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Orioles prospects season preview: Delmarva Shorebirds

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The Orioles’ Low-A affiliate in Salisbury is already off to a 4-0 start to the season. They have an intriguing rotation full of prospects whose development would really help the franchise.

Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

There’s something about thinking about prospects in the minor leagues that just encourages someone to dream about the best case scenario. Even when you know better than to do it, you can’t help but buy into any hype because it would just be so nice, for both the Orioles and these players, if they are able to stay on a positive trajectory and work their way up towards the big leagues.

Of the four levels of minor leagues playing games now, the Delmarva Shorebirds are the lowest-level affiliate, what’s generally just called Low-A ball. Salisbury, where they play their games, is not that far from Baltimore geographically, but it’s a long way from the big leagues, because there’s still Frederick, Bowie, and generally Norfolk to conquer to get there.

The Shorebirds, managed by first-time manager Buck Britton, older brother of Zach, have gotten off to a 4-0 start over their first weekend of play. Though their scoring 32 runs over their past two games is what gets the attention initially, it’s the pitching staff that’s really worth paying attention to. If a couple of these guys can develop, the Orioles rotation of 2-3 years from now and beyond will get a nice boost.

That probably won’t be what happens. The acronym “TINSTAAPP” - there’s no such thing as a pitching prospect - is not strictly true but it is understood because there are so many things that can go wrong with a guy. Maybe he gets hurt - elbow or shoulder or something else. Maybe his secondary pitches never develop as hoped. Maybe everyone thinks he’s going to be good and he just never gets that “wow” factor and washes out.

These Shorebirds pitchers haven’t even had time to start being called “the cavalry” or anything like that. If O’s fans are lucky, by the end of the season, some of them will be.

Orioles top 30 prospects on the Shorebirds roster

Top 30 prospects according to MLB Pipeline.

  • LHP DL Hall (5)
  • RHP Brenan Hanifee (10)
  • RHP Michael Baumann (15)
  • LHP Cameron Bishop (16)
  • LHP Zac Lowther (17)
  • RHP Gray Fenter (23)
  • SS Mason McCoy (29)
  • RHP Matthias Dietz (30)

Look at all of those pitchers! The Shorebirds will be rolling with a six-man rotation that also includes a pitcher piggybacking off of Hall, last year’s top Orioles draft pick. So that’s really a seven-man “rotation” that consists of all seven of the above names. They won’t all make it. That’s not how prospects work, especially Orioles pitching prospects. But hopefully they can pitch well and keep climbing.

Baumann, Bishop, and Lowther were all drafted from the college ranks last year, so strong performance from them might be more likely to result in a midseason promotion to Frederick with the possibility of beginning next year at Bowie. Low-A isn’t very close to MLB, but Double-A, on the other hand, is quite close, particularly when the O’s aren’t shy about jumping players from Bowie straight to Baltimore.

Hall, as the highest-ranked of the bunch at the moment, is the most interesting even if his potential development is not as fast as some others. A Fangraphs profile on the O’s system published this morning provides some reason for guarded optimism:

Lefties who touch 97 and flash a plus curveball are typically off the board in the top 15 picks. Makeup issues pushed Hall, who would eventually sign for an overslot $3 million, toward the back of the first round. Though Hall struggled to throw strikes after signing, he projects to have a pretty nasty three-pitch mix and average command. His fastball lacks projection because Hall has a 6-foot frame, but it’s already hard. He projects as an above-average big-league starter and comes with the standard applicable risk associated with teenage arms.

The phrase “makeup issues” pops up from time to time with draft prospects and is seldom explained, particularly regarding players drafted out of high school, because should someone really get their entire professional career judged on innuendo about a 17-year-old?

The Orioles were probably happy to have someone with his talent fall to where they picked in the first round last year. “Projects as an above-average big-league starter” is an exciting phrase, even if that excitement must be tempered by “struggled to throw strikes after signing” and “risk associated with teenage arms.”

Most likely, not all seven of these players will have strong seasons for the Shorebirds. Even if they did, it would still be unlikely to imagine every one of them marching towards the Orioles in unison, with so many other potential stumbling blocks in the way. The next hurdle in their way is Low-A. Keep an eye out through this season to see who seems to be clearing it.

If the Orioles are lucky, they might get a couple of starters and a couple of relievers out of the bunch, and maybe even players who can be traded for better MLB talent than Travis Snider and Gerardo Parra.

The lone position player with the Shorebirds who rates on this top 30 list is McCoy, who was drafted as a senior last year and therefore will never have much prospect stock.

The MLB Pipeline profile about McCoy mentions that the Orioles liken him to Mike Bordick, not because of an inability to refer to Chris Davis as anything other than “The Crusher” but instead because of standing out “for the sum of his parts rather than his tools.” He is mentioned as a possible future utility infielder.

This is not the most exciting of projections, but then again, the Orioles currently do not even have a utility infielder and it’s generally accepted that a team needs one. If McCoy some day proves he’s worth that title, future Orioles rosters will be stronger for that.

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No one on the Shorebirds will be making it to the Orioles this year, and it’s not very likely for any of them to make it next year, either. The dream of some of them helping out the big club some day is a distant one but still a valid one. Here’s hoping for a good season from the bunch of them as the first step towards a bright future for the Orioles pitching staff.