If the Orioles are going to manage to keep their window of contention propped open beyond 2018, they’re probably going to have to have some pleasant surprises pop up from their farm system.
That’s not great news for anyone who accepts most every independent evaluator’s assessment of the Orioles system, which is that it’s not very good. People who work for the Orioles in some capacity insist it’s better than that. If the Orioles are going to be proven right and the experts proven wrong, we’ll probably start to see some evidence of that with the Double-A Bowie Baysox this season.
The Bowie roster is not very loaded with quality of prospects. The highest-ranked Baysox player on MLB.com’s top 30 Orioles prospects ranking is at #11. What they do have is quantity, with eight players starting the year at Bowie out of that top 30. With good seasons, those mid-tier or fringe players will improve their stock and might just find their way into the competition for the big league club in a year or two.
- Cedric Mullins (#19)
- D.J. Stewart (#24)
The last time the Orioles got more than one successful season out of an outfield prospect who came up through their system was Nick Markakis. They have whiffed on everybody since then. That’s part of why their “Anyone can play outfield” philosophy must seem attractive to them. If you’ve got jack, why not try Mark Trumbo or Trey Mancini or Pedro Alvarez out there?
Can either of these guys be the ones to break that streak? Stewart was a first round pick just two years ago, but although he’s advanced to Bowie, his future is murky, hence his placement so far down. If a first round pick can’t stay in the top ten until he hits the big leagues, that’s a problem. In a half-season at Frederick last year, he batted .279/.389/.448 - if he can do something like that for Bowie, he’ll be back on the radar.
Mullins seemed to be on every coach and broadcaster’s mind during spring training and is said to be a favorite of Buck Showalter. The Orioles need a center fielder other than Adam Jones eventually. And not that we should overreact to a small sample size, but Mullins has stormed out of the gate for Bowie, with a .529/.556/1.059 batting line.
Whenever the Orioles get around to sending Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander on a rehab assignment, he’ll probably show up here for a while. Santander is rated as the #9 prospect in the system.
- LHP Tanner Scott (#11)
- LHP Garrett Cleavinger (#14)
- RHP Jesus Liranzo (#16)
The current Orioles bullpen has two pitchers who jumped from Double-A right to the majors: Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart. This is one area where they have had success as an organization.
This trio of pitchers aren’t identical to one another but they do all have one common problem. They need to stop walking so many guys. Cleavinger was wild after a promotion to High-A last year, walking 23 in 37.1 innings. Scott was somehow worse, walking 57 in 64.1 innings across two levels. Wow.
As for Liranzo? Yep, you guessed it - 27 walks in 53 innings. And in the one game he’s pitched this season, he walked three batters in one inning. There is work to be done. But if any one of these guys gets the command to a reasonable place, watch out for them. They all have velocity and strikeout rates to make them tantalizing even though the command isn’t there yet.
- RHP Jason Garcia (#22)
- LHP John Means (#26)
- RHP David Hess (#29)
As many as three of the Orioles starting pitchers at the MLB level could be free agents after this season. There’s room for someone to step up. Whether any one of these three will be the one to do it is a less certain proposition.
Garcia was the Rule 5 pick in 2015, with the O’s plucking him from elsewhere despite his never playing above High-A - they’re trying the same move with Santander. After being able to option him, the Orioles had Garcia at Bowie last year, where he allowed a 4.73 ERA with a low 5.2 K/9. The day where the Orioles’ strange Garcia experiment pays off sure hasn’t arrived yet.
Hess, too, is repeating the Double-A level after posting a 5.37 ERA in 25 games there last season. One would hope there’s nowhere to go but up from there. One problem is that he was suddenly allowing a ton of home runs last year after not having done so before. If that was merely an aberration, rather than the new normal, he has some bounce back potential.
Means is interesting by virtue of being a lefty, even if he is more of the soft-tossing variety. He earned a promotion to the Double-A ranks with his performance at Frederick last season, but after that midseason promotion, things didn’t go so well, with Means giving up runs to the tune of a 4.69 ERA in 18 starts there.
These are not high-ceiling prospects here at Bowie, or players with a high chance of reaching a big league-caliber ceiling at all. But with some hard work and a little luck, the Orioles might end up having some unexpected gems on the Bowie roster after all.