This year's edition of the MLB draft is a little more than three weeks away. With it will come the usual influx of prospects into the Orioles system. The O's, despite giving up their first round pick to sign Yovani Gallardo, have four picks out of the first 76. They won't get to add one of the consensus best prospects, but they will get the opportunity to add some depth to their system.
Today and for the rest of the week, we'll be looking at the existing quality of the Orioles system at different positions. taking inventory of what's already here before the flood arrives in a few weeks time. First up: the outfield.
At the major league level, the Orioles outfield includes Mark Trumbo and Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard. A team that has a functional pipeline for outfield prospects does not need to turn to either of these guys.
So far, the O's are making it work. Trumbo's 11 home runs help to paper over any defensive deficiencies and Rickard, currently sitting on a .700 OPS, is at least so far successful in being better than last year's horrible O's left field situation (combined .640 OPS).
Still, it's only out of desperation that you throw Trumbo and a Rule 5 pick into your starting outfield. This is the only choice available to the Orioles because the last time they brought up a successful outfielder from their own farm was Nick Markakis - or if you're feeling very generous, a little bit more recently with Nolan Reimold.
Even in recent years when they've been good, that left field spot was the result of lucking into the right stop-gap options. Nate McLouth's out of nowhere arrival in 2012, for instance, or Nelson Cruz falling into their laps at the start of spring training in 2014. In less successful years, like last year, they traded pitching prospects to get Travis Snider and Gerardo Parra. Those latter moves were not good decisions.
So how are things looking in the outfield on the Orioles farm right now? Yeah, about that...
(All stats above and below current through 5/16's games)
In past years, this would be the space to mention Henry Urrutia and Dariel Alvarez. Both of those guys have seen a little MLB time but have never put themselves into the conversation as a long-term answer. Urrutia was just recently sent to Bowie to make room for Yastrzemski to join Norfolk. When you're 29 and heading the wrong direction, that's probably the end of the line. Alvarez has a strong arm and not much else, with a .694 OPS so far this year.
Walker is really only an outfielder because of the Orioles' Radiohead-inspired "Anyone Can Play Left Field" initiative. There's this guy Davis at first, Walker's natural position, at the MLB level. You might have heard of him. On the position transition, O's GM Dan Duquette said of Walker, "He's a work in progress, but the initial reviews are pretty good." Walker is batting .245/.308/.452 - not a great OBP, but with seven home runs in 39 games, it could work.
As for Yastrzemski, he may get more attention than he'd otherwise deserve on account of being the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, but he's earned everything he's gotten. Though he's a bit old for a prospect - 26 in August - that doesn't mean he can't be a useful player.
After stalling at Bowie last season, Yastrzemski came out and hit .268/.361/.449 this year to earn the promotion. The 5'11" lefty can play center field, giving him that extra bit of possible value. If he performs capably at Norfolk, he'll at least earn a chance to compete for some kind of spot.
With Yastrzemski getting promoted out of here, this outfield is a wasteland. The clock has probably run out on my perennial favorite, Glynn Davis, who, like me, went to CCBC-Catonsville. Davis, 24, has a .602 OPS in a year where he's repeating this level, and has yet to successfully steal a base. His speed was his biggest asset.
Hart lands on the O's top 30 prospects list on MLB.com - he's towards the bottom at #26. Although Hart is still only 21 years old, the 2013 competitive balance round pick is probably still on a prospect list as a courtesy to his draft position rather than his performance. He is repeating Frederick this year after posting a .593 OPS at the level last year. It hasn't gone better for Hart this year: through 24 games, he has a .469 OPS.
Fellow Frederick outfielder Jay Gonzalez is having a good season to date, batting .299/.415/.430 with 23 stolen bases. He's 24 at High-A, so that's why he's not much of a prospect, but if he keeps it up maybe he'll earn a shot at Bowie. It's not like there's anyone blocking him there.
Last year's first round pick, Stewart, is the #6 prospect in the O's system. He has yet to really flash much to explain why the O's chose him with that pick. He debuted with Aberdeen last season, putting up a .218/.288/.345 batting line. Things aren't much better a level up in Delmarva this year: .202/.373/.327 in 33 games. The 26 walks to date are nice and do at least offer a glimmer of hope going forward.
Two high school draftees who went to the O's in the fourth and fifth rounds last season. They are #21 and #22 in the O's system, respectively. As young projects, they're not assigned to full-season league teams yet. McKenna is a toolsy potential center fielder while Heinrich could bomb his way up the ranks with raw power in a corner outfield spot. If all goes well for them, anyway.
There are no sure things here, either in the high minors or the low minors. Most all of these names are, at best, cross your fingers and hope something happens. And maybe for some of them, something good will happen and they will some day become useful big leaguers - but probably not this year, and likely not next year either.
None of which means that the Orioles should go looking for outfielders in the draft this year. If they target an outfielder with their top pick because they think that's what they need, they'll likely overlook some better player who could help the team more.
Get the best players and figure out the rest later... then hope that "figure out the rest" doesn't turn into "trade multiple pitching prospects for the next Travis Snider."