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O’s Florida Coast League Preview

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Monday marks the beginning of the Florida Complex League season in Sarasota. The Orioles’ lowest level of domestic development will compete against five other organizations’ teams this season, who are also stationed locally. They are the Braves, Twins, Red Sox, Rays (playing at the Orioles Twin Lakes complex) and Pirates. Some of these teams have prepared groups of players in other countries or during extended spring training for the league which concludes on August 22 with playoffs starting August 24. Games at Ed Smith Stadium as well as the other facilities are a fun (and extremely hot) way to see some prospects begin the upward climb through affiliated ball.

The Orioles team will be guided by the educational leadership of Christian Frias. Frias trained for a couple of seasons under former Oriole Alan Mills and has emerged as the true leader of the team’s Sarasota operation. Speaking both Spanish and English is only part of what makes him a positive communicator. Frias meets developmental objectives often and players increase their skill levels at a fine rate. Flanked by a pair of former O’s prospects in Jaylen Ferguson and Colin Woody, there’s a vibe of system continuity that this supporter can’t get enough of. Coaches Troy Marrow, Andrew Sadoski, Christian Poulsen, Jordie Henry, Teagan Leader & Jamie Johnson join a cast of trainers, nutritionists and video editors to make sure 1st gear goes perfectly for these players. Winning is not the primary objective; growing the players through experience is.

Kevin Guerrero
Kevin Guerrero (photo: Eric Garfield)

There are new players to this environment and there are a few repeaters who have been placed in leadership roles. Some of them were born in 2004. Kevin Guerrero was a Marlins OF prospect in the low minors that somebody in scouting must have placed eyes on. Whoever saw the sinewy yet powerful and fast athlete that he is now in that underdeveloped kid a few years back deserves a pat on the back. His best skills are getting positive results by swinging hard early in the count, as well as covering the power alleys with long, measured strides. As strength fuels his frame the power he has in every muscle group translates well to the field. 5-tool is certainly fitting for the other side of the Tanner Scott & Cole Sulser deal. Ironically KG is a ‘vet’ on this team yet just turned 19 a few weeks ago.

Maikol Hernandez
Maikol Hernandez (photo: Eric Garfield)

Maikol Hernandez is another player rounding into form as an elite prospect. Watching last year, it seemed the lofty SS comps were at best illogical. Yes he’s tall, but didn’t have much offense & in the field made plays but without flair or electricity. This season the change is drastic. He actually does move laterally like Alex Rodriguez. He does! Sometimes his transfer on the move is as organized as Roberto Alomar (I know what it says) before unleashing a throw like Javy Baez. Maikol is a shining example of why you don’t close the book on a young player while realizing the capacity for growth in this sometimes forgotten league. Last year’s ‘reserved’ is this year’s ‘humble’ but scouts and Oriole execs see the growing game.

He hit his first over the wall home run recently and like Guerrero is testing catchers much more frequently by stealing bases at will. The Orioles have a full roster but it’s clear that their best Sarasota player is Maikol Hernandez.

Two other players who have grown in ability and voice are Rolphy Cruz & Teudis Cortorreal. Cruz bats switch & plays every position except catcher, & Corto is a lefty corner OF. Rolphy is mostly quiet, Teudis is mostly not but, the pair has been through the hot summer under Frias’ leadership before. The organization values what’s gained in that experience and a couple of system players have already moved up with some success. Sarasota seems to have readied Angel Tejada & Brayan Hernandez quite well. I was surprised that they both left pre-FCL but not at their transition into A ball. That’s a big reason why this program exists.

Corto is the vocal leader but his game is far from empty. He has a strong burst into open space which he uses to track long flies spinning in either direction, ideally a RF skill. His lefty cut walloped a lefty change-up last week way over the Field 4 wall so he’s warm with the stick as the season nears. Cruz’ best skill is probably gathering/releasing grounders & his range to go get them is improving as he gains muscle. Might sound redundant, but he blasted one out in RF himself last week.

Junior Lara is another athletic mover who had been hurt (hand) most of the extended season but just returned last week. Lara was an everyday player last season also who brings some true punch to the OF. Think ‘triples hitter’ as the compact lefty with baseball sized calves gets to 4th gear in two strides. Just like Corto & KG he goes all out for fly balls, there won’t be any pulling up from Lara.

Eruviel Castillo is a contact over power oriented righty corner with a level stroke. He prefers to wait out counts & probably is best at seeing pitches until he gets a choice one to attack. From day 1, he’s shown that choosy type of ability. Maybe these next few months are when the counting stats will reflect it. He seems a two or five slot hitter when things are going well for him.

There has been some new blood too and some of these players are loaded with ability and potential. There was an article last week about some of the new FCL players but even more have emerged since then. That’s the positive effect of having a stellar system which Frias & his crew are happy to deal with. C Aneudis Mordan looks to be dictating things at the plate as he can trusted for a hit or RBI each game despite being in the US for about three weeks. His travel partner Carlos Vicioso is already the fastest guy in the team & is a lock to steal once on base. Vici has the kind of range old school baseball fans love and can control CF in any direction. IF/OF Alfredo ‘Quez’ Velasquez prob is his listed weight of 153 but the kid hit .296 last year with 11 XBH and more BB than K with 14-for-17 SB. A few players have been banged up, so Quez has already started his track. Not intimidated at all he’s hit an over the wall home run and continued several rallies already. Born in 2004, scouts are asking observers info on him in his 1st week of competition.

