Some day down the road, there’s going to be Orioles baseball again. This day will not come any sooner than mid-May, after MLB announced yesterday that it would be following CDC guidance in avoiding gatherings of 50+ people for at least eight weeks. When baseball does make its way back, it will probably still be the case that the future of the Orioles is more interesting than the 2020 season itself.
In the last prospect poll that was posted before so much was thrown up into the air, Hunter Harvey was the overwhelming choice for the #15 spot, receiving 55% of the vote in a seven-player poll. No surprise there’s still excitement for Harvey among Orioles fans. He’s one of two players on this list to have actually appeared in an MLB game, and even though he only pitched in seven games last year, he did enough to keep dreams that he could be the closer of the future alive.
The holdovers from the last poll are an assortment of players whose impact is either more distant, less certain, or both: outfielders Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers, infielders Rylan Bannon, Darell Hernaiz, and Cadyn Grenier, and lefty pitcher Drew Rom.
Joining them on this poll is Australian lefty Alexander Wells, who is not the next-highest-ranked Fangraphs prospect yet to appear on the poll but rather the one whose progress I have been most interested in for the last couple of years.
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.
The player with the most votes in this poll over the next week will be the choice for the #16 slot, whether or not they get a majority of votes. The next poll after this will include the six holdovers from here plus Dylan Bundy trade piece Kyle Bradish, the next-highest-ranked player from the Fangraphs list.
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
- Adam Hall
- Zach Pop
- Bruce Zimmermann
- Hunter Harvey
Today’s choices for #16
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. Longenhagen remains a fan: “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.”
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 is aggressive on Stowers, rating him as the #10 prospect in the system. Stowers’s swing is described as “a Bellingerian cut,” as in Cody Bellinger, the reigning National League MVP who homered 47 times for the Dodgers last year, though this also comes with a “corkscrew himself into the ground” risk.
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, whenever that ends up being.
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: 24 (turns 24 on Apr. 22)
2019 highest level: Triple-A Norfolk
Bannon is the fourth of the players from the Machado trade to make an appearance on this poll. He has the same story of Dean Kremer and Zach Pop: He was performing at the time of the trade at a level that seemed to exceed his prospect hype. When the O’s acquired Bannon, he was batting .296/.402/.559 over 89 games with High-A Rancho Cucamonga, with 20 home runs.
It’s a batting line that gets the attention, as it seems to have gotten Duquette and company’s attention. However, that league, the California League, is a notorious hitter-friendly league and Bannon was about the same age as the competition. A 22-year-old, as he was then, wrecking High-A is interesting, but it doesn’t indicate a sky-high ceiling like a phenom hitting that level at age 19 might.
The MLB Pipeline capsule, which rates Bannon as the #18 prospect in the O’s system, says this about him:
A compact but strong hitter, Bannon controls the strike zone very well, as evidenced by big on-base numbers throughout his professional career. ... Defensively, Bannon possesses good first step quickness and a strong but sometimes erratic arm. ... All told, he profiles a valuable utility player at the Major League level, who should be able to provide some thump off the bench against left-handed pitching.
How Bannon looks against Triple-A competition over the season this year might determine whether he can be more than just a bench player. As it is, his ceiling sounds a bit like a Hanser Alberto-type of player in that he’s a guy who can play second base and third base and developed the calling card in 2019 of hitting against lefties. Bannon has walked more in the minors than Alberto has done in MLB to date, and he also strikes out more often than Alberto, but not a concerning level of strikeouts.
Bannon got a little taste of MLB spring training this year as a non-roster invite, though he was already reassigned to minor league camp before coronavirus concerns shut everything down. As a 2017 college draftee, Bannon will have to be added to the 40-man roster in order to be protected from the next Rule 5 draft.
Acquired: 2018 draft (4th round, 115th overall)
2020 age: 20
2019 highest level: Low-A Delmarva
There is a lot of excitement around Grayson Rodriguez, the O’s top pick in the same draft where they tabbed Rom in the fourth round. At least as far as 2019 results, Rom is close to Rodriguez’s equal, pitching about the same number of innings with about the same number of strikeouts, fewer walks, and a slightly better ERA. Not bad for an overslot signing in the last Duquette draft.
Rom is down here and Rodriguez is up there because Rodriguez has the big velocity, topping out in the upper 90s, and Rom does not, with Fangraphs scouting his fastball as generally in the 88-92 range. That puts him more in the classic “crafty lefty” mold - and a simple fact is that a lefty has to be pretty crafty to climb the ladder. They can’t all do it. Maybe Rom can, but he’s going to have to prove it at every level against better and better competition.
He’s definitely a guy worth keeping an eye on, since he’s only 20 and he’ll presumably be headed to High-A this season. That’s an age where any success he does have will be that much more intriguing since he’ll be younger than most of the players in his league.
Acquired: 2019 draft (5th round, 138th overall)
2020 age: 18 (turns 19 on August 3)
2019 highest level: Gulf Coast League Orioles
The MLB draft lacks the short-term gratification of other sports. This is doubly true when it involves the selection of players out of high school. Hernaiz, like higher-ranked 2019 draftee Gunnar Henderson, was still 17 years old on draft day last year. That’s probably what made both of them of interest to the new O’s draft brain trust. A younger player may be more raw in his skills but may have a higher upside to reach down the road.
Fangraphs ranking sees some potential in Hernaiz, labeling him “one of the more interesting young players in this system.” Part of that is by default; there aren’t many young players in the system since the Duquette-era O’s mostly weren’t signing the kinds of 16-year-old Dominican players who would otherwise be interesting young players in a system.
According to FG, Hernaiz already has “the ability to drop the bat head and lift pitches toward the bottom of the zone. He can rotate and create leverage, and might just stay at shortstop.” Since he’s so young, he might not appear until Aberdeen’s short season. It may well be that every minor league is a short season league in 2020.
Acquired: 2015-16 international signing period
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: Double-A Bowie
Wells is another one of the guys who, if you look only at his minor league results, has done little to deserve being so far down any prospect list. That started with his 2016 performance for short-season Aberdeen where he had a sub-1.00 WHIP at age 19 and continued on through to last season where he had a 2.95 ERA and 1.070 WHIP for Bowie, then went on to a 0.57 ERA in nine Arizona Fall League games.
The problem for Wells is that his fastball averages around 88 miles per hour. While this is the threshold at which Doc Brown informed Marty McFly that he was going to see some serious shit, the line that’s impressive for time travel is not so impressive for a fastball. There were 341 pitchers to throw at least 50 innings in MLB last season and fewer than 5% of these guys had a fastball velocity that averaged below 89.
Two of those pitchers, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone, are lefty starters who were in Orioles camp before everything went on hold. Maybe one of them will be keeping a spot warm until Wells shows enough at Triple-A to earn an MLB audition. Two particularly encouraging numbers from his Bowie performance are that he walked only 24 batters in 137.1 innings, and only gave up ten home runs.
Triple-A will be another test. The players there are better still. Many are good enough to have gotten at least a little MLB time. I remain hopeful he can keep up the success, but there’s no guarantee.
Don’t forget to vote! Let us know how you’re feeling in the comments below.
Who is your #16 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed