Opposing scout on Orioles: "The window’s wide open"

While picking the brain of a scout from outside the organization about the Orioles’ farm system, which players stood out to him, which ones graded highly, I noticed how he paused the minor league analysis and headed straight to Baltimore.

“Of course, your big league club is loaded. It’s loaded,” he said.

“I mean, you guys are impressive.”

And then, within seconds, the focus and curiosity rewind.

“I just wish I was a fly on the wall,” he said, “to know what they were going to do.”

If there’s a curse to having the No. 1 farm system in baseball, the talent gushing more than flowing, it’s how a 26- or 28-man roster won’t hold everybody. The front office needs to figure it out. Who stays and who’s expendable in a trade. And don’t get it wrong, as so many have done in the past.

The scout has attended games with the lower and higher affiliates during his travels. He knows the farm system. He knows what he likes.

“It’s pretty doggone good,” he said. “Position players are a major strength. For me, their pitching still lags behind, and that’s pretty much in a nutshell. They’ve got position players coming.”

And not just the ones you always hear about.

It doesn’t take much effort or baseball wisdom to know how special Jackson Holliday is, since he’s the top-ranked prospect. But six Orioles are found on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list and others lost eligibility or could crack it.

Catcher Samuel Basallo is 46th. MLB Pipeline has him fifth in the organization at age 19. One of the early gems from the revamped international scouting department, signing a $1.3 million bonus in 2021 out of the Dominican Republic that was the largest in franchise history.

Basallo went from Single-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie this summer and hit a combined .313/.402/.551 in 114 games with 26 doubles, seven triples, 20 home runs, 86 RBIs and 61 walks. The Carolina League named him Most Valuable Player. The Eastern League couldn’t trip him, with Basallo collecting seven hits in 15 at-bats.

“He’s a good looking player,” the scout said. “When I sent in my first report on a 19-year-old, they were like, ‘Gosh, you really like him.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I do, I do.’ He’s a really good looking kid, man. A good looking player.

“He’s a plus arm. They have him listed at 6-3 and 180. He is not 180. I guarantee he’s probably 210-220. But he’s got a plus arm. He’s going to have plus power. He’s a really good looking player for 19-years-old. For an organization that didn’t do much in Latin America for a long time.

The elephant wearing shin guards in the room is what happens to Basallo down the road, where Adley Rutschman is planted behind the plate with the Orioles.

“That’s a good question,” the scout said. “He did play a little bit of first. It might not have been the prettiest, but he’s 19-years-old. And who knows in two years? You may want to catch Rutschman in 80-90 games, play him some at first base. Who knows whatever (Mike) Elias has got planned?”

The Orioles drafted catcher Silas Ardoin in the fourth round in 2022 out of the University of Texas, and he played at Aberdeen and Bowie this summer.

“I think Ardoin’s going to get there as a backup-type guy,” the scout said.

The Orioles will work it out.

The scout also kept going back to shortstop Frederick Bencosme, 20, who’s ranked as the system’s No. 23 prospect. A bargain at $10,000 in the 2020 international signing period.

Bencosme played with the IronBirds this year and is described by the scout as “an interesting guy.”

Also, “a pest.”

“I’ll say it that way,” the scout said. “The kid is really, really interesting to me as a utility-type guy. I bumped him up a little more. He does a lot of little things that’s going to help a club. He’s a little bit like a Nicky Lopez. Just nothing really flashy. Just does a lot of things to help a ballclub.

“They have him playing a lot of short. Of course, he’s not going to play shortstop when he gets there. They have enough shortstops – Holliday, (Gunnar) Henderson, (Jordan) Westburg, (Joey) Ortiz.”

The same scout who doubted whether Ortiz would hit in the majors is now on board.

“I’m really starting to fall for Ortiz. I think he can be an everyday utility guy, second or short,” he said.

“They’ve got to make up their mind what they want to do with Ortiz. And maybe he will get the call next year as that utility guy. I said it at the trade deadline, I really thought Elias would make a trade, but he didn’t. But everybody I talk to, the asking price (from other teams) was ridiculous.

“We brought it up. We wondered if the asking price at the Winter Meetings would go down. A classic example is (Mitch) Keller. They (Pirates) wanted four players for Keller. Four. Are you kidding me?

“Here’s what I’m gathering. Your GMs will put together like a tier one, tier two and tier three of your prospects. And when there’s discussions, here’s tier one. You don’t even ask. Don’t even ask. And then you’ve got two and three, and they say, ‘OK, you can get one out of tier two and one out of tier three.’ It’s on that line that they do it. It will be interesting how Baltimore views some of these guys compared to how baseball in general views them. Do they have them ranked higher or do they have them ranked lower, you know?”

Some spots on the roster will open with players becoming free agents and maybe being non-tendered. But the industry as a whole is watching and wondering. How do they make room for the Triple-A outfielders? And you can include Heston Kjerstad, who’s on the expanded roster this month.

“One of your outfielders is going to go, for me,” the scout said, “but I don’t know which one.”

The Orioles will work that out, too.

Call it a curse or a double-edge sword or whatever you want. Decisions are more complicated than they were during the rebuild, when the level of talent was much, much lower.

They won’t get any easier, and that’s a good thing.

“I’m telling you, the window’s wide open. I mean, we’re talking, I don’t know, I’m saying five to seven years,” the scout said.

“You think of all that young talent. They’ve got position players out of the gazoo. And I’m sure there’s some pitchers I missed or am low on that might surprise you.”

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