Rolling out more random Orioles thoughts and observations

The Dominican dateline has disappeared. Back to business in the U.S.

It’s been pretty slow for the Orioles, who are busy trying to make deals but still have two openings on their 40-man roster. No additions to it since pitcher Jonathan Heasley in a trade with the Royals on Dec. 18. Closer Craig Kimbrel is the last major league signing on Dec. 6.

Here are a few random thoughts and observations as we reach another weekend and the latest snowstorm.

* Teams are checking on the availability of 19-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo. However, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias doesn’t seem eager to move him.

No wonder.

Elias probably would have to be blown away by an offer, with the kind of force that sends a house spiraling to Oz.

I’ll say again that there’s no reason to think Basallo’s gotta go because someone else is blocking him at the plate.

Adley Rutschman is the man behind the mask. I get it. Basallo plays the same position. I get that, too.

But Basallo doesn’t turn 20 until August and he’s the No. 10 prospect in Baseball America’s top 100 and MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 catching prospect. Moving fast.

He’s played four games at the Double-A level. The impression he’s making is loud, but he isn’t beating down the door.

James McCann is backing up Rutschman again this season, with the Orioles signing a couple catchers for Triple-A. Basallo will keep developing and likely join the Norfolk Tides later in the summer.

Basallo also plays first base, and baseball didn’t abolish the designated hitter. Rutschman and Basallo can co-exist.

The kid obviously is a special talent. There’s growing speculation that he could give the Orioles four consecutive No. 1 overall prospects in Baseball America’s rankings, following Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and 2024 pick Jackson Holliday.

Wall space is running out for the poster children of the Orioles’ emergence in the international market. Basallo is on it after signing out of the Dominican for $1.3 million in 2021.

There aren’t any guarantees that the Orioles sign Rutschman to an extension and keep him away from free agency. Basallo is worth holding onto now and in the future.

My two cents.

* Could the Orioles go an entire offseason and spring training without signing a veteran major league position player?

They selected 29-year-old outfielder Sam Hilliard off waivers from the Braves on Nov. 1, one day before outfielder Aaron Hicks and second baseman Adam Frazier hit the free-agent market. Hilliard is out of minor league options but has an uphill climb to break camp with the team because he’s a left-handed hitter in an organization with Cedric Mullins, Colton Cowser, Heston Kjerstad and Kyle Stowers.

Ryan McKenna also out of options but he bats from the right side and is a plus-defender who plays everywhere in the outfield and offers speed off the bench.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias indicated at the Winter Meetings that the club could bring in another outfielder, but it was a back-burner quest and he didn’t say anything about a major league deal.

Utility player Errol Robinson signed a minor league contract. He hasn’t played in the majors and is a depth move. He can serve as insurance in case of injury or a trade.

The infield seems set with Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Ryan Mountcastle, Ryann O’Hearn, Jorge Mateo, Ramón Urías and Joey Ortiz on the 40-man roster, and Holliday and Coby Mayo poised to make their debuts at some point in the season. Second baseman Connor Norby also is hovering.

Perhaps the Orioles moved beyond the type of signings that gave us Frazier, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, José Iglesias, Rougned Odor, Pat Valaika and Chris Owings. But they could bring in another outsider to provide camp competition.

There just won’t be an obvious spot for him.

* Don’t judge Cowser on one extended major league trial.

Cowser is toolsy and deserving of his No. 34 ranking in Baseball America’s top 100. He can hit, hit for power, run and field.

If the buzz quieted a bit, it’s more about other prospects attracting the attention. Heston Kjerstad was put on the Division Series roster and his sick power is a fan and media obsession. Holliday is the top prospect in baseball at age 20 and people can’t stop talking about him. Mayo is No. 25 on the Baseball America list, and his power also is elite.

(DL Hall is No. 93 and I have no idea how he hasn’t graduated from prospect status. MLP Pipeline removed him a while ago.)

Cowser slashed .300/.417/.520 with 18 doubles, a triple, 17 home runs, 62 RBIs and 64 walks in 87 games with Norfolk. He hit a grand slam in the Triple-A title game. He’s legit.

Whether or not he breaks camp with the team, he’s going to get his share of at-bats with the Orioles in 2024 and perhaps leave the Tides in his wake.

* The importance of the new Dominican Republic academy extends beyond the fields.

Three with grass and one with artificial turf.

The Orioles deserve high praise for also focusing on the young Latin players’ education, nutrition and skill development that don’t tie into baseball. To become acclimated to life in the U.S. To find another career path if the majors aren’t in their futures.

This is a big deal to the families who can steer their children to a specific organization.

“In this project, there really are no losers,” said vice president of international scouting and operations Koby Perez. “Everybody wins on this.”

And as Perez also said, “There’s times when, all things being equal, the kid will choose the better academy. I think we won’t lose players over that now.”

He isn’t just talking about baseball here.

* This is an extra that only sort of ties to the Orioles:

Congrats are in order for Kevin Ibach, a former Orioles baseball operations coordinator who was promoted this week to Rays assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations.

Ibach, 45, spent seven years with the Orioles and four more with the Marlins as a Midwest area scout before joining the Rays after the 2012 season as a pro scout and climbing the ladder. He went from director of pro scouting to director of pro personnel to player personnel vice president last offseason.

The promotions keep coming.

I remember Kevin as a good guy with a terrific sense of humor, a hard worker and an uncanny resemblance to Matt Damon. The Rays are lucky to have him.

The Damon thing isn't a reason, but it was noticed back in the day.

Note: Holliday is now unable to attend the Birdland Caravan that begins Thursday. He regrets that he can't make it but will catch up with fans next month in Sarasota.

Former Orioles closer Zack Britton is stepping in and will appear at the Topgolf event, South Hagerstown rally & photo opp, and Happy Hour at UNION Craft Brewing in Baltimore.

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