One constant of the Orioles ongoing rebuilding project is that a better future is going to have to come from the farm system. Every bit of improvement is a hopeful signal that the team is getting closer to winning again. Last week’s rankings by Baseball America that put the Orioles farm in fourth place were exciting. Not all prospect rankers agree, however. The Athletic’s Keith Law released his rankings for 2022 on Monday morning, with the O’s system only meriting the #10 spot.
Law has consistently been more down on the Orioles system than other lists have been for the whole of the Mike Elias tenure. This kicked off when the Orioles dropped in at 30th out of 30 teams on Law’s list from three years ago. At the time, other outlets were more positive about the system on the basis of Dan Duquette’s last gasp fire sale trade returns, as well as things moving in the right direction internationally. Putting the Orioles in dead last ruffled some feathers.
Three years later, it’s hard to say that Law’s assessment at that time was wrong. The amount of positive impact at the MLB level that the Orioles have seen from those trades is not great. The big headliner, Yusniel Diaz, still hasn’t made it to Baltimore after multiple seasons of injuries and poor performance. The only players from those deals who’ve both gotten to MLB and contributed a positive number in WAR are Dillon Tate and Bruce Zimmermann. The preceding sentence is not going to sell many season ticket packages, except perhaps among the Baltimore-based Zimmermann clan.
Duquette’s trades didn’t exactly kick-start the rebuilding process, in retrospect. It’s been up to Elias and company to refresh things. Law has recognized the work that’s been done up to this point with the team climbing his rankings as years have gone by. Prior to 2020, the team was 24th. Last year, the Orioles system was 18th. Ascending into the top 10 is still a sign of progress, even if the overall ranking is disappointing compared to others.
Of the 10th place ranking, Law wrote:
This is about as good as a system can get with no contributions from the international side and very little from the trade market.
One reality of the international amateur signing system is that it’s 16-year-old players are being signed when they’re often 5-7 years away from an MLB debut. Another is that these signings have tended to be decided by team personnel starting to form relationships with the players two years before they sign.
Though Duquette acted like he could show up in the Dominican Republic with large novelty checks in August 2018 and start signing players, that wasn’t the case. It’s only the last two signing classes where the O’s have had the ability to target some of the best talent available, and these guys aren’t going to reach even the lowest US-based league until later this year.
Law’s writeup of rankings says he considers “all prospects in a system,” but it seems there’s not much weight given to the youngest international signings who have little or no track record in pro ball. O’s fans can hope that players like last year’s Samuel Basallo can show something this year so that in a year’s time, Law’s 2023 ranking will no longer be able to say that the Orioles farm has gotten “no contributions from the international side.”
Perhaps some trade returns will look better in a year’s time as well. Law singled out the trade returns for Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens as deals where the O’s did “very well.” It is fair to say that Elias hasn’t had the opportunity to trade Machado- or Britton-caliber players. O’s fans will just have to wonder forever whether Elias’s pitching program could have put more polish on Kevin Gausman and led to him getting a better trade return down the road.
In the BA ranking, the O’s trailed the Mariners, Rays, and Pirates. Law also has those farm systems ahead of the Orioles. The Dodgers are Law’s #1 team, with Seattle at #2 and the Diamondbacks at #3. The Blue Jays, Royals, Guardians, and Giants are all ahead of the O’s as well.
The Orioles were one of six teams to have five or more prospects ranked in Law’s top 100 prospects ranking that was unveiled last week. That being the case, it’s a bit of a surprise that another four systems crept ahead of them for the overall rankings, but depth does matter too, and it’s clear that Law likes the depth in a number of these other systems better than another outlet like BA does.
With Adley Rutschman a near-certainty to be gone from prospect lists in a year’s time, and Grayson Rodriguez a decent possibility to have graduated to MLB as well, I wonder whether the O’s will be able to keep climbing up Law’s rankings. That’s probably going to depend on who they draft with this year’s #1 pick and what kind of development happens in the low minors with some of the recent draftees and signings.