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Recapping the 2016 Orioles minor-league season

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Recapping each of the five Orioles minor-league affiliates, spotlighting on the top prospects at each level.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s official: the 2016 minor-league season is officially wrapped up for the Baltimore Orioles organization. All five affiliates played their final games on Monday, wrapping up quite the season down on the farm.

There were ups and downs, prospects who shined and rookies who made a very encouraging first-year impact. Now, it’s on to the offseason for dozens and dozens of prospects to perfect their games in preparation for 2016.

With that said, it’s time for a quick recap of the highlights at every level, spotlighting on the guys who made the 2016 minor-league season incredibly exciting to break down.

Norfolk Tides

Final record: 62-82

It certainly wasn’t the most profitable season for the Orioles AAA club, but the feeder club wasn’t awfully void of talent.

Prospect-wise, our game recaps were very focused on Trey Mancini, who consistently displayed a next-level readiness. In 125 games with the Tides, the 24-year-old compiled a .282 average, hitting 13 home runs and driving in 54 RBI. His on-base percentage finished at .349, second amongst qualifying Tides.

The two outfield prospects, Christian Walker and Dariel Alvarez, spent all season with the club. Walker hit .264 with 18 HRs, while Alvarez consistently sprayed the baseball around with a .288 average.

The “surprise of the club” award has to be handed to Corban Joseph, who was by far the most impressive piece in the lineup during his 85 games played. He slashed .305/.362/.435, leading the team in average and on-base percentage. While he isn’t a top-30 prospect and he’ll turn 28 this fall, it’s hard to deny the impact he had with Norfolk this year.

Pitching was unwatchable throughout the season — not a surprising fact considering the lack of prospects available at the triple-A level. Of course, Joe Gunkel had an impressive season, but the overall performances from the crop of starters were consistently bad.

Oliver Drake, the team’s highest AAA pitching prospect, was decent (2.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP), but he’ll be 30 at the start of next season.

Bowie Baysox

Final record: 56-86

Finishing that far under .500 is pretty much all you need to know about this team. They weren’t good to start the season, and they weren’t good to end it.

Chance Sisco was the cream of the crop for the entirety of the season, consistently displaying the fact that he’ll be ready to take a potential giant next step in 2017. His season was brilliant, hitting .320 over 112 games, leading the team’s regulars with a .406 on-base percentage. In other words: he’s ready.

Other than Sisco, the rest of the offense was full of disappointing performances from players completely off the prospect radar.

Garabez Rosa did perform well in his 110 games with the Baysox (.303 average, 8 HR, 62 RBI), but it’s difficult to see him contributing with the Orioles at the major-league level. He’ll be 27 at the start of next year.

Starter Chris Lee was brilliant through his first eight games, but an injury at the end of May kept him out for the rest of the season. He’ll be someone to watch in 2017, potentially finding his way to earning a few starts at some point.

Starting pitching was exhausting in Bowie as well, as no regular starter (other than Lee) had fewer hits than innings pitched on the season. Also, five of the six pitchers who made double-digit starts had ERAs over 4.65. That’s an ugly stat.

Jason Garcia couldn’t take the next step, an unfortunate year for the 23-year-old. The opposition hit .291 against him on the year and walked 54 times in 123.2 innings. Garcia’s WHIP was 1.54 to finish the season, paired with a 4.73 ERA.

David Hess, 24th on the top-30 prospect list, was even worse, as he allowed a .310 average against. His walk numbers were slightly lower, but he struggled to miss bats all season long. He finished 5-13 with a 5.37 ERA in 24 starts at the AA level.

Frederick Keys

Final record: 68-72

Despite a lack of intriguing prospects, Frederick managed to have a decent season season in the Carolina League. It wasn’t perfect, but there were a few standout stars.

The biggest name here was without a doubt Jomar Reyes, the Orioles #5 prospect. Just 19 years old, Reyes had the bulk of the attention on a nightly basis after a tremendous 2015 with Delmarva. Unfortunately, his 2016 season was marked with disappointment across the board.

He hit just .228 on the season, putting together an overall .271 on-base percentage. His walk rate of just 5% was a key contributor to the latter number, but the overall season was a wash for a kid with massive expectations at the onset of the season.

Fireball-throwing reliever Tanner Scott threw 48.1 innings with the Keys this year, but he walked 42 batters in the process. His command hasn’t improved, even if he is still hitting 100 miles per hour.

