The Orioles farm system is not very good, pretty much everyone who does not get paid by the Orioles agrees. There is little depth overall and the prospect of short-term help from the farm system is, other than catcher Chance SIsco, practically nonexistent. Not much of a shock that as the experts, like ESPN’s Keith Law, start putting out farm system rankings, the Orioles are in the bottom tier. Law ranked the O’s 25th out of 30 MLB teams.
Whenever the topic of minor league rankings comes up over the last several months, a favorite response of O’s GM Dan Duquette has been: “The people who rate our farm system are the same people who pick us last in the division.”
That response might as well be directly addressed to Law, although Duquette doesn’t name him. After all, when Law projected the AL East last season, he picked the O’s last, with a 74-88 record, and said: “The Orioles weren’t a good team in 2015 and I see no argument that they are any better now. ... This could all go pretty wrong.”
As it turned out, things didn’t end up going pretty wrong until the Orioles were already in extra innings in the AL Wild Card Game. Law, not for the first time, completely whiffed on recognizing what would become a quality Orioles team.
Which doesn’t mean he’s wrong about the farm system, either. The Orioles farm system is not good at this exact moment no matter what Law does or doesn’t say about it. Duquette practically admits as much when his defense of the farm system consists of something like this, which he first said last July and repeats to anyone who will listen:
“We are state-of-the-art in several different areas, so trust me when I tell you the farm system is very good. The people that rate those, I want to ask them, is a good farm system the one that produces a lot of players, or produces great players?
“We have great players that came through our system. We have Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, (Jonathan) Schoop, Zach Britton, the dominant closer in the league. That, to me, is the sign of a healthy farm system. Don’t believe everything you read. The Orioles are healthy, from top to bottom.”
The fact that some players on the current Orioles have come through the farm system and enjoyed some success - or even stardom, in the case of players like Machado and Britton - has no bearing whatsoever on the state of the farm system right now. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous and insulting to the intelligence of fans.
The next Machado is not in the system. The next Britton is not in the system. The next J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones or Chris Tillman is not in the system, or if they are, they haven’t started to reveal themselves yet. The next Ryan Flaherty isn’t even in the system, which is why they keep holding onto the one they already have.
The Orioles are not healthy at the top. They have not been healthy at the top. If they were, then the sum total of positive contributions from their minor leagues over the past two seasons would be greater than Mychal Givens, Donnie Hart, 14 starts from Dylan Bundy, and five games of Trey Mancini.
A team in the O’s financial situation particularly needs the farm system in order to bring up less expensive contributors as their existing core continues to cost more in arbitration. They haven’t gotten that help lately, and other than Sisco, don’t look to be getting it in the near future either.
This is the crux of what drags down the O’s farm system in Law’s eyes. In ranking them 25th, he says a couple of things that almost sound positive about the outlook a couple of years down the road:
The Orioles’ system has been down for a while now, hurt largely by the lack of progress and health issues affecting their best pitching prospects. But their 2016 draft class might finally give the organization the starting pitching hope they’ve needed for a while.
The long-term outlook here is much better than the short term, but the short term is where the probability and trade value lies - and that’s where Baltimore is lacking, with only catcher Chance Sisco and lefty Chris Lee both closer to the majors and bringing high enough floors that they could return a significant big-league piece in a deal. What’s still lacking is up-the-middle talent, with Sisco their only top 15 prospect who is going to stay at any of those four positions.
The four up-the-middle positions are catcher, second base, shortstop, and center field.
You can see that lack of short-term help in the trades that the Orioles made last year. If they had better prospects than Ariel Miranda and Jonah Heim, they could have gotten better help for the 2016 roster than Wade Miley and an injured Steve Pearce.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if they had a healthy lefty-masher to deploy against Francisco Liriano in extra innings of the Wild Card Game, or a better starting pitcher as they fought for the home wild card spot or even the AL East lead in August and September?
Not that the Orioles helped themselves by trading away some possible short-term help in pitching prospect Zach Davies for worthless outfielder Gerardo Parra - or pitching prospects Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley for another worthless outfielder, Travis Snider, both in 2015.
The Orioles would have been better off holding on to those players, although it’s not like any of these trades are what’s standing between the O’s and a top farm system. The Orioles might even still be in the bottom third even with those guys.
Bad trades have hurt the Orioles, but there’s more going on here than just that. They’ve sacrificed first round draft picks for signings like Ubaldo Jimenez and Yovani Gallardo, flushed away late second round picks for salary dumps like Ryan Webb and Brian Matusz, and used a first round pick they did keep on D.J. Stewart.
It all adds up, and what it adds up to is a farm system that’s hurting right now and won’t be helping any time soon, no matter what Duquette says. If Law goes on to pick the Orioles to be last in the East again, hopefully he’s very wrong again.