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Orioles prospects season in review: The Manny Machado trade return

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The Orioles bolstered their farm system with five players in return for Manny Machado. Here’s a look at the non-centerpiece players.

World Baseball Classic - Pool A - Game 2 - Israel v Chinese Taipei
Orioles prospect Dean Kremer played for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

On July 18th, the Orioles traded superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers for five players, headlined by outfielder Yusniel Diaz. It was a sad day for Orioles fans to see their homegrown star shipped off, but a day that marked a new start for the Orioles. Yes, there are dark days ahead, but maybe when we finally see the light it’ll be due to some of the players who came back.

Diaz is currently ranked as the number one prospect in the Orioles’ system, and as such you’ll get to read a post dedicated to him later in this series. Today we’ll be tackling the other four players in the trade: RHP Dean Kremer, 2B/3B Rylan Bannon, RHP Zach Pop, and UTIL Breyvic Valera.

Fun fact! The four prospects in this five-player deal were all born in 1996. The oldest is Kremer (1/20) followed by Bannon (4/22), Pop (9/20), and Diaz (10/7). All four went to double-A Bowie where they were several years younger than the average-aged player in the league.

Sorry, Breyvic. You’re not a prospect. That doesn’t mean you can’t be useful!

Dean Kremer

When the Orioles traded for Dean Kremer, he had just been promoted to the Dodgers’ double-A team in Tulsa. He made his first 16 starts of the year with the single-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes with a 3.30 ERA and had 13 strikeouts per nine innings. He had one impressive start for Tulsa in which he pitched seven shutout innings with 11 strikeouts, and his reward was a trip across the country to play for a new team, the Bowie Baysox.

In eight starts with the Baysox, Kremer thrived. His strikeouts dropped a bit from his high-A numbers with the Quakes, but averaging 10 K/9 is nothing to sneeze at. He walked 17 batters in 45.1 innings, which is a little high, but 2-3 walks per game isn’t going to kill you when you’re striking out a good number and not getting hit around the park. He finished his season at Bowie with a 2.58 ERA and 3.04 FIP.

At the time of the trade, Kremer was ranked as the 28th best prospect in LA’s system. He is currently ranked 16th for the Orioles. A lot of that is because the Dodgers have a stronger minor league system than the Orioles, but Kremer has also seen his stock rise since being traded. In their trade deadline wrap up, FanGraphs noted that Kremer “[t]hrows 92-95, touches 97, above-average curveball, average change. If pitchability improves, he’s a back-end starter. If not, solid relief option.”

It’s very early, but it’s looking possible that Kremer could meet those expectations from FanGraphs. Kremer is almost 2 12 years younger than the average player in Bowie’s Eastern League and the second youngest pitcher on the team to fellow tradee Zach Pop. If he can go on to put up a full season like the eight starts he had for Bowie this year, I might say that he could exceed expectations. For now it’s too soon to tell.

MLB Pipeline gives Kremer an ETA to reach the majors of 2020, which sounds about right to me. But who knows, if he has a strong and healthy 2019, maybe he’ll be in Baltimore before the year ends.

Rylan Bannon

Rylan Bannon was in the middle of a very good stretch of baseball when the Orioles traded for him. In 89 games with Rancho Cucamonga, Bannon was slashing .296/.402/.559 with 20 home runs. His BABIP was quite high at .367, but for the optimist maybe that just meant he was way too good for the league he was playing in. It should be noted that Rancho Cucamonga is considered a very hitter-friendly environment.

The Orioles promoted Bannon to double-A Bowie and gave him a permanent spot at second base. He had previously split time between second and third, but a fella named Ryan Mountcastle has been holding that down for the Baysox.

Unfortunately, the success Bannon had at high-A before the trade didn’t translate to his new team. He walked more frequently and struck out less often than he was doing for the Dodgers, but his batting average dropped almost 100 points and his power numbers took a tumble. He hit just two home runs in his time with the Baysox and finished with a hitting line of .204/.344/.327.

While with the Dodgers, Bannon was ranked as their 27th prospect, one ahead of Kremer. But their diverging paths since being traded has landed Bannon at 22 for the Orioles, six behind Kremer.

At the time of the trade, Baseball America noted that while Bannon can hit, his future may be as a utility player due to slightly below average defense. Bannon didn’t really show off his hitting prowess once he got to Bowie, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for now. He was adjusting to a new team, a new level of play, he’s young for the league, and it was only 32 games.

I expect Bannon will find himself back at Bowie for the start of the 2019 season to see if he can regain that success he was having before being traded. What happens after is all dependent on that.

Zach Pop

Zach Pop came to the Orioles as an unranked prospect who was putting together a very nice season in relief at A ball for the Dodgers He now sits at #25 on the O’s top 30.

In 27 innings of relief at high-A, Pop allowed just one earned run across 19 appearances. That’s good for a 0.33 ERA. He struck out only 23, which translates to just above 7 per nine innings, which isn’t great. But it’s a lot more palatable when you’re racking up a 66.7% ground ball rate.

In 13 games (21 innings) with Bowie, Pop’s strikeout rate stayed about the same but his ground ball rate jumped up to a very nice 69.1%. You put a good defense behind pitching like that and you’re golden.

FanGraphs has described Pop as both “death to righty hitters” and “a right-handed version of Zach Britton.” Both of those things make me swoon a bit more than I should, because Pop is very young and in all likelihood nothing near Britton. But this year he held all hitters to a slash line of .148/.248/.211, which is pretty darn good.

Pop has progressed through three levels of minor league ball this season, pitching in both low and high-A for the Dodgers before the trade and his promotion to double-A. He won’t turn 22 for almost two weeks and with just 21 innings of double-A under his belt that is likely where he will return to start 2019. And if he can go on to put up a solid season, or most of a season, maybe we’ll see him in the majors in late 2019 or 2020.

Breyvic Valera

As I mentioned at the start of this story, Valera is not a prospect. He came to the Orioles as a minor league veteran with a bit of major league experience. He has played in 894 minor league games since 2010 as a utility player who mostly plays all over the field. He brings positional versatility to the table, which is an asset. But his bat doesn’t play well enough for him to be a regular player.

In 38 games with the Norfolk Tides this year, Valera played second base, third base, shortstop, and left field. His combined hitting line with AAA Oklahoma City and AAA Norfolk was .261/.333/.405 in 94 games. He is currently with the Orioles as a September call up.