While most members of the 2021-22 international signing class are teenagers who are years away from the major leagues, 22-year-old infielder Cesar Prieto could potentially help the Orioles as early as this season. It makes Prieto a particularly intriguing player to watch from this signing period, as noted in separate pieces by The Baltimore Sun’s Nathan Ruiz and MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko.
Prieto defected to the United States from Cuba last May, and MLB declared him eligible to sign only in November. This left Prieto in a bit of a tough spot heading into the January 15 signing period, as since most teams had already committed most of the money in their bonus pools, the $650K Prieto received from the Orioles counts as something of a bargain for a player with his experience and track record.
Since the money was relatively tight across the board, however, the O’s tried to stand out from the field in other ways. Orioles senior director of international scouting Koby Perez told media that he and GM Mike Elias personally visited Prieto to pitch him on joining Baltimore’s organization.
“He decided on us. There was other suitors, and we’re excited that he wants to take this journey with us,” Perez said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to wait for the late bloomer, or sometimes these guys from Cuba come out unexpectedly, and you want to be prepared to be able to get them. It played right into our hands in this situation.”
Given the lack of established infielders on the rebuilding Orioles, it also isn’t surprising that Prieto saw Baltimore as a possible quicker route to the majors. Perez said Prieto will start next season in the “mid to upper levels” of the farm system, with the O’s eyeing him as mostly as a second baseman but flexible enough to handle third base or shortstop in a pinch.
While the Orioles don’t want to harm Prieto’s development by promoting him too soon, it isn’t out of the question that he could make his MLB debut in 2022, considering his age and past pro experience. If an early call-up would only come if Prieto adjusts quickly and dominates minor league pitching, his time in the Cuban National Series (Cuba’s top league) is evidence that Prieto can indeed be a big force at the plate.
Over his last two CNS seasons, Prieto has recorded 68 walks against only 34 strikeouts, while batting .379/.452/.533 in 690 plate appearances. Prieto doesn’t offer much power (11 home runs in those two seasons), yet he makes up for that lack of pop with tons of contact and a keen batting eye. According to Perez, some O’s scouts used Nick Madrigal as a comp for Prieto’s skillset.
Prieto’s ability to handle multiple positions could make him something of a utilityman in the majors, depending on how the Orioles’ future infield picture eventually shakes out. On the current MLB roster, Rougned Odor is a veteran stopgap set for regular second base duty, Ramon Urias is already 27 but has looked good in his first two Major League seasons, and Kelvin Gutierrez has yet to show much at the big league level. Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg are the Orioles’ two top infield prospects, and Prieto being lined up as a second baseman reflects how the O’s seem to be eyeing Henderson and Westburg as the future left side of their infield (with the specific positions yet to be determined).