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Orioles prospects season preview: Bowie Baysox

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Five of the Orioles top nine prospects are starting the year at their Double-A affiliate, the Bowie Baysox. If they all progress from there, the franchise will be in good shape.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox
Hunter Harvey, seen in action in spring training, is headed to Bowie.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to see the future of the Orioles, one place you can look for it, at least at the beginning of the season, is at their Double-A affiliate, the Bowie Baysox. There are several top prospects starting out with the Baysox whose development will be key for plugging some of the holes the franchise is soon to face from the coming offseason’s expected free agent exodus.

With the Baysox season set to begin on Thursday, the break camp roster has been announced with an official Opening Day roster to follow soon. Not unlike the farm system as a whole, the Baysox roster has a few very interesting names and then not a lot of other players whose progress is expected to be worth paying much attention to.

In recent years, there have been several players who have jumped straight from Bowie to the big leagues. They don’t do it often, but when there’s a top prospect who’s red hot who is playing at a position of need at the MLB level, or when there’s a bullpen arm worth throwing right into the fire, they’re not afraid to summon someone who most fans haven’t heard of yet.

Orioles top 30 prospects on the Baysox roster

Top 30 prospects list according to MLB Pipeline.

  • OF Austin Hays (1)
  • 3B Ryan Mountcastle (2)
  • RHP Hunter Harvey (4)
  • OF Cedric Mullins (7)
  • LHP Keegan Akin (9)
  • LHP Luis Gonzalez (27)
  • OF Ademar Rifaela (28)

Five of the top nine prospects being on this team is really something to get your attention. They probably won’t all work out. Prospects just don’t do that, even in good farm systems, which the Orioles system is generally not believed to be. The Orioles need them to work out, though, so hopefully they will.

Hays is a familiar name for O’s fans after he surged to the big leagues last September, having dominated both High-A and Double-A in short stints. It remains weird that the O’s called up Hays, rushing him onto the 40-man roster in perhaps a misguided attempt to spark something for last year’s O’s.

He’s back at Double-A because he only played 64 games here before getting promoted. The Orioles want him to work on walking more. He only walked 27 times across 148 games at all levels last year. The O’s have players who can walk so seldom and have success - Adam Jones, for instance, walked 27 times in 147 games last year - but it’s a rare skill.

Mountcastle’s name has come up a bit after he started out last year at High-A Frederick at age 20 and batted .314/.343/.542 in 88 games. That earned him a promotion to Bowie, where his bat stalled: .222/.239/.366 in 39 games. He’s still just 21, not old for Double-A, and scouts generally think his bat will develop. Hopefully they are right.

The question about Mountcastle is where he will end up being able to play on the diamond. The O’s shifted him from shortstop to third base when he got the Bowie promotion last year. Can he stick there? It’s not clear yet. If he hits and sticks at third base, you might be looking at your 2019 Orioles third baseman. If he doesn’t stick, he might join the crowded left field group.

Fans have been waiting for Harvey since he had a surprisingly good pro debut after being drafted in the first round in 2013. A whole lot of injuries have set him back. The organization remains high on him, with Buck Showalter repeatedly joking-but-maybe-actually-serious about seeing Harvey in Baltimore this summer.

With that possible Baltimore appearance in mind, Baysox manager Gary Kendall said that Harvey would begin the season making just three-inning starts. The goal, according to Showalter, is to save innings for later in the season when he might be up in the big leagues. This is so optimistic that it sounds nuts. Before now, Harvey has yet to pitch above Low-A. One step at a time!

Mullins is back at Double-A for a second season. Due to a hamstring injury, he only played 76 games at the level last year. He batted .265/.319/.460, which is fine for a center fielder with speed, with the MLB-level center fielder being a pending free agent who maybe should be a corner outfielder now. I might have sent the switch-hitter to Norfolk, but if you can believe it, nobody asked me.

With the Orioles lacking a lefty in the rotation at the MLB level and so desperate that they kept Rule 5 lefty Nestor Cortes Jr. as a long reliever they’re telling themselves could start, the presence of Akin, a lefty, at Bowie, is interesting. Can he keep climbing up the ladder?

Akin, 23, needs to cut down on the walks, having issued 46 in 100 innings at Frederick last year. He also struck out 111 batters in that time, though - if he can maintain that at higher levels, he’ll get somewhere. You might have gotten the sense from the first handful of 2018 O’s games that the team could still have some rotation fixing to do.

Gonzalez, 26 without ever having pitched above Frederick, isn’t much of a prospect, but he struck out 75 batters in 62 innings at High-A last year. If he does something similar for Bowie, he’s the kind of guy who could get a Mychal Givens/Donnie Hart call right from Bowie to Baltimore - though perhaps not with two Rule 5 guys in the bullpen. A late-blooming reliever can get outs the same as one who reached his potential earlier.

Speaking of late bloomers, Rifaela is 23 and just getting to his first taste of Double-A. That’s old for the level and not the kind of thing that’s exciting, even if he just batted .284/.358/.500 for Frederick last year. The 5’10” lefty batter from Curacao could still get some attention if he turns in an equally strong season for Bowie this year. It’s not likely - that’s why he’s the #28 prospect in the system, but the thing about minor leaguers is that you never know.

Others worth keeping an eye on

Many other players will be appearing in games for the Bowie Baysox. I wish them all the best, but as far as the O’s system is concerned, it is unlikely any will be a factor at any point in time.