The next good Orioles team, whenever it arrives, is not going to look much like the last good Orioles team. The front office could not bring itself to admit this reality last July, but with their worst-in-MLB record at this year’s trade deadline, there was no more hiding it for the O’s.
The Manny Machado and Zach Britton trades have started the transformation towards whatever the Orioles will be next. More deals could happen over the next four days before the non-waiver trade deadline. The result is a farm system that, when combined with the players added in the June draft, looks a whole lot different than it did even two months ago.
Rankings updated this week by MLB Pipeline highlight just how different things look already compared to what they were at the start of the season. This update to the O’s top 30 prospects list includes a top ten that has five players who were not in the organization at the beginning of June. The new top ten:
- Yusniel Diaz - OF
- Ryan Mountcastle - 3B
- DL Hall - LHP
- Austin Hays - OF
- Grayson Rodriguez - RHP
- Dillon Tate - RHP
- Hunter Harvey - RHP
- Cedric Mullins - OF
- Cadyn Grenier - SS
- Blaine Knight - RHP
Diaz and Tate were the headline players in the Machado and Britton trade, respectively, while Rodriguez, Grenier, and Knight were the first three players the O’s picked in the draft this season. Add to that Dean Kremer (#13) from the Machado deal and Cody Carroll (#14) from the Britton deal and seven of the top 14 Orioles prospects right now were not in the system two months ago.
You can rank ten players in a system and call it a top ten list, but this doesn’t tell much about the strength of a farm relative to others. The O’s are probably better off than they were, but they still have just two top 100 prospects in the game and even a top prospect is not guaranteed to be a star. They are just thought to have more tools for potential success. Reaching the potential is another story.
What’s more important is that the O’s farm looks better than it has. Eighteen months ago, names filling up the top ten list included Cody Sedlock, Chris Lee, and Jomar Reyes, all of whom are still within the system but unranked. Three years ago, Christian Walker, Tim Berry, and Tyler Wilson were top ten O’s prospects. Five years ago, L.J. Hoes, Xavier Avery, and Glynn Davis were top ten on the O’s farm.
In hindsight, it is not very hard to figure out that few of these players were ever very likely to develop into anything that mattered. Yet at the time, we were repeatedly assured by Dan Duquette of the strength of the Orioles farm system. If Duquette really believed this, that’s not encouraging for his ability to assess the farm heading into the future.
Even some of this new and (hopefully) improved crop of O’s minor leaguers will end up busting before they make it to the big leagues. That’s the way it goes with prospects. Even the best farm system in MLB at a given moment will probably not go 10/10 in having their top prospects become useful big leaguers.
Some will get hurt. Harvey, unfortunately, has already been beset by a multitude of injuries since being drafted in 2013. Maybe Tate won’t be durable enough to last as a starter, as scouting reports have been concerned about him for years. These things could happen even if the Orioles do everything right, which as we all know is not any kind of sure thing when it comes to them and developing pitching prospects.
Others just might not turn out to be good enough even when they play the best they possibly can. It happens. Being a big leaguer is not an easy thing. Mullins has hit better recently but hasn’t shaken a possible fourth outfielder future. Grenier might not be able to hit enough, no matter how good his glove is. There are many roadblocks that stand between these players and all of them being on the 2021 Orioles.
Possible trades of free agents-to-be like Adam Jones, Danny Valencia, and Brad Brach are not likely to change this top ten picture. Those guys won’t command that kind of return. The O’s seem unwilling to deal from the set of players with more team control at this point. So, in addition to this top ten list, the O’s will be hoping for some contributions from deeper in the system.
The good news is that there are some players down there who may have potential. Keegan Akin (#11) has struck out 103 batters in 98.2 innings for Bowie this season, though that’s come along with 48 walks. Ryan McKenna (#12) forced a promotion from Frederick with a 1.023 OPS in 67 games; he’s still waiting for the power to manifest at Bowie, where he has a .708 OPS. DJ Stewart (#22) gets little respect but has a .347 OBP for Norfolk and might be the O’s left fielder right now if not for the Chris Davis/Mark Trumbo/Trey Mancini logjam.
Farther down in the minors, Keys rotation members Zac Lowther, Michael Baumann, and Alex Wells have pitched decently enough to be worth keeping an eye on. The same can be said for Hall’s Shorebirds teammates Brenan Hanifee and Cameron Bishop. These are guys who will be looked at each level with the idea that they’re going to have to prove it to advance. If the O’s are lucky, one or two will trickle up to a future O’s rotation.
There will be other chances to add impact talent. The O’s have signaled that they may actually start spending on international amateur free agents. If that proves true, they can start picking up the low-cost lottery tickets and medium-cost fliers that occasionally bloom into star players years down the road.
The Orioles are also likely to pick #1 or #2 in next year’s draft. Not all drafts have equal talent pools, and the O’s will still need to scout well to determine who is the best player and then successfully get the most out of that player. Still, the #1 pick in 2018, righty Casey Mize, is now MLB Pipeline’s #20 prospect, while the #2 pick, catcher Joey Bart, is their #37 prospect. As consolation prizes go, it’s not bad to get a player like those.
If the Orioles are going to pull off a rebuild two years down the road, their new-look crop of top prospects will play a big part of that. Things are looking a lot better on the farm than they did two months ago. Will that be enough? Let’s hope so.