Former Orioles manager Dave Trembley was the one who surveyed the last crop of Orioles pitching prospects and proclaimed that the cavalry was coming. Ever since, we have been wedded to the analogy, even after that wave of prospects largely failed spectacularly. The next group, whatever we might care to call them, is charging forward now. On Wednesday, ESPN's Keith Law released his Top 100 prospects list (Insider required). The Orioles have four pitchers in the top 50.
We know full well the folly of pinning your hopes on a group of pitchers. We know that of the last four hyped young men, only Chris Tillman has turned into anything worth having. We know all of this, and yet still we cannot resist the excitement, because we are Orioles fans and it's not like there were any free agent signings to bolster the team. In the near and far future, it's going to have to be shrewd drafting, development, and trades to keep the team at whatever level of competitiveness they might reach.
The best-placed prospect is Kevin Gausman (#23). Sometimes you just want to see a guy throw 99 miles per hour. That's Gausman. Law observes that he was rushed to the majors and could probably use at least another half-season in the minors to work on command, but still believes he projects as a #2 starter.
A handful of spots below him is Dylan Bundy (#31), who tumbled all the way from #3 last year, largely thanks to losing a year due to an injury that kept him shut down and then led to Tommy John surgery. Law remains high on Bundy: "When healthy, he was the best pitching prospect in baseball, boasting a fastball up to 99 mph, a wipeout cutter that he could command like a 10-year veteran, a hard curveball and a developing changeup." All of that sounds pretty good. Much now hinges on how he comes back from the surgery.
Last year's first-round draft pick, Hunter Harvey (#38), comes in next. Law's ranking may be the most aggressive yet for the young product from North Carolina. He notes that Harvey's fastball ticked up to 94-97 by the end of the summer and, if his changeup develops, he'll be yet another potential #1 or #2 starter along with Gausman and Bundy. That would be one heck of a departure from the current Orioles plan of stocking as many #4 starters as possible.
Close behind Harvey is Eduardo Rodriguez (#43), another aggressive ranking. The 20-year-old Venezuelan lefty also has #2 starter potential, in Law's estimation. That's a lot of #2 starters, if they all develop in something approximating what people think, which is, of course, no sure thing. Law notes that he has the stuff but currently lacks "the feel or command", particularly with his slider. That is what the minors are for, assuming the Orioles don't panic and call him up too soon, like they always do.
The other Oriole on the list is Jonathan Schoop (#86), who Law believes has outgrown shortstop but should be able to play at third. Schoop is described as "a monster physically ... with 25-30 homer potential in a few years." Well, sign me up. The main question marks about Schoop revolve around how he'll recover from the stress fracture in his back and whether he'll be able to get back to the potential he showed before that injury.
Like all prospect lists, they are just snapshots of this point in time, projecting certain development that may not happen, and occasionally judgments are made about players that just turn out to not be true; former #1 Law-ranked Matt Wieters was supposed to have "plus hit and power tools from both sides of the plate" - oops! Brian Matusz (who topped out at #11 in 2010) was "a true four-pitch pitcher" with all four pitches projecting as above average or better. Oops!
Still, there's plenty to be excited about when it comes to the Orioles and the future. Law ranked the system as the 10th-best in baseball, noting that it was top-heavy with these five players and then not much after that. Actually getting five prospects from the minors in the span of a few years would be an improvement for the Orioles. Hopefully subsequent drafts in the Dan Duquette era can do something about restocking the depth in the system as well.