Over the last six weeks, the readers of Camden Chat have been picking the top 20 prospects in the Orioles system. The list we have come up with had one big surprise early, as Austin Hays was the choice as the #2 prospect, perhaps heavily influenced by votes from people who know a family member or friend of Hays. The latest vote for the #13 prospect, which resulted in reliever Zach Pop going up on our list, tickles the same suspicion.
There were 172 total votes in the poll that named infielder Adam Hall the #12 prospect on our list. There were 470 total votes in the poll that named Pop the #13 prospect. Pop himself went from getting 13 votes to receiving 315 votes. Something unusual happened there, as I doubt it was regular readers of Camden Chat suddenly voting in larger numbers for a reliever who’s on the road to recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Still, the rules are the rules. Other than placing players on the poll in order that they appear on the Fangraphs top Orioles prospects list - which was the first of the free sites to update an O’s list for 2020 - I have tried to avoid having my judgment influence how this all goes. If Pop is #13 because people who care about him rounded up support for a random Internet poll, more power to him. I hope his recovery from TJ is smooth and that we’ll see him succeeding in Baltimore before long.
The other four guys who were on that poll with Pop will have to wait at least one more place. Outfielder Ryan McKenna was the runner-up in the last poll, followed by fellow outfielder Kyle Stowers, infielder Rylan Bannon, and infielder Cadyn Grenier. Joining them for this poll is Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann, the pitching prospect who came to his hometown organization in the Kevin Gausman trade.
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.
Whichever player has the most votes in this poll will be the choice at #14, whether or not they receive a majority of the votes. The next poll, to be posted Tuesday, will include the four players not chosen here, plus Drew Rom, the highest-ranked prospect on the Fangraphs O’s list who has yet to be included on the poll.
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
Today’s choices for #14
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: 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. ... 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.
Acquired: July 2018 (Kevin Gausman trade with Braves)
2020 age: 25
2019 highest level: Triple-A Norfolk
The Fangraphs list has a sunnier outlook on the local product Zimmermann than the other rankings do. He only showed up at #29 on the Pipeline ranking and was not ranked in Law’s top 20 in the O’s system. Even Fangraphs, who likes him the most, only has a terse scouting report on him:
An athletic lefty with a four-pitch mix, Zimmerman is a fully baked, pitchability backend starter with a good slider.
This is the least that FG has written about just about any prospect on any team’s list; even other players whose ceilings are generally “backend starter” have had more to say about them. As fans try to picture the next good O’s team, it’s probably not the #5 starter that excites them the most. Still, there’s value in finding a steady guy for that spot instead of cycling through the likes of Dan Straily and Aaron Brooks.
Can Zimmermann be that guy? There were encouraging things about his results at Double-A Bowie last season, with Zimmermann striking out about a batter every inning while pitching to a 2.58 ERA in 18 games. Because Zimmermann was only drafted as a college senior, he has always been old for a prospect at any level he’s pitched; it’s a rare senior draftee who becomes any kind of prospect at all.
Triple-A was less kind to Zimmermann, though he only started seven games there, so it’s a small sample. A 4.89 ERA, with an increase of about 50% in walk rate compared to Double-A, is nothing to inspire excitement. Going to the league with the juiced MLB balls probably took an adjustment. Hopefully he can make that adjustment in 2020 and keep himself in the picture for the near future of the Orioles.
What do you think? Are you putting the local guy Zimmermann right onto the list on his first poll? Has it finally come time to choose McKenna after he’s been on a few polls? Or do you prefer one of the other guys? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to vote.
Who is the #14 prospect in the Orioles system for 2020?
This poll is closed