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Orioles farm system places dead last in Keith Law’s rankings

ESPN’s Keith Law ranks the 30 MLB farm systems every year. This year, the Orioles come in dead last: 30th of 30.

Kansas City Royals v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

As last year’s 47-115 disaster at the MLB level unfolded, it was clear that Orioles fans would have to spend time getting excited about the farm system in the near future because nothing good would be happening in the big leagues. The brutal truth is that there may not even be much there to inspire hope at first. In the 2019 farm system rankings from ESPN’s Keith Law, unveiled today, the Orioles place last: 30th of 30 teams.

We all know that the Orioles were unable to deny the need to lurch into rebuilding mode last July when they traded most of their good players, including Manny Machado. You might have hoped, like me, that Dan Duquette’s parting gifts would bear at least a little bit of fruit on the subsequent prospect rankings. Perhaps it will do so eventually, Right away, it seems, not so much.

This ranking was telegraphed somewhat as Law unveiled his top 100 prospects in the game last week. Only one Orioles minor leaguer cracked that list, with 2017 first round pick DL Hall appearing at #63.

Not much surprise that a team whose best prospect, and only top 100 prospect, ranks there is the worst team overall. Or maybe it’s at least a little bit of a surprise: Two teams had systems rated higher than the Orioles without a single top 100 prospect. It’s hardly worth getting indignant about the O’s being below those teams, though it is a bit curious.

It’s also a bit of a surprise because the Orioles rated 23rd out of 30 prior to last season. How could they have sunk all the way to the bottom even with the trades that they made in July? Law doesn’t answer that in detail in his of his assessment of the farm:

The O’s pick first in this year’s draft and they need it, as the system has fallen apart, which is how they ended up with the worst record in baseball and in need of a change to their entire baseball ops department. The failure to sign international free agents before this year was a huge part of it, dictated by ownership, but the Orioles also have been unable to develop talented players brought into the system from the draft or trades, with pitchers getting hurt or failing to develop with alarming frequency, and even performing players such as Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna being rewarded with unwarranted swing changes. The system is a mess, and it will take years to overhaul it. Fortunately the Orioles hired the right people for the job.

The overall rankings will be supplemented over the next couple of weeks with his ratings of specific systems. It’s safe to guess that there will be some words written about why he doesn’t think very highly of the trade returns from last July. I’m curious what he thinks about outfielder Yusniel Diaz, who has generally been the top O’s prospect and a top 50 prospect in other publications’ rankings but doesn’t make the cut with Law right now.

It’s a running joke on social media that Law “hates” (your favorite team). Bitter fans with long memories carry grudges over a litany of slights. Fans may not have been the only bitter ones. Duquette’s rejoinder to farm system rankings was: “The same people who pick us last in the division every year are the ones rating our farm system low.”

This kind of comment might as well have specifically named Law. It sounded a lot better before the O’s started losing in 2017, in part probably because the criticisms of the O’s farm system from Law and others had some merit all along.

All of that is to say that no, Law doesn’t hate the Orioles, but I think he hated the way the Orioles were run by whoever was actually in charge between Duquette and Buck Showalter. There seems to have been a consensus in the baseball analyst world that a brigade of idiots was in charge, stumbling into success almost by accident.

In the 2012-16 period, the easy answer to any such criticism was: “Orioles magic!” The O’s success in spite of all the negative words from these analysts made it that much more fun. With the O’s coming off a 47-115 season, and with a more run-of-the-mill crummy 2017 before that, there’s little to say that Law is wrong to feel that way now.

The specific comments about swing changes made to Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna are representative of things Law often pointed out to critique the O’s system. He has banged the drum over the years that the O’s made changes to Hunter Harvey’s delivery in pro ball that led to his injury problems.

There is, at least, a little bit of good news from Law’s final words, not that his blessing was necessary for fans to feel good about the hire of GM Mike Elias and his people. Everything Elias has done in his career before now and everything he’s said since arriving in Baltimore have reinforced the impression that he knows what he’s doing and things will be able to improve. The good news is that there’s nowhere to go but up.