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The Orioles farm system may be improving - it just doesn't offer any rotation help

The 2018 Orioles could end up with Chance Sisco and Austin Hays as key contributors. That's good! But the rotation was bad and the farm has no help for that.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

In recent years, the Orioles farm system has fallen on hard times, a reality that has been acknowledged by most independent evaluators of the system. Orioles GM Dan Duquette has regularly made hay out of this with O's fans, including one of his favorite replies to that situation: "The people who rate our farm system low are the same people who pick us last in the division every year."

Duquette may have a harder time deploying that line in response to farm system rankings this offseason, now that the Orioles really did finish in last place in the AL East, thanks in large part to an MLB-worst starting rotation.

Things don't currently feel very hopeful for next season with no help from the farm on the horizon for that rotation. If the team's 2018 fortunes change, it's going to come from free agents, not from the farm. However, Duquette probably wouldn't have had to repeat his favorite line even if the Orioles didn't come in last, because the O's farm system has seen some improvement in other areas.

The Orioles must hope that it is getting better, because after the free agent apocalypse that will have occurred in less than one year's time, they will need to turn to the farm in order to avoid the beginning of another 14-year stretch (or worse) of losing seasons.

Baseball America released its annual top 10 prospects for the Orioles system on Wednesday. They are:

  1. Austin Hays - OF
  2. Ryan Mountcastle - 3B
  3. Chance Sisco - C
  4. Hunter Harvey - RHP
  5. D.L. Hall - LHP
  6. Tanner Scott - LHP
  7. Cody Sedlock - RHP
  8. Anthony Santander - OF
  9. Cedric Mullins - OF
  10. Chris Lee - LHP

The top of the list, at least, is more exciting than the top of the O's system has been for a few years now. Although the Orioles don't have anybody who will be in consideration for being one of the top 10 prospects in MLB, there are three top 100-caliber prospects there in Hays, Mountcastle, and Sisco.

Hays and Sisco have a good opportunity to get a chance to prove themselves at the MLB level in 2018 at areas where the Orioles have a current positional opening. That's the dream, right there. Someone leaves in free agency and gets replaced from the farm. It works as long as the players are up to making the adjustment to MLB competition, anyway, which we won't know until they do so, or don't do so.

It's a big difference compared to the same list from two years ago, when the top two prospects were Dylan Bundy and Harvey, both of whom still had giant injury question marks floating around them. Bundy was able to be an average starter in 2017, which is something, although it's not the ace-like potential we may have once hoped.

Mychal Givens, "just" a reliever, was seen as the fifth-best prospect in the system. It's just not a good sign if a reliever is one of your top five prospects. And as for the rest of the top ten, Mike Wright was #10, for crying out loud.

In fairness, most teams' 10th-best prospect at any given moment won't make it. What separates the good farm systems from the bad ones is that the good ones have 4-5 future big leaguers in their top five and they find more talent from the 6-10 range and beyond. If Scott ever learns to throw strikes and if Mullins is able to be an MLB-caliber center fielder for a few years, the lower half of this list will look better in hindsight.

Some guys will be busts. That's the business. The key is to accurately identify who's a bust instead of, say, giving up on Parker Bridwell for nothing and having Bridwell go on to have a decent season in Anaheim. Also key is being able to keep the prospect conveyor belt going so that if one guy busts, there's another coming along behind him.

Not having a pick until the third round in 2014, Duquette's disastrous Travis Snider and Gerado Parra trades of 2015, and the dumping of competitive balance picks for minor salary relief in 2015 and 2016 put a wrench in that conveyor belt for a while. The O's refusal to engage seriously in the Latin American markets means that their farm is never operating with the overall upside or depth of other teams to begin with, as well.

On the plus side, Trey Mancini made that top ten list two years ago, probably before you ever heard of him. We're used to Orioles prospects surprising us in bad ways (Jomar Reyes, #4 prospect two years ago, no longer so impressive) but sometimes they can surprise in good ways. Sisco and Mountcastle have improved their prospect stock.

Even the maligned O's farm years weren't total disasters. That's worth something. Perhaps their current top 10 list is a sign that the farm is starting to dig itself out of the hole that Duquette put it in over the last few years. But at its best, the farm will have no help for the 2018 Orioles rotation, which is still a problem even if the O's top prospects all hit the big leagues soon.