This 19-year-old O's catcher is one of baseball's best prospects

May 1st, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- Coming off a strong performance in his first full pro ball season in 2023, was ready to put the same energy into his development over the winter. Everything was going well -- until he felt his arm give while throwing a ball in a Dominican Winter League game.

"I went home, everything felt normal, but after some time I felt discomfort and I contacted the team after about a month," the 19-year-old said in Spanish.

Tests revealed the catcher had sustained a stress fracture in his right elbow. So navigating and remaining patient through the recovery of his first major injury as a professional baseball player became one of the lessons MLB's No. 16 overall prospect has had to learn in his young career.

"I was out for four months without playing," said Basallo, who caught for the first time this year on Tuesday night. "It was a difficult moment because I was preparing myself, I was in the best moment of my career until now."

The O's shut their No. 2 prospect down completely for a few months, but he progressed enough to join the team in Florida for Spring Training as a non-roster invitee. Basallo went 1-for-4 over three appearances for Baltimore as a designated hitter.

The 19-year-old signed with Baltimore in 2021 for a then-organizational-record $1.3 million bonus. He was one of the Orioles' primary targets as part of general manager Mike Elias' vision of developing the club's presence internationally.

The native of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, rose through the ranks of the Orioles' Minor League system quickly in 2023. While he spent the majority of the season with Single-A Delmarva (83 games), the catcher earned a promotion to High-A Aberdeen for 27 games before closing out the last four games with Double-A Bowie, where he was the youngest player in the Eastern League. He hit .313 with 20 homers and a .953 OPS across the three levels.

When the injury happened, Basallo leaned heavily on the help and support of his family but tried hard to stay positive. He did have occasional moments of doubt, especially when it came to the uncertainty surrounding the start of his 2024 campaign.

"I didn't have the confidence that I was going to start the season with the team," he said. "[My family] has always been close, and they would try to help me forget about it a little. … They would tell me that I was going to be OK."

The team approached Basallo with a plan about a month before Double-A Bowie's opener. A sense of relief washed over him after learning he was going to start the season with the rest of the team. Basallo was given the go-ahead to bat as a designated hitter while continuing his throwing program and working his way back to playing defense.

"For him to be able to face adversity and understand, 'Hey, I can still impact the game with my bat,'" Baysox manager Roberto Mercado said. "He's DH-ing, playing a little first base, there's a bunch of different ways he can impact the game. ... He's taken it in stride and done really well mentally."

Although Basallo contributed offensively, he longed to be out on the field as well.

He didn't have to wait long to break out his glove. He reached an important milestone in his recovery on April 16 when he was penciled in to play first base. Basallo started transitioning back behind the plate this week.

"Every day, I feel a little bit better," he said. "When I began to play, my arm felt a little tired because I wasn't used to playing but now I feel really good. I feel normal and my arm feels normal."

Basallo has certainly shown glimpses of what he can do once he returns to full health. He posted his fourth career multihomer game, his first at Double-A, on a three-hit afternoon in Bowie's 4-2 win over Richmond on Sunday, then went yard again on a three-RBI night on Tuesday.

Basallo has a pair of objectives for this year -- remaining healthy and building on last season's success. And part of what he wants to work on in that regard is his approach. He'd like to show grace without letting go of the hunger to win and grow. According to his skipper, he's already accomplishing that.

"It's like every day is a new challenge for him, whether it's a mental side, dealing with adversity, whether it's playing first base, he's so coachable and he's a joy to be around," Mercado said.

Basallo's determination set the stage for his strong performance last season. And he's already started to build on that this year by adding resilience to the mix.