A couple of weeks ago, we started ranking the Camden Chat community’s choices for top Orioles prospects heading into the 2020 season. We’ve got a top five that looks like 80% of what most publications agree on for the O’s top five: Adley Rutschman, Austin Hays, Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and Ryan Mountcastle. The Hays fan club pulled off the surprise.
How do you feel about that top five? They’ve all done at least a little something to give reason to be excited about them. Some have been exciting closer to MLB and some have been exciting for longer periods of time than others. I’m curious how we end up looking back on this current top five in a few years. Fellow O’s blog Birds Watcher recently pointed out the top five prospects from 2015:
- Hunter Harvey
- Dylan Bundy
- DJ Stewart
- Jomar Reyes
- Christian Walker
That’s a real bust of a top five list and that is one reason why the team ultimately bottomed out in 2018. Quality in the farm system was in short supply five years ago, even if previous GM Dan Duquette refused to admit it publicly. We’re still paying the price for that now.
Mountcastle comes in as the #5 prospect with over 60% of the vote, with the remainder scattered among infielder Gunnar Henderson, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, and pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer. Joining the poll for the #6 slot is outfielder Ryan McKenna. Who’s the next pick? The choice is yours between now and Monday evening.
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 #6 prospect. The next poll, to be posted Tuesday, will include the four players not chosen here, plus Michael Baumann, the next-highest-ranked prospect on the Fangraphs list who hasn’t popped up in our polls yet.
Top prospects so far
Today’s choices for #6
Acquired: July 2018 (Manny Machado trade 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 from 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 entirely, as has MLB Pipeline where Diaz was #66 before 2019. Fangraphs has dropped him from 50 to 45 in future value.
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 up 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 the 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 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 Duquette targeted players in the Dodgers system who were outperforming their existing prospect stock. Still to be seen 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.
Are you enough of a believer in Diaz to put him in the first slot outside of the top five, or is one of these other prospects going to jump over him? Let us know your thinking in the comments below.
Who is the #6 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed