O’s expected to field two GCL teams, notes on shortstop and more

Baseball America recently reported that baseball officials have tweaked the restructuring of the minor leagues. Previously, each organization was expected to have five domestic farm clubs - four full-season teams and one complex-based team. That is a Rookie-level club playing at their spring training complex.

But Baseball America reported that officials are now expected to allow clubs to field two complex-based clubs. This would allow organizations with two such teams to employ as many as 180 players, not 150 as first thought.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias confirmed during an interview with O’s beat reporters last night that the club will take advantage of this change and field two teams in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League during the 2021 season.

“I think we probably would (have two teams),” said Elias. “We’re going to be dropping affiliates, so to help alleviate the transition for that, even if it ends up being in the short term, I think that will be helpful. We’ve got a spectacular facility. We’ve got the space for that and we’ve got the staffing for that right now. So it’s not that big of a deal, even if one of the teams or if both teams end up with kind of smaller-than-normal rosters. It’s really not that much extra to say we’ve got two GCL teams. So I would expect that that will be the plan this year.”

Elias-Laughs-Sunglasses-Sidebar.jpgElias added that he expects an announcement soon on which clubs will be the Orioles’ four full-season affiliates. It could happen today. As has been speculated often, the Aberdeen IronBirds are expected to move to full-season ball in 2021 and the Orioles would then be expected to drop one of their current four full-season clubs at Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick or Delmarva.

“It sounds as though the dust will finally settle on this soon, which I think will be good for everybody,” Elias said. “There’s been a lot of hard work that has gone into this. Major League Baseball has spent a lot of time, just having so many stakeholders involved. This hasn’t been easy; no big changes are. But I think the news will come out soon and we’ll all recognize that we’re in a good spot for developing our players. And that’s really important for us, for the Orioles. We’ve got one of the top farm systems in baseball. We’re a franchise that is going to be extra reliant on scouting and player development. We’re looking to excel in those areas.

“We’ve got a really cool setup with all these teams across Maryland and Virginia that are within Birdland and an arm’s reach of Camden Yards. You know, we’re not looking to lose that. We like having that footprint. It has served us well and I think it will continue to serve us well.”

Also during Tuesday’s interview, Elias got several questions about the shortstop position for next year now that José Iglesias has been traded.

“I do think we have internal competition for that, but I do think we need some external entrants to that competition at a minimum,” he said.

I asked Elias whether it is more likely that the club would have several players compete for playing time at shortstop in the spring or that the club would add a player who would be expected to be the starting shortstop. Will there be shortstop competition, or are the Orioles looking to sign one player - as with Iglesias, for instance - to be the guy at that spot?

“I think we are looking at a broad spectrum of guys on the shortstop market,” he said. “There are names of many major league veterans that have been starting shortstops that probably fit the characteristic of someone you would anoint prior to camp. There are other young players, either on the trade market or on the free agent market, that have not established themselves yet that would be real interesting entrants to our infield mix and would probably be the odds-on favorite to start the season at shortstop if they were to join our team.

“This is part of why we did the trade. Above all, we’re looking to raise the level of talent in the organization. Iggy is and was great. But that opportunity came along and we’re in the middle of the offseason in the winter, when you can sign players and you can trade for players. It’s not like an in-season trade. So we’ll be looking to backfill there, to stabilize our team. Give us another opportunity to hopefully make a savvy addition that will ultimately net us some long-term benefit. And in the meantime, you know, the young shortstops that we have climbing through the minor leagues will get another year closer, if not here. So that’s the way that we’re to approach things until otherwise.”

More with Stallings: Yesterday I wrote this about right-hander Garrett Stallings, his southeast Virginia roots and his outlook on joining the Orioles. He becomes one of now six pitchers the Orioles acquired from the Los Angeles Angels over the last two Decembers, in deals for Dylan Bundy in 2019 and Iglesias last week.

A fifth-round draft pick of the Angels out of the University of Tennessee last year, Stallings was ranked by MLBPipeline.com as the Angels’ No. 21 prospect. He moved into the O’s top 30 at No. 26 after the trade. As a junior for the Volunteers in 2019, he went 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA. He posted a strikeout rate of 9.3 and walk rate of 1.4. He walked just 1.3 batters per every nine innings over three seasons at Tennessee.

“I think that is one of the biggest things that separates me from the next guy - my ability to command all four pitches,” Stallings said in a Zoom interview with O’s reporters. “I think it’s just something that I really pride myself on. You know, playing catch or throwing bullpens, I just have an extreme focus on what I’m doing and what I’m trying to accomplish that day. Now I kind of have been a victim sometimes of throwing too many strikes, throwing pitches down the middle too often. I have to perfect my craft a little bit more and it’s allowed me to focus on other parts of my game that need improvement. Like velocity, commanding better breaking pitches for more punchouts and stuff like that. It is something I’ve taken pride in from a young age.”

He also has taken pride in his work in the classroom. He was a 4.0 student at Grassfield High School in Chesapeake, Va. He was named the Southeastern Conference Scholar-Athlete of the Year at Tennessee. He said he likes to do work in the community, too.

“I’m very fortunate to have two wonderful parents that instilled some great values in me. Baseball is just what I do, not who I am,” he said. “Playing baseball has opened a lot of doors for me, allowing myself to impact the community in a high way. I’ve just taken pride in being the best person I can be on and off the field. If I can give a little kid a pitching lesson, or sign a ball. You know, I’ve kept some of my old jerseys to someday give out to fans. Just to (be able to) have more of an impact, I will take it. I was a little kid one time going to Norfolk games, wanting an autograph or asking someone to take a picture. I know the impact that it can make, I’ve been there myself. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed doing and I think I’ll continue to do that my entire life.”

Draft note: The Orioles will hold another Competitive Balance pick in the 2021 draft. Then the Orioles will select in Competitive Balance Round B after the second round and will hold the 66th overall pick. Their top pick will be No. 5 in round one in the 2021 draft.

Koby Perez interview: The Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, Koby Perez, was interviewed and the O’s published that interview via You Tube, which can be accessed in the tweet below. The beginning of the international amateur signing period was moved this year from July 2 to Jan. 15, 2021. Perez believes the O’s will have a class of 20 to 25 to announce then. The Orioles are expected to sign two players that may get bonuses of at least $1 million in Dominican catcher Samuel Basallo and Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernandez.

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