The fates of the Orioles farm system or any of the prospects in it now are not among the greatest concerns for the world while a lot of regular life is on hold to control the spread of the coronavirus. Down the road, when things have returned to a more ordinary routine, the development, or not, of these guys will probably figure in a big way into whether the O’s can field a quality team again soon.
There are mixed opinions among the big prospect writers as to how the Orioles farm is stacked up right now. After savaging the O’s system with a #30 ranking a year ago, The Athletic’s Keith Law put them towards the bottom again this year. Others have been a bit more sunny, like the just-released ranking from ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, who puts the O’s at 17th of 30 teams.
That’s still something of a pessimistic take, though it at least signals things have started to get better after how bad they got in the waning years of the Dan Duquette era. If the O’s are fortunate, some of the less-heralded guys we’re considering today will take steps forward and the farm will look better for their improvement.
Alexander Wells was the choice in the #16 poll, the third straight poll where a player appeared for the first time and was immediately voted onto the list. It was a close call, with Wells having just two votes more than McKenna and only 25% of the vote overall.
That leaves outfielders Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers, infielders Rylan Bannon, Cadyn Grenier, and Darell Hernaiz, and pitcher Drew Rom carrying over into this week’s poll. They’ll be joined by Kyle Bradish, the highest-ranked of the players the Orioles acquired in the Dylan Bundy deal in December.
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 top 20 Orioles prospects. ESPN+ subscribers can check out McDaniel’s rankings of the O’s system as well.
The player in this poll with the most votes will be the choice for #17 on our list, whether or not they have a majority of votes. The next poll, to be posted in a week, will include the six prospects not chosen here plus Ramon Urias, who is the highest-ranked prospect on the Fangraphs list yet to appear on 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
- Adam Hall
- Zach Pop
- Bruce Zimmermann
- Hunter Harvey
- Alexander Wells
Today’s choices for #17
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 due to the coronavirus.
Acquired: December 2019 (Dylan Bundy trade with Angels)
2020 age: 23
2019 highest level: High-A Inland Empire
It has not been any secret for nearly two years now that the Orioles are tanking. Still, the level this offseason of actively making the present-day team worse - rather than just opting to not improve it - was new since Mike Elias took over and it was tough to stomach even if you were steeled for the rebuild. The fact that Bradish, the highest-rated player the O’s acquired for Bundy or Jonathan Villar, only pops up on the FG list at #24, is not exciting.
Bradish was the Angels fourth round pick in the 2018 draft. One thing they probably liked about him a lot is that he struck out 140 batters in 101 innings for New Mexico State. That continued into the pro ranks in 2019, where Bradish struck out 120 batters in another 101 innings for Inland Empire. If a pitcher can strike a lot of guys out, that’s a plus.
What’s not a plus is Bradish’s walk rate. When a guy already has a 4.9 BB/9 in the Western Athletic Conference, there are problems to overcome. They were not immediately solved as a pro: Bradish had a 4.7 BB/9 last year. That’s probably what got FG’s Longenhagen to proclaim him “straight out of middle relief central casting.”
Don’t forget to vote! Let us know how you’re feeling in the comments today.
Who is your #17 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed