The one thing that makes the 2019 Orioles season different from any other in recent years is that now they know they are rebuilding. There is no pretending otherwise, though that doesn’t make the season-opening series win against the Yankees with its two laundry cart shower celebrations any less fun. As the season goes along, it’s more likely that any excitement will be coming from the minor league ranks.
New GM Mike Elias has not had much time to remake the farm system yet. He arrived too late to sign anyone from the current international amateur signing period, and maybe even too late for the big names for the next signing period. He has not yet had a draft to put his mark on the system. For now, he’s stuck with what Dan Duquette left him in the cupboard.
Can the new analytics regime mine some unexpected talent out of some of the existing prospects? Will the spring training storyline about Orioles manager Brandon Hyde making sure his minor league coaching staffs are all on the same page make a difference in player development compared to the counterproductive chaos that reigned before?
We might start getting answers to some of these questions over the course of the 2019 season. Whether the Triple-A Norfolk Tides roster is full of prospects or not, the likelihood remains that a number of the players on this team will be summoned to the big league when someone currently on the Orioles either gets hurt or isn’t good.
The Tides are managed this year by Gary Kendall, who was promoted from being the Double-A Bowie skipper.
Orioles top 30 prospects on the Tides roster
- 3B/1B Ryan Mountcastle (2)
- LHP Keegan Akin (6)
- OF DJ Stewart (16)
- RHP Luis Ortiz (19)
- RHP Branden Kline (22)
A noteworthy name NOT listed above is outfielder Austin Hays, the #4 prospect in the system, who may have excited you with his spring performance before he was sent down to the minors. Hays then hurt his thumb sliding into a base in a minor league game, so he’ll begin in extended spring rehab instead of at Norfolk.
Mountcastle has been sliding down the defensive spectrum since being drafted. He was a shortstop. They dropped him to third base last year. The new brain trust had him spend some time at first base in spring, where he’s expected to also spend time at Norfolk. You have to hit pretty well to be an interesting first base prospect. Mountcastle’s .297/.341/.464 batting line at Bowie last year would indeed be interesting at the MLB level.
Akin will be the top-rated pitching prospect on the team. If you were watching or listening to Orioles spring training games, you did not hear a word about him because he was not invited to big league camp. Is that a sign of how Elias and company think of Akin, or was it just a matter of there were already a lot of pitchers in camp? Akin turns 24 today, which is getting old for a prospect. Hopefully he can build on a Bowie campaign in 2018 where he posted a 3.27 ERA and struck out 142 batters in 137.2 innings.
Stewart had a respectable big league debut last fall, with an .890 OPS in 17 games, yet he finds himself pushed to the minors in favor of Dwight Smith Jr. and Joey Rickard. Ortiz, part of the Jonathan Schoop trade return, carries with him perpetual injury questions. Kline, who was born in Maryland, has an exciting local angle to his feel-good story of perseverance. He’ll be getting his first taste of Triple-A competition and hopefully does well enough to earn his way to Baltimore.
Other 40-man players on the Tides roster
Elias probably won’t be doing the kind of near-daily shuffling of the Orioles roster that his predecessor did, because there’s no pressure to win. Instead, he’s going to give people extended tryouts to find out who can hack it and who can’t. The first round of tryouts are going to those who made the Opening Day roster. The ones who aren’t up to the task will have these Triple-A players waiting in the wings, assuming they’re playing well enough that Elias wants to call them up.
- RHP Evan Phillips
- RHP Yefry Ramirez
- LHP Josh Rogers
- LHP Tanner Scott
- C Chance Sisco
- OF Anthony Santander
Ramirez and Rogers could be either back-end starters or long relievers if the likes of David Hess, Jimmy Yacabonis, or John Means falter at the MLB level, or if someone gets hurt. Someone is likely going to get called up the day that Rule 5 reliever Pedro Araujo can be optioned, now about two weeks away. That could be either of the relievers, Phillips and Scott. Opportunity will be coming soon.
Less of a sure thing is when Chance Sisco will get that opportunity. Being shuffled aside for Pedro Severino in the last week of spring training can’t be fun. Sisco scuffled at the plate and defensively last season and seemed to end up in the Buck Showalter doghouse, which led to his getting just 43 starts at the MLB level. Does the new regime want him to work on his defense? Is there a plan that will help him? Can he rebuild his hitting confidence against Triple-A competition?
For some of these players, the case may turn out to be that Duquette’s scouting crew were a bunch of dopes for thinking they had any value whatsoever. They could be shuffled out of the picture as this season progresses. For others, it may be instead that a different bunch of now-departed player development dopes were incapable of unlocking the best versions of these players. Hopefully, there are more players in this latter group than the former.
- RHP Cody Carroll (#21 prospect)
- C Austin Wynns
- RHP Dean Kremer (#9 prospect)
Kremer arrived in spring training with a minor oblique strain, so he’s not full-go to start the season. Wynns suffered his oblique tweak during camp and is on the MLB injured list. Carroll was ticketed for the minors regardless but had his back flare up late in spring training, which keeps him off the Opening Day Tides roster and probably out of the “first guy called up” picture.
The Orioles farm system was famously rated 30th of 30 teams by ESPN’s Keith Law just a few months ago. To him, the farm system was little more than a boundless sea of scrubs in every direction. As people who enjoy when the Orioles win baseball games, we have to hope that Law’s assessment is incorrect. Players who are starting the year with the Norfolk Tides will likely get their chances to prove him wrong as 2019 moves along.