There are not many people who aren't paid by the Orioles who think the Orioles farm system is currently in a good place. That's not to say there are no players down in the minors right now who will be useful some day. It's just that they lag behind many other teams in quality of top prospects, and quantity of quality prospects.
This was on display yesterday in my look at the Orioles outfield in the minors. Things are better when it comes to the infield, although a whole lot of that depends on the development of one particular player, as you will see below.
The good news is that, unlike the outfield, where at the major league level the Orioles have been throwing out a patchwork in left field with varying levels of success, things are much more stable in the infield for the near future.
Chris Davis is signed for seven years. Jonathan Schoop is under team control through the 2019 season. Manny Machado will be here through 2018 - and hopefully longer. J.J. Hardy's contract runs through next season.
Three of those guys have been All-Stars. Two have been Gold Glovers. Machado will likely be both of these things again. Schoop could be either one before his Orioles career is done. Other than maybe Hardy's injury status, none of these guys are going to be sources of anxiety about the fate of the O's in the present and for the near future.
The reason why this is good news is because there don't currently appear to be many answers for these positions sitting in the farm system right now. If they needed help, they wouldn't get much - so hopefully everyone stays healthy and they don't need much help.
The 24-year-old first baseman was not even much of a prospect until last season, when he showed up and started demolishing the competition at Frederick (.868 OPS in 52 games), earning himself a promotion to Bowie, where he kept laying waste to all comers - in 84 games, he batted .359/.395/.586.
That continued onto this season, when Mancini hit seven home runs in 17 games for the Baysox and practically forced a promotion to Norfolk. Not bad for a guy who was an eighth round pick three years ago.
First base is a bit occupied at the MLB level right now - and the 6'4" righty Mancini is probably not a suitable candidate for outfield conversion like Christian Walker. He'd basically have to hit so well that they can't ignore him. A .798 OPS through 24 games at Norfolk is a good start to that.
As far as the O's and infield prospects, it's rather telling that, when Hardy suffered his foot fracture, the replacement was 33-year-old Paul Janish. Better hope there aren't any more injuries because there aren't any people you want pressed into service - unless you are really enthused about 27-year-old catcher Audry Perez and his .346/.416/.462 batting line in 21 games.
Sisco, a catcher drafted out of a California high school in the second round of the 2013 draft, is a player who interests me because he could potentially fill such an obvious need for the Orioles, if he is good enough to handle catching at the MLB level after Matt Wieters (presumably) departs after this season.
A big question with Sisco has always been whether he would stick behind the plate. That is, could he be good enough at actually catching to be a catcher? In his preseason prospect rankings, ESPN's Keith Law is convinced Sisco can stick at catcher from a skill standpoint, with the bigger concern being durability.
As for Sisco's offense, that's never been a problem. Law on Sisco:
He's extremely contact-oriented, putting the ball in play to all fields - the lefty hitter will wear out left fielders with singles and line drives ... there's been no power to speak of in games, but ... Sisco's contact rate and solid batting eye lead me to think he's going to post OBPs over .350 pretty consistently, more than enough to forgive a lack of power.
An OBP over .350? Sign me up! Sisco is doing even better than that so far for Bowie this season: a .333/.432/.406 batting line. He may not be a future Machado-level superstar or Adam Jones-level star, but he's sounding like a quality regular. Turning a second round pick into that is a win.
Marin, 22, sneaks in at the bottom of the Orioles top 30 prospects on MLB.com (#28) - probably because he has never really hit and isn't hitting this year either a .219/.299/.250 batting line. Future utility infielder, possibly? He needs to hit more than that even to be a utility infielder. Still, the Orioles will get tired of Ryan Flaherty eventually. A third round pick in 2012, Marin will be Rule 5 eligible after this season.
Reyes, one of the few Orioles international amateur signings, is just 19 years old and playing in the Carolina League. After posting a .774 OPS as an 18-year-old for Delmarva last year, that makes him interesting. It's not going as well for Reyes so far this year, as he's batting just .224/.279/.373, but there's a long time for the third baseman to put things together at the plate.
He has believers in his raw power tool, though there aren't so many believers in him sticking at third base. Reyes is a guy worth keeping an eye on - one of the top five O's prospects in nearly every publication - but he has a long way to go.
Heim, who turns 21 next month, is another catcher the O's drafted in 2013, two rounds after Sisco. He had a reputation as a good defender, as seen in his MLB.com scouting capsule:
He's mature beyond his years, calling his own game and working extremely well with pitchers. He's agile and moves well behind the plate, with plus arm strength that helps him shut down running games.
A bigger question about the switch hitter was how he would (or wouldn't) develop offensively. At Delmarva last season - in only 43 games, as he missed time with a broken bone in his left foot - Heim posted only a .616 OPS.
This season, Heim is showing some power he hasn't really shown before, with four home runs so far in 31 games. That won't win him any home run crowns, but it's power that will play if he keeps it up through the levels. Though he's only batting .235, his .359 on base percentage offers something encouraging as well.
The Orioles nabbed Mountcastle, a shortstop, last year with the compensation pick (#36) they gained for Nelson Cruz's departure. Mountcastle was a bit of a surprise as a pick that high, as he ranked only 122nd on last year's edition of the Baseball America 500, suggesting more of a third or fourth round talent.
Although the scouting-industrial complex doesn't expect him to stick at short, they do think he'll be a good hitter, and he's shown that so far in his first taste of full-season ball, batting .262/.345/.377. It's not a line that would impress you at the MLB level but it's good for a 19-year-old in the South Atlantic League who is still expected to develop average power in games.
Murphy was the third high school catcher the O's took in the 2013 draft, worth noting if only because he is a local kid to root for, a product of Calvert Hall in Baltimore. Everyone loves a local kid. Murphy has been splitting time at first base this season and with Sisco and Heim ahead of him in the system, that might be best for his development.
At 5'11", he would be more in the Steve Pearce first base mold than anything. As with just about every prospect, if he hits, they'll find a place for him somewhere. In 36 games, he's batting .286/.351/.426. With numbers like that, Frederick should be in his not-too-distant future. From there, who knows?
In contrast to the outfield problems of yesterday, the Orioles actually have some infielders who are potential contributors in the short term, and there are some players with promise in the low minors as well.
You don't have to be cranking out Machado-caliber players to get something useful out of the farm. As long as the O's infield stays stable at the big league level, they shouldn't need to go looking for help in trades or on the free agent market. Maybe they can even find another future big leaguer in the group they draft this year.