A lefty pitcher emerges at No. 2 as O's international prospect rankings list continues

Luis De Leon courtesy of the Delmarva Shorebirds

Today, as we continue to rollout the MASNSports.com top 20 O’s international prospects, we find out yet again that teams can get big talents sometimes out of modest signing bonuses.

Some players sign late in the process as late bloomers and beyond that, it is just hard to project what someone at age 16 will look like and play like three, four, and six years down the road.

It is also quite exciting to see a pitcher ranked so highly now on this list as left-hander Luis De León, age 20, is the No. 2 prospect on the list for 2024.

He was signed by the club for just $30,000 in December of 2021 out of Barahona, Dominican Republic. He had an ERA of 5.14 in 28 innings in 2022 in the Dominican Summer League.

But last year, over six games in the rookie-level Florida Complex League and 10 for Single-A Delmarva, he went a combined 5-1 with a 2.01 ERA in 53 2/3 innings. It was a nice breakout performance by the lefty. Even after he moved up, he allowed just a .177 batting average and 2.39 ERA in his first go-around in full-season ball with the Shorebirds. De León walked 30 with 67 strikeouts (11.2 K per 9) and had a 1.30 WHIP. Among all O’s farm pitchers with 50 or more innings last season, his ERA was second-best.

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It was an easy call: Catcher Samuel Basallo is O's top international prospect

Basallo

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.

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Prospects ranking season winds down

Basallo

As yet another top 100 prospects list was published recently by a major outlet and then yet another - by ESPN.com first and then The Athletic – once again Jackson Holliday of the Orioles was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the sport.

This is long since no surprise as he ended last season atop prospects lists and will begin this year No. 1 via Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and the two listed above.

Just yesterday, Holliday was among the list of 20 non-roster invitees heading to spring training, which begins in Sarasota, Fla. next week.  

While the Orioles list of players via Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com, ESPN and The Athletic is significant, what is most impressive is that most of their top 100 players are really top 50.

Of the six Orioles that were rated top 100 by Baseball America, three were in the top 25 and five were in the top 41. They are down to five now with DL Hall at No. 93 now a Brewer. Of the six rated top 100 by MLBPipeline, five were top 32. They are down to five there with Joey Ortiz at No. 63 now a Brewer. Of the seven ranked by ESPN (six minus Ortiz), five are top 50. The Athletic lists three among the top 27. 

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The decision to trade prospects is always challenging

Dylan Cease

The mood around Birdland – at least on this blog – got a bit tense Sunday in discussions about a possible trade for Chicago White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease. It is clear that some fans are very, very nervous about trading prospects. They are waiting and watching to see what executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias will do.

Would he really deal some prospects for a pitcher?

Well, first, keep in mind, he already has.

On Jan. 26, 2023 he acquired lefty Cole Irvin and righty Kyle Virbitsky from Oakland for infielder Darrel Hernaiz, the club’s fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft. At the time of the deal, he was ranked as the Orioles’ No. 16 prospect via MLBPipeline.com and is now No. 9 on Oakland’s top 30. Between Double-A and Triple-A for the Athletics he hit .321 with an .842 OPS, nine homers and 71 RBIs. His MLB debut could be close.

On Aug. 1 last summer, on the final day to make a trade before the MLB deadline, Elias acquired righty Jack Flaherty from St. Louis for infielder César Prieto and pitchers Drew Rom and Zack Showalter. At the time of that deal, Prieto was the O’s No. 16 prospect and Rom No. 18 via MLBPipeline. Showalter was unranked but was the club’s 11th round pick in 2022 and had done well pitching at lower levels on the farm.

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Agent on Coby Mayo: "Now you ask teams and they’d all take him in the first round"

Coby-Mayo

Coby Mayo isn’t bothered or distracted by the passing traffic. By the Orioles prospects in the fast lane and the attention that's tailgating them.

Prior to the farm system’s rise to a No. 1 ranking, Mayo would have been the center of attention and recipient of the organization’s top player award. Rarely is a hitter ignored who slashes .290/.410/.564 at the two highest levels with 45 doubles, three triples, 29 home runs and 99 RBIs in 140 games.

No one had more doubles, homers or RBIs or a higher slugging percentage and OPS, and his 93 walks ranked second behind Jackson Holliday, who won the award and is the top prospect in baseball.

Holliday could make the team out of spring training despite turning 20 this month and appearing in only 18 regular season games with Triple-A Norfolk. Mayo is 22 and he played in 62, but he’s likely to return until a spot opens for him.

Patience and understanding are two other tools that rate highly on any scale.

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O's Mike Elias on weighing trade possibilities and MLB Network's Dan O'Dowd on the Orioles

Jordan Westburg white jersey

NASHVILLE – Saying you “have to give something to get something,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias is in somewhat of an enviable position when it comes to making a trade. Whether it would happen here at the Winter Meetings or later.

He doesn’t feel pressure to make a trade. Just because he has probably the deepest farm system in baseball doesn’t mean he has to deal from it. During his press update with local media Monday, he talked about making good trades that are balanced and indicated just because you can outbid others for a deal doesn’t make it the right deal.

But he also knows when you cannot outspend clubs to sign free agents you may to have to outbid them with prospects in trades.

“We are as well-equipped as any team to rattle off prospect packages for any player,” said Elias. “That doesn’t mean that we want to do that just because we have the No. 1 farm system, and we could theoretically outbid any team. At some point it becomes a trade that you don’t want to do. It equips us to get involved in every conversation. But there is more to making trades than just being the high bidder. The trade has to make sense. A lot of our prospects are so close to the majors if they are not there yet. These are guys that are going to help the 2024 O’s too. We have to keep all that in mind.”

I asked Elias if the Orioles are prepared to lose some of their best prospects?

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With some top prospects pushing for time, how and when do they impact roster?

Heston Kjerstad white jersey

One of the biggest questions facing the Orioles for next season is how and when to turn over significant playing time to some of their top prospects? When is the right time to not only call up a player but commit to that player as a regular?

The Orioles have more than three players that are on the verge of cracking the everyday lineup or pushing to do that, but the three that are right on the cusp include two we have already seen in the majors in outfielders Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad and one we have not. That’s the big one, MLB’s No. 1 prospect in shortstop Jackson Holliday.

We have here three players ranked by at least one major outlet as among the top 25 prospects in baseball. Holliday is No. 1 by both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com while Cowser is No. 11 by Baseball America and No. 14 via MLB. Kjerstad is No. 24 via MLB and No. 43 by Baseball America.

Sometimes an injury will determine when this player gets in the lineup and then it’s up to the player to take the chance and run with it. Sometimes a prospect will make the roster but not have regular playing time. That is always a big decision to make. Is the prospect better suited to just play every day on the farm or learn on the job in the big leagues even if not playing a lot? How will the prospect handle not playing a lot?

Cowser got into 26 games with the 2023 Orioles and hit .115/.286/.148/.433. Known for a good batting eye and patient approach with nice gap-to-gap pop, he managed a 16.9 walk rate in that limited sample with a 28.6 K rate. There is some swing and miss in his game, but this is also a player that gets at least average grades on defense and is considered a plus runner.

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O's top 50 prospect Samuel Basallo talks about his fantastic 2023 season

Basallo Credit: Kadalena Messiano

ABERDEEN, Md. – As he put the finishing touches on a fantastic late-year run with High-A Aberdeen in recent days, young O’s international catcher Samuel Basallo got on a home run tear.

He hit six homers his last seven games (going 14-for-26) including a walk-off homer on Thursday night as the IronBirds beat Greenville 6-5 at Ripken Stadium. It was a line shot to right field.

“Incredible. That was my first walk-off homer in my time in pro baseball. It felt incredible. Always dreamed of doing that one day,” said Basallo, with interpreting help from Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado.

This young man, who turned 19 Aug. 13, from the Dominican Republic has now become a top 50 prospect nationally, one of the O’s best on the farm and a shining star for Baltimore’s international program.

Signed for the top international bonus handed out by the club in January of 2021, $1.3 million, Basallo (pronounced Ba-sigh-O) started this year with Low Single-A Delmarva and posted an .887 OPS in 83 games. That was a strong showing. Then he moved up to Aberdeen and his stats got better.

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Notes on Westburg's debut, Future Game selections and more

Westburg whites

As he played his first Major League game last night, making his long-awaited big league debut, Jordan Westburg entered an Orioles' clubhouse where he already has a strong comfort level.

He spent so much time with the Orioles in spring training and of course, has been teammates with many current Orioles during his 317 career games on the O’s farm since they selected him No. 30 overall out of Mississippi State in the 2020 MLB Draft.

Westburg began the 2021 season with Low Single-A Delmarva and ended it with Double-A Bowie. He began the 2022 season with Bowie and ended it with Triple-A Norfolk. And this year his start at Norfolk has finally taken him to Baltimore.

