The Bowie Baysox winning their league championship on Saturday night is something to celebrate for an organization that is clearly going nowhere at the major league level this season. The players and coaches who have spent the year at Bowie - and players who began the year with Bowie but since advanced to Norfolk or even the big league club - are all deserving of congratulations for the accomplishment.
The last time the Orioles Double-A affiliate won its league's title, the year was 1984 and the affiliate was Charlotte. It's been a while. There's no doubt this year's incarnation of the Baysox deserved the title with the way they played in the regular season and in the playoffs. They all gave it a good run and they did this while playing nearly the entire season without even one of the top 100 prospects in the game on their roster. Not many of what passes for top prospects in the O's system crossed through the Bowie roster during the season, either.
MASN has used the occasion to pump up the Baysox on their assorted pre- and post-game programming. Bold declarations were made to the effect of, "It's good to see some of the players who are headed towards Camden Yards enjoying success in the minors - the franchise is headed in the right direction."
The players earned the accolades they've received for their play in their league this season. Still, the crafting of a narrative that connects the Bowie triumph with the idea of a successful Orioles development pipeline does a disservice to fans who would like some hope for the future of the franchise. Bowie is only two steps away from the big leagues, yet they have won the title with a roster full of players who don't have much in the way of future big league prospects, with the O's or elsewhere.
No country for old non-prospects
The reason for this is that Bowie's roster had a significant number of major contributors through the year who are old for the level. When players are younger, still in their teens and early 20s, a lot of the prospect dreaming involves the development of skills to match the raw talent and ability a player may possess.
That's not to say that players don't still develop beyond those years, especially since baseball is a game of continual adjustments, but in a big way, by the time a player gets to where they are 25 or older, they mostly are who they are. There's no more physical development to do. Players with a few more years of experience than a 21- or 22-year-old in Double-A may have an advantage at that level without having the big leagues in their future.
This kind of player on Bowie this season is probably best illustrated by 26-year-old outfielder Quincy Latimore, who was the best hitter among players who began the season with the Baysox. Latimore batted .274/.335/.509 including 20 home runs, a great year for an outfielder. The thing that makes you pump the brakes is that the 2015 season was Latimore's fifth consecutive one spent in the Eastern League across four different organizations. He has not cracked the Triple-A level before.
It's great for Latimore as a player that he finally figured out something with experience, and it was good for the Baysox too. Still, if you ever had to repeat a college class, Keith Law and your dad both probably knocked your student stock. If it took you five times to pass calculus or whatever? Yeah. Exactly. The class you had to take next semester was even harder.
Also, since Latimore is already a minor league free agent each year, even if he did unlock some new level of performance he can carry forward with his career, his success is not sure to help the organization. He'll be wherever he gets the best opportunity next year, which may be on the Norfolk Tides roster or it may be on any one of the other 29 teams who watched him succeed at Bowie this year.
A number of other players who were key performers for Bowie fit in this category as well. Starting pitcher Terry Doyle, who earned a promotion to Norfolk after appearing in 19 games, had a great 1.97 ERA, but he is 29. Former Orioles first round pick Brandon Snyder had an .823 OPS in 93 games for Bowie - which is very good, but he is 28, was last in Double-A in 2009, and was a first round pick ten years ago.
There's also Corban Joseph, brother of Caleb, is 26. Andrew Triggs, closer after Mychal Givens was promoted to Baltimore, had a 1.07 ERA (!) and is also 26. Even the MVP for the championship series, Garabez Rosa, is 25. Rosa was on the last Orioles affiliate to win its league championship - that was Frederick back in 2011. He was teammates with Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop. Four years later, they've got multiple Baltimore seasons under their belt while Rosa just went Rick Dempsey on a championship series in Double-A.
Having this many older players as key contributors for a Double-A team is not the usual way of things, which you can see by looking at the birthdates of the Reading Fightin Phils roster as well as the Altoona Curve roster. Those are the teams Bowie beat in its playoff run. Players born in the 1990s - 25 year olds or younger - are the majority for those teams. More Baysox were born in the 1980s - now 26 or older - than not.
The few possible future big leaguers
All that caution out of the way, a couple of players look to be on big league trajectories for sure. Catching prospect Chance Sisco, who as a 2013 high school draftee is still just 20, popped in for 20 games at the end of the year after earning a promotion from Frederick. He was the #101 prospect as rated by Baseball Prospectus before the year. He might find himself higher up next year.
Another still-young player who had a great year for Bowie is first baseman Trey Mancini, an eighth round pick out of Notre Dame from 2013. Mancini, 23, earned himself a little prospect attention by mashing first High-A for an .868 OPS over 52 games before getting bumped up to Bowie, where he raked even harder, ending the Double-A season with a .359/.395/.586 batting line in 93 games. That's a sleeper prospect waking up into something at least worth considering.
There are other names from whom something might later emerge. Joe Gunkel, acquired in the trade that sent Alejandro De Aza to the Red Sox, started 20 games for Bowie and had a 2.79 ERA in his age 23 season. That's a guy you can put in the Norfolk rotation next year and see what happens. Chris Lee, a 23-year-old lefty starter who was plucked from the Astros for a couple of international bonus slots the Orioles weren't going to use anyway, also acquitted himself well enough to be worth keeping an eye on.
Lee earned a promotion from Frederick to Bowie in the middle of the season. If you squint, he could end up somewhere in the picture next year, and getting some experience on a championship-winning Double-A team surely didn't hurt.
There were future Orioles on the 2015 Bowie Baysox - even a 2015 Orioles player, thanks to Givens. That's a good thing for the franchise. Acting like that means it was a team full of hot prospects because they won the league championship, and that these prospects will be sure to fill any hole the Orioles might have in the near future, well... that's a different story.
Though the Orioles-owned TV network is broadcasting this kind of stuff, the Orioles themselves surely know better, and will happily take whatever they can get while not expecting all that much collectively from this lot of players.
Maybe the Orioles will even get lucky and most of this bunch will stick around to form the core of a successful Norfolk team next year, with a few players earning themselves call-ups due to injuries or DFAs. Hey, it could happen.