The last two weeks of our ongoing Camden Chat community Orioles top prospects poll have been about sorting out which of the high minors pitching prospects readers like better. Dean Kremer, Michael Baumann, and Keegan Akin went in order from 8-10, and now Zac Lowther joins them at #11 after waltzing over the competition with 60% of the vote.
Infielder Adam Hall and outfielder Ryan McKenna each had about 15% of the vote, with outfielder Kyle Stowers and infielder Cadyn Grenier rounding out the field. Those four players continue on to the poll for the #12 spot, joined by reliever Zach Pop, part of the Manny Machado trade haul, whose ascent up the O’s minor league ladder was interrupted by Tommy John surgery.
At this point in the prospect list, the players who inspire the most excitement for the near future and several years down the road are already up there. Behind them are players who could still prove themselves - lower-ranked players are just a breakout year from being next year’s top 10 guys.
For a rebuilding team like the O’s, every player who makes it is a big deal. Hall, Grenier, and Stowers are a ways away. If someone above them stumbles, they can step up. Or even, if you really want to dream about a better O’s team in a couple of years, they could reach a point where they feel they can trade some of their prospect depth to help out the MLB roster. That requires actually having prospect depth, which the O’s never really had under Dan Duquette even when the farm had a few half-decent seasons.
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 have both updated their team rankings for the 2020 season. If you’re a subscriber to The Athletic, you can also see Keith Law’s recently-released top 20 Orioles prospects.
Whichever player has the most votes in this poll will be the choice for #12, whether or not they receive a majority. The next poll, to be posted Tuesday, will include the four players not chosen here, plus Manny Machado trade piece Rylan Bannon, the highest-ranked prospect on the Fangraphs list not yet included in our polls.
Top prospects so far
- Adley Rutschman
- Austin Hays
- Grayson Rodriguez
- DL Hall
- Ryan Mountcastle
- Yusniel Diaz
- Gunnar Henderson
- Dean Kremer
- Michael Baumann
- Keegan Akin
- Zac Lowther
Today’s choices for #12
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 is not going to look like a guy who belongs high on any prospect list, 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 into MLB-caliber baseball skills slower in the pro ranks than players from states like Florida, where they can spend more year-round time outdoors.
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. They chose to add him to the 40-man roster to protect him from the most recent Rule 5 draft.
Acquired: 2019 draft (2nd round/comp. balance, 71st overall)
2020 age: 22
2019 highest level: Short-season Aberdeen
One of my personal rules for deciding which prospects are worth getting a little more excited about is that I’d rather have to tell myself to pump the brakes over good numbers than come up with reasons why bad numbers will get better. In his 55-game professional debut with Aberdeen after getting drafted last June, Stowers batted .216/.286/.377, putting him squarely in that second category.
Fangraphs on Stowers, where he’s ranked as the #10 prospect in the system:
Stowers swings so hard that he looks like he’s going to corkscrew himself into the ground. The Bellingerian cut makes Stowers’ whiffs seem worse than they are, and also make his dingers aesthetically pleasing. ... ultimately, there’s rare ability to rotate here and a chance for big, in-game power production, enough to profile in right field.
Once you get this far down onto a prospect list, you’re almost always going to be dealing with chance rather than certainty. So while Stowers struck out in 23.2% of his plate appearances and that seems bad, he also walked 8.8% of the time, and he rates well enough at running, fielding, and throwing that he shouldn’t end up on the first base/DH pile.
Stowers’s college pedigree shouldn’t be forgotten either. He was drafted out of Stanford, so he was getting real action against a bunch of players who were future pros like himself, not just swatting down scrubs. Elias and company liked the offense of that Stanford team so much that they also drafted its catcher, Maverick Handley, in the sixth round, and first baseman Andrew Daschbach in the 11th round.
It’s enough for Longenhagen to believe in the chance of the aesthetically pleasing dingers coming through all the way up the minors. He’s probably headed for Delmarva to start the 2020 season. If you find yourself on Maryland’s Eastern Shore this year, maybe you can go see Stowers and see if he has a “corkscrew himself into the ground” kind of night or an “ooh and ahh at home runs” kind of night.
