For a fan of a rebuilding team like the Orioles, the real action is down in the minor leagues. That’s just how it is. You can get excited for some guys on the big league team and hope that they work out, but even an optimistic scenario for the 2021 squad would involve a bad team that’s bolstered by a number of future pieces starting to break out at the MLB level.
In an ordinary year, the beginning of the minor league season would not follow too far after MLB Opening Day. Although 2021 is thus far not nearly as strange as 2020, it is still not an ordinary year, either. There will not be any minor league games until May this year. We’re all going to have to wait another month to keep tabs on our favorite top Orioles prospects and fringe Orioles prospects.
With no minor league games in 2020 and plenty of more immediate concerns, we could all use a refresher on who’s worth following in the system. I’ve taken four big publications prospect lists that ranked at least 20 Orioles prospects - Fangraphs, The Athletic, Baseball America, and MLB Pipeline - and put together a composite top prospect list for the season.
Each player’s name links to the preview post done by Camden Chat writers before the minor league season began. Players who had already made Orioles debuts prior to the 2021 season are included on the ranking, but did not get a separate preview post.
- Adley Rutschman
- Grayson Rodriguez
- DL Hall
- Heston Kjerstad
- Ryan Mountcastle
- Gunnar Henderson
- Mike Baumann
- Dean Kremer
- Jordan Westburg
- Keegan Akin*
- Yusniel Diaz
- Adam Hall
- Terrin Vavra
- Jahmai Jones
- Zac Lowther
- Ryan McKenna
- Kyle Bradish
- Hudson Haskin
- Coby Mayo**
- Tyler Nevin
* Akin was not included on the Fangraphs ranking, apparently due to an erroneous belief that he has lost his prospect eligibility. FG placed him at their 45 FV tier when he “graduated,” so for the purposes of calculating this list I put him in the middle of the 45 FV tier - 10th.
** All rankings except for The Athletic listed at least 30 players. The Athletic’s stopped at 20 but listed five “others of note”, which for this list I considered as 21-25. I included the other three publications’ top 25 names.
One thing that stands out from looking over this list is that we’ve reached the point in the rebuild project where the top prospect list is going to have a different look a year from now. Three of the top ten figure to exhaust their prospect status by midseason.
If things go right for Diaz, Jones, Lowther, or McKenna, they’ll probably be called up and play enough to drop off of prospect lists. If they don’t go right for those players, they could fall off rankings by virtue of not having many believers remaining in their upside. Wells and Bannon, who came up just short of this composite top 20, are also in this category.
Based on past trends, the first 2-3 picks the Orioles make in the 2021 draft are likely going to be in their top 20 prospects for next season. So that’s as much as 50% turnover possible in the top 20 from this year to next.
That’s interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that if these guys drop off because they’re starting to contribute to the MLB club and seem like they could hang around for the next good Orioles team, that’s a big positive sign for the direction of the rebuild. The second reason is that the Orioles system depth will be tested by all of these graduations.
Many publications ranked them in the top 10 of MLB farm systems, with MLB Pipeline putting them at #5 overall. A lot of that is excitement for the top three guys, Rutschman, Rodriguez, and DL Hall, who should all carry over. But if the next wave of prospects doesn’t start to look as interesting as the players on the cusp of graduating right now, the farm will look a lot thinner a year from now.
It’s something to keep an eye on as the minor league seasons move along. Who’s popping up because a top 20 prospect ranking has to have 20 names, and who’s popping up because he actually looks better than everyone currently thinks he is? If some sleeper prospects start to wake up this year, that will be a fun sign for the near future of the Orioles. If there are no sleepers and no new high-level names arriving by trade, next year’s list might be more like the big three and not many others of interest.