Mingling with all the bonus babies and top prospects at Tuesday's Carolina League All-Star Game in Salem, Va., is an Orioles prospect who is every bit as deserving of his spot. And considering how long it took to get him there, perhaps a bit more so.
Outfielder Randolph Gassaway, a promising but raw 16th-round draft pick in 2013 for the Orioles, hadn't even played at a full-season affiliate at this time last year. But the 22-year-old has used the foundation built during years spent on the back fields in Sarasota, Fla., until then to hit at every level the organization has assigned him to, and earn a warranted midseason honor.
"This guy has done some really good things in a short period of time, and it all came from the foundation that he built down in extended," Orioles farm director Brian Graham said earlier this month. "He was a guy that you always liked his potential, but the performance hasn't quite showed up yet. Now there's the performance showing up."
Most of that work didn't come on the big stage he'll enjoy with some of the game's top prospects Tuesday. It was on hot days in Florida — some when Gassaway might have deserved to be elsewhere — when the process of building a talented Georgia prep product into a professional hitter began.
"It was a long time coming, but I just kind of trusted the work," Gassaway said. "I was in the dark for a little bit, and you hear all this stuff that people throw at you, and all of a sudden it actually shows up and works and helps you grow. It's huge."
"He got the ability to build a baseball foundation, and he worked really hard," Graham said. "I give [minor league hitting coordinator Jeff Manto] and [Gulf Coast League hitting coach] Milt May a ton of credit, because between Milt May and Jeff Manto, they really got this guy good routines, they got a good foundation in place. They really put a strong mental approach into place, and he started swinging the bat so well that he got promoted so well, and swung the bat so well in Delmarva that he got a chance to come here, and then he went to Double-A."
It wasn't that easy, or quick. Gassaway's introduction to pro ball in the Gulf Coast League in 2013 was expectedly difficult, as he hit .246 with a .631 OPS. He split time between the GCL and Short-A Aberdeen in 2014, but didn't hit much at either stop, batting .186 with a pair of homers in 30 games.
Things improved a bit when he returned to Aberdeen in 2015 and hit .273 with 14 doubles — though no home runs — in 60 games. That summer, however, was when he felt things starting to work for him.
"I didn't have any bombs that year, but I still felt good at the plate, and I knew at the end of the day those would come," Gassaway said. "I felt good at the plate. I felt comfortable with my approach. I felt good with the strike zone. I understood it a little bit better. At the end of 2015, it started clicking a little bit. I took that same feeling into the offseason, just going back and staying with my work in '16."
After parts of three years in short-season ball, any player who has some success in their track record would expect to go to a full-season affiliate. Gassaway was left in Florida at the end of spring training yet again, consigned to another year of extended spring training games against the same three clubs for three months until Aberdeen started up again.
He was still 21, though, and took the assignment the way the Orioles expected him to.
"You can still get better," he said. "Get in the lab and get better. It's easy to sulk — everybody does it. But nobody wants to be in extended or anything like that. I took it as a positive, to keep continuing to work and I took it personal. Every day, I went in. I didn't sulk. I just went about my business and got out of there and then just relaxed. Next day, same thing. If you sulk, you're wasting time. You can't get that back. Control the controllables and keep moving. I just tried to continue my work and trust everything to fall into place."
That work ensured that when they did send him north to Aberdeen, he didn't stay there long. Gassaway had eight hits — including five for extra-bases — in five games there before the Orioles sent him to Low-A Delmarva. His production continued there, too. He batted .330 with seven home runs and an .883 OPS in 50 games there, good enough to help him break camp with High-A Frederick this year.
The stint he spent at Double-A Bowie proved a bit much, but otherwise, Gassaway is still proving that foundation he built in Sarasota was working. Even with a recent slump, he's still batting .294/.338/.379 with 13 extra-base hits for the Keys. He joins top prospects Austin Hays and Ryan Mountcastle as the Keys' position-player representatives at the All-Star Game on Tuesday, with reliever Tanner Chleborad the only pitcher.
In an organization that's constantly playing defense when it comes to player development, Gassaway's story is one that reflects well on all aspects of the organization.
"It's drastic, but it's positive," Graham said. "This was a raw, young right-handed hitter who obviously has strength and size, and he's just made progress. He's made strides with great progress, and he did it because he worked so hard. He didn't just show up with magic dust one day. This guy worked really hard to become a good hitter."