Last week, we kicked off the Camden Chat community prospect poll by having people vote on the #1 and #2 prospects in the Orioles system right now.
There was no surprise about who came in at #1, with Adley Rutschman, the 2019 first overall pick, the top choice of the majority of poll voters. It didn’t take long for a surprise to show up in this poll process, though, with the #2 spot going to... Austin Hays. In a poll that received over 250 votes more than the vote for #1, Hays was the choice of 53% of voters.
I am not one of those voters, so I don’t have an explanation for that outcome. Perhaps some of the Hays voters would like to explain themselves in the comments below.
From today through Thursday evening, the choice is yours to pick the #3 prospect in the system from among the four players who Hays leapfrogged relative to professional prospect lists, plus new addition Gunnar Henderson, the O’s second pick in the 2019 draft.
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, as does MLB Pipeline. Baseball Prospectus also released its top 101 list on Monday.
Whoever gets the most votes in this poll will become our #3 prospect, no matter how strange I might find the outcome. The next poll, to be posted Friday, will include the four guys who aren’t chosen in this poll plus one more addition that I haven’t decided on yet. It’ll be a surprise.
Top prospects so far
Today’s choices for #3
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.
Rodriguez has kept up his climb, rating as the #35 prospect in the game in Baseball America, #36 from MLB Pipeline, and #45 with Baseball Prospectus.
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. Pipeline was a bit more skeptical, rating Hall as the #69 prospect, while Baseball Prospectus did not have Hall on its top 101 at all.
Acquired: 2015 draft (1st round comp. pick, 36th overall)
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: Triple-A Norfolk
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. He does still have his believers, slipping in at #94 with MLB Pipeline and picking up an aggressive #57 ranking from Prospectus.
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. MASN’s Roch Kubatko speculated recently that the Orioles will try Mountcastle in right field in spring training - another jammed roster spot without 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. Prospectus, which had Diaz at #44 before last season, has also dropped him from its top 101, as has MLB Pipeline where Diaz was #66 before 2019.
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: 2019 draft (2nd round, 42nd overall)
2020 age: 19 (turns 19 on June 29)
2019 highest level: Gulf Coast League
How Mike Elias would look at picks beyond the first round was almost as pressing of a question as what he would do with the #1 choice last year. He ultimately went with entirely “up the middle” players - shortstops, catchers, center fielders - in rounds 1-7. Henderson was the earliest high school player chosen by the Orioles in 2019.
Henderson’s ranking as the #7 prospect in the O’s system to close out the 2019 season was more about his pre-draft attention than anything he did in the professional ranks:
Henderson produces a lot of hard contact from gap to gap. He shows more bat speed from the left side of the plate as well as power that’s started to catch up to his hitting ability as he continues to add muscle to his 6-foot-3 frame. ... There’s still some debate as to where Henderson will wind up defensively. Those who think he can remain at shortstop believe he’s an underrated athlete with a quick first step and a plus arm. Others believe he’ll slow down as he fills out and necessitate a move to third base, where he’d still profile well offensively.
It’s understandable if the “where will this guy play?” aspect about Henderson reminds you of Mountcastle, but it seems like Henderson has a much better chance of staying in the left side of the infield than Mountcastle ever did.
Henderson’s plate discipline in his first shot at pro baseball was much better than Mountcastle’s as well. The Alabama native got into 29 games after being drafted, with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks in 121 plate appearances. By comparison, Mountcastle struck out 46 times and walked only nine in 209 plate appearances after being drafted in 2015.
Elias said over the weekend that depending on how Henderson looks in spring training, he could be ticketed for short-season Aberdeen rather than the full-season Low-A Delmarva. If he’s heading for Aberdeen, there are a number of prospects who O’s fans will be hearing about more than Henderson until the short-season schedule begins in June.
Are you going to help get this community prospect poll back on track by picking Rodriguez as the #3 prospect in the system, or do you have a different favorite? Let us know your choice, and why, in the comments below.
Who is the #3 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed