The Orioles farm system is only ranked 22nd in baseball by ESPN's Keith Law, but there is a silver lining in that low position. In his top 100 prospects released on Wednesday (ESPN Insider required), there are two Orioles minor leaguers among baseball's best: Hunter Harvey (#16) and Dylan Bundy (#26). There are a lot of teams in baseball who wish they could boast two players so high on the list.
It's not much of a mystery why the Orioles system has ended up in a place like that. The Orioles actually had five players in the top 100 last season. Of those, Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop graduated to the big league level, hopefully for good, and Eduardo Rodriguez was traded to the Red Sox for Andrew Miller. Add to that not being able to select until the third round in the 2014 draft and you have a recipe for a system that is top-heavy but has little else going on.
The good news is that the Orioles should have a bit more of a chance to infuse the system with new talent in the 2015 draft, as they're currently slated to have four of the first 73 picks in the draft. The highest of these is pick #26, so while they won't be adding someone from the consensus cream of the crop, they'll still have plenty of chances to add a player who could develop into an impact talent.
Harvey's presence so high on the list is proof that if they pick the right player, they can still get very good value out of a mid-late first round pick. When they selected Harvey in the 2013 draft, it was the first time the franchise had picked outside of the top 10 in several years. They grabbed a driven, baseball-focused high schooler who blossomed into one of the game's best prospects before he'd even been in the professional ranks for a year. That's pretty good for picking at #22.
Summing up what the O's have in Harvey, Law writes, "It's a special arm, with the potential for two 6s or 7s in his fastball and curve, and the body and athleticism to pitch near the top of a rotation." That also sounds pretty good. For the first time that I have seen anywhere, Law also notes a possible reason for why Harvey suffered the nagging injury that led to his shutdown: a gradual mechanical shift throughout the season that could have contributed to an elbow or forearm problem.
Bundy has been a perennial favorite since being drafted, though he's fallen from the top of prospect lists since his 2013 Tommy John surgery. He hasn't returned to the 98mph fastball that he had pre-surgery as of yet. "He seemed like a surefire No. 1 starter before his injury," Law writes, "with a great delivery that generated power from his legs and a major league out pitch in the cutter." He thinks that ceiling is still there if Bundy can show his old form after a long offseason to rest.
Here's where the Orioles stand with top prospects compared to their divisional opponents, as ranked by Law:
Orioles: Harvey (16), Bundy (26)
Red Sox: Blake Swihart (10), Henry Owens (20), Rodriguez (29), Rafael Devers (55), Manuel Margot (70)
Yankees: Aaron Judge (23), Greg Bird (80)
Rays: Justin O'Conner (78), Daniel Robertson (83)
Blue Jays: Daniel Norris (18), Dalton Pompey (42), Aaron Sanchez (51)
The Red Sox have some kind of monster system that continues to churn out hyped players who can't hack it in the big leagues the way the team tries to convince everyone they will. Maybe this batch of prospects will be different. It does sting to see a top 100 player go right from the O's system into Boston's.
Other than the Sox, the O's compare favorably - at least at the top of their systems - against any of their other immediate rival teams. However, one thing the O's don't have is a position player prospect in the top 100, which all of their division opponents do. They're probably hoping a player like Chance Sisco develops into a top tier prospect. That's no sure thing, but winning the South Atlantic League batting title a year after being drafted out of high school isn't a bad way to start out.
This prospect list, like all prospect lists, is just a snapshot of this moment in time, reflecting the judgment of one evaluator as to development that may or may not happen. One time #1 Law-ranked Matt Wieters was supposed to have "plus hit and power tools from both sides of the plate." Brian Matusz, as high as #11 in 2010, was "a true four-pitch pitcher" with all four pitches projecting as above average or better. We wish.
The Orioles system could stand to be in better shape, but it could be worse too. If Harvey and Bundy both work out and the team can keep drafting and developing diamonds in the rough, they will be just fine over time.