Acquired: 2017 draft (2nd round, 60th overall)
2020 age: 21 (turns 21 in May)
2019 highest level: Low-A Delmarva
A stat that is good to keep an eye on is BABIP - batting average on balls in play. If a player suddenly has better or worse batted ball luck, that’s often a sign that they’re due for some regression to the mean. Adam Hall posted a .386 BABIP for Aberdeen in 2018 and a .387 BABIP for Delmarva in 2019. This is because he is fast, rating 60 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale in the FG scouting report. That speed is also seen in his having stolen 56 bases since being drafted.
If a player is fast, that’s good. It’s a useful skill to have. If it’s the best baseball skill they have, that’s less interesting. Better-caliber defenses than what he’s faced in the South Atlantic League will turn more of his infield grounders into outs. Every level closer to MLB, and especially in MLB itself, the players will be better in the field. They won’t be fazed by a fast runner. They’ll just field the ball and throw it to first base.
Hall batted .298/.385/.395 for the Shorebirds last season. That’s a good average and great OBP, but along with the BABIP-fueled average, the OBP is boosted by Hall being hit by pitch 22 times. This is also unlikely to continue as he creeps up the minor league ranks. And for a guy to have an isolated slugging under .100 already at Low-A, well... FG’s capsule on Hall says he’s “tracking as an Everth Cabrera type player.”
Law is a much bigger believer in Hall than Fangraphs, rating him as the #5 prospect in the Orioles system, ahead of everyone except for Rutschman, DL Hall, Rodriguez, and Diaz. He sees Hall as “a 70 runner who plays hard all the tie and has continued to progress at the plate in his approach and in making harder contact,” noting that he has cut his ground ball rate at each level he’s jumped and looks like he could either stick at shortstop or be a good second baseman.
If Hall hits that Law-envisioned upside, that would be an exciting development for the Orioles rebuilding project.
Acquired: 2018 draft (1st round/comp. balance, 37th overall)
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: High-A Frederick
Between Delmarva and Frederick last season, Cadyn Grenier came to the plate 456 times and struck out 138 times. That is a strikeout in 30.3% of his plate appearances. Among qualified batters at the MLB level in 2019, just two players had a higher K%. It is very, very hard to become a successful player when are already striking out that much in A-ball. Most of the ones who achieve some kind of success hit a lot of dingers. Grenier had eight homers last season.
Whatever the Duquette group hoped the O’s might get out of Grenier hasn’t materialized yet. It would be unfair to act like there was no reason to believe in Grenier. His defensive skills at Oregon State were praised, with Grenier’s glove ability and arm pushing his better-hitting teammate Nick Madrigal, the #4 pick in that same draft, to second base.
That matters. If you can get a guy who can definitely play shortstop and just get him to hit a little bit, that’s a success. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened with Grenier yet in the pro ranks; he’s batted .236/.339/.369 in two pro seasons. It’s a hard climb to MLB if that’s already how you hit against A-ball pitchers. Things aren’t getting any easier.
FG’s Longenhagen mentions in his capsule on Grenier that he was “always a swing change candidate in pro ball,” so maybe the new development people will be better able to help him in his second full pro season. Grenier, according to Longenhagen, is not the only prospect being instructed on a “Donaldsonesque” swing, and if it clicks, he could be an MLB shortstop. Until it clicks, Grenier is not one of the names in the system that excites me.
Acquired: July 2018 (Manny Machado trade with Dodgers)
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: Double-A Bowie
When Pop was among the five players the Orioles received in the Machado trade two years ago, one thing that stuck out in my mind was some baseball writer or another assessing his sinker and calling him “kind of a right-handed Zack Britton.” That was a thrilling thing to read, never mind that putting any comparison to Britton on a High-A reliever was probably a bit overexcited.
Like most of the prospects Dan Duquette acquired that July, Pop was putting up 2019 stats that exceeded his prospect stock, with a 0.33 ERA and 0.704 WHIP in 27 High-A innings. He continued with a sub-1.00 WHIP with another 21 innings after the O’s acquired him and promoted him to Bowie, and that carried over into 2019, when he gave up just one run in his first 10.2 innings.
Unfortunately, Pop never pitched after April last year because he needed Tommy John surgery. The surgery was at least done promptly rather than there being months of wondering that end in the surgery, so assuming all has gone well, he could start to see some real game action again in May. It’s never a sure thing that a pitcher will be the same after Tommy John.
After picking over a bunch of pitchers, it’s time to decide who you like best out of the second-tier position players. Are you like Keith Law and believing big in Adam Hall, or do you have a different favorite of this group? Let us know how you’re voting and what you’re thinking in the comments below.
Who is the #12 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed