On Tuesday, we kicked off the Camden Chat community prospect poll by having folks vote on the #1 prospect in the system. No surprise, the choice of the majority of voters was the 2019 #1 overall pick, Adley Rutschman, who as soon as he was drafted was seen as one of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball.
Rutschman was the choice of about 70% of our voters, with Grayson Rodriguez coming in at 17% of the vote. The remainder chose either DL Hall, Ryan Mountcastle, or Yusniel Diaz for their own idiosyncratic reasons. Today’s poll will be picking between those four guys, as well as Austin Hays, to settle who is #2 in the system behind Rutschman.
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.
Updated 2020 rankings will probably trickle out as our voting rolls along. Baseball America has already got its 2020 top 100, and Pipeline’s new top 100 is expected to be released on January 25.
Whoever gets the most votes in this poll will become our #2 prospect. The next poll, to be posted on Tuesday, will include the four guys who aren’t chosen in this poll plus the next prospect who I think should be included. I haven’t decided who is next as of this writing. It’ll be a surprise for everyone.
Top prospects so far
Today’s choices for #2
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. He’s kept up his climb, with the recent Baseball America updated 2020 ranking putting him as the #35 prospect in baseball.
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.
Overall, it’s still enough potential that the folks at Baseball America placed him at #47 in their top 100 ranking heading into the 2020 season.
Acquired: 2015 draft (1st round comp. pick, 36th overall)
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: Triple-A Norfolk
Not all of the top 100 developments were good for the Orioles minor leaguers. Mountcastle, who peaked at #71 on that same BA ranking two years ago, has fallen out of the top 100 entirely, though he did still get a mention in the publication’s “just missed” article.
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 is not in the BA top 100 any more, either, falling out in the 2020 update. Though they said his name came up as one of the almost 200 they considered for this top 100, he’s now off of the top 100 in a publication that rated him as the #37 prospect in MLB prior to the 2019 season.
It was 2018 performance that probably put Diaz on Duquette’s radar when it came time to make trades, and that might have been what propelled him onto top prospect lists also. 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, and why Duquette’s tenure as GM came to an end without much lament from Orioles fans.
Acquired: 2016 draft (3rd round, 91st overall)
2020 age: 24
2019 highest level: MLB
Hays is a third O’s prospect who once had top 100 prospect shine that has faded. After he blasted his way from Frederick to Bowie to MLB in 2017, becoming the first prospect from the entire 2016 draft to make his MLB debut, he rated as high as the #21 prospect in Baseball America before the 2018 season. In retrospect, the decision to promote him to try to spark the fading 2017 Orioles looks like a poor one.
It was a hard fall for Hays in the 2018 season, with injuries and poor performance dropping him off of lists almost as suddenly as he appeared. Would he be able to rebound in 2019? Despite another year with injury problems, he worked his way back up to Baltimore for another September call-up. It went much better than the first one, as Hays batted .309/.373/.574. His home run robbery was one of the best moments of the whole season.
Whether Hays can turn that small sample size into being a guy who sticks around for the next good Orioles team is one of the bigger storylines heading into 2020. If he doesn’t get hurt between now and Opening Day, he’s probably the regular center fielder for as long as he looks like he’s able to keep up with MLB.
Are you going with Rodriguez as the #2 Orioles prospect, as seems to be the consensus of the mainstream prospect writing folks, or do you have a different favorite? Let us know your choice, and why, in the comments below.
Who is the #2 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed