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Orioles prospect season in review: Brenan Hanifee

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The Orioles high minors may be bereft of pitching prospects, but if you look down farther, you can find some interesting prospects like Aberdeen’s Brenan Hanifee.

St Louis Cardinals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Unless you spend a lot of time thinking about Orioles prospects who are a long way away from the big league team, you probably haven’t ever even thought of Brenan Hanifee before. Hanifee, the O’s fourth round pick in last year’s draft, is just 19 years old and is fresh off a solid campaign for the short-season Aberdeen IronBirds.

There wasn’t a whole lot to write home about for pitchers in the Orioles farm system this season, so we’ve got to find excitement wherever we can. There’s a long way from the New York-Penn League to Major League Baseball, but success there is still worth noting, especially for a player as young as Hanifee is. Many of the players he was facing were more advanced college draftees with two or three years on Hanifee.

What stands out about Hanifee is similar to what stands out about fellow Orioles pitching prospect Alex Wells. He just doesn’t walk many people. Hanifee started 12 games for Aberdeen this season, posting a 2.75 ERA over 68.2 innings, and he walked just 12 batters.

There’s another thing that stands out as impressive for Hanifee. He doesn’t give up many home runs, either. Just two of the 280 batters Hanifee faced hit dingers this season. It’s easy to keep batters from hitting many homers when they’re always hitting the ball on the ground.

MILB.com tracks a player’s ground out/air out ratio. The more groundouts, the better. Hanifee had a GO/AO of 2.16 - more than two grounders for every fly ball. That’s impressive, and if Hanifee can maintain close to a ratio like that as he climbs the ladder, having better defenders as teammates at higher levels will only help him out.

The folks at MLB Pipeline rate Hanifee as the #15 prospect in the Orioles system, ahead of even Wells, the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award winner. He still has work to do if he’s going to keep climbing up towards MLB:

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.

Hanifee is listed at 6’5” and 180 lbs, which is right in the classic “projectable” territory. If he starts throwing harder while keeping his command as being what it is, that’s going to start to make him a more interesting prospect.

Sometimes that extra velocity doesn’t arrive as hoped. It’s hard to develop as a pitcher - and as we all know, the Orioles have struggled with developing them. The need to develop the changeup is also something to keep in mind. Against short-season competition, he can get away without it. That will be less true as he goes higher up the ranks.

Hanifee is a fun prospect to root for. His dad is an Orioles fan with an Orioles tattoo and grew up on the Eastern Shore. He’s relatively local, having gone to high school in Bridgewater, Virginia. The Orioles were the only home team for his youngest years. If a local kid can make it, that’s all the more fun.

After this successful campaign, the O’s will surely send Hanifee to the Delmarva Shorebirds next season. Hopefully that goes as smoothly for him as it did this year for Wells. For the high school draftee it’ll be a gradual climb to the big leagues if he’s able to make it.

The MLB Pipeline gives him an ETA of 2020. Even that would require him to jump two levels per year each of the next two seasons. Hanifee is a way away from being able to help the team in Baltimore, but his successful season here certainly marks him as a prospect worth keeping an eye on.

The Orioles need to develop talent in the low minors in order to get talent in the high minors and then in MLB. Here’s hoping Hanifee is riding at the start of a new wave of O’s prospects.

Tomorrow: Cody Sedlock