SARASOTA, Fla. — Samuel Basallo stands tall, his 6-foot-3 frame watching as the baseball he just made loud contact with goes flying over the fence.

“Poco a poco,” he says.

Little by little.

Bit by bit, day by day, Basallo is chasing his goal of being the best player on the field, an expectation he’s had for himself since he was a little kid dominating neighborhood games in the Dominican Republic. He’s on his way to accomplishing that — Basallo is the No. 2 prospect in the best farm system in baseball.

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But, more than that, he wants to be the happiest player out there.

That is not always an easy task for him. A bad at-bat or a poor performance during a drill can send him down a wormhole. At the end of the day, he’s just a 19-year-old who puts the weight of the world on himself.

And he’s having trouble coping with all those emotions.

He’s getting better at it, thanks to the help of a psychologist who gave him a journal to work through his feelings.

“She’s really helpful and she provides a lot of tips, especially since I can be really hard on myself,” Basallo said through Brandon Quinones, who translated the interview.

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The book has become his lifeline, a safe place for him to express his thoughts as he grapples with the pressure.

It’s been battered and bruised, traveling with him to Sarasota, Bowie, Delmarva, Aberdeen, the Dominican Republic and everywhere else baseball life has taken him.

He’s hoping, maybe one day soon, it will make a trip to Baltimore.

Orioles prospect Samuel Basallo says his father is “sick with baseball,” and he became obsessed with the game when he was very young. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

‘This is mine’

Basallo’s mother needed to do something about her son. He was only a toddler but already was bouncing off the walls. He needed an outlet for his energy.

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Enter baseball.

No one in his family played, but his father was, Basallo said, sick with baseball. Just obsessed with the game. It wasn’t long until Basallo felt the same.

“From the moment I stepped on the field for the first time, it was automatic,” Basallo said. “I thought to myself, ‘This is mine.’”

He started on a neighborhood team that practiced at his local park, but by the time he was 6 he was too advanced. His parents put him in a new league, and he played up an age group. Still, the competition wasn’t enough.

He continued to dominate every game. At 11 years old, he swept the awards at a Dominican Little League tournament after hitting .700, cueing the phone calls from scouts.

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Basallo declared from an early age that he was going to become a professional baseball player. But, after that tournament, he and his parents started to realize this dream wasn’t so far-fetched.

“We never thought that this would be possible,” Basallo’s father, Jairo Fernando Basallo, said in a phone interview. “It was just a way to get him out of the house; we never thought it would get to this point.”

Basallo’s parents were supportive of his goal, but they told him that if he was going to do this he would have to commit. There would be no more complaining about going to the field or missing workouts. He would need to see a trainer, someone who could get him in the best shape possible.

And, to his word, he did. On his 13th birthday, he moved out to train with Ivan Noboa at his academy in the Dominican Republic. Baseball became his life. He woke at 4:30 a.m. every day for a long round of fieldwork, batting practice and strength training with other aspiring professionals, including Jasson Dominguez, a top prospect who made his debut with the Yankees in 2023. They broke for lunch and a power nap at noon, then returned to the field for another session.

Basallo lived close enough to the facility that he could go home on weekends, but it was hard for him to be away. He missed watching his younger brother, who has baseball aspirations of his own, grow up and couldn’t get a hug from his mother at the end of a long day.

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“The first few years were really difficult, just getting used to being away from home,” he said. “It’s not the same thing, waking up and not being able to say hi to your parents first thing in the morning. It was really difficult. But like everything in life, if there’s something you really want to achieve, you have to sacrifice sometimes.”

It helped knowing he was inching closer to his dream. After a year with Noboa, the offers started coming in. The Orioles became a heavy favorite, and he signed in 2021 for $1.3 million, which at the time was the largest international signing bonus the Orioles had ever paid.

It was a celebration for his entire family. He’d been imagining that day for quite some time because now, finally, he could give his parents something in return for helping him achieve his dream: a new house.

He let them pick it, Basallo happily watching as his parents selected the perfect spot. Their new home is only a mile from Noboa’s academy, so his younger brother, who now trains there, doesn’t have to move out like he did.

“I always wanted to buy my parents a home,” he said. “I didn’t want them to worry or have a headache about where they were living.”

Catcher Samuel Basallo as a member of the Aberdeen Ironbirds, the Baltimore Orioles' high-A affiliate.
Samuel Basallo playing for the Aberdeen Ironbirds, the Orioles’ High-A affiliate. He played at three levels in 2023. (Kadalena Messiano/Kadalena Messiano)

Handling the frustrations of baseball

Basallo came into the dugout storming.

