Last season, the Delmarva Shorebirds featured the first group of prospects signed by the Orioles senior director of international scouting, Koby Perez. Now, it’s Year 2, and the Single-A team again features a roster of Latin American prospects.
Seventeen of the 30 players on Delmarva’s roster are Latin American, and the Shorebirds’ manager is again Felipe Alou Jr., who is in his second season.
Delmarva has some top U.S. prospects, including last year’s overall top pick, shortstop Jackson Holliday, and infielder Carter Young, but most of the players are from the Dominican Republic.
Alou, who was long in charge of the Orioles’ Dominican academy, has watched many of the players he has with the Shorebirds.
“I think more than as an experiment, it was a strong statement about what we’re doing as an organization,” Alou said at Delmarva’s media day earlier this month. “Mike Elias and Koby Perez took over and started exploring the international market. This is all about what they’ve done the last four or five years, the statement that we’re going to have a strong presence in Latin America. Last year was the first big example, and then again this year, 60-70 percent of our roster is filled with big Latin American talent.”
A year ago, the Shorebirds had a 49-81 record, but there were positives.
“We grew as a group,” Alou said. “A lot of guys ended up going to the next level. A lot of guys that are coming back this year got that little taste of full season play. It was overall growth for all of us.
“We were really young as a team last year. For most of these guys to have a chance to come back and get experience. Some of the guys came later in the season, like [pitcher] Deivy Cruz, the drafted guys and some of these pitchers who came later in the season and were able to progress. We’re really excited about it.”
Alou is part of an exceptional baseball family that includes his father, Felipe Sr., the longtime major league outfielder and the first Dominican manager, two uncles who also were accomplished major league outfielders, the brother of two more major leaguers, Moises and Mel Rojas, and the brother of former Mets manager Luis Rojas.
Those experiences and his time last year helped him as a manager.
“I have kids around this same age range,” Alou said. “It helped me a lot. I was part of these kids’ first years in the DR, so I was very familiar with them. This year, having a kid like [catcher] Samuel Basallo and [infielder] Anderson de los Santos, all those guys I already had a couple of years ago. It was a win-win situation for both them and myself because of the familiarity.”
Basallo, an 18-year-old catcher, is the 11th-ranked Orioles prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Last season, he played in the Florida Complex League, and he’s in his first year of full-time professional game action.
“I’m very excited, honestly, first time, new experience, no words,” he said through Alou, who served as his translator. “It’s out of my control. [I’m] going to come to the ballpark every day and do my best. If I put my effort, hopefully, he can do it quickly.”
Basallo is the best known Dominican prospect on the Shorebirds, but last year, Alou had two lesser-known players, infielder Frederick Bencosme and outfielder Luis Valdez, move up from Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen later in the season.
“Those two kids come to the ballpark and they put a lot of effort in what they do every day. That’s why it went their way,” Alou said. “Being able to finish the season there tells us that if a guy has a chance to get into pro ball … Some guys get a little more money than others. That’s how the game is, that’s how the business is. It doesn’t mean that guys like Bencosme or Valdez, that they don’t have the talent to actually do it.”
“The plan’s the same, come here and play ball and get better,” Basallo said. “Obviously, having to deal with the language barrier is something I need to work on. The number one goal ball is to play ball and get better.”
7-footer: Jared Beck, a 7-foot right-handed pitcher, was drafted in the 13th round last year from Saint Leo University. There’s never been a 7-foot major league player. He’s beginning his second season with Delmarva.
Beck played basketball in high school but decided as a sophomore to go the baseball route.
“I decided baseball was the game I love,” Beck said. “It came a little easier. I had a little more fun with it. Hot summer nights are the best thing for me.
“I thought in baseball I could have gone a little further. I’m a little more unique in the baseball world, where in basketball, I’m just a dime a dozen. I think it was better to play baseball.”
Beck does find some advantages with his height.
“It could be tough to make your body work like a 6-foot guy. There are a lot of advantages, too. You don’t see the ball from my arm slot, especially from a lefty. It’s coming above and beyond his head. It’s a little different look even to righties. They’re not used to seeing that stuff.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB