The farm system is the most exciting thing there is about being an Orioles fan right now since the team is coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons and probably heading for a third of these in a row. If that is going to change, it’s probably going to be players from the farm system to change it. Hopes have been pinned on these players out of necessity.
Are the players on the farm collectively good enough to have there be a good O’s team in another 2-3 years? Not everyone is convinced. The Athletic’s Keith Law released a list this week rating the O’s farm system 24th of all teams. After the July 2018 fire sale and the #1 pick in 2019, that’s tough to read.
If the O’s are going to prove Law wrong, it’s going to probably take some of the middle-of-the-pack prospects showing themselves to be better than the prospect writing world thinks they are. Our community’s choice for #12, Adam Hall, is a favorite of Law’s. Hall had over 50% of the vote in the poll. If he steps forward, that may not surprise Law so much.
The rest of the vote was split among outfielders Ryan McKenna and Kyle Stowers, infielder Cadyn Grenier, and Tommy John-recovering reliever Zach Pop. These are the sorts of players who, if they turn into MLB regulars, won’t exactly have come “out of nowhere,” since they were known prospects, but things are going to need to go right with this tier of prospects to fill up a future good O’s roster with names like these.
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 Law’s recently-released top 20 Orioles prospects.
Whichever player has the most votes in this poll will be the choice for #13, whether or not they receive a majority. The next poll, to be posted Friday, will include the four players not chosen here, plus Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann, the next-highest-ranked player on the Fangraphs list who has yet to be included.
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
Today’s choices for #13
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: 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.
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 as mentioned above with 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. ... He has a unique swing for his 5-foot-7, 180-pound frame, using a big leg kick and uppercut path to generate above-average raw power. It has translated into game action less, though, as Bannon has been exposed to better pitching. ... 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’s already been reassigned to minor league camp. As a 2017 college draftee, he will have to be added to the 40-man roster in order to be protected from the next Rule 5 draft.
We are into the part of the system now where the star upside and high-floor players have already been picked. These are guys where something is going to have to go right for them to carve out every day roles, and probably something will even have to go right for them to carve out backup roles. Who do you like best of this bunch? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to vote.
Who is the #13 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed