Much has been made about the talent drought in the current state of the Orioles system, and rightfully so. As we sit in the middle of the 2016 season, the lack of top prospects within the Birds organization is more than evident.
It dominates the O’s minor-league storylines and tends to blind views of favorable storylines that pop up every night.
Is the farm system in Baltimore as rich as its ever been? Hardly. But at the end of the day, that simple fact sets up “diamond in the rough” situations throughout the organization - opportunities for young unknowns to burst onto the scene.
And thus far in 2016, plenty of firepower has emerged for at-least a second look.
Aderlin Rodriguez - Frederick
When the Mets released Rodriguez at the end of last season, they were likely fairly convinced that the end of his road would be near. From 2012-2014, he was a middle-of-the-pack hitter with power potential and errors aplenty at the corner infield slots. Bottom line, he had appeared to be maxed out.
But don’t tell that to the 2016 version of Aderlin Rodriguez. Whatever he’s done since entering the Orioles organization, it’s been working. Over 89 games with Frederick, Rodriguez is hitting .314 with a .911 OPS.
He’s combined for 41 extra-base hits, including 18 doubles and 17 round-trippers. His strikeout rate is slightly high at 23-percent, but in the grand totality of his game, that’s not a terrible concern.
He’s primarily locking down first base for Frederick, but he’s played 90 innings at the hot corner where he has plenty of experience from his time with the Mets.
And while the makeup of the Orioles system doesn’t exactly bode well for his future with the Orioles, certainly don’t count the 24-year-old out of future trade discussions.
Cole Billingsley - Aberdeen
It’s a bit odd to talk about a successful outfielder in the Orioles system, isn’t it? Luckily, Billingsley is proving that trends are meant to be broken ... well, at-least through the first 73 at-bats of his first steps in pro ball.
The former South Alabama standout is crushing opposing pitching this season, starting with a .329/.417/.521 trio. Drafted in the 16th round last month, the 22-year-old Ironbird is already finding a way to make it work in the pros.
Sure, it’s early and it’s short-season single A baseball, but why not celebrate a non-catcher/first baseman doing big things at the dish in the system?
What’s encouraging about Billingsley is the sheer potential that could lie ahead. He hit .302 in 2013 before sitting out his entire sophomore season as a medical redshirt. In 2015, he exploded with a .345 average, .437 OBP and 30 stolen bases (which he does have three of in his first 20 games in Aberdeen).
If he follows the path he’s been sprinting since graduating high-school, the former Team USA 16U star might just find his way onto 2017’s top minor-league prospect watch list.
Yermin Mercedes - Delmarva
Mercedes is a catcher, which might put him in a difficult position to climb up the ladder moving forward. However, his 2016 numbers are simply too impressive to ignore - perhaps for other teams around the league.
After spending 2011-2013 in the Dominican Summer League, Mercedes emerged onto the scene last season with a very respectable year in Delmarva. He hit .272 with eight home runs in 64 games, working a total .456 slugging percentage. Not bad, but not nearly close to the totals he’s collected this campaign.
Through 82 games, Mercedes is absolutely crushing the baseball with a .352 average and .558 slugging percentage. He’s getting on base 40 percent of the time as a staple of the middle of Delmarva’s lineup, hitting 11 home runs with 53 RBI in the process.
His .390 average against left-handers is just one more reason why he’s become the clear contender for Orioles minor-leaguer of the year. And depending on what he looks like behind the dish, Mercedes could eventually emerge as a premier prize in a future trade situation.
Next Wednesday, we’ll go over three surprise arms toeing the rubber in the 2016 Orioles system.