It was not a tough call. There was no protracted debate. There was no brief debate. There was no debating at all.
Catcher Samuel Basallo, signed to a $1.3 million bonus, the largest bonus in the Orioles' 2021 international class, is once again the club’s No. 1 ranked international prospect. He tops our third annual MASNSports.com ratings of the top 20 O’s international prospects.
Basallo was No. 2 on this list in 2022 and was No. 1 last year before he had even played one game of full season minor league ball. Before he went out and had a sensational season on the farm, one that took him as far as Double-A Bowie and also took him toward the top of several national top 100 prospect rankings.
He is the shining star of the O's international program, but far from the only top talent.
The wave of O's international prospects is now closer to crashing the shore than ever. To be a top team for an extended period, an organization has to be good in international scouting and signing players. The Orioles now are.
Basallo produced a .762 OPS in his first two pro seasons, playing 41 games in the Dominican Summer League in 2021 and 43 in 2022 in the rookie-level Florida Complex League. He hit six homers to tie for the FCL league lead that season.
Starting today and for the next three days I will rank the top 20 O’s international prospects and the list is quite strong this time around. Full disclosure, I had some help from the O's staff which was very important in producing these rankings. The goal here is to not necessarily be perfect with the rankings - that would be a nice bonus - but rather shine a light on some players that make the Baltimore Orioles better.
As for Basallo, he entered last year getting some prospect recognition and now he is getting much more as he flew up the rankings during the 2023 season. For him, the year began as he was rated 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.
Then he started mashing homers and moving up the charts.
He ended last year ranked as the No. 46 top 100 prospect by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com. Right now, he is Baseball America’s No. 10 rated player and is also No. 17 via MLBPipeline and No. 27 by ESPN.com.
He earned those rankings after tearing it up in 83 games at Low-A Delmarva, 27 for High-A Aberdeen and four at the end of the year with Double-A Bowie. He is expected to be with the Baysox when the 2024 season commences.
Over 114 games, Basallo, a lefty swinger, hit .313/.402/.551/.953 with 26 doubles, seven triples, 20 homers and 86 RBIs. He scored 75 runs and even stole 12 bases.
The young man that will not turn 20 until Aug. 13, showed a 11.6 walk rate and 20.7 strikeout rate at Delmarva. He had a 16.5 walk rate and 17.4 K rate with the IronBirds.
Big exit velocities, all-fields power, a huge arm and controls the strikezone. That is how you get to No. 10 in the sport at age 19.
Basallo was named the MVP of the Carolina League for his stats and performance with Delmarva. He homered in each of his first two games there. With Aberdeen, after his Aug. 1 addition, he started slowly, going 2-for-26. But soon after he was absolutely raking. In his last seven Aberdeen games in early September, he went 14-for-26 with six homers. That got him sent to Bowie for the last four games of their regular season. He went 7-for-15.
And even though he plays in a farm system along with the sport’s No. 1 prospect in Jackson Holliday and a player in Coby Mayo who produced 29 homers and an OPS of .973, it was Basallo who led the O’s farm in wRC+ (min, 200 PAs).
162 – Basallo
159 – Holliday
156 – Mayo
Those numbers helped Basallo fly up the top 100 rankings. At No. 10 via Baseball America, he is five spots ahead of where Holliday was this time last year on his way to the No. 1 rating.
“Thank God for the opportunity to have the talent I have. I have worked really hard for that and will continue to work hard every single day,” Basallo told me in an interview late last season at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, with interpreting help from then IronBirds skipper Roberto Mercado.
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 Mercado. “He puts a lot of pressure on himself sometimes and may not realize he’s a special player. Sometimes you have to bring him in and say, ‘Look at these numbers. Look at what you are doing.’ This is not normal, this is special.”
When the Orioles gave Basallo that $1.3 million bonus on Jan. 15, 2021, he headed up that class and it was the largest bonus the team had handed out to that point. He has since been topped by outfielder Braylin Tavera (at $1.7 million in 2022) and infielder Luis Almeyda (at $2.3 million in 2023).
When I asked Basallo where he improved the most last season, he didn’t cite a stat or even a baseball skill or tool.
“The biggest thing is my mentality has grown huge from spring to now. Staying focused, staying positive. Not worrying if something bad happens. Control my emotions.
“I get that (a strong drive to be good) from family. You try to get better every single day to be the best player I can," he said.
Basallo is listed at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds but 6-foot-4 and 220 may be more accurate. He produces loud contact and Baseball America put his power tool at 70 while MLBPipeline came in at 60 grade for power.
Both outlets gave him a 45 grade, just below average, for his defense but he got a 70 grade for his arm from BA. And scouts have told me that in both his arm strength and accuracy he can match or exceed O’s catcher Adley Rutschman right now. So more high praise for this emerging star.
Basallo also has played first base (28 starts there last year and 67 as catcher) and some wonder if he will continue to be a catcher in the future. He believes that answer will be yes.
“I want to stay at catcher. It motivates me to hear people say I can’t stay as a catcher. Want to prove them wrong," he said.
Basallo, while expected to start this year at Bowie, could later get to Triple-A Norfolk. The majors are not out of the question, but a 2025 ETA is more likely.
Down the road the Orioles may have a positive dilemma. Two strong catchers that need playing time. Can they co-exist on the roster and in the lineup?
The Birds will cross that bridge when they come to it. For now, there is plenty to get excited about as their international program gets stronger and stronger and has a potential star now close to the big leagues.
About this series: Yep, we will indeed shine a light on some players here the next few days. Tomorrow I'll be presenting players ranked No. 2 through 10 and Wednesday players No. 11 through 20.
We will also note some players that just missed the list in a bit of bonus coverage this year. Also, by way of promotion for our upcoming stories, this year we will see a pitcher ranked higher than the previous two years. There will be catchers beyond Basallo in the rankings and a pitcher that last year touched 102 mph. Stay tuned.