It was May 2023, and Basallo, who was just weeks into his stint with Single-A Delmarva last year, was facing Jacob Misiorowski, the Brewers’ No. 2 prospect who has a 100-plus mph fastball and a 90 mph slider. Basallo was 0-for-2 against him. His at-bats, though, were quality ones. He made contact both times, but the defense made stellar plays, snagging would-be base hits.

Basallo didn’t see it that way. He was mad and wanted everyone to know it. Josh Bunselmeyer, who has coached Basallo in the Dominican, Florida and now Delmarva, knew just what Basallo needed.

He needed to write.

Bunselmeyer sent Basallo to the bench and told him to pull out his notebook. He needed a minute to compose himself, to reflect honestly on what just happened. A few minutes later, Basallo walked over to Bunselmeyer, ready to have a constructive conversation.

“You watched him hit, and you were just like, Yeah, this kid is special,” Bunselmeyer said. “He wants to be the best player ever, and frustrations come with that. His expectations for himself are higher than any of us have for him. He’s trying to figure out that he can’t get a hit every time.”

It’s a work in progress, but they’ve already seen him grow from when he arrived at the Orioles’ complex in the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2021.

It was evident to everyone that he had the raw power, but he needed to clean up his technique and to put on muscle. Basallo took every tip to heart and recorded every swing in the cages so he could study it at night. He sent it to his father, too, who is constantly researching new techniques and drills to see how he can help his son.

Basallo spent a year at the Orioles’ Dominican Republic academy, then another at their Sarasota, Florida, compound. There, he was the first one in line every time a major league player was there rehabbing. Basallo wanted to see how he fared against the best in the game.

The more time they spent with him, the more the Orioles staff started to notice a concerning trend. Basallo was hard on himself, harder than someone at that age should be. They wanted to teach him that failure is as much a part of the game as success.

So they set him up with a psychologist, who gave him the notebook.

Before every at-bat, Basallo notes what he would like to happen. After, he records what happened, how the opposing team pitched him, what to look for in the next at-bat and any emotions that came from the results. Later, when the game is over and he has more time, he’ll write down his goals and how he can accomplish them.

This process not only gives him an outlet to express his emotions in the moment, but it also gives him the ability to go back and look at positive results if he needs a boost on a bad day.

“As a whole, he’s way, way, way better,” Bunselmeyer said. “He still has his moments of frustrations, as we all do. In terms of being able to handle it and move on within a game or within practice to move on to the next thing, it’s infinitely better than when we first got him in here.”

Still, he has his moments, especially when he misses his family. It’s helped that Bunselmeyer has become like a second dad to Basallo. The young catcher regularly goes to Bunselmeyer’s house for dinner, as the two have charted a similar path up the levels of the Orioles organization. Bunselmeyer’s daughter affectionately refers to him as an uncle, calling him “Tío Samuel.”

Basallo talks to his family after every game, he and his father still reviewing every swing as they did when he was at the academy. His father does his best, too, to try to relax him.

“He puts a lot of pressure on himself,” Jairo Fernando Basallo said. “I’ll tell him, ‘Even if it was one bad at-bat, you have another at-bat coming up. There’s no need to get so down on yourself after one at-bat or game.’ That’s just who he is — he wants to be the best, and he knows he can get to that level.”

Basallo has yet to experience what anyone in the organization would consider a concerning stretch, even if he disagrees. He breezed through three levels last year, ending the season in Double-A, hitting .313 with 20 home runs. He’s ranked as the No. 10 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, 32 spots higher than he was last year.

His catching skills are behind his bat, partly because Basallo didn’t have as much game-calling experience growing up as catchers coming up through the United States have. In addition to playing other positions — he spent time at shortstop and first base — the Dominican Republic’s youth baseball game schedule is nowhere near as robust as it is in the U.S.

The Orioles, though, believe he can close that gap.

“There’s a catch-up process to learning how to call a game behind the plate,” general manager Mike Elias said. “He’s doing that, but his bat is even more advanced. I think that’s going to be an interesting theme this year. He’s a very, very special talent. He’s one of the very best minor league players in all of baseball right now.”

Basallo’s season will start late due to a stress fracture he suffered in his throwing elbow in November. He’s in major league camp, catching bullpen sessions now, playing in games as the designated hitter and learning as much as he can from Adley Rutschman and James McCann.

He’ll start throwing in April, with the hope of getting out to an affiliate soon after. Then he’ll keep inching toward his goal of being the best, and happiest, player on the field.

Little by little.