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An early preview of next year’s Orioles pre-Rule 5 draft 40-man roster decisions

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The Orioles added six prospects to the 40-man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft, just like last year. How many are already lined up for next year?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles-Workouts Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday evening, the Orioles added their 2017 first round pick DL Hall, plus five other Rule 5 draft-eligible prospects, to their 40-man roster. This is the second straight year that the O’s have placed six prospects onto the roster ahead of this deadline. O’s fans can be hopeful that these players will help bring about the next good era of Orioles baseball.

In a year’s time, minus a few days, the Orioles will be doing the same thing all over again with next year’s wave of eligible players. Generally, that means that the Orioles will have 2018 high school draftees hitting eligibility for the first time, as well as 2019 college picks. That’s notable in that it will be the first time since Mike Elias became the Orioles GM that he’ll be having to make these roster decisions about his own draft picks.

The players in the 2022 round of Rule 5 draft eligibility aren’t any different from this year’s crop in that the pandemic had a real impact on their professional careers with the canceled 2020 minor league season. The 2022 group, and teams looking to evaluate their talent, will at least have the advantage of there being two full minor league seasons after 2020.

2018 Orioles high school draftees

One obvious name presents itself immediately, as the highest-profile player in this group is the O’s 2018 first rounder, Grayson Rodriguez, who is the best-ranked pitching prospect in all of baseball in many outlets’ top prospect lists. Next year’s Rule 5 draft will be the fifth following his being drafted, making him eligible.

If all goes well for Rodriguez’s health between now and next summer, the Orioles might have him on their 40-man roster well before mid-November rolls around. This also depends on how the O’s manage his workload after the missed 2020 season and 103 innings thrown in 2021. The decision will also hinge on whether they decide to promote him into what’s likely to be another downer of a regular season for the big league club.

From a performance standpoint, though, if Rodriguez cuts through Triple-A in 2022 the way he did Double-A in 2021, fans are going to be wondering why he’s not in Baltimore already.

The other name to remember from this draft class is fourth round pick Drew Rom, a little-known prospect at draft time to whom the O’s gave a $650,000 bonus. Rom has looked like an interesting mid-round find so far. Splitting 2021 between High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie, Rom posted a combined 3.18 ERA, with a 1.124 WHIP allowed and 120 strikeouts in 107.2 innings.

Rom is a bit behind Rodriguez, as he threw about half as many Bowie innings as the first rounder did. As a lefty without big velocity, he is not high on Orioles prospect rankings, currently 25th on MLB Pipeline’s top 30 and 29th on Fangraphs. That’s similar to where fellow lefties Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells were ranked this time last year. It was an easy choice to add those guys in 2020, especially with a bunch of open 40-man roster spots. Barring disaster, Rom should get onto the roster next November.

2019 Orioles college draftees

An even bigger name than Rodriguez looms here, as 2019 #1 overall pick and current MLB-wide #1 prospect Adley Rutschman would become eligible around this time next year. However, it seems highly unlikely that Rutschman will wait that long to get onto the roster. Pretty much everyone expects to see him shortly after the date passes to squeeze out the extra year of service time, assuming that survives in a similar form into MLB’s next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Something’s gone very wrong if he’s not in Baltimore by June 1.

The O’s 2019 draft class has a whole lot of non-Rutschman names from the college ranks. They picked just two high school players in the first 33 rounds of the draft. Those high schoolers, Gunnar Henderson and Darell Hernaiz, hit Rule 5 eligibility in two years time. Everyone else in there becomes eligible in a year’s time. It’s a position player-heavy group, as the Orioles did not choose a pitcher until the eighth round of that draft.

Looking at it a year out, there’s only one player from the group who seems to be a more likely than not addition. That’s the competitive balance round pick, outfielder Kyle Stowers, dubbed “The Blonde Bomber” by MASN’s Ben McDonald. Stowers led all Orioles minor leaguers with 27 home runs across three levels, finishing the year with Triple-A Norfolk. The corner outfielder balances a big strikeout rate of 32.2% with a big walk rate of 13.8%. If he hits dingers, that’ll play.

Behind Stowers are players who I feel are either currently on the fence or on the wrong side of it who will need a real push to get themselves into “We can’t leave him open to the Rule 5!” territory. Third round outfielder Zach Watson had just a .294 OBP between Aberdeen and Bowie. Fourth round shortstop Joey Ortiz played just 35 games before a torn labrum ended his season. He’s going to need to look like that injury is behind him.

Stowers’s Stanford teammates, catcher Maverick Handley and first baseman Andrew Daschbach, also appear on the most recent Fangraphs Orioles prospect list at 41st and 43rd, respectively. I think they and every non-Stanford player from deeper in the draft would really have to show up in 2022 performing at a higher level than they’ve done up to now to make it onto the 40-man ahead of 2022’s Rule 5 draft.

It seems like it’s not unusual for some reliever who you never thought much about before to get onto the roster. I’ll throw out my pick for an early dark horse: 17th rounder Morgan McSweeney, a 6’4” righty who finished the year with Bowie. He’ll need to cut his pro career walk rate of 5.0 per nine innings, though.

2019 college draftees acquired by the Mike Elias Orioles

Three players who Elias acquired in a trade were in this year’s additions: Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith, and Terrin Vavra. We could see at least one player in that category in the 2022 group as well:

  • Dylan Bundy trade: Kyle Brnovich, Zach Peek
  • Jose Iglesias trade: Garrett Stallings
  • Jonathan Villar trade: Easton Lucas
  • Freddy Galvis trade: Tyler Burch

Of this bunch of guys, the only one whose 2021 performance seems to give him the inside track on a 2022 40-man roster addition is Brnovich, the “other Kyle” (second to Bradish, for now) of the Bundy trade. Between Aberdeen and Bowie this year, Brnovich struck out 123 batters while walking just 26 across 95 innings.

Burch was not drafted at all, instead signing as an undrafted free agent. His Rule 5 status is no different than a draft pick from that year. Prior to being acquired by the O’s, Burch was posting gaudy strikeout totals for the Phillies A-ball teams. The O’s bumped Burch to Bowie for his last nine outings. It’s a small sample size, but it does stand out that his strikeout rate nearly halved and his walk rate nearly doubled going up to that level.

Stallings also made it to Bowie for six games to close out the season. Unlike a lot of these other pitchers, he didn’t have big strikeout totals, recording fewer than a strikeout per inning for the season. It’s still a strong K/BB ratio of 4.80 due to not issuing many walks. This added up to a tough ERA between Aberdeen and Bowie for Stallings, though, at 4.67 in 106 innings for the year.

Peek and Lucas have not yet gotten higher than Aberdeen, which I think makes them longshots to be added in a year, at least based on what we know of them right now.

For the really thorough, one other group of players becomes eligible next year. That’s the youngest members of the 2018 J2 international signing class. As we know, the Orioles were asleep at the wheel for these sorts of players under Dan Duquette, so they have few if any of their own signed players worth noting in that group.

Elias has picked up a couple from this class in trades: Mishael Deson was part of the Mychal Givens trade, while Isaac De Leon came from Miami for Richard Bleier. These two guys spent most of the year at the rookie-level Florida Complex League. It seems like a big jump from there to the 40-man roster next year. Elias-era Orioles J2 signings are still at least two years away from becoming Rule 5 eligible.

Predictions

As things stand right now, I consider that Rutschman and Rodriguez will be on the 40-man roster before November. With that in mind, I think the mid-November additions will be Rom, Stowers, and Brnovich, with Ortiz as a decent possibility depending on how he bounces back from injury.

When I wrote a similar article a year ago, my prediction was that DL Hall and Adam Hall were almost definite adds, with Smith more likely than not, and Bradish and Vavra coin flips depending on 2021 performance. Things didn’t go well for Adam Hall in 2021. Bradish, Smith, and Vavra played their way onto the 40-man, and the organization’s future looks better for it.

It was hard to imagine the Orioles having six prospects to add, but they ended up doing it anyway after relievers Felix Bautista and Logan Gillaspie came out of almost nowhere to impress the team enough to put them on the 40-man. There could be a prospect or two who you or I don’t think very much of right now who shows up big next year.

Making room on the roster

The Orioles came down to this year’s Rule 5 deadline day with eight open spots on the 40-man roster. After claiming one player and adding six prospects, they are now at 39.

You can probably find four or five players right now who you wouldn’t miss if they were cut from the roster tomorrow. As a result, it will probably not be a heartburn-inducing task to make any necessary cuts in a year’s time.

A slew of guys are heading towards where they need to start to show, from either their Norfolk or Baltimore performance, that they might have a chance to be on the next good Orioles team, or they will find themselves starting to be replaced by the next wave of players. And there might be a trade or two to try to stock up with more prospects to thin out the 40-man roster holdovers as well.