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MLB Draft 2017: Orioles system outfield depth review

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The Orioles haven’t developed their own outfielder since they drafted Nick Markakis. Maybe one of this current crop will be able to break through.

Chicago White Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The last time the Orioles drafted and developed an outfielder who had more than one successful big league season, the outfielder was Nick Markakis, who was drafted in 2003, debuted in 2006, and had his best season in 2008.

That was fourteen years ago now and at the big league level for the Orioles this year, the rotation of players has included two first basemen/designated hitters, a former Rule 5 pick who doesn’t hit or field very well, and a reclamation project who’s four years removed from his best days.

Attempts to address this long-term deficiency have resulted in some successful one-year stopgaps like Nelson Cruz and, if his performance continues, Seth Smith. Others have cost the Orioles in prospects, like the acquisitions of failed players like Travis Snider and Gerardo Parra in 2015.

Looking down on the farm for answers, there don’t seem to be any over this year and next, but if you’re willing to believe, perhaps foolishly, in some prospects a bit farther from the majors, then a homegrown outfielder might show up in Oriole Park at Camden Yards a little bit into the future.

Triple-A Norfolk

Pedro Alvarez has been playing in Norfolk’s outfield this year, which really says a lot about what’s down there. Recently making an appearance has been Michael Bourn, who was sort of fine at the end of last year, but also, come on.

If you squint, there is one minor leaguer who might have a little something to offer the club. That’s Mike Yastrzemski, who popped onto the radar a bit in 2014 but has had a couple of down years since. After offseason surgery, Yastrzemski missed the first month of the season. Since being activated, he’s batted .333/.429/.524 over 11 games.

It’s a small sample, and not all that exciting since Yastrzemski will be 27 in August.

Double-A Bowie

  • Cedric Mullins
  • D.J. Stewart

If you were watching or listening to any of the coverage of Orioles spring training, you were treated to a near-daily treat in the late innings of games from Mullins, a 2015 13th round pick who jumped from Delmarva last year to Bowie this year. Still just 22, the switch-hitting Mullins came out of the gate on fire this year, batting .367/.406/.683 over 14 games before suffering a hamstring injury that’s had him out for nearly a month.

Success in some Double-A games doesn’t mean Mullins is on track to be the Orioles 2019 center fielder or anything like that, but if he gets healthy and keeps hitting well, who knows? Under the radar as the #18 ranked Orioles prospect, here’s what MLB.com says about Mullins:

Mullins' game is built on his plus speed and feel for hitting. He's more advanced from the left side of the plate, with enough bat speed to turn on plus velocity and barrel control that enables his use of the entire field. He's also an adept bunter. And while he stands just 5-foot-8, Mullins has above-average raw power to all fields and consistently pounds the gaps. His wheels and instincts make him a threat on the basepaths as well as a slightly above-average defender in center field, where he shows below-average arm strength.

A lot of players sound like future big leaguers if you go by the best paragraph in their MLB.com scouting capsule, so take it with a grain of salt. Better than nothing, though.

Stewart, the Orioles top pick in 2015, is one of the more confusing guys in the O’s system. Coming out of the college ranks when drafted, you would have hoped he’d do well in his debut season for Aberdeen. He didn’t, but the Orioles have kept promoting him and he’s done a little better at each subsequent level.

That’s gotten Stewart to Bowie this year, where he finally seems to have unlocked some power, with six home runs in 32 games. He only hit ten in 121 games all of last season. Stewart is batting .248/.326/.479 for the season. If he still has some more developing to do, the O’s may yet get something out of what looked like an underwhelming pick.

High-A Frederick

  • Austin Hays
  • Randolph Gassaway

Hays, a third round pick in last year’s draft, also skipped a level to be here, jumping from Aberdeen last year to Frederick. He’s the team’s #8 prospect, according to the MLB.com ranking - a .900 OPS after getting drafted will do that. The Frederick adventure is not such an immediate, smashing success, with Hays batting .294/.333/.429 in 32 games.

If you’ve never thought about or heard about Randolph Gassaway before right now, that’s OK. The 16th round pick out of a Georgia high school in 2013 was something of an invisible man in the O’s system before a 50-game stint with Delmarva last year in which he posted an .883 OPS. That gets him this paragraph from MLB.com, where he rates as the #24 prospect in the system:

A big, physical right-handed hitter, Gassaway began to tap into his plus raw power last season after connecting on just two home runs in his first 126 pro games. He has the strength and bat speed needed to drive the ball out of the park to all fields, and club officials believe he'll develop even more power as he continues to refine his approach and develops physically. Defensively, Gassaway's below-average speed and arm strength limit him to left field.

What about the power this year? He’s hit only two homers in 37 games, though that is still better than two homers in 126 games. Gassaway is batting .323/.366/.444 overall.

Low-A Delmarva

Look, there aren’t any outfield prospects here. With that established, here’s a shout-out for Jake Ring, a 31st round pick last year. Ring, already 22, is old for this level, but he’s batting .328/.382/.624 in 32 games. Perhaps he will get a chance to test his skill at a higher level before the season is over.

**

The absolute best-case scenario could see the Orioles pick a full outfield out of this lot of players. This never happens for the Orioles or any other team. A less optimistic aim, which still may not be very realistic, could be to get one future big league regular and one future fourth outfielder out of the bunch of them.

Developing a fourth outfielder isn’t very exciting, but if the Orioles can actually find such a player from their own system rather than having to rely on the Rule 5 draft to get Joey Rickard or having to rely on retreads like Bourn and Craig Gentry, that would still be a win for the system.