For the first time in a while, there are several minor league pitchers in the Orioles system worth getting excited about. Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall rightly received a great amount of attention this season, while Zac Lowther, Bruce Zimmermann and Alex Wells all impressed at Bowie.
Unfortunately, the topics of today’s conversation do not fit into that category. Both Brenan Hanifee and Blaine Knight suffered statistical setbacks after receiving promotions to Frederick.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that Hanifee and/or Knight cannot develop into Major League pitchers. But both hurlers will be looking to bounce back in 2020. Hanifee is currently ranked by MLB.com as the Orioles 18th best product, while Knight checks in at No. 16.
The Orioles drafted Hanifee in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. After impressing scouts at Turner-Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Virginia, Hanifee adapted nicely to the New York-Penn league. Hanifee started 12 games for Aberdeen in 2017, and pitched to a 2.75 ERA and 1.121 WHIP while posting a 7-3 record.
A year later, Hanifee started at Delmarva and continued to pitch well. The righty went 8-6 in 23 starts with a 2.86 ERA and 1.076 WHIP. After another successful season, the Orioles decided to start Hanifee at Frederick in 2019.
Hanifee faced adversity for the first time in his young, professional career this season with the Keys. His ERA and WHIP spiked to 4.60 and 1.419, and he posted a losing record (9-10) for the first time. It’s not exactly what Hanifee or the Orioles had in mind.
However, there’s a few things to keep in mind. At just 21 years old, Hanifee is more than two years below the average age in the Carolina League. On top of that, he was pitching at that level for the first time. While Hanifee succeeded right away at Aberdeen and Delmarva, no one can expect him to immediately dominate at every stop.
Hanifee will likely start next year with the Keys, and it will be interesting to see how his second crack at the Carolina league goes. He posted several quality starts for Frederick, but he’ll need to be more consistent next season.
Hanifee’s best stretch came in the middle of July with three consecutive victories. He kicked off the streak with a complete game shutout against the Salem Red Sox. Hanifee allowed five hits, struck out four, and did not walk a batter in any of the nine innings. After that outing on July 14, he did not lose a game until August 29.
Hanifee uses a heavy, low-to-mid 90s fastball to produce ground balls. His slider has been graded above average, and he appears to have the mix to stick as a starter. He’s stayed healthy for the most part, and should be poised for a bounce-back year at Frederick (a mid-season promotion to Bowie is not out of the question). Still, Hanifee figures to be a solid two years away from Baltimore, with late 2021 as the absolute earliest we’ll see him.
Unlike Hanifee, Knight did not start the year with the Keys. Knight allowed only two runs in his first five starts at Delmarva, and earned a promotion to Frederick in early May. Unfortunately, Knight left the scoreless innings back in Delmarva.
The Orioles selected Knight in the third round of the 2018 draft. The University of Arkansas product started four games for Aberdeen at the end of 2018, and pitched to a 2.61 ERA. After his success with the Shorebirds, Knight appeared to be cruising right along. He pitched six innings of one-run ball in his first outing at Frederick, but the woes kicked in after that.
In 17 starts at Frederick, Knight completed six innings only four times. He walked at least two batters in 12 of those starts, and struck out more than five just once. The 56/39 K/BB ratio could definitely improve, and it needs to next season.
Like Hanifee, Knight will likely start next season in the Frederick rotation. Because he’s two years older than Hanifee, he could earn a promotion a bit quicker if his numbers improve. Hanifee flashed more potential this past season, but both should settle in during their second season at the level.
If Knight improves next season, he’ll likely finish the year at Bowie. After that, it will come down to performance. The best case scenario would be Knight starting games for the Orioles at some point in 2021. Listed at 6’3, 165 lbs, he still needs to fill out his frame. His mid 90s fastball could still see a slight uptick.
There was simply no way that every Orioles pitching prospect would have a good year in 2019. It just doesn’t work like that. While these two struggled, several others flourished. On top of that, both of these two could get back on track next season. Hanifee showed flashes of what he can do in the Carolina League, and Knight would benefit greatly from increased control.