Three Orioles get Italian jobs for Classic
World Baseball Classic provisional rosters feature 11 Orioles
Assigned to a four-team pool with All-Star-laden squads from the United States, Venezuela and Canada, the odds are probably against Team Italy advancing to the second round of the upcoming World Baseball Classic. But that won't stop proud players from taking the field at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on March 7 when Italy faces Venezuela.
The Baltimore Orioles could see three of their young players suiting up in the red, white and green of Italy, as infielder Mike Costanzo, outfielder Jeff Fiorentino and right-hander Clifford Flagello were named to the country's 45-man provisional roster. All three would be newcomers to the squad that went 1-2 in a tough 2006 pool, beating Australia but losing to Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
Costanzo is also a relative newcomer to the Orioles, having been acquired from Houston in the deal that sent shortstop Miguel Tejada to the Astros last offseason. That trade came just weeks after he had been sent to Houston from Philadelphia in the Brad Lidge trade.
Originally a second-round pick in '05 by his hometown Phillies out of Coastal Carolina, the 25-year-old Costanzo profiles as a left-handed slugger, though he is still mining that power potential. His best season came in '07 when he hit .270 with 27 homers and 86 RBIs for Double-A Reading, just a half-hour drive from his home in Springfield, Penn. In '08 he hit .261 with 11 home runs and 63 RBIs in his Triple-A debut at Norfolk.
A second-generation American whose relatives hail from Calabria, Costanzo was thrilled to be tabbed for the Italian team. "It was unbelievable," he said. "I live in an Italian community, all my friends are Italian. And I know my grandfathers would be very proud of me."
Also on the provisional roster is Fiorentino, who was Costanzo's teammate at Norfolk for much of the '08 campaign.
The Orioles' third-round pick in '04 out of Florida Atlantic, the 25-year-old made a surprise big league debut the next summer, going straight to Baltimore from Class A Advanced Frederick. After a handful of games with the Orioles in '05 and '06 and two games with the Oakland Athletics in early '08, Fiorentino has 36 big league games under his belt, hitting .262 in 84 at-bats.
His ascent slowed by a series of injuries, he was claimed off waivers from Baltimore by Cincinnati in January '08 -- and then again by Oakland -- before the Orioles were able to reclaim him off the Athletics' waivers at the end of May. He then hit .268 in 68 games for the Tides.
"We've always liked Jeff and were very happy to get him back into the organization," Orioles' director of player development David Stockstill said. "We see him as a solid player who, as he improves hitting with authority, could help us in the Majors."
Flagello's name is perhaps less familiar to fans, but that may not be the case for long. A 25th-round pick in '07 out of Shorter College in Georgia, the 5-foot-10 right-hander posted a 2.29 ERA in relief at Class A Delmarva in his first full season -- including a 1.07 mark after the All-Star break -- and limited Sally League batters to a .185 average. "He's a guy with a very, very live arm," Stockstill said. "The ball really explodes at the plate, dipping and diving so much even our catchers sometimes have trouble handling it."
Flagello was also the recipient of the Orioles' 2008 Elrod Hendricks Minor League Community Service Award.
The Italian trio are among 11 Orioles on World Baseball Classic provisional rosters, six of whom spent all or most of 2008 in the Minors:
C Dashenko Ricardo is on the Netherlands' provisional roster. Just 18 years old (he'll turn 19 on March 1), the Curacao native hit .169 with eight RBIs in 39 Gulf Coast League games this past summer after batting .297 for the Orioles' Dominican Summer League club in 2007.
IF Oscar Salazar is on the Venezuelan provisional roster. Salazar, who has seen time at all four infield positions as well as the outfield, spent the last month of the season with the Orioles. The 30-year-old journeyman played for the Athletics, Tigers, Mets, Angels, Royals and Indians before signing with the O's in 2007. He boasts a .282 career average in the Minors, topping the 90-RBI mark four times. He belted 18 homers and drove in 100 runs between Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore last season.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.