Among the many reasons that the Orioles went 47-115 in the 2018 season is this: Their farm system has not been very good for a while and it offered very little in the way of possible help as the team’s pitching staff sank to the bottom for several straight years. The next head of baseball operations, whoever that may be and whatever title they receive, is going to have a lot of work to do.
If you were hoping that the Orioles trades in July would be able to start to get them into a better place, reality is not so kind. On Monday, Fangraphs unveiled farm system rankings that placed the Orioles as the third-worst system in MLB. Dan Duquette has already lost his job helming the organization, but if he hadn’t, this is the kind of thing that should have gotten him fired post-haste.
What puts the Orioles so far down is that, despite the trades they made as they blew up the MLB roster, they did not net a single player who ranks among the top 131 Fangraphs prospects. Their evaluators went to a top 131 list to encompass rankings for each player whose future value they give a 50 (average) on the typical baseball 20-80 scale. The O’s are one of three organizations that does not have a single player in the top 131.
Duquette enjoyed dismissing such rankings by saying something like, “The same people who rate our farm system lowest are the people who pick us last in the AL East every year.” The reality could be ignored as long as the Orioles were within a game of a playoff spot, as they were as recently as early September 2017. Things have not gone so well since, as we are all uncomfortably aware.
Other publications do like some O’s prospects more than Fangraphs. For instance, the MLB Pipeline rankings have outfielder Yusniel Diaz at #52 and possible future outfielder Ryan Mountcastle at #63. That’s it for the top 100, which still isn’t great for hopes of the Orioles returning to quality baseball any time soon.
This points to the same conclusion: The next boss has a lot of work to do to get the Orioles out of the wilderness. O’s fans can only cross our fingers that the person they bring on board is aware of the problems, capable of having a vision to address them, and given freedom from ownership to implement that vision. What needs to be done is not a secret. It’ll just be up to whoever gets the big bucks to make it happen.
Spend more money internationally
The Orioles have already blown a recent chance at reversing their bad history of international spending when they missed out on Victor Victor Mesa and his brother, who signed with the Marlins, and fellow Cuban Sandy Gaston, who signed with the Rays. The O’s did not sign these players despite having the most possible bonus pool money available; missing out on Gaston, who signed for about $2.6 million when the O’s had $6+ million of pool money to spend, is especially egregious.
This is not something that can be blamed on the new head of baseball operations, obviously - they weren’t even in charge to preside over this bit of short-sighted decisionmaking. The new boss must change it, though. Five of the top six Fangraphs prospects are international signees.
This includes Nationals outfield prospect Victor Robles, who signed for a mere $225,000. The Orioles spent that much money just making Rule 5 draft picks over the past two offseasons. Elite talent that everyone knows will be elite costs more - everyone’s #1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. got a $3.9 million signing bonus. There will be busts with million-dollar price tags. Ownership must have the nerve to take those chances, or the franchise will not have the opportunity to get this talent.
Improve professional scouting
Presumably, there was someone in the scouting group telling Duquette that signing Ubaldo Jimenez or Yovani Gallardo would be a good idea. These were not good ideas and each cost the Orioles a draft pick. Handing Chris Tillman a job was a bad idea.
I don’t know who was ultimately responsible for saying, “Yes, this guy will definitely be a good signing,” but I hope they will be out of a job and replaced with someone who can better identify the right MLB-level talent to acquire.
This also includes scouting other teams prospects when making trades. With the Orioles netting at most one top 100 prospect out of their July trades, they did not do very much to help jump start the rebuild based on what we’ve seen so far.
It may be that the injury concerns around Zach Britton and the poor 2018 performance of Jonathan Schoop are the biggest factors in those disappointing returns, though. You can’t get value if you aren’t giving value, and Orioles fans liking a player doesn’t count as value to another team.
Improve amateur scouting
“The draft is a crapshoot” is a thing that people who aren’t very good at drafting have to say. To be sure, there is a luck element involved in drafting 18-year-olds from right out of high school and 20-year-olds who have not completed college. Teams who have a better idea of who will be good professional prospects manage to be more successful.
Consider the 2015 draft, when the Orioles selected DJ Stewart with the #25 pick. Stewart had a bad professional debut and has been trying to claw his way back to prospect status ever since. Three of the next nine players drafted after Stewart are in the Fangraphs top list: Atlanta’s Mike Soroka (#28 pick, now #25 prospect), Pittsburgh’s Ke’Bryan Hayes (#32 pick, #34 prospect,) and Detroit’s Christin Stewart (#34 pick, #117 prospect).
This is not a one-year problem. In the 2016 draft, the Orioles blew the #14 pick to sign Gallardo; #15 prospect Alex Kiriloff was drafted 15th by the Twins and #12 prospect Forrest Whitley was drafted 17th by the Astros.
At #27, the Orioles picked Cody Sedlock, who thus far has been an endless string of injuries. The next pick saw the Nationals take #10 Fangraphs prospect Carter Kieboom. The pick after that was #96 prospect Dane Dunning. With the 35th pick, the Reds selected current #13 prospect Taylor Trammell. Were these teams just luckier? Maybe. Or maybe their scouts were more in tune with what tools could lead to a player becoming a good prospect.
Duquette’s last draft is still another possible example of this in action. It could be that things will work out fine with the Orioles pick at #11, Grayson Rodriguez, but the fact remains that they passed on higher-ranked amateur pitching talent to draft him there: #15 pick Cole Winn is the #101 prospect, while #16 pick Matthew Liberatore is the #100 prospect.
With these rankings are not guarantees of success. However, the O’s have clearly been marching to the beat of a different drummer with their drafting lately and as far as their top picks are concerned, it hasn’t worked out.
Improve player development
Exactly what is busted about the Orioles player development was apparently a constant source of disagreement between Duquette and Buck Showalter. Perhaps a brigade of idiots was handing out bad advice based on bad or nonexistent analytics; perhaps genius-level analysts with good information were being tragically ignored by a head-in-the-sand field staff stuck in a 20th century mindset.
The high-profile top draft picks, Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, have never developed as hoped. We all know about Jake Arrieta. Even complete wastes of space like Wade Miley managed to have positive results elsewhere after thoroughly failing here. What is up with that? The new boss could probably do worse than firing everybody.
On Monday, both MASN’s Roch Kubatko and The Baltimore Sun’s Jon Meoli suggested that the team could be making a decision on the new boss very soon. Whoever they are, good luck. They’re going to need it.