When the Orioles traded shortstop José Iglesias to the Los Angeles Angels last week for minor league pitchers Garrett Stallings and 19-year-old Venezuelan right-hander Jean Pinto, it was clear that executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was a fan of Stallings’ work in the Southeastern Conference.
The Orioles did their homework on Stallings and his three years in the SEC. The pitcher did some homework of his own on his new team. He knew some of the four Angels minor league pitchers that had been traded to the Orioles a year earlier for Dylan Bundy.
“It was a little bit of a shock. I knew I could have been thrown around in trade talks,” Stallings said during a Zoom interview today with O’s reporters. “When it happens, it still surprises you a bit. But I’m very blessed and excited for the opportunity.
“A number of people reached out from the Orioles to welcome me to the team. Mike Elias and Matt Blood with player development and Chris Holt, the pitching coordinator and now pitching coach. It seems they are excited to have me and can’t wait to start working with me. I did some things too. I talked to some players that had been traded over there and got the lay of the land a little bit. It sounds like some good things are happening there and I’m excited to join the team.”
Even though he got traded from a West Coast team, Stallings, 23, grew up in southeastern Virginia in the Chesapeake area and attended Grassfield High School. He’s already spent a lot of time inside Triple-A Norfolk’s Harbor Park.
“I went to plenty of Norfolk Tides games growing up,” said Stallings. “I was very excited when I was informed I was going to Baltimore. I played a few games there in high school. Being a little kid, I couldn’t believe how fast those pitchers were throwing. Getting a chance to play there myself would be a dream come true.”
Stallings’ first major league game as a kid was in Baltimore to make this baseball small world even smaller. He’s been hearing from a lot of family and friends in the Chesapeake and Norfolk areas.
“It’s been pretty special from the feedback from friends, family. My grandfather grew up in Baltimore and my first MLB game I ever went to was in Camden Yards,” he said. “And growing up around the Tides, people are so excited to one day get the opportunity to see me pitch in a big league park. I’ve gotten nothing but love and excitement and I feel the same way.
“I think I was around 7 or 8 and went with my brother, mom and some friends. I’ve even got a picture of it - me in my Orioles shirt. Me and my brother had a uniform on. I think it was a cool experience now that I’m with the Orioles, being my first experience and seeing the game at the highest level. Growing up, Brian Roberts comes to mind as a player I really looked up to, and I remember seeing Miguel Tejada play for the Tides and then be up in the big leagues.”
A right-hander, Stallings was the Friday night starter in 2019 at the University of Tennessee. He went 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA for the Vols that year and pitched 102 2/3 innings with 106 strikeouts and just 16 walks, or only 1.3 per every nine innings. He has yet to pitch one inning in the pro ranks because after that heavy load of innings in 2019, the Angels shut him down after selecting him in the fifth round of the draft. Then no one played on the farm in 2020.
Stallings believes the Angels made a smart decision after the draft to not add any innings on his arm and he tried to use that time after the draft wisely.
“When you look back at it now, I think the Angels were doing the right thing. I might not have gotten too much to gain from throwing 20 or 30 innings (on the farm),” he said. “But it gave me the chance to finally work on the sport and the art of pitching a little bit without having to compete and get people out.
“It’s a tough sport. It’s not like you can go to the gym and shoot hoops for eight hours. Pitching is kind of a fine art. You can’t necessarily waste your bullets in training. It gave me a chance to work on parts of my game I was not necessarily able to work on in the past. It gave me the chance to work on the sport of baseball without having to compete. That was probably the first time in my career that happened, and I think it helped me for the best and helped grow my hunger for the game.”
At Tennessee as a sophomore, he went 5-5 with a 4.58 ERA in 16 games, including 11 starts, with a low strikeout rate. He wanted to change that and fanned 21 in 18 innings in the Cape Cod League that summer. Then his strikeout rate jumped from 4.2 as a sophomore with the Vols to 9.3 as junior. The Angels selected him with the 151st overall pick and he got a bonus of $312,500 to sign.
“I kind of had to take a hard look at myself after my sophomore season,” Stallings said. “I struck out around 37 guys in 80 innings. I just knew I needed to change something if I wanted to continue to have success and continue to play the game at a high level.
“I messed around with my delivery a little bit and I knew I needed the ball a bit harder. I added my curveball again and I think that pitch really solidified being able to punch more guys out for me, giving righties and lefties a little bit different approach. I think as I continued to strike a few more guys out in the Cape Cod League, it helped grow my confidence. I attribute that to just knowing I needed a change and I went out and changed it and had more success. It made me more confident and the strikeout numbers climbed pretty high.”
Stalling’s junior season also included his making the SEC all-defensive team. He was named SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and made the SEC community service team.
Now he’s been traded before his first minor league outing, but he heads back east and joins a team that he has some history with from his youth.