The name international signees are certainly making a significant impact too while showing that they’ll be heard from in the years ahead. Leandro Arias is a loose moving switch hitter who looks comfortable at any IF position. His pivots & range are best at 2nd, but his strong throws from the hole at 3rd are attention grabbers. His contact echoes throughout the stadium too and is regularly aimed away from any fielder. Aron Estrada is probably not as strong but every bit as twitch & might even have faster hands/feet. As the pair develop it’ll be worth watching to see some IF chemistry like Carter Young & Adam Crampton have at Delmarva. Seems that IF prospect Edwin Amparo has a slight leg injury that may shelve him for a bit. That would affect his abilities as his game is burst and lateral based. Bat to ball he could be the best of the developing bunch, but Arias can drive it higher and further into the alleys where Amparo seems to find them better.

Christian Benevides was a bat heavy corner in the DSL but has brought a good glove game to extended. Earning the nickname ‘Bene’ Machado’ his plays at 3rd are equal parts ballet & baseball. He’s handling the hard stuff as well as routine plays with ease. Not a repeat, Bene’ had his 1st over the wall Home Run at Ed Smith last week. He should bat middle of the order.

Kenny Baez
Kenny Baez (photo: Eric Garfield)

Fans can call Kenny Baez ‘Bazooka’ and the sometimes-catcher sometimes-corner has shown off his arm behind the plate. He is not his listed 5-11 185 and puts all of a massive trunk into his cuts. So far it’s created more line drives than shots to the wall but he’s in the gym daily so we’ll see where that part of his game is by September. KB is like Corto in that if you hear a loud voice from the dugout it’s probably his.

Raylin Ramos is a well-rounded and clutch hitter who has displayed patience and high baseball IQ in his limited reps. The kind of athlete who doesn’t wait to react to passed balls or players being in run downs ahead of him knows the game well and helps good things happen. Pirates elite LHP prospect Jung Seok Shim tried to get out of a bases loaded jam by twisting a funky slider away from his bat and Ramos assaulted it for an RBI.

Thomas Sosa is a large-shouldered lefty masher who was born in 2005. Extended hasn’t been great for him as he had an injury that kept him out of games. But he got in a few early where he showed that he’ll be an EV type who can pull blasts to RF regularly. Braylin Tavera also had a leg injury for a few weeks that kept him from consistent use but is back now. His game is the kind that scouts dream on. Speed, burst, arm, confidence, power and loads of endurance are all on his early resume. At this level some become frustrated as their skills don’t translate to competition. Tavera will not have that problem here. His skill level isn’t necessarily advanced but the things he can do are natural. Coaching will only enhance the ways he’s blessed with baseball ability. By this time next year he’ll have made huge strides in the O’s system and on the prospect map. The player he reminds me the most of at this stage of dev is Vlad Guerrero Sr., as he’s doing well maxing out his raw abilities before the refined ones fill in and finalize an All-Star type. Good players start where he is.

Pitching seems to be a bit better overall than last year and that’s because of the presence of vets as well. It’s a small thing but RHP Raul Rangel is being used out of the pen, maybe an inning at a time after a couple of hurt/inconsistent seasons so his stuff is playing up big time. You can see the backspin on some of his breaking balls causing them to almost stop & dive in midair. Short guy or closer may be the role for the one-time starter and he’s gained some weight after not being able to for months. Real growth and leadership at the complex. Raul deserves credit. Much like Luis Sanchez before him and to a larger degree Heston Kjerstad, he’s used his recovery time to improve. Isaac Solano is another RHP who’s spent time in Sarasota. Too many pitches in the zone without juice had his 2022 ERA in the 6’s but now his k/9 is standing out and he’s shown some versatility in role excelling out of the pen and starting. Isaac’s a large athlete with an over the top delivery out of the stretch that keeps the ball up so he’s going to have to work on the low part of the zone but he’ll have plenty of chances as there are approximately 60 games in the Complex season.

Tall, slender RHP Junior Piña is the team’s fastest thrower. He can hit 98/99 but this year his appearances have been inconsistent. It appears that the team wants him to cut mph-reaching in favor of hitting the corners which so far has had mixed results. It’s an organizational priority to have him on track so expect a different set of results once the games start.

The number one  starter will be RHP Zack Showalter. Extended spring starts for him are basically 3IP 5-9k, four or fewer baserunners and few pitches/long counts.

Show has been expanding his arsenal while being just as filthy to righties as lefties. The 11th round selection is on track to make some O’s local talent evaluator look very wise. He’s going to make the low minors look easy which is odd because we have heard that his usual position/role was speedy OF in amateur ball. Player development improvements are legit.

Big RHP Brayner Sanchez has a sweeping leg kick before his breaking ball based arsenal starts to dance & twist. So far he’s had more success than not so he’ll be an early pen option. I was looking forward to RHP Harol Arias enter this phase of development but he has an injury that will push back his calendar. Erick Rodriguez, Harif Frias, Grabiel Salazar & Jorge Morla are RHPs who have also been more good than bad lately so there’s reason to believe the pen will be effective.

A handful of starter types have emerged too. Lefty Luis DeLeon and righty Bryan Bautista could fight for rotation spots as they’ve had success in the DSL to go with some stateside too. They have shown skill in getting k’s so far despite a lack of consistency.
Veterans rehabbing and star prospects recovering will be a constant storyline at the complex so we will effort to update you as best we can on John Means, Brandon Young, Carter Baumler, Zach Peek, Kyle Brnovich, Shane Davis, Zac Lowther & other Oriole players. Young threw a scoreless inning on Saturday with a strikeout after being used in a similar role 6 days ago. Lowther has thrown an inning to start a game twice in the last week, Saturday expanding to 2 giving up one run each time and spreading 5 k’s over the 9 outs.

This summer we’ll provide recaps of as many games/FCL happenings as possible while trying to enhance our coverage with footage. Hopefully fans will enjoy this aspect of player development & take an interest in the people making these baseball things happen.

If you are an Orioles fan and can make it, you’d probably get a lot out of the experience. A tan is guaranteed.

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