The Orioles farm system is widely, if not universally, thought to be the best one in all of baseball right now. That belief got a bit more support on Wednesday morning with the unveiling of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list for the 2023 season. Eight O’s minor leaguers made the cut for this year, up from five at this time last year.
The group is headlined by Gunnar Henderson, who rocketed from #57 on BA’s list for 2022 up to the top with the strength of his minor league and major league performance last year. This is the second year in a row with an Orioles prospect at #1, as Adley Rutschman sat at the top of the 2022 list. We can hope that Henderson’s first full MLB season goes at least as well as Rutschman’s. And perhaps also that last year’s #1 overall pick, Jackson Holliday, can make it a three-peat with the 2024 list.
The eight Orioles prospects who made the list:
- #1 - Gunnar Henderson
- #6 - Grayson Rodriguez
- #15 - Jackson Holliday
- #41 - Colton Cowser
- #75 - DL Hall
- #76 - Jordan Westburg
- #93 - Connor Norby
- #95 - Joey Ortiz
Three in the top 15, four in the top 50, and eight in the top 100 overall is quite a good showing. Henderson and Cowser (#98 on the 2022 list) have both significantly improved their stock since this time last year. Westburg, Norby, and Ortiz are all new additions to this preseason list. Holliday, as a 2022 draftee, is debuting high on the first preseason list he could make.
Rodriguez, at #6, sits in the same spot as he did on last year’s list. Had he not suffered the injury he did in June, he’d have almost certainly pitched enough in MLB last season to no longer be eligible for these prospect lists. Instead, we’re still looking forward to his debut. Rodriguez has now been passed as the game’s top pitching prospect, with lists including this one now having Phillies prospect Andrew Painter ahead of Rodriguez. Painter, a 2021 first rounder from high school, pitched his way to Double-A last year, an impressive feat.
Hall is the one holdover who has slipped within the ranking since this time last year, dropping a bit from where he was at #52 last year.
It’s an exciting list for one big reason. This is a group of players who could have a significant impact on the fortunes of the big league Orioles as soon as this year. Two have already appeared in MLB. Seven of the eight have at least made it to Triple-A; only Holliday remains in the low minors.
One thing to keep an eye on is that five of these eight guys are infielders. Even if everything goes perfectly well for all of these guys, which is itself no guarantee even for top 100-caliber prospects, there are more of them than there are spots to play at their natural (or close to natural) positions. That’s without even getting into the big league Orioles already having a couple of 3+ WAR infielders from 2022: Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías. It seems inevitable that someone, or multiple someones, will be traded.
The Orioles farm system was able to keep on rolling at the top even after graduating Rutschman to the big leagues last year. That’s helped a lot by Henderson’s emergence and his holding on to prospect status by 14 at-bats. At an absolute minimum, it seems like they’ll be graduating Henderson, Rodriguez, and Hall this year, with any of the rest besides Holliday also being a candidate, depending on how they play and how the incumbent MLBers play.
I’ll be curious to see as the coming minor league season rolls along which, if any, Orioles prospects can start to look like they’re candidates to join next year’s round of top 100 lists. An encouraging thing about it is that half of these players were not the top O’s pick in their draft class. This is not a list that results solely from cashing in on high first rounders, which the Orioles will not continue to do now that they’ve improved. If the O’s can keep developing non-first rounders into top prospects, things will work out around here.
Depending on your level of optimism and homerism, a case could be made for a variety of existing prospects to get that top 100 shine by 2024. We could see the first Mike Elias-era Orioles international signing to hit the top lists if Samuel Basallo’s full-season debut goes well. Coby Mayo has already cracked the top 100 at other publications. Darell Hernaiz is another guy who might be poised for a breakout. Recently-drafted outfielders Dylan Beavers and Jud Fabian have promise, and you can’t even entirely count out the Heston Kjerstad revival here.
It would be nice to see a pitcher emerge so that it’s not entirely a position player group next year. I think Cade Povich, acquired in the Jorge López trade last year, might be the best candidate for that. The six position players are all Elias-era draftees, but the two pitchers are still around from Dan Duquette’s time. Elias simply hasn’t been using his high picks on pitchers and that shows in how the talent is stacked right now. It’s another reason to wonder whether one or more of the Westburg/Ortiz/Norby group in particular could be traded for pitching.
When Elias took over baseball operations for the team a few years ago and talked about building an elite talent pipeline, this is the kind of thing he meant. Hopefully it means better and better things for the Orioles as time goes along.