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Orioles prospects: Who to pay attention to on the Norfolk Tides

The Orioles have only one real prospect - Chance Sisco - at Triple-A, but the Norfolk team does have several others who will likely see MLB time this season

Baltimore Orioles Photo Day
Chance Sisco is the guy most keeping an eye on with Norfolk - especially how he catches.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Most or all independent evaluators agree that the Orioles farm system is not very good. The kinds of high-ceiling players racing towards the big leagues that you might see in better systems just aren’t there. This does not mean that the farm is completely bereft of talent that could potentially make an impact with the club.

There are players worth keeping an eye on at every level of the system. That includes the Orioles’ highest-level affiliate, the Triple-A Norfolk Tides, which, despite a position player roster that is largely stocked with veteran retreads, have a number of players who will likely get up to the MLB level in the future. At least one is earmarked for the fifth spot in the big league rotation for a little while until Chris Tillman is ready.

How much is Norfolk stocked with players with MLB experience? The Tides Media Relations Department notes that the Tides position players have combined to play 3,799 games at the MLB level as their season starts. That’s more experience than three MLB teams had on their Opening Day rosters.

The guy to watch - Chance Sisco

The burning question remains about Sisco: Can he stick at catcher? If so, then the Orioles have a catcher of the future who was able to post an OBP over .400 at Double-A at age 21 last season, a contact-oriented hitter with plate discipline, if not very much power.

Sisco has answered some of the defensive questions that plagued him as he ascended the minors, at least as far as his scouting capsule on, where he’s rated as the organization’s top prospect, is concerned:

Improvements in Sisco's blocking, receiving and game-calling last season have helped to assuage some concerns about his defensive profile, with many scouts now projecting him to be average behind the plate.

Hey, that sounds pretty good! But there’s one more big problem with Sisco, and one he can hopefully work on at Triple-A this year. Namely, it’s a track meet when he’s behind the plate. Last season, Sisco had 136 runners try to steal on him in only 754.1 innings as a catcher. Sisco threw out 24% of those runners. That percentage is a problem.

At Triple-A, Sisco will be facing higher-caliber pitchers, some with MLB experience, so if he’s able to continue raking like he has in the past, that will be a good sign. But keeping an eye on how he’s handling runners is important too.

The starting rotation

How much you can call any one of them prospects is uncertain, but if there are solid performers out of the quintet, they’ll likely be getting chances in the big league rotation this year or next year. Here are their five:

Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, Chris Lee, Alec Asher, Jayson Aquino

MASN’s Steve Melewski notes that with the way Norfolk’s schedule lines up, it’s Aquino’s turn that will come up on April 15, so does this order telegraph that he will get the Tillman spot in a little more than a week?

All five are on the 40-man roster, as well as several others who could potentially serve in swingman roles: Richard Bleier, Parker Bridwell, Joe “The Gunk” Gunkel, and Logan Verrett. Many of these guys will probably get a chance, too.

Lee, and Aquino are left-handed pitchers. Everyone loves a lefty. Can the Orioles get one big league starter out of that trio? That would be something. Better still if they can find two serviceable guys out of the whole rotation.

With the new 10-day disabled list at the MLB level, the Orioles will probably be raiding their Norfolk and even Bowie squads for short-term reinforcements more than ever.

You don’t want to read too much into Triple-A performance. After all, if players were good enough for MLB, they’d be there and not in Triple-A. Still, if they can find some success here, maybe the O’s will have some backup options if there’s a big league injury this year, or perhaps even a decent fill-in for next year’s rotation after either Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Wade Miley has departed as a free agent.

Other interesting players

  • The Pedro Alvarez outfield experiment will be ongoing. Alvarez blasted two home runs in Norfolk’s first game on Thursday night. No one doubts that he can hit right-handed pitching. The question is if he is capable enough (by Orioles standards) to get into the MLB picture.
  • Chris Johnson, a fixture of spring training for the Orioles this year, will get to play on the team where his dad, Ron Johnson, manages. That doesn’t mean much to the big league club, but it’s still pretty cool.
  • The Orioles are good at finding relievers out of nowhere. There are a couple of non-40-man roster guys who, if they are successful, could find their way into a big league chance. Stefan Crichton and Jimmy Yacabonis are the relievers who could some day end up on the radar.