And he checked a lot of boxes in his first game - first hit, first run, first RBI and first win with the Orioles, who beat Cincinnati 10-3 in a game delayed twice by rain for nearly two hours. It was a long night but a special one for Westburg, who went 1-for-4 with a single, walk, run and RBI. 

Before his debut game, he said knowing so many players so well should be a big help to him as he tries to establish something at the big league level.

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O's Frederick Bencosme on signing with club, his big 2022 season and more

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In an organization loaded with shortstop prospects – with Gunnar Henderson having signed as a shortstop and others like Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg and last year’s overall No. 1 pick Jackson Holliday in the pipeline – a young kid from the Dominican Republic can get overlooked.

But with a smooth-looking left-handed swing that is now producing some impressive stats, and a solid glove, we should not discount Frederick Bencosme from Moca, Dominican Republic.

Bencosme, 20, who could begin this year as starting shortstop at High-A Aberdeen, was indeed a bit overlooked before the Orioles signed him for just $10,000 on Aug. 14, 2020.

But he has put together a batting line of .311/.376/.425/.801 in two seasons on the O’s farm. He played 44 games in the Dominican Summer League in 2021 and 73 last year with two in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League, 59 for low Single-A Delmarva and 12 to end his year with Aberdeen.

Bencosme said he has gained a lot in two years on the Baltimore farm.

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O's Samuel Basallo on DR baseball background, top 30 rankings, his power and more

basallo-w-credit Courtesy: Baltimore Orioles

He is now ranked as highly as No. 12 on one Orioles top 30 prospects list, but young O’s catching prospect Samuel Basallo from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic is aiming even higher.

“When the list came out, my agent actually sent it to me, so I am aware of the rankings. I feel really proud of that because of all the hard work I have been putting in and you know trying to be the best baseball player that I can be. But to tell you the truth I want to try to finish this year being in the top five of that list,” Basallo told me in an interview last week with the help of Orioles translator Brandon Quinones.

Basallo’s No. 12 ranking is from MLBPipeline.com, which had seven international O’s signees among its latest top 30 that dropped last week. Basallo was the highest-rated among that group. He is also ranked as the club’s No. 14 prospect by FanGraphs.com and No. 15 by Baseball America. And this year he's ranked No. 1 on our second annual MASNSports.com ratings of the Orioles' top 20 international prospects.

At age 18, Basallo is drawing rave reviews for his big power potential and a big right arm. Both get 60 grades from scouts on the 20-80 scouting scale. That means those tools are well above average.

Basallo recalled for me that his involvement with baseball in the Dominican Republic goes back to his very early years.

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What new prospect rankings say about Nats farm system

James-Wood-Elijah-Green-instructs

Baseball America unveiled its Top 100 Prospects list for the start of the 2023 season Wednesday, and there’s good news: The Nationals not only had four players make the list, they had four players make the top 61.

Outfielder James Wood leads the way at No. 11. Robert Hassell III (57), Elijah Green (58) and Cade Cavalli (61) are all bunched together farther down the list.

That’s a nice development for the Nats, and evidence of the influx of talent they’ve had in what used to be one of baseball’s worst farm systems. Three of those four players, of course, weren’t even in the organization one year ago at this time. Wood and Hassell came from the Padres in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell blockbuster trade. Green was the No. 5 overall pick in last summer’s draft.

And when you add two young players who were highly rated entering the 2022 season but now are full-time major leaguers (CJ Abrams, No. 9; Keibert Ruiz, No. 11), it further underscores just how far the Nationals have come in the last 18 months.

Which isn’t to say they’re anywhere close to achieving what they ultimately need to achieve.

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When is the right time to trade prospects?

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There is a segment of Birdland that seems to get uncomfortable when the conversation turns to the possibility of the Orioles trading some of their prospects. No doubt there are good reasons for those feelings some fans may have on this topic.

For one they get attached to players, even players on the farm they have heard about even if they have yet to see them play in the majors. For two they are worried the organization may be trading away a future star. This is a valid concern when dealing any prospect and no doubt the front office doing the trading for any organization has some of the same concerns and feelings. 

Yet they can’t be afraid to act, and prospects may have more value in the sport now than they have at any time. Young talent is coveted and a team with a fertile farm like the Orioles attracts attention. Many teams will have interest in their minor league players.

