Sometimes on the international amateur market, because players sign at such a young age, teams can get a big talent off a small investment. Players who may not command a big signing bonus when the deadline to sign players arrives, but then mature fast or grow into solid players quickly and produce much more than their signing bonuses might indicate.
The Orioles sure seem to have such a player in 20-year-old shortstop Frederick Bencosme, a young man that I found has an engaging personality to match a smooth left-handed swing. Signed for the small sum of $10,000 out of the Dominican Republic on Aug. 14, 2020, Bencosme was among the best hitters for average last summer on the Baltimore farm, which, considering the bats they have, is saying something.
In fact, among O’s farmhands with 250 or more at-bats last year, no one outhit Bencosme’s average of .311 between his 59 games at low Single-A Delmarva, two in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and 12 to end the year with High-A Aberdeen.
He is our No. 2-ranked O’s international prospect as today I unveil more of our top 20 international prospects rankings.
Bencosme has a sweet-looking left-handed swing and some solid contact skills. His strikeout rate was just 11.4 in 2021, when he hit .310 in the Dominican Summer League. It was just 12.4 with a 10.8 walk rate during an impressive 59-game run with the Shorebirds last year. With Delmarva he hit .336/.410/.432/.842. He moved to Aberdeen on Aug. 27. And while he only hit .154 in 12 games with the IronBirds, he would show off that smooth and polished swing in the playoffs, where he had a three-hit game. He projects to start this year as the shortstop at Aberdeen and also mix in some games at second and third base.
“It was a really good year for me," Bencosme said of his 2022 with help from translator Brandon Quinones. "Getting to play in Delmarva, I hoped going into 2022 to play half my games in Florida, and I left that in God’s hands and wound up only playing two games there (June 6 and 7 in the FCL) before they sent me to Delmarva (June 9). It was interesting how that worked out. Great to have the opportunity to play there. It’s the same baseball everywhere, and I took that approach there."
Bencosme is ranked as the club’s No. 15 prospect by FanGraphs.com, No. 22 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 29 via Baseball America. The Orioles foresee more power coming for Bencosme, who added strength this winter after hitting five homers in his first two seasons. He has an .801 career OPS.
An August signing date is late for an international player. When he signed then it appeared he had few offers and many teams had all their Dominican Summer League roster spots accounted for. The Orioles pretty much did too, but they decided they could not just walk away from this young kid who kept impressing their scouts at times when they were looking at other players. He just kept getting hits, and the Orioles are delighted now that they gave him a chance.
One scout described him as a savvy, competitive, winning-type player that managers will love. Born on Christmas Day in 2002, Bencosme gets 50 grades from MLBPipeline for fielding and arm, and one scout said he needed more consistency on the routine plays at short.
A look at the rest of the O’s top 10 international prospects, as ranked by MASNSports.com.
No. 3 – Infielder César Prieto: This lefty-hitter from Cuba signed for $650,000 on Jan. 15, 2022. He posted some remarkable offensive stats playing pro ball in Cuba before the Orioles signed him, like batting .403 with an OPS of 1.042 the year before the O’s added him. He had amazing bat-to-ball skills, drawing 31 walks with just 11 strikeouts in 74 games.
In 2022 for Baltimore, Prieto, 23, played in 25 games at Aberdeen, where he hit .340, and 90 games for Double-A Bowie, where he hit .255. In 115 combined games for the season he batted .273/.314/.404/.718 with 28 doubles, 11 homers and 57 RBIs. He walked 20 times with 74 strikeouts. His bat fell off late in the year when maybe he tired a bit. His OPS was .629 in August and .457 in September for the Baysox. The Orioles feel a bit more pop could be there later for Prieto if he really learns which pitches he can drive the best.
The Orioles still like him at both second and third base, where he gets 50 fielding grades. He rates a 45 at shortstop. Last year he played in 60 games at third, 31 at second and 15 at short. Prieto is ranked as the club’s No. 18 prospect by MLBPipeline, No. 25 via Baseball America and No. 27 by FanGraphs.
No. 4 - Infielder Luis Almeyda: This right-handed-hitting shortstop got the biggest signing bonus ever by the Orioles for an international amateur when he signed for $2.3 million to head their 2023 signing class in January.
He became the fourth player to sign for $1 million or more by the Mike Elias O’s front office, and he got the 14th-highest bonus in the international class of ’23.
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 this class, catcher Ethan Salas, for $5.6 million, the O’s landed Almeyda.
The O’s think they have a potential five-tool talent with good aptitude for the game. He shows a quick, powerful swing that could produce for both average and power. He has a plus arm at shortstop.
With Baseball America ranking Almeyda as the club’s No. 21 prospect and MLBPipeline listing him as No. 26, the O’s don’t want to rush the youngster, who seems headed for the Dominican Summer League in 2023.
No. 5 - Infielder Maikol Hernández: This 19-year-old righty-hitting shortstop was No. 1 on this list last year but had a tough season at the plate, batting .155 in 42 games in the FCL. This year he will likely repeat that level, where the O’s will have several shortstop candidates to get playing time for.
Hernández, who signed for $1.2 million out of Venezuela in January 2021, showed a respectable 10.9 walk rate last year, but his strikeout rate ballooned to 33.7. Some felt he took the O’s emphasis on swing decisions almost too much to heart and at times took too many pitches. He got behind in counts and punched out too much. Kind of the opposite of what you might think for young hitters, who usually are swinging freely and are too aggressive in the box.
But the club is still a big believer in his talents, and the O's brass feel he will find it with his bat this year. His defense is very good: Think 55 fielding grade with a 60 arm. His hands are really good and he has a solid internal game clock. The O’s see a kid here who, once it clicks, could really take off. MLBPipeline lists him as Baltimore’s No. 27 prospect.
No. 6 - Infielder Anderson De Los Santos: This left-side infielder was No. 3 on this list last year after batting .324 with a .904 OPS in the DSL in 2021. Last season, over 39 games in the FCL he batted .242/.373/.379/.752 with 11 doubles, two homers and 17 RBIs. He showed a good eye and had as many walks as strikeouts, with 23 each. So he posted strong walk and strikeout rates of 15.0, producing a 117 wRC+.
Signed for $350,000 on Jan. 15, 2021, De Los Santos last summer played 34 games at third base and just one at shortstop. He could start at third for Delmarva this season. The Orioles are encouraged by his two-year .823 OPS and ability to produce hard contact. Ranked as the club’s No. 30 prospect by Baseball America, he got a 50 hit tool grade and 55 for arm strength from the publication.
No. 7 – Outfielder Braylin Tavera: He was No. 4 on this list in 2022, and as the O’s international program gets deeper and better, this center fielder is No. 7 now. In 47 games in the Dominican Summer League last year he hit .243/.411/.319/.730 with five doubles, two homers and 14 RBIs. He walked 36 times and fanned 47. That strong OBP was bolstered with a 19.5 walk rate. The righty batter produced an .819 OPS versus lefty pitching.
Tavera, 18, really took to coaching to be selective, and sometimes might actually need to get a bit more aggressive at the plate. The Orioles think he will grow into more pop and we could see it this year in the FCL. His glove in center is a bit ahead of his arm. He is fast, with 60-grade speed.
Tavera was the top signee of the O’s class from January 2022, signing for $1.7 million, then a record for an international amateur signed by the club. Almeyda has since topped that. MLBPipeline ranks Tavera as the O’s No. 25 prospect.
No. 8 – Infielder Leandro Arias: He is a switch-hitting shortstop who was ranked among the top 50 international prospects in the class of 2022. That January the Orioles signed him for $600,000, and he was No. 6 on this list a year ago.
He had modest stats in 46 games in the DSL, batting .217/.344/.306/.650 with seven doubles, two triples, one homer and 15 RBIs with 27 walks to 41 strikeouts. He turned 18 on Feb. 5. The club likes his bat better from the left side and there has been some internal debate about whether he should continue to switch-hit.
But he is a slick defender with a plus arm who might rival Hernández with the glove at short, where he played 36 games last season. Arias played six at third base. He should advance to FCL ball, where the O’s want to see if this athletic player with plenty of upside can take the next steps, especially on offense.
No. 9 – Infielder/outfielder Aron Estrada: This 18-year-old switch-hitter from Venezuela was not ranked in the top 20 last year. But then he went out and hit .368/.483/.566/1.049 in 45 games in the DSL. He ranked second in the league in batting average, third in OBP and fourth in OPS. Big stats for a player listed at 5-foot-8 and 142 pounds. He also walked 29 times and had just 23 strikeouts. His OPS was 1.287 against lefty pitching and 1.004 versus right-handers. He is also a 60-grade runner.
Estrada signed on Jan. 15, 2022 for $175,000. He is very athletic, and right now the hit tool is well above the power tool. He played only second base year but his future profile on defense could be more versatile with a middle infield/center field combo. He’s a solid defender with good instincts.
No. 10 – Infielder Cristian Benavides: Another player from Venezuela not ranked on this list last year rounds out our top 10 after a solid season in the DSL. Over 38 games Benavides, 17, hit .295/.383/.403/.786 with 17 walks to 39 strikeouts along with two homers, 10 RBIs. He stole nine bases in 10 attempts.
Benavides, a righty batter, signed on Jan. 15, 2022 for $140,000. The O’s like him at short, where he played 18 games last season, but he also was at second base for eight games and third base for six. They see a lot of tools with upside here, and a plus arm. He’s a decent defender making some youthful mistakes right now with the glove. But there could be several players that can handle short in the FCL this year with Hernández, Arias and Benavides all likely there.
Coming tomorrow, some pitchers finally make their way onto this list as we go through players ranked No. 11 through No. 20.
You can see a few posts from Bencosme's Twitter page here and here.
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