Seemingly every part of the prospect-industrial complex has stepped up to take a whack at the Orioles minor league system this offseason. Ranking after ranking finds them with few top prospects. The recently-unveiled Baseball America top 100 had the Orioles shut out from the list entirely. No one made the cut. The organization rates poorly compared to the rest of the teams of Major League Baseball. Things are dire out there.
None of those evaluators are wrong to say that the O's system is in bad shape right now. It is pretty bad, which you can see from each top 10 list you might consult. The two players who've been seen as the best prospects for the past couple of years face big injury questions. Not much remains beneath them after that. Still, no prospect list is destiny. They are merely representative of the path on which each team and prospect finds itself right now.
So who's left down there? What might the players who remain turn into? The Orioles do lack top prospects who are seen as future stars, but that doesn't mean they won't be able to unearth some back-of-the-rotation starters, bullpen arms, or average position players from their current crop of minor leaguers.
Here's who the various evaluators put as the best of what's left on the O's farm:
|RHP Dylan Bundy
|RHP Hunter Harvey
|C Chance Sisco
|3B Jomar Reyes
|RHP Mychal Givens
|LHP Chris Lee
|SS Ryan Mountcastle
|1B Trey Mancini
|RHP David Hess
|OF D.J. Stewart
|RHP Gray Fenter
|LHP Tanner Scott
|RHP Mike Wright
|1B Christian Walker
|C Jonah Heim
The problems for Bundy and Harvey continue to influence the overall opinion of the O's farm. Of course, if Bundy had become a big league starter by now, there would not now be any clamoring for the O's to sign Yovani Gallardo, and Harvey would be close enough on the horizon that we'd be wondering whether to trade Miguel Gonzalez or Chris Tillman after 2016.
It's not that easy as all that. You can kind of understand the nihilistic proclamation, "There is no such thing as a pitching prospect." But that's enough about them. Let's run through the rest of the names, some of which you might know already, others which you might have forgotten, some you may have never thought about in your whole life before this moment.
Chance Sisco - The O's second round pick from 2013 still has some questions about whether he'll be able to stick at catcher, though ESPN's Law proclaims he "has progressed defensively" and thinks he'll stick. Sisco even made Law's top 100 prospect list at #81, generating praise for being "extremely contact-oriented, putting the ball in play to all fields." He turns 21 later this month.
Jomar Reyes - One of the few O's international amateur signings under Dan Duquette. Reyes is just 18 and had a successful season for Delmarva last year. Though they doubt he'll stick at third, BPro likes his combination of "average bat speed with a compact swing path ... showing double-plus raw power in batting practice." If he does well for Frederick this year he'll be a top 100 guy this time next year.
Mychal Givens - It's not great when your fourth- or fifth-best prospect is a 25-year-old reliever. It is great when you manage to turn a failed shortstop prospect into a potential back end of the bullpen arm. If he repeats what he showed in 2015, the O's come out ahead here.
Chris Lee - Acquired from Houston in exchange for international bonus money the O's weren't using anyway. Supposedly he's been asked about in trades and the O's aren't willing to move him. Maybe they like what Law saw: "89-95 ... with good feel for a changeup and a hard slider." That was for Bowie last year. His problem is command.
Ryan Mountcastle - Drafted last year with the Nelson Cruz compensation pick, fellow SB Nationer John Sickels called him "the hitting equivalent of a projectable pitcher: lanky, hasn't filled out yet, may hit for power in time." No one thinks he'll stick at shortstop after he fills out; Law says he lacks the arm for third although BPro projects him as average there.
Trey Mancini - His 2015 performance made this 2013 8th round pick look like he'd compete for the first base job in 2016. That was when we assumed Chris Davis would be gone. What now? He raked for Bowie after a midseason promotion, batting .359/.395/.586 in 84 games. Law marks him down for "a long swing with a lot of chasing out of the zone." Look for him to patrol the outfield in spring training and see what happens. If he hits, he'll play somewhere.
D.J. Stewart - The O's first round pick last year was a good hitter at FSU. Scouts were concerned about a crouch in his batting stance, which he reportedly worked to change in fall instructional action. If that change proves to have a positive effect, his stock will improve. BPro, who left him off the list, envisions him as "a second-division regular or strong-side platooner" - kind of a bummer for a first rounder.
Mike Wright - The guy gave up nine home runs in 44.2 innings pitched at the MLB level last year.
David Hess - The fifth round pick in the "lost" draft of 2014, Hess has ground his way through Delmarva and then Frederick. Law likes him best of the evaluators, calling him a "four pitch guy ... sits mid-90s, with a chance to be a mid-rotation guy if one of the three offspeed pitches improves." That's not someone who'll make a top 100 list, but if the O's get a #4 starter out of him, that's a farm system win. It's a big if. He'll still have to make successful stops in Bowie and Norfolk.
Gray Fenter - The O's went over-slot to sign Fenter in the seventh round last year. They liked his "fresh arm" - he's relatively new to pitching - and his experience against quality opponents. BPro likes his "durable frame, mid-90s fastball, and above-average power curveball." A long way away.
Christian Walker - The 2012 fourth round pick seemed like a first baseman of the future once, but he may have been passed by Mancini - and they're both stuck behind Davis anyway. He's off many top 10s because they don't believe he'll have enough power to be a first baseman.
Tanner Scott - Another pick from the "lost" draft of 2014, Scott was a sixth rounder. He is a lefty who has reportedly been hitting 101 on the radar gun. Was a multi-inning reliever in 2015. Walked 22 guys in 42.1 innings, so, there's work to be done.
Jonah Heim - The 2013 fourth rounder seems like one of Buck Showalter's favorite prospects. Unfortunately, he missed a lot of time in 2015 due to a broken bone in his foot. Law calls him "the best defensive catcher in the system" - and sees him as making "a big leap" if he stays healthy.
The reality is that even if these prospects represented the fruits of a very good system, many of them would not make it to the big leagues at all, and of the ones who made it, more would not turn into productive big league regulars. Not all prospects are created equal and which is which is not apparent right away.
As the O's don't have a good system, the odds are worse still. Their prospects with the most potential - Bundy and Harvey - have major injury concerns. Others with less potential - such as Lee and Hess - have work to do to reach their lower ceilings. There are unconventional late-bloomers like Givens and Mancini, who may prove to be good at something, even if that's not a glamorous star role.
The O's farm as it stands now certainly does not look like a continually-churning engine that's always pumping out big pieces for the big league team. If they get lucky, they'll be able to keep using it to plug in holes here and there. Maybe something crazy will happen some day and they'll even develop a regular outfielder.