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Orioles prospects season preview: Bowie Baysox

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Three of the Orioles top eight prospects, including their #1 guy, Yusniel Diaz, are starting the season at Double-A.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox
Hunter Harvey will once again be pitching at Bowie, as long as he stays healthy.
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

A question to which every Orioles fan would like to know the answer: When will the team be any good again? This is the big question after last year’s dismal record led to the people responsible losing their jobs and new people with a new plan coming in. The answer is not known. One thing we do know: If the prospects the Orioles have at the Double-A Bowie Baysox are good, their chances of being good at the MLB level in the next few years improve.

If Mike Elias gets nothing out of what he was left behind by Dan Duquette and company, this rebuilding project will take a longer time. Even the most hot-shot fast-moving college player drafted in 2019 would probably not debut before 2021. If the Orioles sign a 16-year-old in the international amateur signing period that starts in July and that kid turns into the next Vladimir Guerrero Jr.-level prospect who’s ready to debut at age 20, we’ll see that kid in 2023.

Perhaps if some 2019 Orioles show other teams that they have value, Elias will get another avenue to add talent in the system with trades. They won’t be able to offer any marquee names like Manny Machado this year and any trade returns will likely reflect that.

This brings us back to Bowie. Whatever excitement the Orioles are going to add to the MLB level by next year, it’s going to be drawn from Baysox success stories. New Baysox manager Buck Britton, promoted from the same role at Delmarva, will hopefully help some of these guys author that success.

Top 30 Orioles prospects on Bowie roster

Top prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline. The break camp roster is subject to change before Opening Day.

  • OF Yusniel Diaz (1)
  • OF Ryan McKenna (7)
  • LHP Zac Lowther (8)
  • RHP Hunter Harvey (12)
  • RHP Dillon Tate (18)
  • RHP Zach Pop (20)
  • IF Rylan Bannon (23)

The Orioles received three of these seven players last July in the Machado trade: Diaz, Pop, and Bannon. They also picked up Tate in the Zack Britton trade with the Yankees. The deals would have been more exciting with some top-level quality other than just Diaz, but, well, that’s not what they got.

You can count me a bit surprised that the Orioles are starting Diaz at Bowie rather than Norfolk. He’s now got 128 career Double-A games under his belt and has batted .297/.391/.459 in those games. He scuffled a bit after the O’s acquired him last year, though, so perhaps the Elias brain trust wants to re-evaluate him there before pressing harder. This seems to be more than just a “hide him until the seventh year of service time day passes” demotion.

McKenna was not a prospect anyone thought about much before last season, but in 67 games for Frederick, he posted an incredible .377/.467/.556 batting line. McKenna, the O’s fourth round pick from a New Hampshire high school in 2015, suddenly looked like a possible late-blooming cold weather guy. That success didn’t carry over to Bowie, hence his starting 2019 where he ended 2018, but he did continue to encourage with a 1.064 OPS across 17 Arizona Fall League games.

The lefty, Lowther, is the one pitching prospect who is here on this staff because he definitely conquered his previous level last year. Lowther struck out 151 batters in 123.2 innings between Delmarva and Frederick in 2018 - mostly Frederick. He walked just 35. Can his brand of high spin rate magic continue to find success as he climbs the ladder? If the answer is yes, we probably know at least one guy in the next good Orioles rotation.

Harvey still holds on O’s prospect lists by virtue of his past pedigree and there being no one else. He was the old regime’s draft success story, until he kept getting hurt. Elias has no emotion invested in Harvey. The guy’s thrown less than 70 innings total since 2015. Maybe this is finally his year to step forward, or maybe this is finally the year it’s clear that things will never come together for him.

Tate is another guy who has never put it together. His injury history isn’t quite so severe, but if you’re 24 and starting at Double-A, something went wrong somewhere. Not unlike Diaz, Tate struggled at Bowie after the O’s acquired him, so it makes sense this is where the new crew wants him to start. He’s been traded twice since Texas drafted him 4th overall in 2015. One way to look at this is that two teams looked at him and said, “We need that guy!” Another way is that two teams looked at him and said, “We don’t need that guy!”

Pop played across three levels last year, with the O’s assigning him to Bowie after the Machado trade. The reliever struck out 64 batters in 64.2 innings and issued only 19 walks. A 3.37 strikeout/walk ratio is enough to get your attention at least a little bit.

Bannon’s MLB Pipeline scouting report comes along with the unexciting phrase, “if it all clicks, Bannon could develop into a valuable utility player at the highest level.” Utility. Snooze! He scuffled in 32 post-trade games with Bowie last year: .204/.344/.324. Like the walk rate, don’t like much of the rest. It’ll be nice if he exceeds these expectations and possibly plays his way to being the successor to Jonathan Villar at second base at the MLB level.

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It’s fun to think about prospects because they represent the potential for something. The reality that isn’t as fun to dwell on is that most of them aren’t going to make it because they either get hurt or they aren’t good enough. This is true even in farm systems that are generally agreed to be good, which isn’t a group that includes the Orioles, and it’s true sometimes even with players who “everyone” knows are top 100 prospects in all of MLB.

If all seven of these players are a part of the next good Orioles team, that would be something of a miracle. If four of the seven make it to contribute to a good team three years down the road, that would be fantastic, and perhaps a sign that the Duquette scouting apparatus was more maligned than it deserved to be.

Hopefully, the Elias group will be able to get the best out of each of these players, whatever that level of talent may prove to be.