Both Matthew Grimes and John Means began the season with great success, however the leap to double-A seemed to stump both 2014 draft picks. Ultimately, they were the true highlights of Frederick’s starting pitching performances.

Full-season corner infielder Anderlin Rodriguez was by-far the highlight of the Keys season, perhaps the surprise of the O’s minor-league system as a whole. The 24-year-old crushed the ball all season long, finishing the year slashing .304/.359/.532 with 26 home runs and 93 RBI. It’s unclear what his future holds, but 2016 was certainly kind to Anderlin.

Out of the bullpen, 25th-ranked prospect Garrett Cleavinger was largely a disappointment after his promotion from Delmarva — he worked in 20 games, struggling with a 4.82 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.

Delmarva Shorebirds

Final record: 73-66

Now these guys, they were fun. Prospects aplenty, Delmarva was consistently putting up big numbers in the nightly box scores.

19-year-old shortstop Ryan Mountcastle was the most notable prospect who spent his full season in Delmarva, and unlike Reyes, this teenager helped his squad throughout the season with impressive numbers. He hit .281 on the season, slugging .426 with some sparks of power. His development next season will be exciting.

Catcher Alex Murphy also showed off in Delmarva, acting as a very reliable catcher behind the dish along with a valuable bat. The Calvert Hall alum slashed .252/.335/.423, leading the team with 63 RBI. How about 16 home runs for a bit of pop, too? As he continues his development, it’ll be interesting to see how the Orioles view him as a potential trade piece down the line.

D.J. Stewart spent the first half of his season here, struggling to be a consistent presence at the dish. However, after being called up to Frederick in June, he hit .279 with a .389 on-base percentage.

On the bump, perhaps no starter in the Orioles system was better than 20-year-old Brian Gonzalez. The 6’3”, 230-pound lefty went 10-8 with a 2.50 ERA in 27 starts. He struck out 111 batters in 147.2 innings, allowing just 135 hits. If he can improve command, the 2014 third-round pick is a name that’ll stick at the top of the prospect list.

Another 19-year-old (who will start next season the same age, by the way) Ofelky Peralta got a unique look at pitching in professional baseball as well. His first full non-rookie ball season with the Orioles saw issues with free passes (60 walks in 103.1 innings), but he surrendered just 87 hits while striking out 101. All in all, it was a successful opening campaign for a kid who should join Gonzalez as a must-watch arm in 2017.

If you followed any of the minor-league recaps at Camden Chat this year, you know who Yermin Mercedes is. If not, here’s his stat line this year. Enjoy.

A dark horse to watch would be 21-year-old righty Cristian Alvarado, who brilliantly navigated through a full 27-start season with the Shorebirds. He paired his 3.41 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP, compiling 148 strikeouts in 148 innings. That’s good, very good.

Aberdeen Ironbirds

Final record: 32-43

The record doesn’t really matter in short-season A ball — what counted this season in Aberdeen was the performances of the prospects, and oh were there prospects to be watched.

To keep things simple, here are the bullet-points, prospects in order according to the top-30 list:

  • Cody Sedlock merely scratched the surface in his pro ball debut, but he certainly proved that his college performance wasn’t a fluke. In 27 innings, opposing batters hit just .158 against, striking out 25 times. All eyes will be on #SedlockWatch next season.
  • The Orioles took Matthias Dietz in the second-round, sending him to Aberdeen to work alongside Sedlock. He struggled in 18.2 innings, allowing 22 hits and walking 10. He was a junior college standout, but it’s hard to form too much of an opinion with such a terribly small sample size.
  • Keegan Akin, another second-round selection, performed near perfectly in Aberdeen, posting a 1.05 ERA and 0.85 WHIP through 26 innings. With just 15 hits allowed and 29 strikeouts compiled, his nine mini-starts were great.
  • Austin Hays, the 21-year-old third-round selection, was fantastic in 38 games played. He dealt with a pesky wrist injury that kept him out for about a month, but his numbers were worth the price of admission when he did play — .336/.386/.514, 4 HR and 21 RBI.
  • Preston Palmeiro hit .258, knocking in 18 RBI in 34 games. Again, a small sample size, but he’ll continue to be noteworthy after his impressive career at N.C. State.
  • Australian-born pitcher Alex Wells nearly overshadowed the performances of the 2016 picks with his overall performance with the Ironbirds through 13 starts. He tossed 62.2 innings, allowing just 48 hits and nine walks. At just 19 years old, it’s safe to say he’ll be spotlighted approaching next season.