The consensus about the Orioles farm system by people who don't work for the Orioles is that it hasn't been very good lately. One need not look much farther than the collection of players that the O's have tried to call up from Norfolk and sometimes Bowie this season to see this in action.
For at least the last year or so, this has also been demonstrated by the paucity of Orioles prospects making MLB top prospect lists. At midseason, that's starting to change somewhat.
In addition to catcher Chance Sisco, who's generally been the only O's prospect to make one of these rankings for a while, the mid-July updates to top prospect lists have also shown some love to a couple more players out of the O's system.
A pair of players who were Carolina League (High-A) All-Stars, outfielder Austin Hays and shortstop Ryan Mountcastle, have both popped into top prospect lists on a couple of prospect lists, while Sisco has generally remained up in the rankings as well. After seeing editions of these lists with just Sisco or even no O's among the top 100 in the game, it's nice to see that changing a bit.
Here's how three of the major prospect rankings have placed the Orioles at midseason:
ESPN's Keith Law (Top 50) - Chance Sisco (33)
Law has always liked Sisco, remaining a believer in Sisco's ability to stay behind the plate even when others doubted it. Here's what he says about Sisco at this point in time:
Sisco is a high-contact hitter without more than average power, and an above-average receiver with an average arm, all of which combines to make him a likely regular behind the plate with a limited ceiling unless he brings some more power into his game.
Sisco has a .350 OBP for Norfolk this season. If he's going to be an above-average receiver with an average arm with those kinds of on-base skills, you can sign me up for that. Good to have a guy who can get on base for the power hitters.
Baseball Prospectus (Top 50) - Ryan Mountcastle (41)
Who's not going to get excited about a 20-year-old shortstop who's batting .311/.340/.545 at High-A this season? That's a guy who deserves a little prospect hype. Here's what BP says about him:
Why He’ll Succeed: He can hit and hit for power. He’s got above-average bat speed, the ability to control the bat head, and impressive hands that add together for potential plus power.
Why He Might Fail: He really has to hit because he’s not a shortstop and he might not be an infielder. If he has to move off the dirt, his arm makes him a liability anywhere but left, so...it’s a good thing he can hit.
The "not a shortstop" thing is a common refrain among prospect writers about Mountcastle. There seems to be a general belief that he will lack the agility for short in the long run, and as suggested here, he may not have sufficient arm strength to just play at third base instead.
It'll be interesting to see when the Orioles send Mountcastle up to Double-A and how he does when he gets there.
Baseball America (Top 100) - Sisco (29), Austin Hays (99)
What's cool about Sisco's placement on this list is that he's just ahead of even the most hyped of the 2017 first round draft picks. I wince when I look at Sisco's numbers trying to throw out runners this year - just 14 caught in 74 tries, which is a 19% success rate. That's not good. But that doesn't seem to bother Law and it doesn't seem to bother Baseball America either.
Hays, who just turned 22, was the Orioles third round pick in last year's draft. The team skipped him right over Delmarva, and for Frederick he blistered the league with a .328/.364/.592 batting line in 66 games before earning a promotion to Bowie, where he's still hot-hitting over 18 games, just with a bit less power, flashing a .329/.351/.507 batting line.
The fact that some prospect rankings now like Hays and Mountcastle doesn't mean the issues with the O's farm system are magically fixed. After all, a team would need to have 3-4 top 100 prospects in MLB just to keep up with the average of what you'd have if prospects were evenly distributed.
One name in a top 50 or two names in a top 100 aren't living up to that. This is especially true when none of those names are pitchers and meanwhile the Orioles are suffering with an AL-worst ERA from their starting rotation. The nearest pitching prospect is Keegan Akin in Frederick.
There will still be problems, but hey, as the cliche goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. Right now, the Orioles seem like they might be headed in the right direction. Let's hope that continues.