With the first 10 rounds of the 2022 MLB Draft finished, now seems like the perfect time to take a step back and take stock of the organization as a whole. No longer are we held captive by the speculation of who the Orioles would take with the top pick. We’ve also seen Mike Elias branch out from his recent past “almost never draft a pitcher” strategy.
Just to change it up though, Elias & Co. did finally invest some premium draft capital in pitchers! Yay pitchers! (For length reasons though, we’ll focus on the position players in this article.) If you’d like to better get to know all of the players the Orioles took in picks 1-287, our own Mark Brown has been all over it with Day 1 and Day 2 reports.
However, the question on the mind of many Orioles fans remains, how do the new hitters* fit into what is already the best farm system in baseball? That is the question we will endeavor to answer here as we go through the organization, position group by position group, to get an idea of the new organization depth chart.
Names to know: Adley Rutschman (MLB), Maverick Handley (AA), Samuel Basallo (ROK), Silas Ardoin (2022 draft pick)
Catcher is perhaps the most straightforward of any of the parts of the organizational depth chart. Going forward, the position stacks up like this: Adley Rutschman is going to be the starter (hopefully) for the next half-decade at least. The question is who might secure his role as a regular backup catcher. The front office brought in several MLB-experienced backups this past offseason. Robinson Chirinos was the starter before Rutschman took over, but neither he nor the other offseason additions seem to have a long-term future with the big league club.
Handley is probably best positioned right now to immediately succeed this trio as the guy who gives Adley a break every handful of days. The former sixth-round pick out of Stanford (and college teammate of Orioles’ #7 prospect Kyle Stowers), Handley has developed considerably as a hitter over his first three seasons in the minors, posting a career-high .788 OPS with Bowie this year. Combine that with a solid defensive profile and he gives off strong Caleb Joseph vibes—and it’s always useful to have another Caleb Joseph.
However, Ardoin’s selection in the fourth round out of Texas may present immediate competition for Handley and his race to the big leagues. The son of former five-game Oriole Danny Ardoin, the younger Silas earned a reputation as one of college baseball’s best defensive backstops throughout his career in Austin. As outstanding defense is the type of thing that can get a young catcher fast-tracked to the majors, this may give the former Longhorn an inside track over Handley. He also displayed improved power in his last season in college, meaning his upside may also be higher.
Basallo is the wildcard in all of this. The 17-year-old is currently the Orioles’ #17 prospect and a result of their burgeoning efforts in the international free-agent market. Plus power and arm strength make the left-handed-hitting Dominican a player full of upside and potential, but still one that remains hard to project.
Names to know: Ramon Urias (MLB), Jorge Mateo (MLB), Trey Mancini (MLB), Ryan Mountcastle (MLB), GUNNAR HENDERSON (AAA), Jordan Westburg (AAA), Terrin Vavra (AAA), Connor Norby (AA), Cesar Prieto (AA), Coby Mayo (AA), Joey Ortiz (AA), Jackson Holliday (2022 draft pick), Max Wagner (2022 draft pick)
The infield mix is crowded at a number of levels in the Orioles farm system, and it’s only going to keep getting new additions as Elias keeps drafting up-the-middle players, including the #1 overall pick, Holliday. Most of the group here has potential defensive homes all through the infield, depending on how they develop and how things shake out at the MLB level ahead of them.
Among Orioles position players this year, the group at 2B has produced the worst among Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Average stat, currently sitting at -0.7. There’s room for improvement there, and no one who’s had MLB playing time seems to be part of the future.
Could Westburg or Vavra seize playing time at second base by season’s end? Westburg has played all of shortstop, second base, and third base in the minors this season and has been hitting phenomenally since arriving at Triple-A, with a .903 OPS in more than a month’s worth of games.
Vavra is the oldest of the prospects in this mix, already 25 years old. His .433 OBP for Norfolk this year should also help him stake a claim. Vavra has played equal parts second base and center field. Norby and Prieto are farther down in the minors, each with potential to play his way into the picture, perhaps as trade bait if not as urgently needed roster replacements. Fans can hope a lot of the extra prospect depth might play their way into that kind of role, because the Orioles rotation will probably require external additions to be competitive in the long run.
The third base position seemed up in the air as long as Urias was on the injured list. Since his return, Urias has shown what he’s capable of offensively, batting .385 with a 1.095 OPS, powered by three home runs. That should be enough to get him to stick around at least through the year, and be an option beyond that. Others who have previously been bandied about at that spot before now, like Tyler Nevin and Rylan Bannon, haven’t given reason to believe they’re really part of the picture for the future.
One other thing for the Orioles to figure out is who they view as the best shortstop candidate over the next couple of seasons. GUNNAR HENDERSON might be an immediate upgrade at either short or third just with his current talent, as much fun as Mateo’s speed and defensive ability can occasionally be. He’s played both positions at Norfolk this year and with his 2022 performance it sure seems like he should be on the Opening Day 2023 roster at the absolute latest.
The O’s drafted Holliday with the idea that he’d stick at shortstop too, though that’s a problem for a few years from now, since his pro career hasn’t even officially begun yet. Even if the #1 pick rapidly climbs the minors, there is a lot of time for the roster picture ahead of him to change more than once if injuries or performance issues afflict any players who O’s fans are currently setting in stone for the next five years.
Mancini and Mountcastle aren’t even so much “corner infielders” as they are “first basemen/designated hitters.” The contract status reality is Mancini probably won’t be in Baltimore past the end of this season, if he’s not traded before then. Mountcastle can then be the primary first baseman, with some DH playing time opened up also for Rutschman’s bat, if that’s as good as everyone wants it to be.
Mayo and the just-drafted Wagner are corner infielders who might actually threaten playing time in either corner. Mayo, at least, has played only third base when he’s played in the field this season, though many scouts think the power-hitting prospect’s future home could be first base.
Names to know: Cedric Mullins (MLB), Austin Hays (MLB), Anthony Santander (MLB), Kyle Stowers (AAA), Colton Cowser (AA), Heston Kjerstad (High A), Dylan Beavers (2022 draft pick), Jud Fabian (2022 draft pick)
When it comes to high-end talent, both the infield and the outfield in the Orioles organization are loaded with talent. Like Outback baked potato kind of loaded. The difference is, while much of the balance of the infield’s talent is still in the minors, more of the outfield’s talent is already in the majors.
Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays have played well enough to think that the “2110 Eutaw Street” promotion from the days of Adam Jones and Nick Markakis might be updated as 2131 Eutaw Street. By bWAR, they’re the two best players on the 2022 team to date and neither one will be a free agent until after the 2025 season.
Anthony Santander becomes a free agent one year sooner. Before the season, you had to wonder if he’d be a trade candidate. That was a sad one to contemplate, as between his rise from a Rule 5 draft afterthought and his moment with the British kids a few years ago, he’s had the makings of a guy fans can be fond of. Now, with a poor defensive series and a July power outage freshest in our memories, his trade status is less certain and if he isn’t dealt, fans might start to feel like he’s blocking prospects.
In the short term, Stowers currently seems like the most likely replacement if Santander is moved out of the picture. He was already Santander’s replacement when Santander could not enter Canada. He’s hit 15 home runs for Triple-A Norfolk this season. It feels like time for the 24-year-old to be tested in MLB to see if he’s part of the future.
One level below Stowers, last year’s first round pick Cowser is coming on strong. Cowser was noted as an amateur for barely striking out. That’s increased as a pro this season, but he’s still got an excellent walk rate (16.5%) and in his short stint since being promoted to Bowie is flashing power, too. Defensively, Cowser is a player who can play center, but will likely default to a corner spot in the bigs. His athleticism and arm strength will give him a chance to turn into a well-above-average defender.
The drafting of Beavers and Fabian not only creates an incredible amount of outfield depth behind Cowser, but presents the same type of battle for playing time that we see at second base. Both the former Cal Golden Bear and Florida Gator present similar offensive profiles to Stowers when he was drafted: power first outfielders who will look to better round out their games in pro-ball. Both Beavers and Fabian come in ahead of where Stowers was athletically coming out of Stanford, meaning they may have a chance to play in all three outfield spots—whereas Stowers is destined for the corners.
Kjerstad is the biggest enigma of the group. After the start of his pro career was delayed by COVID-related problems and injuries, he got off to a torrid start at Delmarva before being promoted to Aberdeen. Before this season, you could forget that he even existed. There was once a power-hitting prospect in there that the O’s decided they liked more than everyone else’s consensus #2 pick in the 2020 draft, Austin Martin. If his 2022 revival continues, that’s one more player forcing his way into the big league picture.
Overall, the early impact that the Orioles’ 2022 draft class of hitters will make on the best minor league system in baseball should be meaningful, though only Holliday will be making any league-wide top 100 lists initially. As a player coming out of high school, his path to the big league will be long and approached with patience—especially given the depth of infield prospects ahead of him.
What the draft class will continue to do is provide competition for a variety of future roles for a future good stretch of Orioles baseball. When Elias and company started this rebuild, the cupboard was so bare that all incoming prospects seems to have a straight path to a big league opportunity. Now, with the 2022 draft class added into the mix, that’s less true than ever, and the rebuild is better for it.
*We are projecting that all drafted players will sign. If one of the players mentioned above does not, that obviously negates their impact on the organizational depth chart.