During the early, painful stages of a rebuild, fans can find their enjoyment in top prospects who come up and make an impact at the major league level. The Orioles aren’t there quite yet, but could be this summer.
Below are updates on six prospects who have or had a legitimate chance to make an impact for the Orioles in 2019. All six of these prospects have an ETA of 2019 on MLB.com’s Prospect Watch. While Grayson Rodriguez is lighting the world on fire at Delmarva and DL Hall is struggling at Frederick, neither factor into this conversation since they are a few years away.
Ryan Mountcastle- Most people who follow the Orioles know that Mountcastle’s bat is nearly ready now to play at the big league level. After a slow start at Norfolk, he has heated up substantially and lived up to his current ranking as the O’s number one prospect. In his last ten games, he has batted .349 to raise his season average to .315. He has compiled an on-base percentage of .342 and a slugging percentage of .497. Despite appearing at the AAA level for the first time, all of those numbers top his career minor league averages. He has hit five home runs and driven in 23.
Mountcastle clearly has a good idea of what he’s doing at the plate. He has shown the ability to drive pitches to all fields. While all of his home runs have been pulled, a healthy portion of his base hits to go center and right fields.
This ability will serve him well in the majors.
Mountcastle does need to improve his ability to work walks. He has drawn only six so far and twenty-six last season. That appears to be his only weakness at the plate thus far. His defense always lagged behind his offense, but a moving to first base this season should mask some of his deficiencies.
Moving Mountcastle to first base was an interesting decision because he’s blocked by the largest contract in franchise history. Renato Nunez has served as the primary designated hitter this season, but has three hits in his last 44 at bats. If Mountcastle stays hot, he could force his way into at bats at first base and DH. In that situation, it would likely be Nunez’s roster spot that would be in jeopardy.
DJ Stewart- After having success (.890 OPS) in his very limited time with the Orioles last season, I thought Stewart had a good chance at making the 2019 club. That didn’t happen and he’s still down in Norfolk. The jump to AAA was tough for him in 2018, but he’s off to a very nice start this season. He is slashing .264/.391/.527, all drastically improved from last season. He already has seven homers under his belt after hitting 12 last year and 21 in 2017. Stewart’s interesting blend of power and speed has continued, as he’s swiped three bags.
Unlike Mountcastle, Stewart has a great ability to work walks. He has walked 23 times while striking out 21 times thus far. A very impressive ratio. If the Orioles need a corner outfielder this summer, Stewart may be the top option.
Chance Sisco- After appearing in 63 games in Baltimore last season, the new regime thought Sisco needed more minor league seasoning. Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have too much left to prove with his bat. He is slashing .280/.379/.533. His seven home runs are a very pleasant surprise given that he now has a total of 35 in parts of seven minor league seasons. The most he’s had in a total season is nine.
We know that Sisco can hit minor league pitching. The question is his defensive capabilities behind the plate. Last year, his defense projected to cost his team 15 runs over the course of 125 games. Brandon Hyde recently spoke about the positive reviews he’s received about Sisco’s defense, so that is encouraging. But he has thrown out only three of twenty-three attempted base stealers so far this year. That is not encouraging.
Even if Pedro Severino or Austin Wynns were to suffer an injury, Jesus Sucre is probably the next man up on the organizational catching depth chart. The O’s seem happy with letting Sisco develop his catching skills at the minor league level. If his early power surge continues, that could change the situation and make his bat a lot more desirable in Baltimore.
Keegan Akin- After a wonderful 2018 season in Bowie, I was very interested in following Akin in Norfolk. His ERA of 4.24 and WHIP of 1.32 are both disappointing. After two solid outings to kick off his 2019 campaign, he then gave up three earned runs in four consecutive starts. Hopefully his last start, one earned run in 6.2 innings, is a sign of things to come.
Despite some struggles, Akin’s strikeout rate has remained consistent with what he did last season. In 34 innings, he’s punched out 36 batters.
If the Orioles needed a starter tomorrow, Akin probably wouldn’t be in the conversation since he has only a handful of AAA starts to his name. But if he finds his 2018 form, he is definitely a candidate to be called up later this summer. Given his success starting, it is doubtful that he’d be called up as a bullpen arm. The O’s will likely want to keep him in a starter’s routine.
Yusniel Diaz- The jewel of the Manny Machado trade has not lived up to expectations in Bowie. Through 20 games, he is batting .225/.313/.338. He isn’t heating up after a cold start; his batting average over his last 10 games was .229 before he went on the injured list at the end of April. Of his 16 hits, only five have gone for extra bases and he’s driven in seven runs.
In searching for positives, Diaz has walked nine times next to thirteen strikeouts. Unfortunately, that plate discipline isn’t enough to get him to the major leagues. The breakout of Dwight Smith Jr. hurts Diaz’s chances of making the major league club this season, though he could find a way to force the organization’s hand if he goes on a tear.
Luis Ortiz- The right-hander acquired for Jonathan Schoop pitched well last year when promoted to the AAA level. After getting a call up last season, he figured to be in the mix this season. Ortiz hasn’t exactly taken advantage of the opportunity. His ERA is 6.31 and his WHIP is an eye-popping 1.91. His cause wasn’t helped in his last outing, when he was shelled for seven runs In 2.1 innings in Baltimore, he gave up four earned runs.
Ortiz has never struck out many batters (perhaps a poor sign of prospects of success) and that has continued this year. But his strikeout rate has declined so far, as he’s punched out only 13 batters in 25.2 AAA innings. At this rate, Ortiz will probably only be called upon as a 26th man or if an arm is needed in the bullpen.