There are those in Birdland that want the Orioles to “see what they have” in such players before trading them. The only issue here is that a prospect on the rise, but not yet in the majors, can keep building value as they get closer to the majors. But if they get to MLB and don’t perform to expectations it doesn’t take long to lose some of that value. Before their MLB debut they are that shiny new toy and after, if they don’t look good initially, it’s on to the next for some.

Birdland knows all too well about a player losing value and, in this case, I will discuss a player with just one MLB at-bat. No, it’s not Moonlight Graham, but it is Cuban-born outfielder Yusniel Diaz. He was the center piece of the five-player package the Los Angeles Dodgers traded to Baltimore to get Manny Machado on July 18, 2018.

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Rodriguez keeps making positive strides toward return to real games

Grayson

Grayson Rodriguez is confident that he’ll pitch again in September.

The progress he’s making from a strained lat suggests that he’s right.

The Orioles say Rodriguez is scheduled for another bullpen session, followed by live batting practice and a simulated game. All of it happening this week down in Sarasota, Fla.

A prolonged shutdown period led to flat-ground throwing with increased distances, a half-mound session and then regular bullpen sessions.

Throwing live batting practice and in a sim game finally allow Rodriguez to face hitters as he nears a return.

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Although young, Nats farm restocked with position players

Although young, Nats farm restocked with position players
Last week, we discussed which Nationals pitching prospects could make their major league debuts this season, aside from Cade Cavalli. This week, we're pivoting our attention to the position players on the farm. Amy Jennings and I wondered, during this week's episode of the "MASN All Access Podcast," when we might see them in Washington. But for the purposes of this post, this exercise is going to be more of an appreciation of the restocking of the Nats farm system with position players...
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Was Cluff's strong showing in AFL a sign of things to come?

Was Cluff's strong showing in AFL a sign of things to come?
We spend the majority of our time here talking about major leaguers, but with the lockout now preventing teams from making any transactions involving players on 40-man rosters, let's take an opportunity to delve deeper into some of the Nationals' top minor leaguers. We continue this weekly series with a recent riser within the organization ... SS JACKSON CLUFF Height/Weight: 6-foot-0, 185 lbs. Age on opening day 2022: 25 How acquired: Sixth-round pick, 2019 draft, BYU 2021 stats (Double-A...
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Henry deserves place alongside Nats' top pitching prospects

Henry deserves place alongside Nats' top pitching prospects
We spend the majority of our time here talking about major leaguers, but with the lockout now preventing teams from making any transactions involving players on 40-man rosters, let's take an opportunity to delve deeper into some of the Nationals' top minor leaguers. We continue this weekly series with the organization's No. 7 prospect ... RHP COLE HENRY Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 215 lbs. Age on opening day 2022: 22 How acquired: Second-round pick, 2020 draft, LSU 2021 stats (High Single-A...
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Important 2022 season awaits top 2021 draft pick House

Important 2022 season awaits top 2021 draft pick House
We spend the majority of our time here talking about major leaguers, but with the lockout now preventing teams from making any transactions involving players on 40-man rosters, let's take an opportunity to delve deeper into some of the Nationals' top minor leaguers. We continue this weekly series with the organization's No. 2 prospect ... SS BRADY HOUSE Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 215 lbs. Age on opening day 2022: 18 How acquired: First-round pick, 2021 draft, Winder-Barrow (Ga.) High...
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What's a realistic expectation for Cavalli's arrival in D.C.?

What's a realistic expectation for Cavalli's arrival in D.C.?
We spend the majority of our time here talking about major leaguers, but with the lockout now preventing teams from making any transactions involving players on 40-man rosters, let's take an opportunity to delve deeper into some of the Nationals' top minor leaguers. We'll start this weekly series with the organization's No. 1 prospect ... RHP CADE CAVALLI Height/weight: 6-foot-4, 230 lbs. Age on opening day 2022: 23 How acquired: First-round pick, 2020 draft, University of Oklahoma 2021...
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Pitching prospect Denaburg has Tommy John surgery

Pitching prospect Denaburg has Tommy John surgery
Mason Denaburg, the Nationals' 2018 first-round draft pick and eighth-ranked prospect, will miss the season after recently undergoing Tommy John surgery, a club official confirmed. It's another tough blow for the oft-injured Denaburg, who since he was selected 27th in the country out of Merritt Island (Fla.) High School three years ago has thrown only 20 1/3 professional innings due to arm troubles. The 21-year-old right-hander, who received a $3 million signing bonus, appeared in seven games...
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