In recent years, Orioles GM Dan Duquette has answered critiques on the weakness of the O's farm system with some variation on the following quote: "The same people who rate our farm system low are the people who pick us last in the division every year." This rejoinder packs less punch now that the Orioles did, in fact, finish last in the AL East in 2017.
At least as far as the farm system is concerned, though, things are improved at the moment, with the Orioles being judged to have three of the top 100 prospects in MLB, according to the Baseball America rankings released this week. That is heading in the right direction. However, compared to the division rivals the Orioles will have to pass to get back towards respectability, they're still lagging behind.
The Yankees and Rays are particular standouts, with six top 100-ranked prospects apiece. The Blue Jays are in better shape as well, with four on the top 100 list, including two of the top eight prospects. Compared to those hauls, the Orioles trio doesn't quite shine so bright any more. At least the Red Sox aren't stacked.
Here are the players from the top 100 list who are in AL East organizations:
- Orioles: OF Austin Hays (21), C Chance Sisco (68), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (71)
- Blue Jays: 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3), SS Bo Bichette (8), OF Anthony Alford (60), RHP Nate Pearson (91)
- Rays: RHP Brent Honeywell (14), SS Willy Adames (19), LHP/1B Brendan McKay (39), 1B Jake Bauers (45), OF Jesus Sanchez (49), SS Wander Franco (96)
- Red Sox: LHP Jay Groome (83), 3B Michael Chavis (85)
- Yankees: SS Gleyber Torres (6), OF Estevan Florial (38), LHP Justus Sheffield (41), 3B Miguel Andujar (59), RHP Albert Abreu (77), RHP Chance Adams (81)
As ever with prospect lists, it's important to remember that they don't signify any kind of unchangeable destiny. Players from the bottom half of the list may turn out better than ones at the top. Some could bust entirely, either due to injury or even just not ever being as good as people thought they would be, while players who never appear on a top 100 list can still turn into useful big leaguers one day.
Each evaluator may have a different list, as well. You'll find some different names and a different order if you check what ESPN's Keith Law wrote for his top 100. Others will be along soon from Baseball Prospectus or MLB Pipeline or wherever else. Still, the BA 100 is a decent snapshot of what's going on right now, and what's going on is that, while the Orioles have gotten better, they don't have the up and coming talent of some of their division rivals.
The Yankees stand out here not only because they have six top 100 prospects, but because they have traded another three away in the past six months. They now have Giancarlo Stanton on their team thanks to trading pitcher Jorge Guzman (87) to the Marlins - along with their willingness to eat Stanton's money, of course.
Another two current top 100 prospects - shortstop Jorge Mateo (64) and outfielder Dustin Fowler (88) - were traded to the Athletics for Sonny Gray. A third player in that deal, pitcher James Kaprelian, appears on Law's top 100 prospects. The Yankees have traded all of these prospects and they don't even care because they got good big leaguers and they've got plenty more prospects where those came from.
Even more striking is that the Yankees received three of their top six prospects in trades. When you are canny and recognize when to punt on a season and collect trade returns for your desirable players, you can collect big.
The Yankees got Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman, Justus Sheffield for Andrew Miller, and Albert Abreu for Brian McCann. It's a stark contrast compared to how the Orioles appear to be indecisively batting around the idea of trading Manny Machado this offseason. Don't even get me started about Zach Britton's Achilles.
Four of those six Yankees prospects were originally signed as international amateurs. So were three of the Rays six prospects, as well as Guerrero Jr., the son of the former Oriole and soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee of the same name.
Teams that signed these players got either useful players for their own franchise, or trade chips to try to cash in to compete for current runs. I mentioned three Yankees trades above. The two teams who got Yankees relievers - Chapman and Miller - during the 2016 season appeared in that World Series, with the Cubs winning it. The Astros got McCann and eventually won in 2017.
You can get those players if you have the prospects. You're going to have a hard time getting the prospects if you aren't willing to sign them. These international amateur types are the ones the Orioles will never sign. The why of this is never conclusively reported. Maybe there's some good moral principle behind it. But it sure doesn't help the team win more baseball games than their competitors.
It's a plus for the Orioles that they're back up to having three top 100 prospects. That's better than where they've been for the last couple of years, where they had just one or even none. If a healthy Hunter Harvey appears in 2018, they might even have a guy who is ticketed for somebody's future top 100 prospect list.
Even so, the job is never done for a farm system. In particular, the Orioles need to get themselves some pitching prospects so they don't get into any more offseasons where they have three rotation holes to fill and nobody in the organization worth filling them.
The O's division rivals will not have any problems calling on their own farms for reinforcements. The Orioles are left with a bunch of free agents they won't or don't want to sign to help a do-or-die 2018 squad. That doesn’t feel good.