As the 2017 MLB Draft rolls around, it seems difficult to realize that last season’s class of potential prospects have been in the Orioles system for nearly a year. Time flies for young players in Minor League Baseball, as every day that passes is one checked off the calendar as one they’re not in the big leagues.
Some take small steps forward while others struggle to stay afloat, fighting for every opportunity to stay relevant within the system. And like every class, 2016’s features every ounce of that balance.
Below, a look at how the top five picks in the 2016 Draft class are faring, including notes on those who were selected later but appear to have a potentially promising future with the organization.
Cody Sedlock (Round 1)
You’re familiar with the name and the excitement that always tends to follow first-round picks, so not much background needed here.
2016 featured a stint with the Ironbirds that was supposed to ease Sedlock into the minor-league game, and it seemed to do that with pretty impressive results. The 21-year-old righty tossed 27 innings while allowing a total .158 average against while at Aberdeen, good enough for an offseason promotion up to High-A Frederick.
Sedlock has made nine starts with the Keys, posting numbers that don’t nearly match up to his results in at both Illinois and in Aberdeen. In 43.2 innings, he’s pitched to a 6.80 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, working a 39/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And over his last five starts, he’s allowed a whopping 29 earned runs with four of those outings resulting in final lines that had at-least six earned runs next to his name.
It’s extremely early in the year with plenty of time to right the ship, but it’s obvious that the leap to Frederick hasn’t exactly been the smooth upward-arrow path that the Orioles might’ve hoped for this offseason.
Keegan Akin (Round 2)
Another prospect promoted to Frederick in the offseason, another disappointing start out of the gate in 2017.
Like Sedlock, Akin posted eye-opening numbers with the Ironbirds last season, working 26 innings with a 1.04 ERA and a .161 average against. Seeing those numbers next to his evaluation while at Western Michigan in the 2016 season, there was no reason to not give Akin the bump along with Sedlock. But as the prospects are quickly learning, High-A is quite a step up from the NY-Penn League.
Akin has had clear command issues with the Keys, walking 22 batters and surrendering 46 hits against the competition through nine starts. He’s put together encouraging starts along the way in 2017, however there’s been little consistency with walk numbers or hits against — thus far, he’s allowed a .301 batting average to opposing hitters.
Earlier this week, he was assigned to Aberdeen, per his recent transactions.
There wasn’t any sign of command issues while Akin was at Western Michigan, so there’s reason to believe that the inflated walk numbers could be a minor blip on the radar. Should they continue however, the O’s #5 prospect might be in for a bit of an adjustment period over the course of next offseason.
By all means Akin has the “stuff” (plus slider, mid-90s fastball) — it’ll be a matter of how quickly he can get back to throwing strikes to avoid a full season of flawed performances heading into his second offseason in the system. The goal is consistency with small steps, not needing a renovation just over a year in.
Matthias Dietz (Round 3)
Dietz did not receive the boost to Frederick, rather moving up one level to start the year at Delmarva following a rougher start at Aberdeen. Of course, Dietz was a bit of a project-style selection for the Orioles, as he was entering pro ball from the JUCO ranks after pitching for John A. Logan Community College in 2016.
In 2017, Dietz’s performance follows the narrative of Sedlock’s — far from great, but nothing terribly concerning. While he’s posted a 5.62 ERA, the 21-year-old has walked just 11 in 41.2 innings and has posted just one start in which he’s allowed more than three earned runs (April 13th, 7 ER in 2.2 IP).
The 6’5” right-hander is continuing to throw strikes as he did at the college level, but it’s clear that the jump to pro ball has featured not nearly enough missed bats with his primary fastball/slider combination. His .286 average against is far from ideal, but it’s also far from a legitimate reason to toss Dietz’s name from the prospect rankings.
Ultimately, he’s a developing junior college prospect with limited experience to top-level hitting — the junior college stereotype of “good against lesser competition” is one that often holds up. And until Dietz posts more than the current 60.1 pro ball innings he’s currently compiled, there’s no way of telling what type of arm he’ll be for the Orioles down the line.
For the time being, keep an eye on his ability to work deeper into games and perhaps boost his strikeout numbers slightly. The progression doesn’t have to be a rapid one for Dietz, rather rich in learning experience and small steps forward against each level that he’ll hope to advance.
Austin Hays (Round 3)
If you are a regular reader of Camden Chat, you’re well aware that I’ve been leading the charge on publicizing Hays’ name more than anyone else following the 2016 Draft. Not only did he produce at the dish while in college at Jacksonville, he’s also a highly-touted outfield talent with projectable skills that can move him up the organization at a rapid pace.
Following a 2016 performance at Aberdeen (.336/.386/.514) that also warranted a promotion to Frederick over the offseason, Hays certainly hasn’t disappointed against the High-A pitching.
The 21-year-old is crushing the baseball yet again, posting a .321 average with 19 extra-base hits (including eight HRs) in 39 games. Hays is second on the team in OPS (.909), just behind the surging Ryan Mountcastle who owns a .920 number through the early season.
Read the following excerpt from his MLB scouting profile, which is particularly helpful in terms of defensive evaluation:
Defensively, his plus arm profiles well in right field, where he is a very capable defender with above-average speed. But after a strong showing in center during instructional league, some club official believe Hays is deserving of a full audition at the position in 2017. Hays possesses the tools to be an everyday player, or at worst a fourth outfielder, though hitting for more power could help him to surpass that projection.
All things considered, Hays should most certainly garner as much attention as Sedlock moving ahead.
Brenan Hanifee (Round 4)
I won’t begin to attempt to talk even slightly intelligently about Hanifee’s game considering the fact that he’s just 18 years old and hasn’t tossed a competitive pitch in the Orioles organization. However, the 6’5” right-hander was the organization’s first high-school selection in 2016, and his outings once he receives them will be very notable.
For the scouting outlook on, at the very least, what to expect when he does take the diamond, here’s an excerpt from his profile on MLB.com:
Hanifee typically works in the 88-91 mph range with his heater and touches 93, but scouts believe more velocity will come as the right-hander adds strength to his lean, 6-foot-5 frame. He features a low-80s slider that flashes above average, as well as a raw, work-in-progress changeup that will need to be developed in the professional ranks.
Hanifee's secondary pitches lag behind his fastball, but with time on his side and plenty of physical projection remaining, the right-hander gives the Orioles plenty on which to dream. He's set to make his professional debut in 2017.
The best of the rest
- Lucas Humpal, the 9th round pick out of Texas State, has a full-time starting role at Delmarva. He’s posted a 4.58 ERA with a .282 average against, striking out just 32 batters in 51.1 innings.
- Zach Muckenhirn (11th round) also owns a starting spot with the Shorebirds — and he’s fared similarly to Humpal. With a 4.66 ERA, his batting average against is currently at .311.
- Cole Billingsley, a 19th rounder who posted a .353 OBP with Aberdeen last season, hasn’t performed as well with the Shorebirds through 35 games. He’s slashing .232/.307/.288.
- Chris Clare was taken in the 21st round in 2016 and has been superb with Delmarva through 39 games. He’s hitting .298 with a team-leading .387 on-base percentage.
- Jake Ring — the organization’s 31st rounder — has oddly enough posted the best numbers from the players in the Orioles 2016 class. He’s hitting .318 with a sky-high .610 slugging percentage, knocking 8 HRs and 34 RBI. How’s that for a late-round find?
- Collin Woody, a 38th round selection, is also starting for the Shorebirds. He’s worked just a .240 average, but his OBP sits at .333 through 41 games.