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Extended Spring Season-Ending Notebook

photo: Eric Garfield
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I didn’t expect the season to come to a close so quickly, but it gives me a chance to summarize some extended spring storylines & profiles. The team lost more often than they won but there was learning and progress on multiple levels. Players and staff are now ready for contests that count. The rookie league games kick off June 6th or 7th. The Orioles are scheduled to have 2 teams (Orange & Black) and will take on teams representing the Rays, Twins, Pirates, Red Sox & Braves. There will be a lot of prospects to see all summer long.

The biggest positive I can take away from the group I saw is that a big handful of them are already gone. A sign of a burgeoning system is having a pipeline of trustworthy talent to draw from regardless of the level where a need is present. Infield prospects Robert Martinez and Erison Placencia gained from their experience at the complex and took their skills to a higher level. Pitching prospects Joel Benitez, Keegan Gillies, Angel Vargas, Alex Pham and Carter Baumler also performed well enough to escape Florida just as summer started to scorch. Impact offensive players like catcher Creed Willems and OF Elio Prado have shown their future potential by joining Low-A Delmarva and becoming part of a good nucleus almost instantly.

Those names represent plenty of talent beginning to develop and jump levels on the farm. It’s only June. The organization should be proud of this and it’s a huge part of why the system’s ranking has risen. The next crop of names is motivated to replace them and force some equally tough decisions, yet another sign that the Orioles commitment to rebuild was as wise as it was necessary.

The big-money international signings look to be on par with other organizations. Infielders Anderson De Los Santos, Frederick Bencosme, Maikol Hernandez and catcher Samuel Basallo could all play and contribute for other teams. As an Orioles fan, I’m glad they’re on mine. De Los Santos has shown an excellent feel for 3rd base. Standing out is the vital internal clock component. Play speed is always how he’s moving – not in a rush and not too slow to miss a potential play being made. Stout enough to both guard the line and protect the bag on steals and close plays, he’s an athlete who’s adjusting well to weight gains. As a hitter he’s best attacking early. As he gets bigger the line drives that he consistently sprays will be more power alley-ish. Offensive potential for XBH totals looks promising. A good player for this level and age.

Bencosme has shown lots of baseball savvy for a young guy. He plays like he knows he can get to 1st base anytime he’s in the box but is willing to push the envelope for more by bunting, disrupting the pitcher’s rhythm or fouling off pitches until he gets a cookie. In the field he has shown ability at both short and second. Enough stretch to reach plays in either direction in any infield hole, his footwork and balance upon release makes me think shortstop is the best use of his gifts. This season has included a lot of losing and some slumps for Freddie like it has with every player at this level but his maturity has helped him stay focused day to day. It’s hard to not notice when a guy holds his head high through the bad and the good so I like that part of his profile. You will too. He grew from every mistake to me that’s a very big indicator.

Maikol missed some time but started off relatively inconsistently before the absence. When he came back he was equally as dependable as he was good showing he could be an everyday type of player. He has the kind of swing plane that doesn’t need a stiff uppercut to generate warning track pop to mix with a setup that looks to be low chase. It seems logical to expect him to bat 2,3, or 4 initially and have games where every at-bat includes a great swing decision. Growing into considerably more muscle than when he arrived, Hernandez needs reps to refine it all at game speed so everyday use seems what June, July and August will include.

Basallo has a loud and outgoing personality that’s infectious. In his gear he cuts an imposing figure behind the plate. As low on game experience as he is, the kid can flat out get results and shows that despite his overall friendly nature he can be a fiery leader too. Samuel has so much strength and pure power potential in his swing. Hammering out a plan & refining the timing will be the priorities for this future cleanup hitter. As a defender his throws come with lots of sizzle and accuracy especially for a player with his frame.

photo: Eric Garfield

As much as the big money signings brought that flashy potential to the diamond, there were signs that others have benefitted from tutelage over their time in Sarasota. Outfield has a variety of players at different stages of development. Slender Stiven Acevedo has gained weight slowly but as his body has changed so has his role with the team. He’s always batting 3 or 4 and is the ‘vet’ that the younger lineup looks up to offensively. The bat has been warm for weeks, the arm has snap with no bounce from the outfield and his perpetual green light was earned. Acè has turned into a regular. Loud and supportive in all situations, leadership has emerged with number 57. Junior Lara is another player who has impressed me with skill maybe slightly less with results. Learning and growing here is a challenge every day and in the short time of seeing the speedy Lara I’ve watched as he uses his athletic skill set more and more. For a guy without the largest strike zone, he can foul off pitches at will while waiting out a pitcher before uncorking a big cut and blazing out of the box. He’s high effort. And also high toughness. Running full speed into outfield walls and sliding headfirst aren’t ways to stay healthy but this guy stays available.

There were a pair of lefty #76’s on the team this year so hopefully OFs Luis Gonzalez and Teudis Cortorreal will be on different rookie league rosters just to tell them apart. Game wise, one seemed to be putting it together more on defense and the other showing signs at the plate. Luis is taller at 6-4 and he uses his long legs to get to lots of pop ups and liners all over the outfield. Route wise he’s not perfect but gets to stuff all over the power alleys where he uses his reach and strong middle to make plays. Corto is another hitter getting stronger all over so the results of longer, harder, further hit balls are underway and fun to watch.

Kevin Guerrero has been an OF defender that moves very well too. Since coming to the club in the Sulser/Scott trade from the Marlins, Guerrero has yet to show all the tools working together but is probably the best ‘go and get it’ glove going as of now. I hope to see him in the FCL regularly and showing off on drills between games.

Another pair of vets who have been through the Sarasota seasons are catcher/1B Julio Herrera and Wilkin Grullon. Playing time has been hard to come by as rehabbing players need to get their reps and youngsters need to show up on film but they’ve kept the mood up while mixing in plenty of clutch plays. Grully played a solid backstop and guided true rookie pitchers through their first appearances while Herrera grew into an above average defender at 1st. It may seem like these are insignificant contributions organizationally but each lesson taught or learned is a victory in this ‘get better or get cut’ environment.

Pitching and what’s being prioritized on the mound at the complex level is not always aligned with what happens at other levels. This is where pitchers come to experiment and tinker. Injured arms build innings but they also see what works and what won’t so every appearance has to be looked at as an individual learning experience. In that regard, Matt Harvey was the most efficient pitcher the Orioles featured here. In a pair of consecutive starts he took both a no-hitter and a perfect game into the middle innings. Carter Baumler showed the most electricity for the big name pitchers and Gillies really stood out for that lengthy release that seemed to be directly in the face of righties. DL Hall was here early on and absolutely no human at this level was prepared for his stuff so his couple of appearances had a varsity vs JV type of feel. Hall mowed through lineups quickly and without a ton of wasted pitches similar to what he’s doing now.

Some of the learning and progress shows through less clearly however. Righty Edgar Portes has a bit deeper of an arsenal now. Where it seemed he was a pen option in the past, he’s shown more than once that he can baffle a lineup after the first time through. Breaking ball machine Miguel Padilla has let his fire get the best of him in years past finding no ability to navigate out of bad situations. This year adversity has happened but Padilla has found a better way, channeling that energy into outs and increasingly often strikeouts. Opposite of Portes, where Miggy started in the past he’s now being employed as a multi-inning reliever. Yet he’s thriving in a change of pace type role is where he’s breaking off benders and spinning sliders across the top of the zone in rhythm.

A lefty with multiple out pitches, Deivy Cruz has emerged as a starter over the last couple of weeks. Cruz is a natural flamethrower working off of the heater but can show every type of offering. Lefties never figured him out at all. The word that comes to mind with Deivy is guile. He’ll figure out a way to beat a hitter whether it’s bouncing a drop type of change up or putting the ball deep into his palm for a tumbler type of off-speed reducing the mph by double digits. The promise of Cruz is highly intriguing, I’ve seen pitchers with similar profiles/backgrounds catch fire and thrive at this level. The Rays Antonio Jimenez has more cache but I see them as logical comps.

The purpose of extended spring training has been to get these players up to speed while providing an organized game environment for rehabbing players to test their recovered bodies. Infield prospect Terrin Vavra looked very good making loud contact so he left as soon as he hit the field. Outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad made progress in the training room enough to get to the field last week. His timing looked slightly off but contact and power were very good so there’s every reason to think he’ll be sent upwards in days or at the longest weeks.

Infielder Anthony Servideo is on a similar track and got into games a couple weeks back. Diving at short, maximizing ABs and making positive plays it seems Servideo is ready to help a club immediately. OF prospect Reed Trimble looked to be making progress towards health as well. In Tuesday’s game at Pirate City he started the game with a leadoff single showing a pullside cut to blend with his natural opposite type of slice. Later Trimble pulled up on the bases and had to be lifted for Lara. Following the game he said it was sore and they’d be reassessing the next day. On the pitching side of the rehab roster righty Raul Rangel got past some early season arm troubles and should be out of Sarasota soon enough. Rangel isn’t back to midseason form just yet in terms of location but the issues that were plaguing him related to pitch-to-pitch velocity are no longer. Small sample size for game action but I saw enough bad swings to think his movement is working well. I watch the trainers do their jobs then see the players reach optimal health accordingly. Each and every time possible I will credit them for this difficult and often low reward responsibility.

The final and most fun aspect of being this close to this type of group is learning the new players. Recently I outlined a few players who stood out

There are a few more who will be separating themselves over the next couple of months. Infield/outfield prospect Angel Tejada seems like he’s got a level enough head to be an everyday guy. He hustles and is always on position to make plays. A bit more power behind his swings and throws would bring more results. Pitcher Luis Sanchez has a fastball foundation and likes to work a bit quicker than most. Over the hot summer I wonder if he’ll be able to maintain his heater and pace. If yes it could take his early development to a different tier.

Watching how this level of baseball influences and assists the farm above it has been an over the top fun learning experience so far. Rookie league ball will keep it going and provide even more moments. Hopefully through following and watching you’ve been able to watch lots of players that you’d otherwise never see and make some impressions on your own. Oriole fans can trust that teaching and improvement is occurring in the Florida sun. As long as it’s happening in Sarasota or Bradenton it’ll be a priority to share it with you.

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