With the exception of injuries and one unfortunate suspension, the Orioles have had a stable quartet in their infield for four consecutive seasons now. This has been a good thing for the organization and a big reason for two of those years ending in playoff berths.
The conclusion of this season will probably mark the end of that run of stability, unless something strange happens. J.J. Hardy’s contract is up after this season and he is hitting like a guy who maybe shouldn’t make it even that far. Another year and we’ll be staring right down the double barrel of Manny Machado’s pending free agency. Depth in these spots may not be important for this season, but it will matter very soon.
On the rare occasions when Orioles GM Dan Duquette is pressed to address the judgment of independent evaluators that the Orioles farm system is not very good, he has been known to disingenuously deflect that criticism by pointing to the MLB team, especially infielders like Machado and Jonathan Schoop, as if past farm system successes make up for its current barrenness.
It’s good that the Orioles had Machado and Schoop come up through the farm. The next Machado probably won’t be around to replace the current one. Let’s not forget about Trey Mancini going from afterthought eighth round pick to a guy who’s enjoyed big league success, either.
Actually, there is some good news on the infield from the farm, in that three of the Orioles top 10 prospects listed on MLB.com are infielders, including the current top prospect, catcher Chance Sisco. The Orioles are going to need these guys to develop to plug up holes that are soon to come on the MLB team. Here’s how the farm looks when it comes to the infield:
That’s it. That’s the infield prospect at the rung closest to the big leagues. Sisco, the Orioles second round pick in the 2013 draft, has been climbing the ladder ever since they picked him, hitting for a high average and walking enough to have a great on-base percentage, even if he’s never hit for much power.
Norfolk, at least for the first six weeks or so, has been less kind for Sisco, as he is only batting .240/.336/.344 through 29 games. Not exactly the kind of performance that will leave one thinking that he should be the Opening Day 2018 catcher for the Orioles. Neither is the fact that Sisco has thrown out just six of 33 base-stealers this season - a success rate of only 18%, far below the MLB level league average of 29%.
Perhaps it’s a case of “his hitting is suffering while he focuses on his defense,” which is said sometimes about catching prospects and may sometimes even be true. Would be nice to see more results on the defense side of things, if that’s the case, but it is still early.
Perpetual Bowie Baysox player Garabez Rosa, who is 27, is batting .356/.371/.526, is here. So is Adrian Marin, still “only” 23, who is finally hitting well enough that if you squint you might be able to envision him in a Ryan Flaherty-esque utility infielder role. Marin is batting .284/.331/.353 for the season.
- SS Ryan Mountcastle
- 3B Jomar Reyes
Mountcastle, the O’s compensation pick in 2015 for losing Nelson Cruz, has been a daily delight in our minor league recaps this season, and why shouldn’t he be? He’s just 20 years old and is batting .344/.369/.609 in High-A as one of the younger players in the league. That includes eight home runs in 38 games.
Not so fast on the excitement, though, because Mountcastle may be getting lucky with a .373 BABIP, well above the .331 he had at Delmarva last year. He has struck out five times more often than he’s walked, which could prove to be a problem as he gets closer to the bigs. And as for whether he’ll stick at shortstop, well, here’s MLB.com:
The Orioles remain steadfast in their development of Mountcastle as a shortstop, although few in the industry believe he can remain there on account of his well-below-average arm, with left field representing his likely long-term home. Regardless, it will be up to Mountcastle's bat to carry him to the big leagues.
There are those times where the Orioles seem to be out on a limb with something and they still manage to make it work out, but not many of those things involve developing prospects.
Reyes is one of the rare Orioles international signees. He is also just 20 years old and playing for the Keys for what’s now his second season there. The first one didn’t go very well. The second time around was going better, with Reyes batting .321/.361/.436 in 21 games before punching a wall, breaking one of his fingers, and landing on the disabled list.
There are mixed opinions on whether Reyes will be able to remain at third base, as there is some belief that his size will force him over to first base. His size is also expected to give him some power if he develops the ability to use it in games.
SS Irving Ortega
This guy appeared in the low end of the O’s top 30 prospects list on MLB.com in their update before this season. He is, by their reckoning, the #22 Orioles prospect. I had never heard of him before this update. An optimistic paragraph about Ortega:
Ortega's defense currently is well ahead of his hitting, but evaluators expect the latter to catch up as he continues adding strength to his athletic and projectable frame. There's little doubt he'll be able to remain at shortstop, where he shows good range and speed as well as an above-average arm. At the plate, the right-handed hitter makes consistent contact but offers little in the way of power.
It goes on to say, “The Orioles ... believe he’s poised to make strides in the coming year.” You may or may not be surprised to know that Ortega is batting just .167/.185/.224 through 17 games played this season.
If the Orioles don’t reach new contracts with their current players, they will need a new shortstop next season and could need a new catcher, depending on whether Welington Castillo exercises his player option for 2018. Machado could head elsewhere after 2018 and even Schoop is “only” under team control through 2019.
What it all adds up to is that the Orioles could need to call on their farm for infield help over the next several seasons. Hopefully some of these minor leaguers will end up being part of a solution to future O’s needs.