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Orioles prospects season preview: Frederick Keys

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2017 first rounder DL Hall is starting the season off at Frederick. Not many other top Orioles prospects will be there.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Orioles are unexpectedly and awesomely above the .500 mark through their first five games of the season. This fun fact has not yet changed the likely impression that the 2019 season will not be one where winning at the MLB level is the big priority. It’s about developing the prospects who will matter in two or three years.

The group of prospects beginning the season with the High-A Frederick Keys are still the ones Dan Duquette brought into the system. He drafted or traded for the entire Orioles top 30 prospects list except for the two Rule 5 picks made by Mike Elias this past winter: Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. The task for the Elias analytics team is to get the most out of who’s been left for them.

It’d be nice to say, for the chances of the Orioles being good in 2021 or 2022, that the team is loaded with prospects at Frederick. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Only two of the team’s top 30 prospects are on the break camp roster of the Keys. That includes a whopping zero position players. The next generation of good Orioles are out there somewhere. It doesn’t seem like they’ll be in western Maryland in April, though.

By the end of the year, this may be a different story, if players who are beginning a level lower at Delmarva earn midseason promotions. Check back to read about them later in the week.

Frederick’s manager will again be former Oriole Ryan Minor this season.

Orioles top 30 prospects on Frederick’s roster

  • LHP DL Hall (3 in O’s system, 88 on MLB-wide top 100)
  • RHP Brenan Hanifee (11)

That’s it. It’s not great.

Hall is the best-regarded pitching prospect in the Orioles system. Some analysts, including ESPN’s Keith Law, believe that Hall is the best prospect in the whole system. Law rates Hall 63rd on his top 100 prospects list, seeing “a good athlete who should develop more consistency to his delivery with repetition,” with the capability to have a good curveball and changeup, but risk that these things need to be taught.

The 2018 season, his first full one in pro ball, was good to Hall. He held South Atlantic League batters to a .203 average in 94.1 innings, posting a 2.10 ERA with 100 strikeouts and 45 walks. One of the rules of prospecting is “you can’t scout the box score” - and the walk total is a bit high besides - but it’s nice.

So, hopefully Elias’s people are better at getting the best out of their pitching prospects than Duquette’s people were. Minor was one of Duquette’s people, but by keeping him on board, now he’s one of Elias’s people. Pitching coach Justin Lord, getting bumped up from Delmarva to Frederick, is in the same boat, as is hitting coach Bobby Rose, also jumping up from Delmarva.

Hanifee is among my favorite prospects in the system if only because the Virginia native comes from a family of Orioles fans. His dad said he had an O’s tattoo long before his son was drafted by the team.

As for Hanifee’s 2018 performance, the fourth round pick from 2016 had a solid 2.86 ERA across 132 innings, but again, don’t scout the box scores. It doesn’t help his chances to be a big leaguer if he can only get out A-ball hitters regularly. With 85 strikeouts, he may start to fall to “can’t miss bats” criticism. If you can’t strike out guys in Low-A, MLB batters will hurt you more. But he also limited his walks to just 22, which is a good sign for his command.

If Hanifee passes the High-A test, he will look like a more interesting prospect in a year’s time.

Guys starting in extended spring training

  • IF Jean Carmona (24)
  • C Brett Cumberland (26)
  • LHP Alex Wells (27)
  • RHP Michael Baumann (28)

I mention these players here because there’s not much else going on with Frederick and there was a lot more to say about Norfolk, Bowie, and soon Delmarva. Carmona, part of the Jonathan Schoop trade return last July, is only 19 and probably ticketed for short-season Aberdeen when their season kicks off in June.

For the others, it’s a bit of a surprise that they haven’t been assigned to any affiliate to begin the season. None were battling injuries in spring training that I know of, unlike fellow extended spring travelers Austin Hays, Dean Kremer, and Cody Carroll, discussed here along with the Norfolk-bound prospects.

Cumberland, who turns 24 in June, was part of the underwhelming Kevin Gausman trade return. He combined to bat .224/.350/.391 across two levels in two organizations last year, which isn’t overwhelming but at least strikes me as worthy of saying, “Eh, let’s throw this guy on the Bowie roster and see what happens.” Instead... extended spring training. Maybe they want him to work on his defense before throwing him into real games on a Bowie team that has three interesting rotation pitchers.

The 22-year-old Wells brings with him the fun personal details that he is a twin (brother Lachlan was signed by the Twins) and that he is Australian. From a pitching standpoint, he has the fun detail of walking just 10 batters in 140 innings for Delmarva in 2017. That didn’t play quite as well at Frederick last year, as his walk rate increased to 33 walks in 135 innings. Still low, but not amazingly low.

A crafty lefty must be that much more crafty to stay afloat at each level. Wells didn’t dominate Frederick as he did Delmarva the year before. Again, though, he was capable enough that I’m surprised he’s not part of Bowie’s season-opening rotation. I’m sure the Orioles have a reason for this and I just don’t know what it is.

Baumann, the Orioles 2017 third round pick, is like Wells in that I am surprised he’s not assigned anywhere. The 23-year-old spent most of last season with Frederick, posting a combined 3.17 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 130.2 innings. However, in his outings at the higher Frederick level, he struck out just 59 batters in 90.2 innings. If they had him repeating Frederick, I would understand. If he was up at Bowie, I would understand. Extended spring? With the information I have available, I don’t understand.

**

With apologies to anyone whose job it is to try to sell tickets to Frederick Keys games, if you want to find the future of the Orioles this summer, Keys games probably aren’t the best place to look. Hopefully Hall and Hanifee mesh well with the new player development regime and earn their way up to Bowie either later this summer or for next year.