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The ups and downs (mostly downs) of the Orioles in the Arizona Fall League

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The Orioles don’t have many big names to send to Arizona. The players they did send out there didn’t do much to distinguish themselves.

Orioles prospect D.J. Stewart in action in the Arizona Fall Stars Game in 2016.
D.J. Stewart had the best AFL season of the bunch, and that’s not saying much.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy to forget about it when it’s not on your TV every day, but there is some baseball still played in November. The Arizona Fall League is an MLB-organized league for teams to send a few prospects each fall to give them some extra seasoning or extra work after missing time due to an injury.

As they did last year, the Orioles sent a handful of prospects to play on the Peoria Javelinas, one of six teams in the league. Much like last year, there wasn’t much success to be found anywhere.

The good news is that AFL failure does not mean that the lights must necessarily go out on any prospect. For just one example, Donnie Hart had underwhelming results out in the desert last fall and he turned that around into a 2016 call-up to the big leagues. In that way, he followed in the footsteps of Mychal Givens, whose 2014 AFL wasn’t great, but he learned from that and earned a 2015 call-up.

For some, the struggle may have simply been the result of facing better players than they’ve seen before, and now they know what they need to work on going forward. That’s the optimistic view. The pessimistic view is that the Orioles simply don’t have any good prospects and that shows heavily in who they send out to Arizona and how those players perform.

The most high-profile prospect the Orioles sent to the Javelinas was their 2015 first round pick, outfielder D.J. Stewart. They also sent catcher Austin Wynns, shortstop Adrian Marin, and pitchers Tanner Scott, Stefan Crichton, Jimmy Yacabonis, and Jesus Liranzo. Marin and Scott were both returning to the AFL after spending last year in the league as well.

Liranzo was just added to the Orioles 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. As far as the AFL is concerned, there’s the least to say about him, though. He suffered a minor back injury after pitching in one game and didn’t pitch again.

For the rest:

D.J. Stewart

The man is a mystery to me. Fellow Camden Chatter Nick Cicere likes Stewart a lot. You can certainly find things to like about him if you want. He’s performed better (though never great) at each higher level he’s been tested at, and that continued into the AFL, where he batted .244/.395/.384 in 22 games.

That’s an unexciting batting average but a great walk rate. Stewart walked 19 times in those 22 games. Yet he also struck out 21 times. What are we to make of that? It’s all a fairly small sample size anyway. I don’t know.

If Stewart makes the jump to Bowie next year and does at least OK, he’s probably still got a big league future. Two seasons ago, Orioles left fielders batted a combined .210/.287/.353, and they spent a lot of money and prospects to get that crappy play. Can he be average-ish for the MLB minimum for a few years? If so, that’s not so bad. But a lot has got to go right for him to get to that point.

Austin Wynns

The 2013 10th round pick just became Rule 5 eligible and the Orioles did not protect him. That’s probably because he’s turning 26 next month and doesn’t seem like the kind of player who’d excite other teams. Wynns has played all of 33 games above High-A.

Wynns only played in 12 games in the AFL, but they went well, with Wynns hitting .300/.404/.400. More power to him. Somebody’s going to have to be Chance Sisco’s backup.

Adrian Marin

I’ve always wanted to like Marin, but he’ll be 23 next March, just batted .232/.284/.308 in the most recent season for Bowie, and followed that up with a .136/.231/.182 line out in the desert.

Sooner or later, the Orioles are going to have to find a utility infielder other than Ryan Flaherty. If Marin could hit even as well as Flaherty (yes, I know what I just wrote) then he would probably be that guy. But unless he fields like Mark Belanger, he’ll never get much of a chance hitting like that.

Tanner Scott

Everyone is excited about Scott because he’s a lefty who is regularly clocked over 100 miles per hour. That’s good. But he’s yet to turn that velocity into good results. He “only” walked seven batters in 15.2 innings in the AFL this time around, which is good, for him, but batters are still touching him up a lot. He had a 6.32 ERA. Work in progress.

The Orioles are surely hoping he can develop into a closer of the future. He probably won’t. That’s hard for a sixth round pick to do.

Stefan Crichton

You probably haven’t thought about the 2013 23rd round pick before now and a 5.54 ERA in 13 AFL innings isn’t going to get you thinking about Crichton either. With a strong AFL campaign, he might have gotten more 40-man roster consideration. Crichton was left off and I don’t expect teams will be too interested.

Jimmy Yacabonis

Everything I just wrote about Crichton also applies to Yacabonis. In addition, both of those gentlemen will be 25 next Opening Day. Older relievers aren’t prospects. But that doesn’t mean they can’t still be good big leaguers even after struggling in the AFL: See the note about Hart, above.

Yacabonis is going to have to hope he can follow the Hart path, because his AFL was also not good: An 8.53 ERA in 12.2 innings of work. He was solid out of the Bowie bullpen in 2016, though, so he’ll get more chances to show he’s better than this.

**

What are we supposed to make of all of that? The Orioles farm system isn’t good, so they don’t have many good players to send to Arizona. The players they did send didn’t exactly light the world on fire. For the most part, we have to hope somebody pulls a Donnie Hart. Which they might, but probably won’t.

The best hope seems to be Stewart. That was a depressing sentence to write. I hope that he continues to puzzle me with modest success as he climbs the ladder up through the system.