Anyone who watched the Orioles last year knows that they have a long way to go to get back from a 47-115 team to something good. The turnaround is not going to happen overnight, or in the span of a year. What the O’s can hope, though, is that Mike Elias inherited some good prospects from the Dan Duquette days that he can build on.
With that in mind, it’s nice to see three Orioles pop up on the recently-released Baseball Prospectus top 101 prospects list. They are Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz at 44, 2015 compensation pick Ryan Mountcastle at 51, and 2017 first round pick DL Hall at 92. In different places, that trio also appeared on the Baseball America top 100 prospects list.
At a simple level, building a good baseball team is about getting a critical mass of good, young players in MLB at the same time, having a deep base or prospects to use to augment an existing core of players through trades, and then supplementing those two groups of players with the right free agents once you recognize your team is on the ascent.
The devil is in the details of figuring out who’s good and should be brought into the system, who’s good enough to keep at all costs, who’s a bit more expendable in the right trade, and which free agents are actually worth signing. Though the Duquette-era O’s had a good five-year run, they never figured out this pipeline and things eventually fell apart. Hopefully, Elias can build something where the Duquette group never could.
The likes of Diaz, Mountcastle, and Hall will go a way towards determining whether the O’s can get things started up again in, say, three years, rather than five or more. If there are some solid players in the system now, they can be the first wave and players Elias brings on board can join them down the line.
Having three players on the list is better than having two, one, or none. Still, it’s nothing compared to the teams that are really regarded as having elite farm systems.
There are eight Braves prospects on the list, and it’s frustrating all over again that the O’s traded Kevin Gausman there and got no top prospects. The O’s division rival Blue Jays have four on the top 101, including #1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and two in the top 12. The Rays have seven players on the list. Those are some actually good farm systems. It doesn’t mean much if the top prospects don’t turn into good MLBers later, but it’s a good starting point.
The O’s aren’t there yet and they probably won’t be there in a year either, although having the #1 pick in this year’s draft will help, if they pick wisely. So will actually signing international amateur free agents, assuming they start doing that when this year’s July 2 class rolls around. Maybe Elias can pull off shrewder trades than Duquette’s.
Only time will tell about those. For now, there’s Diaz, Mountcastle, Hall, and the rest of the guys working their way up.
The BP folks are fans of Diaz’s bat:
He has excellent hand-eye coordination and solid quick-twitch which allows him to barrel the ball even though his swing can lengthen at times. The longer swing allows him to tap into his average raw power, although his swing plane is a bit flat and his hardest contact comes on low line drives. He has a patient approach with an excellent feel for the zone and quality pitch recognition.
They note that Diaz could need some swing adjustments in order to unlock more of his raw power into extra-base hit capability. If O’s fans are lucky, the new regime is already at work figuring out how to do that.
Mountcastle’s bat also excites:
A scouting cliché we reference often on the prospect team: “When in doubt, just pick the best hitter.” His power may or may not come. He may or may not stick up the middle. But if he hits, who cares, really? Ryan Mountcastle can hit. His swing gets long from time-to-time, usually when he’s trying to add leverage to get his plus raw power into play, but when everything is working it just looks right. We do think the power will come, and if he’s a 60 hit/55 power bat, so what about the rest, really?
The note of caution in “the rest” is the reality that Mountcastle already had to move off shortstop and they believe his arm probably won’t let him stick at third base either. He may end up joining the list of O’s outfield prospects eventually, though the BP folks think there’s a possibility he could end up as a Jonathan Schoop-like linebacker/second baseman.
It’s a bit more measured praise for Hall:
His fastball sits in the mid-90s and can touch higher. It’s a heavy pitch which he will also cut, and it shows late life when he wants to elevate it for a strikeout. He pairs it with a power curve that flashes plus. It’s a big, tight breaker that he can start in the zone and entice chases, or drop in for a strike.
All of that sounds good, but they note that his slider and changeup still need work and there are mechanical issues leading to an inconsistent delivery. Here is another area where we have to hope that the new people in charge of player development are better than the last group at figuring out how to improve pitchers and keep them healthy.
No talk of prospects is complete without a reminder that even the best prospects don’t always reach lofty expectations. Some disappoint or bust entirely, either through bad luck or never being as good as people thought.
BPro rated Bundy in its top 10 three separate years. That didn’t stop him from getting hurt. Hunter Harvey never rated quite as high as Bundy, though he did get into the top 20 once. Again, injury. Gausman, ranked in the top 15 twice, was supposed to be “a beast.” Maybe he will be yet now that he’s away from whatever dingbats with the O’s were telling him dumb stuff.
Some day, the Orioles will be good again. If it’s going to be sooner rather than later, we’ll probably see Diaz, Mountcastle, and Hall being a part of that and validating their prospect ranking status. Here’s hoping.