For a rebuilding team like the Orioles, success in the future depends on actually being able to acquire and develop the young talent that will make up what will hopefully be a sustained run of good baseball over several seasons. With no minor league baseball in 2020, the O’s were deprived of the easiest way to get some practical instruction to their young players.
The fall instructional camp, the roster for which the O’s announced on Monday, could prove to be an important part of the talent pipeline. There was no fall instructional league for the O’s last season, which at the time Mike Elias indicated was in line with an industry trend to move those kinds of activities into January, when prospects are less tired from just-concluded minor league seasons. With all the strange circumstances of this year, it seems the calculation swung back towards gathering the prospects in the fall.
The Orioles release announcing the roster included the following statement from Elias:
Our Instructional League camp allows us to further develop and evaluate young players in our system. Our farm system’s recent improvement reflects the hard work of many people and the organization’s commitment to excel in domestic and international scouting and player development. This group of 55 players will gain invaluable experience while in Sarasota this fall. We are also very proud to include 15 international participants in this group, featuring players from The Bahamas, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Here are the 55 players, listed alphabetically by last name within each group:
Carter Baumler, Randy Beriguete, Kyle Brnovich, Noah Denoyer, Connor Gillispie, Thomas Girard, Dan Hammer, Blaine Knight, Héctor López, Morgan McSweeney, Zach Peek, Ofelky Peralta, Shelton Perkins, Grayson Rodriguez, Houston Roth, Luis Sánchez, Kade Strowd, Brandon Young
DL Hall, Zac Lowther, Easton Lucas, Zach Muckenhirn, Luis Ortiz, Drew Rom
Jordan Cannon, Brett Cumberland, Maverick Handley, Ricardo Rivera, Cody Roberts, Adley Rutschman
Rylan Bannon, José Cosma, Andrew Daschbach, Adam Hall, Gunnar Henderson, Darell Hernaiz, Roberto Martínez, Coby Mayo, Joey Ortiz, Erinson Placencia, James Rolle, Leonel Sánchez, Anthony Servideo, Dax Stubbs, Terrin Vavra, Toby Welk, Jordan Westburg
Stiven Acevedo, Isaac Bellony, Luis González, Dylan Harris, Hudson Haskin, Johnny Rizer, Kyle Stowers, Zach Watson
That’s an extensive list of players, including the majority of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 Orioles prospects. In all, there are five of the six players drafted by the Orioles in the 2020 draft plus two undrafted free agents signed after the draft, and 17 players from the O’s 2019 draft, including the first eight picks they made. Another two arrived by trade in 2020.
Some of these players had spent some time at the Bowie alternate site as part of the 60-man player pool for the 2020 season. Top prospects like Rutschman, Rodriguez, and DL Hall were in that camp, as well as some closer to the majors guys like Lowther and Bannon.
With such a thorough list, absences stand out as well. #2 overall pick Heston Kjerstad is the only 2020 O’s pick who is not part of this roster. Outfielder Yusniel Diaz is also not on the roster, though at least he was at the Bowie site. There’s also no Alexander Wells, which could mean either that the new O’s regime doesn’t see much of a future for him or that with Wells being in Australia it’s trickier to get him here in current circumstances.
In a Zoom call with Orioles media Monday afternoon, Elias said this about Kjerstad’s absence:
Mike Elias said Heston Kjerstad didn't attend fall instructional league because od an undisclosed medical non-sports reason #orioles— Roch Kubatko (@masnRoch) October 5, 2020
The understandable conclusion one might draw in 2020 based on that vague phrase is something that, if you subtract one letter, you get the name of the Roman poet who composed Metamorphoses. If that is the case, I wish a speedy recovery to him.
The instructs camp, according to Elias, will be running for the rest of October under the supervision of the manager of the O’s short-season affiliate in Aberdeen, Kevin Bradshaw. Elias hopes that the O’s prospects will be able to have some game action against other teams, but that’s still to be determined.
One thing that is determined is that this camp will be closed to both public and media. That is a departure from how the O’s had done instructional league in the past, but for 2020 is probably connected to pandemic precautions.