The new-look Orioles have an international flair.
General manager Mike Elias has not shied away from investing in young, talented Latin American players, and the club had what Elias described as a “landmark day” with those types of signings Jan. 15. The international signing date was pushed back from July 2 due to COVID-19.
Dominican catcher Samuel Basallo and Venezuelan shortstop Maikol Hernández led a class of 17 players for the 2020-21 international signing period. Basallo ($1.3 million) and Hernández ($1.2 million) are the club’s first-ever seven-figure amateur international signings.
Of the 17 total agreements, 13 are with players from the Dominican Republic and four are with players from Venezuela.
“It marks the first time in club history that we have signed seven-figure prospects on J2,” Elias said. “Thanks to the backing of the partnership group, and the excellent work Koby [Perez] and his team have done, we believe this historic signing class will substantially accelerate the construction of our strong pipeline in the international scene, which will benefit the organization for years to come.”
Basallo, 16, is one of the youngest players in the class. He is already 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds and is a powerful left-handed hitter, according to the Orioles. Basallo is also progressing defensively and provides more low-level depth behind the plate.
Hernández, 17, is 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds and shows quickness for his size, according to the team. The Orioles like five-tool potential and could be a potential mainstay at shortstop in the future. Hernández is the 30th-ranked international prospect by MLB Pipeline.
“These guys are definitely ready to go,” said Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting. “Our player development group has already basically spoken to these guys about a program in place and basically to get started on their professional careers. We’re handing them over to very good hands and we’re excited about that.”
The other international signings are:
Yasmil Bucce, catcher, Venezuela
Eruviel Castillo, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Victor Celedonio, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Teudis Cortorreal, outfielder, Dominican Republic
Deivy Cruz, left-handed pitcher, Dominican Republic
Anderson De Los Santos, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Wilmer Feliciano, outfielder, Dominican Republic
Héctor Jiménez, outfielder, Dominican Republic
Junior Lara, center fielder, Dominican Republic
Aneudis Mordán, catcher, Dominican Republic
Ángel Peña, center fielder , Dominican Republic
Elvis Polanco, left-handed pitcher, Dominican Republic
Carlos Rodríguez, catcher, Venezuela
Grabiel Salazar, outfielder, Venezuela
Angel Tejada, shortstop, Dominican Republic
Santander To Arbitration
The Orioles and outfielder Anthony Santander are headed for an arbitration hearing in February after the two sides could not agree on a contract for 2021, according to Elias. Santander is coming off his best season, hitting .261/.315/.575 (40-for-153) in 37 games.
“With us not having been able to reach an agreement with him — which is OK, it’s part of the process, this happens,” Elias said, “we will be proceeding to arbitration.”
He was named the Most Valuable Orioles and was a Gold Glove finalist despite suffering a season-ending oblique injury Sept. 5. At the time of his injury, Santander was leading the American League in extra-base hits (25) and was tied for second in doubles (13), third in total bases (88), tied for third in RBIs (32), sixth in slugging percentage (.575) and tied for sixth in home runs (11).
Eshelman Inks Minor-League Deal
The Orioles added depth to their arsenal of young arms by signing right-handed swingman Thomas Eshelman to a minor league deal.
Eshelman, 26, went 4-3 with a 5.22 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 22 appearances, including eight starts, for Baltimore from 2019-2020. He was designated for assignment in December but decided to re-sign with the club for a chance to make the roster out of spring training. His best chance will be to make the club as a reliever.
Spring training is less than a month away with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report Feb. 16. The Orioles’ full-team workouts begin six days later.
One of the most pressing needs is at shortstop after José Iglesias was traded to the Angels last month. For now, it appears Richie Martin and Pat Valaika will battle for the job unless the Orioles make an acquisition prior to camp. Yolmer Sánchez could also get a look, but he’ll likely remain at second base where he’s won a Gold Glove.
The starting pitchers are also coming into focus with John Means, Alex Cobb, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin expected to hold four spots of the rotation. Jorge López is the favorite to become the fifth starter, but he’ll face competition from Bruce Zimmermann, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells. The Orioles could also sign another free-agent veteran to compete for a starting job.
The Orioles have a talented, young bullpen with Tanner Scott, Hunter Harvey, Dillon Tate, Cole Sulser, Paul Fry, Shawn Armstrong, Cesar Valdéz and Rule 5 pick Mac Sceroler. The Orioles still need to anoint a closer within that group and could look to Harvey to embrace that role.
Catcher Adley Rutschman should provide some excitement in camp as he continues his development. The anticipation for his major-league debut continues to build.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles