The Orioles have a dismal farm system, coming in at 27th out of the 30 MLB teams in Keith Law's organizational rankings released on Wednesday. They lack quality top prospects and they lack depth in their system as well. This does not mean they have no players with potential, just that they lag far behind what most teams have in their farm systems.
In Law's top 100 prospect rankings, released today, the O's have two prospects on the list. They are catcher Chance Sisco at #81, and Hunter Harvey at #100. The O's do at least have these guys to hang their hat on, although unfortunately for them, each of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays have four prospects on the top 100, and their top prospects rate higher than do the O's.
The inclusion of Sisco is interesting because he has thus far not been on any of the other publications' top 100 prospect lists like the one on MLB.com or Baseball Prospectus. It's also a bit of a surprise because, when Law's organizational rankings were published yesterday, he described Sisco (without naming him) as "a catcher who might be a singles hitter," which doesn't sound supremely exciting.
That said, it's actually a lot of progress for Sisco to be seen as being able to stick at catcher. That was not a sure thing about him early in his career. Law's a believer in Sisco's skill to catch, although he notes there's still a question of whether Sisco will be durable enough to stick as a catcher. Sisco caught 74 games each of the last two seasons, far removed from the 120-130 games a typical big league starting catcher might catch.
Sisco will need to catch, at least as far as Law believes, because although Sisco as a hitter is "extremely contact-oriented, putting the ball in play to all fields" - great traits to have - he also notes that Sisco has "no power to speak of in games" and that Sisco's swing isn't really going to generate power.
Again, it doesn't sound extremely exciting, but Law thinks Sisco has sufficient contact skills and batting eye to get to an on-base percentage of at least .350. If Sisco reaches his potential and proves to have the durability, Law thinks Sisco could have "a very long, quiet career in the majors" - a great outcome for any second round pick, and a great outcome for the Orioles, too, as Matt Wieters is about to be a free agent again after this season.
Harvey, coming in at #100, is another prospect about whom there are question marks. Law's still a believer in the upside, noting that Harvey "has top-of-the-rotation potential if his arm hasn't gone all Bundy on us." That's the big question, because Harvey suffered injuries last year that tend to end up being precursors to needing Tommy John surgery. So far they say there's no damage of that nature.
Nor does Law believe that Harvey's injury issues are entirely random, laying some blame for that on the feet of the Orioles. According to Law, Harvey "started to have delivery problems in 2014 while creeping to the extreme third-base side of the rubber" - bringing his delivery across his body, which Law believes "was probably related to the flexor tendon strain he suffered late that summer."
It's not a new criticism from Law of the O's development process, as he has written in the past of his belief that the O's moving Kevin Gausman to what he sees as the wrong side of the rubber has kept Gausman from unlocking his full potential before now. It's just one person's opinion, and not one that I've seen any other part of the prospect-industrial complex weigh in on, but it's something to keep an eye on.
Law particularly likes the potential of Harvey's curveball, which he describes as "a wipeout curveball that could probably miss major league bats right now if he could consistently throw it for strikes." Throwing it for strikes is the big trick. He believes in Harvey's ability to develop as long as he can stay on the mound, though - and if he does that then he'll outperform a lot of these players ahead of him on this year's prospect list.
There's a big if involved before he can get there, though, and that's why Harvey is down so low. Players higher up have far smaller "ifs" involved in their development, even if their ceilings might not be as high as Harvey's is seen to be.
A team can do worse than having prospects like Sisco and Harvey in their system. The problem for the O's is that Sisco and Harvey are about all they have, leaving them without any pieces to trade to meaningfully help the big league team immediately. It also leaves them holding a whole lot of nothing if injuries or just poor performance keep them from reaching their potential.