With the hours dwindling until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Orioles appear to have three main bidders who are looking to get closer Zach Britton onto their team. Those teams are the Dodgers, the Astros, and the Indians - a late addition. Whether the Orioles trade Britton at all is uncertain, but they’re definitely out there seeking what veteran MLB reporter Jon Heyman says is a “top, top guy.”
Should the Orioles settle for less than a top guy if they can’t get one? Or should they just trade Britton for the best package that’s on the table today? These are the questions that will be giving Dan Duquette heartburn this afternoon and even beyond as the franchise deals with the ripples from any deal or non-deal.
If they ARE going to get a “top, top guy” for Britton, here’s who’s at the top of the list for those other teams prospects:
- C Francisco Mejia (#16 prospect in MLB)
- RHP Triston McKenzie (#24 prospect)
Mejia is 21 and destroying Double-A pitching with a .317/.367/.520 batting line. He is a switch hitter. In stark contrast to the O’s own catching prospect, Chance Sisco, Mejia threw out 44% of would-be base-stealers last season. That’s pretty good! Sisco notwithstanding, it’d be exciting to get him. But since they already do have Sisco...
McKenzie is about to turn 20 and has spent most of this year dominating the Carolina League. He was a competitive balance pick in the 2015 draft. McKenzie has struck out 140 batters in 108.2 innings for the Lynchburg Hillcats this season. That’s High-A, the same level as the O’s Frederick affiliate. He’s held batters to just a .190 batting average and a 1.03 WHIP overall.
- RHP Walker Buehler (#13 prospect)
- OF Alex Verdugo (#28 prospect)
Top guys who maybe aren’t top, top guys: RHP Yadier Alvarez (#51), 2B/OF Willie Calhoun (#69), OF Yusniel Diaz (#88)
Buehler and Verdugo are described as off the table for a rental, says Heyman. However, Britton is more than a rental, so that could change the calculus there, if the Dodgers are convinced Britton could help this year and next year.
Buehler is a Vanderbilt product who was drafted late in the first round in 2015. He had Tommy John surgery not long after signing with the Dodgers, so he has yet to really be unleashed as a pitcher while working back from that. For instance, in 11 Double-A starts, he threw just 49 innings. He’s reportedly kept his pre-surgery velocity in those short stints.
Verdugo is 21 and in Triple-A this season, where he’s batting .326/.398/.445. He may not have much power left to unlock and although he’s been playing center field, could be destined for right field. You could sign me up for that based on his pro performance to date, though.
- OF Kyle Tucker (#10)
- RHP Forrest Whitley (#40)
- RHP Franklin Perez (#46)
What is a “top, top guy”? Top 20? Top 50? The Astros also have OF Derek Fisher (#54) who they drafted with the pick the Orioles traded them for Bud Norris in 2013.
Tucker started the year at High-A and earned a promotion to Double-A at age 20. That’s impressive stuff, and he’s been impressive since that promotion, batting .281/.340/.520 in 42 games in the Texas League. The #5 overall pick from the 2015 draft is expected to have 20+ homer power, and sure enough, between High-A and Double-A, he has 18 home runs this season.
About Whitley, I think we all know there’s nothing the Orioles need more than pitchers. He would not, however, be a short-term solution, as he’s spent this year between Low-A and High-A. Whitley is just 19, turning 20 in September. Houston drafted him with their first round pick last year. This is from his MLB.com scouting capsule:
Whitley projects to have four solid-or-better pitches, starting with a 92-95 mph fastball that tops out at 97, could have more velocity to come and features cutting and running action. He has a power curveball that peaks in the low 80s with good depth and tight spin, and he can turn it into a mid-80s slider when he wants. He has an advanced changeup for a pitcher fresh out of high school and already trusts it.
Nice. Worth noting that the 6’7” Whitley is having to work on repeating his delivery. If you’re nervous about how the Orioles are with developing pitchers, you might be nervous about a Whitley acquisition. He may not even be on the table, anyway, and if he’s not, the Orioles might not be moving Britton.
Those are the teams involved and those are their “top, top guy” players. There are three hours to go until the trade deadline as of this writing. That’s a lot of time for a deal to come together, but it seems we should all be prepared for the Orioles to stay the course.