One of the best, and often most overlooked, aspects of professional baseball is each team’s minor-league system. And because of that, the folks here at Camden Chat do a tremendous job at providing daily content to readers on all things MiLB.
Bottom line: diving into prospects is a whole lot of fun, and reader response seems to show that (at-least, I hope I’m reading into that response correctly).
With that said, the most enjoyable (and seemingly well-liked) articles to research and type up surround top performers from the lower levels of the Orioles system, particularly from Frederick down to Aberdeen. It’s exciting to get a look at the little-known prospects and spotlighting them while they’re embarking on their pro ball journey.
I can tell you from experience — there isn’t much more exciting than tracking a standout player from their journey in low-A ball to the bigs. Think of it as listening to a band’s songs before they hit it big on the top charts. In a way, they’re yours.
And while you might not be getting to see these prospects in-person on a regular basis, there are endless resources online to comb through and analyze. Let’s be honest, with the new era of at-your-fingertips statistics, doing this is easier than ever.
Excuse the lengthy introduction, but it seemed necessary to set up the goal of these periodic “spotlights”, if you will.
The purpose isn’t to form opinions or throw out hot takes regarding who the next superstar will be; instead, think of posts like these as a friendly hand-out. “Here’s what/who to watch this season, enjoy following along”.
With all of that said, here are three members of the Orioles organization to keep tabs on as baseball season wraps up. And yes, I’m just as disappointed as you are that the season is nearing a close.
Brian Gonzalez, Delmarva Shorebirds
Gonzalez twirled a gem on Sunday, sparking his mention here. He fanned six batters over six innings, allowing just one run while picking up his eighth win of the year.
When you take a look at Gonzalez’s 2.54 ERA and compare it to last season’s 5.71 mark, it’s easy to raise your eyebrows with intrigue. However 2015 wasn’t an absolutely horrid year on paper for the left-hander — rather, he didn’t have a knack for damage control.
His lack of command bit hard into his numbers last year, as he was crushed by a 5.0 BB/9 ratio. He allowed less than a hit per inning, but the rate of free passes couldn’t be overcome.
This season, while still higher than the ideal number, Gonzalez has worked the BB/9 ratio down to 3.6, likely a large contributing factor to slicing more than half of his season ERA.
For now, keep track of the 20-year-old as a young left-handed, developmental arm with upside. Considering left-handers are hitting just .188 against this year, Gonzalez is worth tracking.
Randolph Gassaway, Delmarva Shorebirds
To give you a background on this rising outfielder, take a look at the following stat-lines...
2015 (w/ Aberdeen): 60 games, 227 at-bats, .273/.318/.335
2016 (w/ Aberdeen): 5 games, 18 at-bats, .444/.500/.778
2016 (w/Delmarva): 36 games, 134 at-bats, .336/.382/.500
How’s that for improvement over a one-year span?
In the system since the 2013 Draft (spent ‘13 in rookie ball), Gassaway has seen incredible improvement at the dish. Even against slightly advanced opposing pitching, he’s seen every one of his numbers rise.
Take this one: in 60 games at Aberdeen last year, Gassaway hit .242 (15-62) against left-handed pitching. Not a bad mark for the right-hander, but one you’d like to see improve before considering advancement. In 36 games with Delmarva this season, the right-handed hitter is hitting .400 (14-35) against southpaws, compiling a .947 OPS.
Now, is that a metric that seals the deal on Gassaway being the future of the Orioles outfield? Hardly. We’re not dealing with overwhelming sample sizes here.
But when you consider the 21-year-old’s consistent improvements — even after being promoted a level — it’s difficult to not wonder about what the future might hold for the former 16th-round pick.
Austin Hays, Aberdeen Ironbirds
Hays is rather well-documented and has been written about before, so this section will be succinct. However it’s worth noting that this year’s third-round pick out of Jacksonville is having no problem adjusting to arms in professional baseball.
After an incredibly hot start with Aberdeen, Hays missed nearly a full month of play with a pesky wrist injury. But since returning as a regular staple of the lineup, the outfielder hasn’t disappointed.
In the nine games following his return, Hays is hitting .307 with three multi-hit games. Overall, combining his smoking-hot start in June and July, he’s batting .313 with a .375 OBP and four stolen bases.
If nothing else, the 21-year-old is worth the look for what he managed to do in his junior year at Jacksonville University. He slashed .350/.406/.655 over 54 games, hitting 16 home runs and knocking in 42 RBI.
It’ll take time to get a full scope of Hays’ ability, but his first year in the organization is intriguing ... especially if he can develop similarly to Gassaway.
All stats compiled before of Tuesday, August 16th’s games.