The Orioles minor league system is not a strong one, just about everyone outside of the Orioles organization agrees. The two best prospects, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, have major injury concerns that have yet to be resolved, and trades over the past 18 months have really depleted the stock of mid-level starting pitching prospects. For all of that, there are still some intriguing names left in the system who could prove to be solid contributors to the big league club in the near future, some as soon as this season.
There is still some polishing to be done for each of these players, but each offers some hope of potentially making it to at least provide some cheap production at the big league level by virtue of being good enough to make it there.
Sisco's name caught my eye as I was reading the latest KATOH rankings over on Fangraphs. He projected as the Orioles' prospect who will acquire the most WAR thru age 28 with 9.7. For reference, Sisco will be 21 when the 2016 season begins. He made it up to Bowie in 2015 after hitting pretty well in Frederick. Before 2015, Sisco was rated as the Orioles' #3 prospect by Fangraphs and by SB Nation's Minor League Ball blog. My guess is he'll spend 2016 in Bowie, possibly getting promoted to Norfolk if he plays well.
What would come next? Right now, he's a catcher, but he just started catching his senior year of high school where he also played multiple positions, including pitcher. He's not a power hitter (six total home runs in 2015), but hits for a good average. I think Sisco will be good enough to play in the majors, but there's no indication he's a strong defensive catcher, something the Orioles covet. He also may not be ready in 2017 when Matt Wieters is currently scheduled to depart, which will leave them with another hole at the catcher position. And even if you did bring him up, he certainly wouldn't be at a level where you'd be OK with him and Caleb Joseph as your two catchers.
I actually think this makes the argument for extending Wieters, holding onto Sisco, and seeing how things play out. If they did extend Wieters, they'd be in the very good position of choosing whether to hold on to Sisco or Joseph and trading the other.
With the possible departure of Chris Davis, Walker's name has come up a lot as someone who could replace Davis at first base. He got his first major league experience in 2014 while Davis was suspended, and made a few appearances in 2015 as well. He rated #5 on the Fangraphs list and #4 on the SB Nation list, but not at all on the KATOH top 100. His stats in Norfolk haven't been great - last year he hit .257/.324/.423 with 18 home runs.
With the acquisition of Trumbo, my guess is he's not going to be in the majors full-time in 2016 which is probably a good thing. It's probably best he spend more time in Norfolk. By the time the 2017 season rolls around he'll be 26 years old and you should know what you have. Recently, Walker is drawing a lot of interest from other teams.
Reyes will only be 19 when the 2016 season starts, but he's already projected as having one of the best ceilings for a hitter in the Orioles' system. He ranked #6 in the Fangraphs list and #8 in the SB Nation list. He also ranked #49 on the KATOH top 100, with a projected 6.0 WAR by age 28. In Delmarva last year he hit .278/.334.440 with five home runs.
My guess is he stays in Delmarva to start 2016 and will get promoted to Frederick at some point before the season is up. I think that puts him on track to join the Orioles in 2019. Even though he currently plays third base, the reports seem to be he's too big to stay there and will need to move to first base. That's great, but I'm hoping he gets moved as a result of third base on the Orioles being held down by Manny Machado for the next ten years or so.
I mentioned above how Walker could be your first baseman in 2017 and is young enough to stay there for several years, so like catcher I think the Orioles will have another tough choice at first base. That's a problem for another day.
Mancini's name popped up a few weeks back as someone who could potentially replace Chris Davis at first base. I think the signing of Trumbo quited those rumors, but he's still someone to keep an eye on. The 2013 draft pick won the Eastern League batting title and was named the Orioles minor league player of the year. He certainly tore it up in Frederick and Bowie, hitting .341/.375/.563 with 21 home runs between the two teams in 2015. KATOH projects him to accumulate 6.4 WAR by age 28, the second best ranking in the Orioles system behind Chance Sisco.
Mancini is another first baseman, so the backlog at that position will continue. I think it could be a little early to put him on the 25-man roster out of spring training, but if his production keeps up expect 2016 to be his last season in the minors. In that way, he's on track to come up the same time as Walker. So as much as fans may groan if him or Walker get traded, I think sometimes you can have too many players in one position and the Orioles may decide the best move is to sell high on him and see what they can get.
Berry is an example of where the Orioles maybe should have sold on him while his stock was high. Coming off 2014 when he had a 3.51 ERA over 133.1 innings in Bowie, he was rated as one of the Orioles' top ten prospects. This quote from the Fangraphs rankings is telling: "The durability/consistency questions could shift Berry to the pen eventually, with a chance he follows the career path of Yankees LHP Andrew Miller; multiple teams have asked about Berry this offseason."
He was drafted in 2009, so he has been in the system for several years now. For all that, he has never pitched higher than Bowie, where he struggled this year, posting a 7.32 ERA. He also spent time on the DL. Berry was added to the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft last winter.
Berry isn't as distinguished as the other guys on this list, but I bring him up because he seems like someone who's primed for a bounce-back. It wouldn't make any sense to trade him while his stock is low, but I could see him starting the year in Norfolk and being someone the Orioles bring in throughout the year to support the bullpen. So this would be the year the Orioles should try and see what he can do.
These are hardly the only players worth talking about in the Orioles system. Recent first round pick D.J. Stewart is one player who the O's still feel good about. Even among those who logged a decent amount of big league time in 2015, you've got Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson, who, if either one is able to become a back of the rotation starter, will represent a real success story for the farm system.
Of course, a lot of how the farm system picture looks will depend on how things go at the big league level. If the Orioles re-sign Chris Davis, then any of the trio who seem to be limited to first base suddenly look more expendable as trade bait. If the Orioles extend Machado forever, that will affect how we view the left side of the infield as well.
For now, this is where things stand for these guys who represent interesting potential in a weak system. They all need to keep developing to get somewhere, and if they're lucky - and Orioles fans are lucky - we'll see them all playing in Camden Yards soon.