This article is part of the Know Your Orioles 40-man series, which features an article about each of the 38 players currently on the Orioles roster. There will be one every weekday until we run out of players.
If you’d like to begin today’s Rylan Bannon discussion on a positive note, let’s give him this: for roughly two weeks last season, he was the most sensational hitter in baseball.
Bannon’s reign of destruction for Triple-A Norfolk kicked off Aug. 11 against the Memphis Redbirds, when he tagged Cardinals #15 prospect Angel Rondon for not one but two home runs en route to a Tides win.
The next night, Bannon homered again, a game-tying shot with the Tides down to their final out in the ninth. A day after that, he bashed two more roundtrippers, part of a five-homer, nine-RBI series against the Redbirds.
Bannon’s bat stayed sizzling on a road trip to Charlotte, where in four games he added four more homers to his collection. He topped it off with yet another bomb to open a series against Jacksonville.
All told, during that 10-game span, Bannon crushed 10 home runs, drove in 18, and posted a ridiculous 1.778 OPS. You won’t often see a more dominant stretch from a hitter, at any level.
Unfortunately, the 2021 season was a lot longer than 10 games. And that’s where this article takes an ugly turn. Because all other parts of Bannon’s season were a pure, unmitigated disaster on the stat sheet.
How out of the blue was that brief spurt of offensive firepower? Before that scorching 10-game stretch, Bannon hadn’t homered in nearly a month. After it was over, he didn’t homer again for nearly another month.
Or consider this: when that hot streak began, Bannon had gone 38 consecutive games without collecting more than one hit, dating back three months. After the hot streak was over, Bannon had just two multi-hit performances in his final 31 games.
The numbers, for what it’s worth, might not tell the whole story, if general manager Mike Elias is to be believed. “I think he’s had a lot of bad luck this season,” Elias told reporters in August. “We have batted ball data that can paint a picture with that and the stats should be better than what you’ve seen.”
They could hardly be worse. Bannon’s final-season statistics, even including that out-of-this-world 10-game stretch, saw him bat an atrocious .177/.297/.370 in 84 games for Norfolk (plus a 3-for-23 rehab stint at High-A Aberdeen in late June/early July). That can’t all be explained by simple bad luck. Nor can it all be explained by the left oblique strain he suffered at the end of May.
The fact that Bannon’s OBP was 120 points better than his batting average was a sign that, through it all, he was still taking his walks (50 in 363 PAs). But he did so little damage when swinging the bat that big league pitchers wouldn’t be afraid to challenge him in the strike zone, were he to make the majors.
It’s been a while now since Bannon’s explosive 2018 season at Rancho Cucamonga, the Dodgers’ High-A affiliate, where his .961 OPS and 20 homers in 89 games spurred the Birds to acquire him in the Manny Machado trade. The O’s immediately promoted Bannon to Double-A and his offense has tailed off since, particularly in the power department, where his .359 SLG last year was the worst full-season mark of his professional career.
If the Orioles’ internal data suggests Bannon still has some potential left to unlock, there’s certainly no harm in keeping him on the roster for a while longer. The O’s aren’t exactly overflowing with qualified players at the moment, as evidenced by the fringy players we’ve covered in our Camden Chat 40-man series so far. And certainly those 10 magical games in August offer a glimpse of what Bannon can do when he gets hot at the plate. But his days of being considered a prospect are over. Bannon fell out of MLB Pipeline’s top 30 list last year, and in FanGraphs’ newly updated Top 45 Orioles prospects, released yesterday, his name doesn’t appear anywhere.
This could be a make-or-break year for the 26-year-old Bannon. If he’s to have any kind of future with the Orioles, he doesn’t need to come out swinging like he did for those 10 glorious games — but he needs to be a heck of a lot better than he was the rest of the year.
End-of-year prediction: One thing working in Bannon’s favor for a big league call-up is a dearth of established starters at the two positions he plays, third base and second base. With the likes of Kelvin Gutierrez, Jorge Mateo, and Rougned Odor currently manning the positions, it’s easy to imagine a spot opening up for another candidate. Bannon could get a tryout if he’s performing well at Norfolk — at the very least, his solid defensive reputation could put him in the mix for a utility-infielder role — but his 2021 season has me feeling pessimistic that he’ll stick around for long. I predict he’ll finish 2022 in the minors, possibly that of another organization.
Monday: Yusniel Diaz