During a season where the Orioles have the current top record in the American League and are headed to the playoffs, plus the No. 1 ranked farm system, we also saw some confirmation and validation recently that the Orioles' international program is also starting to make some noise.
The biggest noise and it was real loud, came from 19-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo from the Dominican Republic. Signed by the club in January of 2021 for $1.3 million, he rose three levels this season, starting at Low Single-A Delmarva, moving to High-A Aberdeen and ended the year with Double-A Bowie.
Then he moved into top 100 prospects lists and flew up the rankings. Now he is rated No. 43 nationally by Baseball America and No. 46 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 5 on the O’s top 30.
This week, Basallo was named the Most Valuable Player and top MLB prospect in the Carolina League. He hit .313 with a .953 OPS in 114 games across three levels. In 83 games with the Shorebirds-only he hit .299/.384/.503/.887 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs.
On top of all that, Basallo led a group of seven Orioles prospects recently selected in the Dominican Winter League draft. The six teams draft 16 rounds. The seven selections tied the O’s for most among any MLB organizations, along with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets also with seven.
To be eligible for the draft a player must be Dominican or “have Dominican origins”. They also must have been on a full-season roster or higher by Aug. 1 this season. If unselected over two years, a player can sign with a club as a free agent and two O’s young players did that with outfielder Stiven Acevedo going to Toros and right-handed pitcher Juan De Los Santos with Estrellas.
But Basallo was the top selection of any Oriole, going in the first round with the No. 6 pick to Licey.
“It’s just showing that our guys are starting to get up the line,” O’s senior director of international scouting Koby Perez said. “We were tied for the most players selected, and it means our guys are being noticed. There were 96 players drafted but there were 350 players eligible to be drafted. So, it’s a good sign."
The DWL, beginning play in mid-October, features a lot of players that have played at Double-A or above. So, some of the youngest players drafted may only play for a short time in the league one season and play a bigger role in the next one.
The experience is very valuable for any player.
“It’s big time. You are playing against upper level competition. And it’s a heavily scouted league. It’s like the Fall League of the Caribbean,” said Perez.
The teams play a 50-game schedule that runs to the end of December. The top four teams then engage in a round-robin schedule with 18 games per team from the end of December to the end of January; the top two teams in those standings then play a best-of-nine series for the national title. The league winner advances to the Caribbean Series to play against reps from Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and Puerto Rico.
This draft shows that other international players with the Orioles are getting noticed. But after his remarkable 2023 season, Basallo is the headliner of the O’s international program right now.
“We’ve always known the guy has tremendous ability,” said Perez. “But this year he put it all together so quickly. That doesn’t usually happen. If you look at some of the comments Mike Elias has made about Jackson Holliday, for a kid to figure things out that quickly is a credit to the kid and our player development as well.
“And I think it’s similar with Basallo. He is almost a full year younger, and he is tapping into his ability quicker than we could have hoped.
“He did special things this year and is a smart, smart kid that has worked hard to play like this.”
Basallo has also been solid on defense this year also and makes throws to second base that can reach 86 mph. One scout at Camden Yards last week told me his arm strength is better than Adley Rutschman.
But the positive news here is that the DWL draft clubs went after other O's young international talent in addition to Basallo. The other six selections were all pitchers.
In the fourth round of the draft, Leones selected lefty hurler Luis De León, 20, from the Dominican Republic, who is already a top 30 ranked player, ranked No. 26 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 28 via Baseball America.
Signed by the Orioles for $30,000 in December of 2021, De León went 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA between the Florida Complex League and Delmarva. He did not allow a homer over 53 2/3 innings with 30 walks and 67 strikeouts.
“He was the first pitcher selected in the draft where they go for position players first and he was the first pitcher taken. Super excited about him. Plus slider, fastball has reached 98 mph. Attacks hitters. We're excited about him,” Perez said.
In round six, Leones selected lefty pitcher Deivy Cruz, 19, from the Dominican Republic. In 25 games for Delmarva, he was 8-4 with a 3.62 ERA in 97 innings with 50 walks, 103 strikeouts and a .218 average against. The O’s signed Cruz for $150,000 in January of 2021.
“Had a pretty good year in Delmarva at 19,” said Perez. “Sits low to mid 90s and pitches more low 90s. We still feel he can put on weight and with his pitch ability and stuff, the velocity can continue to come, and we might have something.”
Also in round six, righty pitcher Juan Nuñez was selected by Tigres. The 22-year-old from the Dominican was a trade acquisition, part of the four-player package the Orioles got last Aug. 2 from Minnesota for Jorge Lopez. The Twins signed him for $25,000 in November of 2019.
In 2023, Nuñez went 0-6 with a 3.96 ERA between Delmarva and Aberdeen with 125 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings.
Nuñez has become a top 30 prospect, rated No. 26 by Baseball America and No. 28 by MLBPipeline.
“Big time arm,” said Perez. “Hard worker who has touched 97 and 98 while sitting in the mid 90s. Good arm.”
In round 11, righty pitcher Brayner Sánchez was selected by Toros. At 22 from the Dominican, he pitched in the FCL and at Delmarva, going a combined 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 28 innings. He was a signing for $25,000 in May of 2019.
“We put him in the bullpen. Strike thrower with a good sinker, throws low 90s with a good slider. He goes right after the hitters,” said Perez.
Also in round 11, Edgar Portes, 20 from the Dominican, went to Licey. The O’s originally signed him for $75,000 on July 2, 2019, and this year between Delmarva and Aberdeen he was 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 27 games.
“Portes had a good year. The stuff has improved. He is up to the low to mid 90s and is a smart pitcher and strike thrower,” said Perez.
In round 13, righty pitcher Yaqui Rivera, 20 from the Dominican Republic, was selected by Gigantes. In 29 games for Delmarva and Aberdeen he went 4-6 with a 2.52 ERA, allowing just 29 hits in 50 innings. With Aberdeen only he was 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA over nine games.
Originally signed for $10,000 by the Marlins, the O’s added Rivera via a trade on June 1, 2022.
“We used him as a starter and reliever this year. Another good arm. These guys are really pitching man and their stuff was getting better as the year went along and we’ll see what next year brings,” said Perez of Rivera, who pitches in the low to mid 90s.
Acevedo, signed by the Orioles for $275,000 in April of 2019, hit .213 with a .715 OPS in 2023 in 102 games with Delmarva.
De Los Santos, a $25,000 signing in March of 2019, went 1-10 with a 4.60 ERA in 90 innings with Delmarva.
Coming up in a few days I will have more with Perez on the four Orioles international players that were recently ranked in the top 20 FCL prospects for 2023 by Baseball America. Outfielder Braylin Tavera was ranked No. 12, De León was No. 14, infielder Leandro Arias was No. 18 and outfielder Thomas Sosa was No. 20.