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Rylan Bannon may be the most overlooked Orioles prospect

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Rylan Bannon has managed to fly mostly under the radar since his arrival in 2018, but the infield prospect is much closer to his MLB debut than many may realize.

Baltimore Orioles v Atlanta Braves Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Thinking back to the deal that sent Manny Machado to Los Angeles, the package the Orioles received focused mainly on one player. Yusniel Diaz was not listed as the Dodgers top prospect, but he immediately shot up Baltimore’s rankings. I guess that’s what happens when a team neglects the international market. Still, the Cuba native the Dodgers paid $31 million to sign at 18 years old made for an exciting addition.

The Orioles have yet to see Yusniel Diaz compete at the major league level, although the thought remains that he should be ready to challenge for playing time soon. As for the other four prospects the O’s received? They hardly moved the needle.

Flash forward to 2020 and Dean Kremer has eclipsed Diaz as the prospect most likely to net a positive gain. Kremer made his debut this past season and flashed enough potential to likely secure a rotation spot in 2021. Reliever Zach Pop remains in the process of recovering from Tommy John, and another prospect from the deal, Breyvic Valera, is no longer in the organization.

After all this time, the final player in the deal has managed to fly mostly under the radar. Rylan Bannon is a 24-year-old infielder from Joliet, Illinois. The Dodgers selected Bannon in the eighth round of the 2017 draft from Xavier. Bannon had performed well at High-A leading up to the trade, but his slender frame failed to generate a large amount of buzz. The righty struggled after making his organizational debut at Bowie, but returned in 2019 prepared to take a step forward.

Bannon posted an eye-popping .345/.394/.740 slash line through 110 games with the Baysox. Those numbers rightfully earned the then 23-year-old a promotion, but this time the youngster did not struggle after a change of scenery. Bannon slashed .317/.344/.549 over the final 20 games of the season.

Jumping back to present day, the Orioles must decide whether to place Bannon on the 40-man roster or leave him vulnerable in the Rule-5 draft. His numbers from 2019 alone may not be enough to justify a roster spot, but they certainly give the club something to think about.

If the Orioles elect not to place Bannon on the 40-man it’s not because they are giving up on him. The choice would represent the notion that Baltimore does not think another team would stash a 5’8 (at best) infielder that does not play shortstop on their roster for a year. However, that’s no guarantee.

Bannon posted quality numbers at multiple levels and did not regress after arriving at Triple A. Teams, including this one, have decided to roll the dice with players that have shown a lot less.

As Mark noted earlier this week, the Orioles will not be lacking in 40-man roster spots. There is room for Bannon if the O’s wish to protect him, and I believe they should.

While Bannon lacks the make of a true utility player, he does possess the ability to play second or third. The organization appears to prefer him at the hot corner, and Bannon logged all 20 Triple-A games at third base. The Orioles’ final game of 2020 may already feel like a distant memory, but I do not recall a surplus of talent at third.

Rio Ruiz had his moments, especially early on, but has yet to consistently post desirable numbers at the position. Outside of moving Hanser Alberto or an unlikely free agent signing, Bannon represents the little depth the Birds have on the far left side of the infield.

Mike Elias has required prospects to prove it long term in the minors before calling their number, and Bannon’s 20 games at Norfolk likely falls short of that. Still, Bannon holds a non-zero percent chance of going to Sarasota and earning a spot on Opening Day. Even if he misses out on walking the orange carpet, Bannon would appear on track for a summer call up. Making the club would require him to be placed on the 40-man anyway, so the Birds might as well make the move now.

MLB.com has Bannon ranked as the 25th best Orioles prospect. They describe him as a bat first player, but one with a quick step and strong enough arm to play third base. Baltimore has not ruled out an attempt at shortstop— a move that would drastically increase his value as a utility man. It is not unreasonable to think Bannon could handle short better than Pat Valaika or provide better plate production than Andrew Velazquez, but the audition would require a longer stay at Triple-A.

With Ryan Mountcastle here to stay, the Orioles do not have many high-ranked positioned players set to make their debut next season. Diaz may still bloom, but there is a chance that Bannon represents the greatest contribution from a non-pitching rookie next season. Is that sexy? No. But it’s time to start paying attention.

Rylan Bannon is not Manny Machado, but the guy can play multiple positions and get on base. Winning teams need players like that. The Orioles should, and likely will, place Bannon on the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft. After that, do not be surprised to see him in Baltimore next season.