At long last, spring training is here. Pitchers and catchers have reported to Sarasota today. Position players will only be a few days behind. Many of them who are or soon will be there are among those already chosen for the Camden Chat community top 20 Orioles prospects list, including top choice Adley Rutschman, and the most recent addition at #6, outfielder Yusniel Diaz.
In the poll with the slimmest margin yet, Diaz is the choice for #6 with a plurality of 37% of the votes. 2019 second round pick Gunnar Henderson and 2018 trade acquisition Dean Kremer both polled over 20%. Those two return for the poll for #7, along with Triple-A lefty Keegan Akin and outfielder Ryan McKenna. Joining the choices today is another pitching prospect, Michael Baumann, who is not among those with a big league spring camp invite.
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. Fangraphs just updated its Orioles top prospects list this week. Some other publications have put out their league-wide 2020 top prospect lists, including Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and Baseball Prospectus.
Whoever gets the most votes in this poll will be the #7 prospect on our list. The next poll, to be posted Friday, will include the four not picked here plus outfielder Kyle Stowers, the highest-ranked Fangraphs prospect not yet on the poll.
Top prospects so far
Today’s choices for #7
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 recently 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.
Acquired: July 2018 (Manny Machado trade with Dodgers)
2020 age: 24
2019 highest level: Triple-A Norfolk (4 games; mostly Bowie)
There seems to be no question that Dan Duquette targeted players in the Dodgers system who were outperforming their existing prospect stock in 2018. Still to be seen in the performance of Diaz, Kremer, and Rylan Bannon is whether this was a good idea or an idiotic one.
Kremer, a 14th round pick in 2016, has some shine left. The thing that was interesting about him when he was acquired is still interesting: He led all minor league pitchers in 2018 with 178 strikeouts. Though the start of his 2019 season didn’t come right away due to a spring training oblique injury, he went on to strike out 122 batters in 113.1 innings for the season, mostly in Bowie, and followed that up with 23 strikeouts in 19 innings in the Arizona Fall League.
For the year, Kremer struck out more than three batters per walk issued. Allowing 13 home runs between the regular season and AFL is good, too.
How will all of that translate at higher levels? In a limited four-game sample size at Norfolk in 2019, not great. He gave up 19 earned runs in 19.1 innings. If Kremer is able to pitch at Triple-A something like he’s done in 24 Double-A games (2.69 ERA, 1.204 WHIP) people will be clamoring to see him in Baltimore soon.
At age 24, the 2020 season will prove crucial for finding out what he can do and whether he can be a part of the next good Orioles team. Evaluators like Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen wonder if Kremer is ticketed for the bullpen; this led to FG lowering his projected future value from 45 before last year to 40+ this year.
Acquired: 2016 draft (2nd round, 54th overall)
2020 age: 25 (turns 25 in April)
2019 highest level: Triple-A Norfolk
One way or another, Akin probably won’t still be appearing on Orioles top prospect lists next year. Either he makes it to MLB and sticks there, or he never pushes his way up and finds himself on the list of O’s pitching prospects who couldn’t quite make it.
It’s still a bit of a surprise to me that Akin didn’t get a shot at the end of last season, when the O’s were instead giving out starts to the likes of Aaron Brooks, Ty Blach, and Chandler Shepherd. The publicly-offered reason - and hopefully the true one - is that they didn’t want to rush anybody, like the last front office surely would have done. We will find out this season whether that full year at Triple-A helped out.
I get nervous about pitchers who issue a lot of walks. All praise of them is couched with, “If he can cut the walk rate...” and it seems like they mostly don’t cut the walk rate. Or maybe I’ve just absorbed too many failures from the Duquette regime’s days. Akin walked 61 batters in 112.1 innings last year.
That’s bad, even if it comes with some interesting numbers like his 131 strikeouts. Akin also only allowed ten home runs on the season, which isn’t bad considering the juiced balls being used in Triple-A. Was Akin just working on something all year?
If he can slash that walk rate by 25% while still keeping up the strikeouts and keeping the home run rate down, that’s an interesting pitcher. But it’s a big if. Akin, like Kremer, dropped from 45 to 40+ on the FG future value from 2019 to 202, with Longenhagen projecting him as “an inefficient No. 4/5 starter who taxes the bullpen, or a four- or five-out reliever.”
Acquired: 2015 draft (4th round, 133rd overall)
2020 age: 23 (turns 23 on Feb. 14)
2019 highest level: Double-A Bowie
If you’re going purely on 2019 results, McKenna might be a bit of a surprising inclusion so early in this process, as his most recent campaign for Bowie saw him bat .232/.321/.365 over 135 games. One thing to like right away is that he walked in more than 10% of his plate appearances, but overall it’s tough to muster excitement from that batting line.
Something to keep in mind when judging prospects is that their most recent performance is not the only thing to be said about their overall potential for how they’ll play as a big leaguer. Here’s Longenhagen on McKenna from his O’s top prospects list:
McKenna can fly and he has all-fields, doubles power, peppering the right-center gap with inside-out swings. Some of the power production is speed-driven, but McKenna has enough strength to deal with big league velo. His walk rates may come down as pitchers attack him in parts of the zone where they don’t think he can hurt them, but he has a shot to be a league average hitter who also plays a good center field.
The O’s drafted McKenna out of the New Hampshire high school ranks in 2015. The prospect-industrial complex considers players from more northern latitudes as “cold weather players” - meaning they probably have fewer reps with baseball and more raw tools that could develop slower in the pro ranks than players from states like Florida.
McKenna had a nice breakout in the 2018 season, when he posted a 1.023 OPS for High-A Frederick before a midseason promotion. He also did very well in the Arizona Fall League that year. If things start to come together for him, the O’s are going to have to decide what to do with their plethora of young outfielders.
Acquired: 2017 draft (3rd round, 98th overall)
2020 age: 24
2019 highest level: Double-A Bowie
Baumann was selected from Jacksonville University one year after the Orioles also chose Austin Hays, our poll’s #2 prospect, in the third round from that same place. While Hays raced his way up to the bigs, Baumann has gone a bit slower through the minors. The Duquette regime didn’t give him the “skip Delmarva” treatment it gave some of its other college picks, and Elias’s people kept Baumann at Frederick to start 2019 even though he’d started 17 games there in 2018.
There’s a whole Triple-A rotation presumably lined up already just based on guys who had success at Bowie in 2019: Akin, Kremer, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells, Bruce Zimmermann. It’ll be interesting to see when Baumann gets a bump up to Triple-A, assuming one of those players is either promoted to Baltimore or gets hurt and falls out of the picture at some point.
Baumann has his fans in the prospect-writing world, and that’s not only because he shares a name with baseball writer Michael Baumann. Fangraphs’ Longenhagen saw progress from Baumann in 2019 that answered concerns about whether he’d stick as a starter or have to convert to relief:
In a year, Baumann transformed from what many clubs considered a two-pitch relief prospect to a nearly ready, four-pitch rotation piece. His upper-80s slider is terse and cuttery, the type of pitch that induces weak contact rather than whiffs, and when mixed with a more shapely curveball, keeps hitters sufficiently perplexed. The mealticket offering, though, is Baumann’s fastball, which has huge carry.
Developing off-speed stuff was not the specialty of the Duquette regime. Perhaps this is the kind of analytics-based improvement that Elias has brought in. Some of these scouting observations are evident in Baumann’s 2019 stats, particularly the weak contact: he allowed just four home runs total in 124 innings between Frederick and Bowie. The MLB juiced balls don’t reach down that far yet, but still, that’s impressive.
Baumann even fired off a sub-1.00 WHIP in 70 Bowie innings. That’s impressive. If improved command from that Bowie stint carries over into 2020 - he went from a 3.9 BB/9 at Frederick in 2018 to a 2.7 BB/9 in Bowie in 2019 - that’ll be a guy who fans will be glad to see pitching in Baltimore.
Are you leaning towards the near-MLB starter, Kremer, next, or are you one who supports the young Henderson? Or is your choice one of these other three? Maybe you even really wish I’d put a different player on the poll right now. Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments below, and don’t forget to vote!
Who is the #7 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed