The future still feels bright for the Orioles even if the present does not. Mike Elias and his people are in charge and they’re putting a nice shine on the Dan Duquette leftovers and adding some of their own exciting talent. If O’s fans are lucky, the core of a good team is working its way up their farm towards the big league level right now.
With so many eyes turned hopefully towards the farm for 2020 in hopes that prospects start contributing over the next year and a half, I want to know who you’ve got the most faith in as things stand right now.
To that end, over the next ten weeks, we’ll be voting on the Camden Chat community’s top 20 Orioles prospects. There will be a new poll every Tuesday and Friday between now and the day after Opening Day. What makes one guy a better prospect than others? Is it a high ceiling? A respectable floor? A track record of performance at higher minor league levels?
It’s for you to decide what matters the most. None of us are professional prospect watchers, and that’s OK. We can all still read some lists and look at stats and decide who seems exciting and who doesn’t.
You might find it helpful to consult some of the scouting reports on these players. I like MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs because they’re thorough, they update over the course of a season, and they’re free. These are the end of the 2019 season rankings rather than 2020 ones because the updated 2020 ones aren’t out yet.
Here’s how it’s going to work. We’ll start out with five names, since both of these lists have the same top 5. Whoever gets the most votes - in this case, probably Adley Rutschman - will become the #1 prospect. Friday’s poll will take the #1 player off and add the sixth-ranked prospect (also Austin Hays on both lists) and whoever gets the most votes there will be the #2 prospect, and so on. Let’s get down to it.
Top prospects so far
None. We’re just starting!
Today’s choices for #1
Acquired: 2019 draft (1st round, 1st overall)
2020 age: 22
2019 highest level: Low-A Delmarva
O’s fans reward for having to endure the joyless slog of the 2018 season was that in 2019 they were perched at the top of the draft to get the first crack at picking the guy who gets this glowing Fangraphs report:
...Rustchman is good at everything. Remarkably mobile for someone his size, he comfortably has the skills to not only stay at catcher, but excel there. He’s an agile ball-blocker, he can throw, and he’s a con artist pitch-framer who gets umpires booed because fans are convinced they’re all strikes. On top of that, this is a switch-hitter with both power and feel for contact from both sides of the plate and an intense, earnest, vocal leader.
It’s not all of the time that the #1 pick in a draft class immediately rates among the top 10 prospects in all of baseball. Rutschman has got that level of hype already.
This is not the first time in recent memory that Orioles fans have been spun up about a great switch-hitting catcher who could also play good defense as the potential franchise savior. Matt Wieters, fine Oriole that he was, never quite managed to live up to the transcendent hype he generated as an amateur and early in his professional career.
Time will tell how differently things go with Rutschman. If he’s able to race up the minor league ranks like the mainstream prospect writers seem to think he could, we could find out how he lives up to the hype as soon as next year.
Acquired: 2018 draft (1st round, 11th overall)
2020 age: 20
2019 highest level: Low-A Delmarva
There are a number of things for which the O’s were fairly maligned in the Duquette days. Some things he did better than he gets credit for. Picking Grayson Rodriguez is an example of the latter. Duquette’s final first round pick was a guy whose late improvement led to his being drafted higher than expected, and once he got into the pro ranks, Rodriguez showed the late improvement was no mirage.
Pipeline on some of Rodriguez’s performance to date:
With his 6-foot-5 frame and high-three-quarters slot, Rodriguez creates steep downhill plane with his pitches and already shows a propensity for getting ground balls. He’s a decent athlete who uses a controlled delivery that enables him to flood the zone with quality strikes. ... Beyond the stuff, he’s shown the ability to make swift adjustments early in his career while demonstrating advanced feel for his craft.
I’ve been doing this for long enough to tell you that there’s not a shortage of prospects who get glowing reports upon being drafted or in the low minors and then you have to squint to see where that shows up in their results.
Rodriguez is one where you can look at the stats and see it right away. He mowed through Low-A in his first full professional season where he was nearly three years younger than the average player at the level. He racked up an impressive 129 strikeouts in 94 innings at the level, with a 0.989 WHIP across 20 starts. You can even see the bit about the ground balls in how he only gave up four home runs on the season.
