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Baltimore Orioles

Yusniel Diaz, Kyle Stowers highlight Orioles’ Arizona Fall League prospects; Baltimore breaks ground on Dominican academy

Outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Kyle Stowers, two of the Orioles’ top prospects, highlight the organization’s participants in the Arizona Fall League.

The AFL features several of the game’s top prospects and allows them to get extended playing time. That’s especially valuable for a player like Diaz, who spent much of the season battling injuries and was incredibly unproductive when on the field. Ranked as Baltimore’s top prospect after being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade, Diaz fell to No. 19 in Baseball America’s midseason rankings. Diaz, who turns 25 on Thursday, hit .161/.233/.265 in 2021 while striking out in nearly a third of his plate appearances, and has hit .225/.303/.385 since joining the Orioles’ organization.

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Stowers, meanwhile, is trending the other direction. He led all Orioles minor leaguers with 27 home runs and shared the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year award with catcher Adley Rutschman, baseball’s top prospect. Selected 71st overall in the 2019 draft, Stowers began 2021 with High-A Aberdeen but ended the year in the middle of Triple-A Norfolk’s order, batting .278/.383/.514 in the process. Baseball America had Stowers 17th among the organization’s prospects, but the 23-year-old will likely find himself much higher in the next rankings.

Other Orioles representatives joining Diaz and Stowers on the Mesa Solor Sox roster are: pitchers Cameron Bishop, Logan Gillaspie, Conner Loeprich and Nick Vespi, as well as infielder Greg Cullen. Catcher Ramon Rodriguez is on the team’s taxi squad, while Norfolk hitting coach Tim Gibbons will serve in that role for the Solar Sox.

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Bishop, 25, was the Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the month in June after allowing no earned runs while striking out 32 over 22 innings with Double-A Bowie, but he spent much of the next two months on the injured list. He returned in late August and made four outings with Low-A Delmarva before rejoining Bowie. He ended the regular season with a 4.58 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 53 innings.

Gillaspie, 24, signed a minor league deal with Baltimore in June and spent his first season as a reliever for Aberdeen and Bowie. He ended with a 4.97 ERA between the levels.

Loeprich, 24, began the season on the IL after being acquired late in the 2020 season from the Pittsburgh Pirates for international bonus pool money. After a few scoreless outings in the Florida Coast League, he posted a 7.16 ERA in 11 outings, 10 of them starts, for Aberdeen.

Vespi, 25, was deployed as a left-handed reliever for Bowie and Norfolk. He was far more successful with the former (1.42 ERA in 14 games) than the latter (6.86 ERA in 16 games) but had solid strikeout numbers at both levels. He spent all of June on the IL.

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Cullen, 24, was one of two infielders the Orioles acquired in the 2020 trade that sent starter Tommy Milone to the Atlanta Braves. Cullen played in only 38 games this year — mostly at second base with some time at third — and although he didn’t show much power, he posted a .429 on-base percentage, including a .398 mark in Double-A.

Rodriguez, 22, who was signed to a minor league deal in March, bounced among the Orioles’ three lowest full-season affiliates, collectively hitting .253/.304/.384.

AFL play begins Oct. 13, with the Fall Star Game scheduled for Nov. 13 and championship game on Nov. 20. The league will also serve as a testing ground for several experimental rule changes: a pitch timer, limits on defensive shifts, larger bases and use of the Automatic Ball-Strike System — more commonly known as a “robo ump.” Pitchers and catchers will also have the option of using PitchCom, a pitcher-catcher communication device.

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Orioles break ground on Dominican academy

The Orioles on Wednesday broke ground on their 22.5-acre complex in Guerra, Dominican Republic, that will serve as the primary development site for their young Latin American prospects.

“We have made tremendous strides over the last couple of years in establishing our international presence and revamping our baseball operations infrastructure, and this project may be the most momentous step yet,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said in a statement. “International scouting and player development are critical to the future success of the Orioles, and baseball as a whole. This new academy will be the Latin American home of the Orioles, and once completed we expect it to be one of the finest training facilities in the Dominican.”

In addition to Elias, chairman and CEO John Angeles, senior director of international scouting Koby Perez, in attendance at the ceremony were Orioles alumni Daniel Cabrera, Ubaldo Jiménez, Radhames Liz, Melvin Mora, Félix Pié and Miguel Tejada. As part of the festivities, the Orioles and Oriole Advocates provided youth baseball equipment to Escuela Básica Carmen Dilia Ortiz and the Los Prospectos Little League team, ensuring children aged 5-10 were fully equipped to play.

“This partnership group continues to execute the long-term plan announced in the fall of 2018 to invest and reinvest in baseball facilities, technology, front office research and expertise, and player talent,” Angelos said in a statement. “Our organization’s capital commitment to the Dominican Republic is yet another demonstration of our confident long view of the value of MLB, Orioles, and Camden Yards brand platforms. As we continue to invest and give back across Maryland and Florida, we see this as another opportunity to make a difference internationally in the Dominican community as we strengthen the future of Orioles baseball.”


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