The Orioles began the 2022 season with what many observers viewed as the best farm system in baseball. That’s still true at season’s end even now that Adley Rutschman no longer counts for the farm’s strength. For the rest of the month on Camden Chat, we’ll be looking at how things have gone for each prospect over the course of this season.
Using only players in the Orioles organization who had never played at the MLB level before this year, an optimist can imagine an entire quality infield. If you really like the 2022 draft class, you could do the same with the outfield. The same exercise is not so easy with imagining a future starting rotation. There are top 100 prospects Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall, and then a whole lot of guys who aren’t sure things. If you’re really down on Hall’s walk rate, even he’s not a sure thing.
Over the course of this series, we’ll be running through a number of pitchers, including some recent acquisitions from this season, who can hopefully pitch their way onto the Orioles. Up today is Jean Pinto. This 5’11”, 21-year-old right-handed pitcher from Venezuela was one of two pitchers acquired by the Orioles in the José Iglesias trade after the 2020 season.
Before Mike Elias was able to establish an international scouting presence, Pinto was not the sort of player who the Orioles could get into the system. They weren’t signing those guys. His trades throughout his tenure have tried to add in some players like that.
Pinto spent the 2022 season pitching for the O’s High-A affiliate, the Aberdeen IronBirds, where he was literally the youngest player to throw a pitch for Aberdeen all season. It’s Pinto’s relative youth that made him a hoped-for sleeper pick heading into this season. As a 20-year-old in 2021 getting his first taste of US-based minor leagues, Pinto split between the rookie-level Florida Complex League and Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds, combining to strike out 84 batters in 66.2 innings while walking only 17.
That’s a K/BB ratio of nearly 5. Among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in the Orioles minors last season, he was tied for 3rd, behind Grayson Rodriguez and Alexander Wells. Those are two very different prospect tracks to be on. Pinto is more in the Wells bucket where he might find success at a given minor league level but that just means people will keep not expecting much from him and he’ll have to prove himself at the next level.
For Pinto, that was Aberdeen this year. Climbing one level up the minor league ladder, his strikeout percentage dropped from about 33% to 26%, and his walk rate went up from about 6.6% to 11.6%. Batters hit him more often, especially home runs. He never pitched more than five innings in any game, and pitched four or fewer innings in 19 of 24 games.
This all doesn’t add up to a guy who’s on an uninterrupted upward ascent towards the MLB rotation. He is one of many guys who has work to do and luck to find to get to the top. Pinto is, at least, a guy to keep an eye on. American players his age were this year’s crop of college juniors in the draft. There is time for him to develop. I’m glad the Orioles got him for Iglesias.
It’s always worth keeping in mind when judging minor league stat lines, that they can only tell you so much. As fans, we are not able to know when or how often Pinto might have been pitching more with long-range development goals in mind, rather than doing the best he could with his present-day arsenal in a given game.
We don’t know when Pinto’s defense hurt him or helped him, or when lower-quality minor league umpires impacted any of his games, or what kind of untapped potential that the team might believe he still has, or how different he is with any of these things compared to other O’s pitching prospects and the second- or third-tier prospects of 29 other teams.
Prospect lists aren’t the be-all, end-all of determining the present or future of any particular prospect, but the best of them are made by professionals who are in contact with lots of industry sources. That makes them at least worth consulting for an idea of who’s worth following and who isn’t.
You won’t find Pinto on the most recent MLB Pipeline top 30 Orioles list. I think this list tends to underrate players like Pinto while demonstrating recency bias for this year’s draft picks, trades, and international signings. Pinto does sit at #24 on the most recent FanGraphs O’s update, in the same “Future Value” tier as 2022 trade acquisitions Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott, among others.
From FG’s report on Pinto:
Pinto is short and stocky and already doesn’t have much room on his frame at age 21. He sits 90-94 mph with natural cut and carry, enabling him to attack the zone with imprecision and get away with it. Pinto’s low-80s slider has plus, two-plane action right now, while his changeup could use more velo separation from his fastball at 85-88. His frame and longer, catapult-like arm action are relief indicators, too. Pinto has a middle relief floor, with a shot at a more impactful role if his velo ticks up in shorter stints.
The talent pipeline that Mike Elias speaks of is going to need to churn out some relievers, too, to sustain a quality Orioles bullpen over time, so if that’s where Pinto’s future is, that doesn’t mean he’s worth nothing. The Orioles won’t be able to count on plucking the next Bryan Baker or Cionel Pérez on the waiver wire when they don’t have the worst record and thus the highest waiver priority.
Here’s a strikeout montage from what was probably Pinto’s best start of the season this year, when he struck out 11 batters in five innings on August 18.
A season-high 11 K's for Jean Pinto last night— Orioles Player Development (@OsPlayerDev) August 19, 2022
5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 11 K pic.twitter.com/BcAwF0MM4v
Pinto did not dominate his league this season, but he did not exactly fail the test of the High-A level, either. He struck out a bunch of guys while being younger than most of those guys. That’s worth something in the land of prospects. It seems like the Orioles should move him up a level to Double-A Bowie next season, where he could easily end up being the youngest player to throw a pitch for that team, and then see where things go from there.
Previously: Fallen prospect roundup
Tomorrow: Darell Hernaiz