13.8 to 13.4. In addition to being an All-Star, he won a Silver Slugger award and was ninth in the AL MVP vote after finishing 12th the year before.

Rutschman now has two .800 OPS seasons on his resume with an .806 OPS in 2022 for an OPS+ of 131. His OPS in 2023 was .809 and his OPS+ was 128.

In addition, several of his Statcast defensive metrics are solid. He was ninth in the majors in the Statcast blocks above average metric. He was 11th in their framing stat and tied for 12th with a 1.91 pop time on throws to second base. Only five catchers topped 1.90. He was just 23rd in the metric they call caught stealing above average. He threw out 31 percent of base stealers in 2022 and 22 percent last year.

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Some team over/unders, plus some arbitration math

santander 2-hr night v. TOR

Take it for what it's worth, but oddsmakers are anticipating the Orioles take a big step back in their win total for the 2024 season. BetOnline.ag this week put the over-under for Orioles wins at 87.5.

The Orioles won 101 games last year, blowing by preseason over-under totals in the 76- and 77-win range predicted by multiple outlets.

So this is a projection for a lot more than a year ago, but still many fewer than the actual total from the 2023 season.

Going by current listed totals, BetOnline.ag has the Yankees with the most wins in the American League East in 2024, followed by Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Boston.

And while Boston would finish last in this listing, its 80.5 total is much more than the number of wins they forecast for other projected last-place clubs, including the Chicago White Sox (63.5), Oakland Athletics (57.5), Washington Nationals (65.5), Pittsburgh Pirates (72.5) and Colorado Rockies (60.5).

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It can be frustrating waiting for a trade that may never come

MIke-Elias-2022-Winter-Meetings-2

One word for the MLB trade market right now would be frustrating. Frustrating for fans and maybe even front office execs alike that, while we have rumors, we have so much less actual movement and action.

The rumors about right-hander Dylan Cease never seem to end yet nothing so far has led to a move.

What might create further frustration here is that neither the Orioles or the Chicago White Sox need to make a move. They can simply keep what they have and go at it in the 2024 season. In the case of the White Sox, they could trade Cease next month, at the trade deadline, next winter or maybe never. And as for the Orioles, they may already have enough pitching.

The White Sox's Chris Getz was promoted to the general manager position on Aug. 31 and is going to want to make sure he makes the right deal if he trades Cease, a pitcher who was second for the AL Cy Young Award in the 2022 season.

Getz addressed the Cease trade talks with Chicago reporters this week.

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MLB execs survey was a real positive for the Orioles

Adley Rutschman

We already knew that the Orioles produce young talent about as well as any team in baseball and that the club's farm system is No. 1 in the sport. But it's nice when the industry provides further confirmation of all this.

And this week, the Orioles got further confirmation in a four-part series of articles on MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com. The outlet surveyed from office execs, members of scouting and analytics and player development.

And just about everywhere you looked, the Orioles were doing pretty well.

In the first part of this series the execs were asked who will win the AL and NL Rookie of the Year awards? Last year they tabbed Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles and Arizona's Corbin Carroll to win, and both did in 2023.

This time the execs provided 36 percent of their AL votes for outfielder Evan Carter of Texas and 30 percent to O's prospect Jackson Holliday. The Orioles Heston Kjerstad was listed in the also getting votes category.

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O's new Dominican Republic facility set to open on Tuesday

Koby-Perez

The Orioles' international program took another step forward today with the announcement that the club's new complex in the Dominican Republic will officially open Tuesday. The Orioles will host an opening ceremony for the new state-of-the-art training academy in Guerra, Dominican Republic, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. AST.

Several dignitaries and current and former O's players will attend, as will executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and the club's vice president of international scouting and operations Koby Perez.

Said Elias: "This grand opening marks another major milestone in scouting and player development that will keep our minor league pipeline flowing and preserve winning baseball in Baltimore for years to come.”

The 22.5-acre complex is home to the Orioles’ regional facility for Caribbean, Central and South American player development operations, and includes three full fields, a sports turf agility field, batting and pitching tunnels, administrative buildings, dormitories, and educational facilities. The complex will house more than 100 players, coaches and staff, providing dormitory-style rooms and entertainment spaces and includes three classrooms and a computer lab, which will provide on-site learning and an education plan for each player, as well as a dining room that will offer daily nutritious meals.

“This academy is the culmination of years of hard work by so many people, and I am grateful to everyone who made this a reality,” said Elias. “For the last several years, one of the main goals of our partnership group and front office has been to excel in Latin America, and I am very pleased by what we as an organization, led by Koby Perez, have accomplished in this sector."

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Will the O's need to hit more homers in the 2024 season?

Gunnar Henderson

Earlier this week, in a blog about the Orioles 2023 offense, it was noted that while the club finished fourth in the American League scoring 4.98 runs per game, they were not rated that highly in some other stats like team batting average (sixth), OBP (tied for seventh), slugging (seventh) and team OPS (eighth).

The Orioles were very strong, leading the American League and all of MLB in batting average (.287) with runners in scoring position and team OPS (.837) with RISP. Those are real strong numbers and could well be hard to duplicate.

One area on the stat sheet that the club could hope for some improvement would be in hitting homers. The Orioles have hit fewer homers in two seasons now that the left-field wall is much deeper at Camden Yards. But they actually moved up a bit in team rankings in the AL in homers, despite hitting fewer.

Here is the look at the last four full seasons for the Orioles, two before the wall was moved back and two after.

In 2019 the O’s hit 213 homers to rank 12th in the AL. In 2021 they hit 195 to rank 10th. In 2022, after the wall was moved, they hit 171 but that was eighth and last year they hit 183 and that rated ninth in the AL.

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Do the Orioles have enough pitching as the roster currently stands?

Grayson Rodriguez

In recent days we have discussed the possibility of the Orioles adding a starting pitcher via a trade and it’s been a topic at hand for the entire offseason. The club remains one of several that seem intent on adding one quality starting pitcher to their current rotation.

Barring a real surprise – one where the Orioles dive into the deep-end of the free-agent pool and offer big dollars to someone – a trade for a pitcher has seemed the most logical move all along. They have a deep and talented farm and can compete with just about anyone via the trade market where they don’t seem to have the same desire via free agency.

But what if the Orioles miss out here or in the end, determine they are not ready to meet the trade price to get another starting pitcher? What if they have to take the field in late March without an addition in the rotation?

Do they have enough right now to have a 90-100 win team that will contend for the playoffs? Probably, but another starter would sure provide added insurance to better answer that as being more positive.

For the 2023 season, the O’s team ERA was 3.89 to rank fifth-best in the American League. Baltimore was just a few points behind third-place Tampa Bay's 3.86 and a bit further back of first-place Minnesota's 3.74.

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O's could face challenges to match their run output from the 2023 season

Gunnar Henderson scores

Through the 2023 year, the Orioles have now played 70 seasons since moving to Baltimore in 1954. In just eight of those seasons, or 11.4 percent of them, have the Birds scored 800 or more runs.

We didn’t know that when the 2004 team scored 842 runs – third-most in club history – that it would not be the 2023 season until another O’s club would top that 800-run mark.

Now offense was up a bit in baseball in 2023 as players got more hits with infield shifts made illegal and the new rules allowed for more stolen bases. The games were shorter and the runs more plentiful.

During the 2022 season, the MLB average by a team was 4.28 runs per game. That shot up to 4.62 last season. It was 4.55 in the AL. The Orioles at 4.98 runs per game ranked fourth-most in the AL and seventh-most in all of MLB.

We know the Orioles offense slumped late in the year and they scored two runs or less in seven of the final 11 regular-season games and then twice more in three postseason games. That dropped that final average under 5.00 runs per game.

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The decision to trade prospects is always challenging

Dylan Cease

The mood around Birdland – at least on this blog – got a bit tense Sunday in discussions about a possible trade for Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease. It is clear that some fans are very, very nervous about trading prospects. They are waiting and watching to see what executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias will do.

Would he really deal some prospects for a pitcher?

Well, first, keep in mind, he already has.

On Jan. 26, 2023 he acquired lefty Cole Irvin and righty Kyle Virbitsky from Oakland for infielder Darrel Hernaiz, the club’s fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft. At the time of the deal, he was ranked as the Orioles’ No. 16 prospect via MLBPipeline.com and is now No. 9 on Oakland’s top 30. Between Double-A and Triple-A for the Athletics he hit .321 with an .842 OPS, nine homers and 71 RBIs. His MLB debut could be close.

On Aug. 1 last summer, on the final day to make a trade before the MLB deadline, Elias acquired righty Jack Flaherty from St. Louis for infielder César Prieto and pitchers Drew Rom and Zack Showalter. At the time of that deal, Prieto was the O’s No. 16 prospect and Rom No. 18 via MLBPipeline. Showalter was unranked but was the club’s 11th round pick in 2022 and had done well pitching at lower levels on the farm.

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The Dylan Cease trade market may be heating up again

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He is 28, throws 95, 96 mph, has very solid whiff rates and has an ERA of 3.54 in 97 starts over the last three seasons. That includes his 2022 season, when he went 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and a second-place finish in the American League Cy Young voting.

Right now, it appears Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease is a hot potential trade piece, with the Orioles showing continued interest per numerous reports and now joined by, among other teams, the New York Yankees, in pursuing the 2022 All-Star. According to The Athletic, the Yankees, after losing out on free agent Yoshinobu Yamamoto, are going after free agents Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery. But now they're also chasing Cease, via the trade market.

The appeal here, beyond his talent level, is that Cease is under team control for two more years. And his salary, through arbitration, could be about $25 million total for both the 2024 and 2025 seasons. That would make Cease obtainable at a much lower price than the top remaining free agents.

All it will take to get Cease is a package of young talent. We say that in a kidding fashion, since it could mean a massive package of prospects.

The Orioles, with the No. 1 farm system in the sport, have plenty of prospects to attract any team via a trade, including the White Sox. But how far would they go for this pitcher, a pitcher who had a 4.58 ERA and 1.418 WHIP last season in 177 innings?

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A look at the players expected to head up the next O's international signing class

Koby-Perez

The Orioles' continued strong pursuit of international amateur talent will culminate on Jan. 15 with the announcement of the club’s latest international signing class. The O’s are expected to sign around 20 in this class.

According to an industry source, the class will be headed up by 16-year-old shortstop Emilio Sanchez from the Dominican Republic and 16-year-old outfielder Stiven Martinez of the Dominican Republic. In a recent article listing players ranked by expected signing bonus amounts, Baseball America linked both of these players to the Orioles, with Sanchez at No. 31 and Martinez No. 42 via expected bonus amount.

MASNsports.com has learned that Sanchez is expected to sign for just over $1 million and Martinez at just under $1 million. A source indicated that 16-year-old switch-hitting shortstop Elvin Garcia from the Dominican Republic is expected to get the third-highest O’s bonus in this class of around $500,000.  

In their last three signing classes, the Orioles signed four players to bonuses of $1 million or more. The tops on the list, shortstop Luis Almeyda, signed on Jan. 15, 2023 for $2.3 million. The O’s signed outfielder Braylin Tavera for $1.7 million on Jan. 15, 2022. On Jan. 15, 2021, they signed catcher Samuel Basallo for $1.3 million and shortstop Maikol Hernandez for $1.2 million.

It appears that Sanchez will then come next, fifth on this list of biggest bonuses since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias took over running the club’s baseball’s operations and hired Koby Perez, who is now the club’s vice president of international scouting and operations.

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More facts and opinions (O's add Calvert Hall grad to minors deal)

Grayson Rodriguez orange jersey

Time to present a few more facts and opine about them today. We take a look at some things that happened with the 2023 Orioles and some that might happen in 2024.

Fact: The Orioles set a single-season team record with 1,431 strikeouts in the 2023 season. Not only did that club set a team record, but they shattered the previous mark of 1,248 strikeouts, set in 2016 and 2019.

Opinion and other facts: Despite that number, a record-setting number covering a long span of time with the first O’s season in 1954, the O’s are not a big strikeout team.

They did in fact have that many strikeouts last year but that ranked only as the ninth-most in the American League and 13th-most in the majors. AL average for the season was 1,422. The Orioles averaged 8.86 strikeouts per every nine innings and that was also a team record and is the only time in club history they averaged 8.00 over the full season for every nine innings. But the 8.86 number ranked only as 10th best in the AL where eight teams averaged 9.00 or more per nine.

While the O’s strikeout percentage ranked better – they were seventh in the AL at 23.5 (MLB average was 22.7) – they were not among the top clubs in that stat either.

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After the ROY award, there is a lot more to come for O's Gunnar Henderson

Gunnar Henderson

There were 41 players taken ahead of the Orioles’ Gunnar Henderson in the 2019 MLB Draft. If they could re-do that draft today, that number would be very, very different.

At No. 42 the Orioles got a steal.

A driven young talent that rose to become the No. 1 prospect in the sport. He made the majors at age 21 and turned 22 last June 29. Later in the 2023 season he would be named the Most Valuable Oriole and in November he was the unanimous pick – getting all 30 first-place votes – to become the Orioles’ seventh American League Rookie of the Year.

When you think of what is still to come for this kid and how good he could become, you might ponder future MVP Awards and him leading the team to the top of the MLB world in some October down the road.

On the stat sheet we could ponder how much better the numbers could get for him.

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Playoff experience can be valuable and now the O's have it

Gunnar Henderson orange jersey

When the Orioles took the field last October for Game 1 of the American League Division Series against Texas, they looked like a pretty complete team. One that produced 101 wins and a division championship, had an emerging young talent base and a few different ways to beat their opponent.

There was at least one element missing however – they had little playoff experience.

A few veteran players had played in the postseason before, such as Aaron Hicks, Adam Frazier and James McCann and a few pitchers had a few postseason innings like Kyle Gibson, Jacob Webb and Jack Flaherty, but the core of the roster did not. Their young talent which led the club all year, did not.

Was that the reason Texas swept the Orioles three in a row? Well, not the only reason but more likely one of many. The five-day layoff between the regular season and the first playoff game seemed challenging for several teams that won 100 games to include the Orioles. That was another factor. So was the fact that within the playoffs, teams generate their own momentum, and it can come fast. Texas swept two straight from Tampa Bay and was a team starting to roll when they arrived in Baltimore.

They let the AL West get away from them late in the year. But as a No. 5 seed, they rolled to the World Series title. The playoffs are a crapshoot and unpredictable and that has as much to do with the loss as anything most likely.

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Will Craig Kimbrel change or alter his pre-pitch routine this season?

Craig Kimbrel white Phillies jersey

On his way to recording 417 saves – the eighth-most in MLB history – with a chance this year to move to fourth on the list, new O’s closer Craig Kimbrel has featured a most unusual set-up out of the stretch position.

Bent over at the waist, his right arm dangles out to the right and there is a bit of a stare-down before each pitch. When Kimbrel talked to O’s reporters early last month, he discussed how he got to that pre-pitch routine, also hinting it could change at times next season.

“It’s pretty simple,” Kimbrel said on an O’s video call with media. “There was never really much behind it. I’ve always leaned over, but my arm for a long time was behind my back. In growing up and going from being a young kid playing the game to an older man playing the game, my arm just wasn’t going behind my back anymore. So, I started to let it hang and it kind of transformed into something that I would use to lock in. To say, ‘OK, It’s time to go.’ The fun, the happy, the joking, the loving Craig we get for most of the day, it’s time for him to get serious and to focus. It was a tool I was able to use over the years to really lock in pitch-to-pitch.

“You know I have a couple of ideas this year to try to work with that with the new rules of the game – the pitch clock and windup and things. The game is changing, so I need to change a little bit. Kind of excited this spring to try and make that work. The game is forever changing and if we don’t keep up with that, we’ll be left behind. It’s something I’ve done for a long, long time and something I will continue to do, but I think this year we might see something a little quicker and a little better.”

It will be interesting to see how that plays out. The biggest concern for the team will be, of course, not how he looks in throwing the ball but what happens after he lets it go.

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An interesting few days for the Boston Red Sox

Vaughn Grissom

There was a time, and Orioles fans don’t have to go far back to remember it, when the Boston Red Sox response to 78 wins and a last-place finish, would have been to spend money. And then spend more.

Throw dollars at their problems. And sometimes that worked.

But recent moves by that team make this look like very different times in Beantown. Rather than sign a top free-agent pitcher like Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery (and they still could of course), the Sox recently agreed to a two-year deal with right-hander Lucas Giolito for $38.5 million. A nearly $20 million dollar salary for a pitcher who had a terrible ending to his 2023 season and allowed 41 homers over the season.

That was followed a day or two later by a trade of lefty Chris Sale for young infielder Vaughn Grissom. A deal where Boston sends $17 million to Atlanta to complete the trade.

Now Sale is no longer anywhere near the pitcher he once was. He’s dealt with numerous injuries for a while now. But while Giolito ended the ’23 season pitching terribly, Sale posted an ERA of 3.92 his last nine starts of the season with 54 strikeouts over 43 2/3. In addition, he gave up just a .203 batting average against and .667 OPS against in that time. It had to give Atlanta hope he still has something left in the tank for next season.

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The year 2023 will be remembered in Birdland as the year the O's moved back atop the AL East

hyde smiles

As the calendar year 2023 comes to an end today, we can reflect on what a special year it was for the Baltimore Orioles and their fans. It was a year they returned to the playoffs, they returned to the top of the AL East and they returned to a club that won 100-plus games.

The Orioles finished 101-61 to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays by two games to win their 10th AL East championship. Their 101 wins were the most in the American League and second in the majors, behind Atlanta, which won 104.

The season ended with a three-game sweep by the Texas Rangers in the AL Division Series. But what a ride it was until the season came crashing down with a 7-1 loss Oct. 10 in Arlington, Tex.

It was a year where:

The Orioles recorded their sixth all-time season with 100 or more wins and came up with their most since 1980.

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Is a trade inevitable for the Orioles?

Mike Elias OPACY suit

If you look at the Orioles' possible Opening Day roster as 2024 approaches, we can see that it’s crowded between Triple-A and the majors. Once again this year, it is not easy to find playing time for all that might be good enough to make that roster.

It’s been said many times, but having too much talent doesn’t seem to be a problem except for getting all those players on the field.

The Orioles have rebuilt their major league roster while building an elite talent pipeline and the No. 1 farm system in baseball. They are good, deep and talented, and it’s getting harder for some kids to break in.

Just a few years ago, the rebuilding Orioles were giving playing time to players whose resumes now would maybe not stand much of a chance of gaining playing time. These are different times in Birdland.

If the Orioles carried two catchers and just four outfielders to begin the year (yes, five seems more likely) they could carry seven infielders. They currently have seven infielders on their 40-man roster with Gunnar Henderson, Jorge Mateo, Ryan Mountcastle, Ryan O’Hearn, Joey Ortiz, Ramón Urías and Jordan Westburg.

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O's set up well to fortify talent base in the 2024 MLB Draft

Mike Elias OPACY suit

During the Winter Meetings we found out the Orioles signed closer Craig Kimbrel, and also that top prospect Jackson Holliday could begin the 2024 season in the O's starting lineup.

We also got some very good draft news for the club. The assumption, confirmed in Nashville, was that the Orioles would have three picks well up in the draft.

Sure they won't have the No. 1 pick, as they did in 2019 and 2022, or a top five pick not No. 1, as they did in 2020 and 2021, but they will have three of the first 34 selections next July.

Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and his staff have led five previous drafts for the club since taking Adley Rutschman No. 1 in 2019, and they've never had three picks among the first 34.

In 2019, they selected 1, 42 and 71. In 2020 they picked 2, 30 and 39. Then it was 5, 41 and 65 and then 1, 33 and 42. Last year they selected 17, 53 and 64.

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