If Rodriguez takes Frederick by storm in a similar way, he’ll be rated higher than his current place as the #10 right-handed pitching prospect in MLB before long.
Acquired: 2017 draft (1st round, 21st overall)
2020 age: 21
2019 highest level: High-A Frederick
Hall has a bit in common with Rodriguez. He was a mid-late first round pick by the O’s, a high school pitcher whose first taste of professional action seemed to earn him better pro prospect stock than he’d had as an amateur. Hall also ranks at #10 on his MLB Pipeline positional ranking. He is a bit different in that he’s a lefty who’s shorter (6’0”) and of course he’s also one year older.
The extra year put Hall in Frederick for 2019. The good news is that Carolina League batters didn’t hit his stuff very much. Hall gave up just 53 hits in 80.2 innings, and only three of those hits were home runs. Along with this, he struck out 116 batters. That’s impressive stuff for a guy who was more than three years younger than the average age for the league, according to Baseball Reference.
There are warts. Command seems to be the big question mark. Hall walked 54 batters out of the 346 he faced in 2019. That’s a BB/9 of 6.0. It’s bad! Fans looking at stats can never totally know how much of that falls under “he was working on something,” so maybe that has something to do with it. If so, hopefully the 2019 work turns itself into a significantly improved 2020 walk rate.
Acquired: 2015 draft (1st round comp. pick, 36th overall)
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: Triple-A Norfolk
One big thing stands in Mountcastle’s favor. The guy hits. He has a .295 batting average since being drafted, which included a best-yet .312 average as he played at Norfolk last year at age 22, nearly five years younger than the average player at the level. When that young hits .312/.344/.527 on the cusp of MLB, you have to take notice.
A lot of other things raise questions about whether that hitting will carry over to the MLB level. It’s not clear what position he can actually play. He’s dropped from short to third to first since being drafted, with 2019 dabbling in left field as well. The O’s are a bit jammed in first and left until there are roster changes.
Mountcastle’s strikeout and walk rates are a concern. He struck out in 23.5% of his plate appearances last season and only walked 4.3% of the time. It’s a problem. MLB pitchers will be better than AAA ones. The things that make him already strike out that much and walk so little could be exploited more at the highest level. The 25 home runs aren’t worth what they used to be, either, since the AAA baseballs were the same juiced ones as in MLB.
Maybe the Orioles have a good developmental reason to leave Mountcastle down to start the season. But I know that as a fan, I’d rather see them stop wasting time and roster space on Chris Davis and start finding out if Mountcastle has any part in a better Orioles future.
Acquired: 2018 trade deadline (Manny Machado deal with Dodgers)
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: Double-A Bowie
Nearly a year and a half since the 2018 fire sale trades, the Cuban outfielder Diaz remains the only prospect the Orioles acquired to have been in a top 100 prospect ranking. Unfortunately for the Orioles, that hasn’t translated to Diaz continuing the meteoric ascent he had been making up the Dodgers minor league ranks.
Diaz had batted .314/.428/.477 with the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate before that July 2018 deal. The geniuses running the O’s player development at that time immediately changed his swing and he batted .239/.329/.403 the rest of the way. Between a hamstring injury and a quad injury at different points in the season, Diaz only played in 76 Double-A games in 2019. He never got enough continuous time to earn his way up to Norfolk.
There’s stuff to like. Unlike Mountcastle, nobody can question whether Diaz will draw walks. He’s walked in 10.4% of plate appearances since hitting the American minor league ranks. That’s high enough that his 20.8% strikeout rate at Bowie last season is less of a concern. He’s got a more solidified position in right field, with the possibility of occasionally backing up center. And when he played in 2019, he posted a career-best ISO (isolated slugging) of .210, including 11 home runs in his 76 games.
Perhaps by the end of 2020, we’ll get to see at the MLB level what Duquette thought he saw in Diaz. Or perhaps instead we’ll get to see why Diaz was their one top prospect the Dodgers felt was expendable as they chased a World Series in 2018.
Is it Adley at the top for you, or are you going to be a contrarian? Let us know in the comments below.
Who is the #1 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed