He's No. 1: Catcher Samuel Basallo heads up O's international rankings

It was last August on a back field at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota. O’s top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez was going to throw a couple innings of live batting practice in working his way back on rehab toward his September minor league return from a lat issue.

One of the hitters he faced that day was from the O’s Rookie-level Florida Complex League roster, a lefty-hitting catcher named Samuel Basallo. He is a touted young Dominican-born prospect who was signed in January 2021 for $1.3 million, the highest bonus for the club in that international class.

Basallo, now 18, had obviously already grabbed the Orioles' attention with his big power potential and strong right arm. And then he garnered more attention that afternoon when he took the stud pitching prospect opposite field for a big fly.

At Ed Smith Stadium a few days ago, Rodriguez, ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the sport by Baseball America, recalled that one at-bat against Basallo.

“Some of the staff in Florida, I was asking about some of the kids I would face that day and they mentioned Basallo," Rodriguez said. "They were joking around with me. They said, ‘You better not throw him fastballs.’ I went out that day - and I think it was an FCL off-day - and I only got to face two hitters. He was one.

“The first at-bat we kind of mixed speeds a bit and got him on something in the dirt. The second at-bat, I was thinking he would be looking for it (another mix) and went fastball on the hands for a foul ball and fastball again that he foul-tipped. And just like the previous at-bat, thinking he was thinking we’d go off-speed here, I threw a third fastball and he hit it to left-center field. It was a line-drive homer. He’s got some pop. There is a lot of buzz about him."

Basallo recalled that homer recently as well, and he was very aware of the quality of pitching talent he was facing.

“Honestly, I was really excited when it happened,” he told me through team translator Brandon Quinones. “Me being so young and to be able to hit a ball like that, hit a home run against him when he is so close to the majors and being at a higher level, it did feel special to get that hit. Getting a hit like that off a pitcher with such really good control of all his pitches did mean a lot to me.”

Basallo is ranked as the Orioles’ No. 12 prospect in their team top 30 via MLBPipeline.com, No. 14 by FanGraphs.com and No. 15 by Baseball America. And this year he's ranked No. 1 on our second annual MASNSports.com ratings of the Orioles' top 20 international prospects.

Starting today and for several days, I’ll roll out this year’s top 20 with scouting reports on each player and have much more on the Orioles' burgeoning international program.

In the latest Baseball America top 30, there are five ranked O’s prospects that were signed through the international amateur route, and there are seven international prospects in the MLBPipeline.com O's top 30.

The Orioles are now in the deep end of the international pool, and it was much needed to keep the elite talent pipeline humming. This group is on the rise big-time on the O’s farm, and we hope this series will shed more light on that and on some of the players we all will be hearing more about, and real soon.

Basallo, No. 2 on this list last year, is expected to begin this season catching for Single-A Delmarva in his first year of full-season ball. He’s produced a .762 OPS in two pro seasons, playing 41 games in the Dominican Summer League in 2021 and 43 last year in the Florida Complex League. He hit six homers to tie for the FCL league lead and batted .278/.350/.424/.774 last summer. He added five doubles and 32 RBIs with 15 walks to 37 strikeouts. He produced a 116 wRC+ in FCL play.

The power potential to all fields is big and is starting to show itself, as Rodriguez found out last summer under the Florida sun.

“He is going to mis-hit some homers, he is that strong,” said Koby Perez, the Orioles senior director of international scouting. “He may feel he popped it up or didn’t get it all, but it will go over some of these fences. His arm is also well above average, looks elite at times. He is still working on his blocking and overall concentration, but he should catch a whole lot this year and continue to grow at the position.”

At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, there is a chance Basallo (pronounced Ba-sigh-O) could outgrow the catching position, although the Orioles have a big guy now back there doing pretty well. One scout put it as 60-40 or 65-35 he stays as a catcher. If he has to abandon a catcher’s mitt at some point down the road he could end up at first base or in a corner outfield spot. But even at his size, he is considered quite athletic and flexible.

His fielding got a 50 scouting grade from Baseball America, and his arm a 60 grade. MLBPipeline.com put it at 45 fielding and 60 arm. So yeah, his arm is well above average, and he touched 86 mph on some of his best throws to second base last year. Adley Rutschman averaged 86.3 mph on his arm strength, via Statcast data in the big leagues in 2022. And that velocity tied Rutschman for seventh-best arm strength among all big league catchers.

At one point it looked like Basallo would sign with the Yankees, but the Orioles are delighted it didn’t end that way. And with 11 homers in 84 career games and 292 at-bats, the Orioles have ample reason to be excited about their young catcher here and eagerly look forward to his first year of full-season ball that is about to begin. He continues to work on improving plate discipline to maximize his bat and power potential, which could give the club a real hitting talent that plays a premium defensive position.

Basallo talked about his first two years on the O’s farm.

“I think going into my first year, I didn’t have my best year but I do think it was a good year at the end of the day," he said. "I was a little young going into it, but looking back it was a good year. Going into my second season, I think I was more mentally prepared for what was ahead. Thankfully, I feel like I did a good job overall and had a much better year last season. But overall have had a really good first two years thus far.”

So Basallo is the No. 1 O’s international prospect and heads up this list. Tomorrow we’ll find out not only who is No. 2 but which other players find their way into the top 10.

About this series: You are going to get your fill of O’s international prospects content the next few days in this space. The real purpose of doing this ranking is not necessarily to be right about the rankings themselves – that would be a nice bonus – but to provide readers and O’s fans some information on an aspect of the organization that doesn’t always get such coverage.

With the club now heavily invested in this market and so committed to it, it helps all of us learn about players we will be hearing more and more about moving forward. The reports on the players were compiled mostly with input from the club. I won’t pretend that I scout, watch or see much of any player in the Florida Complex League or Dominican Summer League.

In all cases, when mentioning where we could see players play this year, these are just educated guesses and projections, as no minor league rosters are set or announced at this point.

In addition to ranking the top 20, I will end this series with longer stories about two of the top-rated players, including more with Basallo. 

Here is a look back at last year's top 20:

1 – Maikol Hernandez

2 – Samuel Basallo

3 – Anderson De Los Santos

4 – Braylin Tavera

5 – César Prieto

6 – Leandro Arias

7 – Mishael Deson

8 – Raul Rangel

9 – Moises Chace

10 – Jean Pinto

11 – Frederick Bencosme

12 – Stiven Acevedo

13 – Thomas Sosa

14 – Luis Ortiz

15 – Luis Sanchez

16 – Edwin Amparo

17 – Junior Lara

18 – Isaac De Leon

19 – Moisés Ramírez

20 – Alejandro Mendez

Basallo is shown here


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