Within the last week, MLB and the players union reached an agreement on a variety of issues stemming from the effects of measures put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus on the baseball season. Relevant to the world of prospects is that the 2020 draft, whenever it ends up taking place, could be restricted to only five rounds, with players who go undrafted being capped at a $20,000 signing bonus.
For a team like the Orioles that needs to get talent into the system any way they can, the possibility of not being able to unearth any late-round gems this year isn’t great. In addition, the virus shutdown has hampered their (and every team’s) opportunity to get in-person looks and performance data on the prospects who they might be able to draft.
These remain insignificant problems on the scale of what is facing the country today. One image that keeps haunting me is the refrigerator trucks needed as overflow morgues in New York City. It’s really hard to even think about baseball when that is something that’s happening. But some day all of this will pass and the fortunes of the baseball team we adopted by birth, choice, or chance will be important again, and so will the performance of its prospects.
The winner in last week’s poll was outfield prospect Ryan McKenna, whose turn finally came up. McKenna, the #8 ranked Orioles prospect by Fangraphs, was not nearly so popular with the readers of Camden Chat, falling to #17 and only then being selected with a 35% plurality.
Carrying over into this week are outfielder Kyle Stowers, infielders Rylan Bannon, Cadyn Grenier, and Darell Hernaiz, and pitchers Kyle Bradish and Drew Rom. They’ll be joined in this poll by infielder Ramon Urias, one of the several infielders who shuffled through the 40-man roster over the past offseason. Urias still had a 40-man spot when everything stopped.
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 who receives the most votes in this poll will slot in at #18 on our list, whether or not he gets a majority of all votes cast. The next poll, to be posted in a week, will include the six not chosen here, as well as outfielder Zach Watson, the highest-ranked prospect on the Fangraphs list who’s yet to appear in these 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
- Ryan McKenna
Today’s choices for #18
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.”
Acquired: Feb. 2020 waiver claim
2020 age: 26 (turns 26 June 3)
2019 highest level: Triple-A Memphis
As a general rule, guys who arrive via waiver claim at the age of 25 don’t have much in the way of prospect stock. If any idiot could look and see that guy’s good enough, or even that he will be good enough eventually, he doesn’t end up on waivers, and he’s not still in the minors when he’s about to turn 26.
Urias is absent from mention in lists other than the Fangraphs one, where he is described as “the player in the system about whom the scouts and data most disagree.” It’s not the scouts who like him, as Longenhagen notes he’s seen as “an unathletic infielder, arguably positionless, without the power to make up for his defensive issues.” It’s not a phrase that will make anyone start saving up for 2024 World Series tickets.
The plus side, such as it is, is that over about a full season’s worth of games at the Triple-A level, Urias has batted .262/.347/.426. It doesn’t cost the Orioles much to give him a look at Norfolk, where if he does well and someone falters at the MLB level, Urias might earn his own MLB chance, whenever baseball ends up being played again. Or he could just be one more infielder to cycle on and off the Orioles 40-man roster before any fan gets a chance to see him in Baltimore.
Don’t forget to vote! Let us know how you’re feeling in the comments today.
Who is the #18 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed