Baltimore Orioles Midseason Top 10 Prospects
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With much of their major league core plus top decision makers Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter all in the final years of their contract, the Orioles added major league pitching in the form of Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner to bolster themselves for one last run with this group.
It quickly became apparent that the team that collapsed at the end of 2017 was back in a variety of ways, and pretty much nothing has gone right for the Orioles as a result.
Injuries didn’t help, with one-time All-Stars Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Mark Trumbo, Jonathan Schoop, and Chris Tillman all spending time on the disabled list, along with expected starters Colby Rasmus and Tim Beckham.
At the plate, their all-or-nothing approach has been exposed by league-wide increases in off-speed pitches thrown, which the Orioles have made themselves a target for by not changing their plan and swinging for the fences. The rotation, topped by Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, has only improved in context of their own recent struggles.
Defensively, they don’t feature a single plus defender after moving Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado to shortstop.
Whether it’s by trade in July or free agency in the fall, all of Machado, Britton, reliever Brad Brach, and center fielder Adam Jones are nearing the end of their time with the organization. They’re the most obvious sellers in the game. Machado has already been moved. The rest are likely soon to follow. The return for Machado netted a new No. 1 prospect for the Orioles and several others (Dean Kremer, Rylan Bannon and Zach Pop) that slot into their Top 30.
The farm system has improved in recent years, but a lack of diversity makes it easy to speculate where the Orioles could target other team’s prospects. They’re flush on high-floor pitching and corner outfielders, but speed and defense up the middle, especially on the infield, is a significant need. They can also stand to add another potential impact arm or two.
1. Yusniel Diaz, OF
Major advancements to his pitch recognition and plate discipline have allowed Diaz to blossom even further after a breakout 2017. Diaz has posted more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his U.S. career, and is on pace to set career highs in all three slash line categories. Diaz’s outfield defense has leapt forward as well. He took over as the primary center fielder at Double-A Tulsa and showed the explosiveness and athleticism to stay there, while improving his communication and feel for the position. Combined with a slight uptick in his raw power as he's gotten more physical, Diaz blossomed into a Top 50 prospect and was the centerpiece of the Orioles trade return for Manny Machado.
2. Austin Hays, OF
Hays’ breakout 2017 season ended with an eye-opening major league call-up, but injuries haven’t given him much of a chance to build on any of that. Hays deal with a shoulder injury in spring training and struggled to regain his swing and confidence before being sidelined in late May with an ankle injury. While his struggles this year have dimmed his outlook some, Hays showed in 2017 that he can impact the game in a lot of ways with solid-average tools across the board. The Orioles hope to see that when he returns after the All-Star break.
3. Ryan Mountcastle, 3B
Mountcastle missed the first the first month of the season after a non-displaced wrist fracture, but has done nothing but hit since returning to the Bowie lineup. He struggled some there last summer at an age-advanced level while moving from shortstop to third base, though his advanced feel for hitting has shown in 2018. Mountcastle continues to work at his new position, but it’s unclear where he can capably defend at the major league level thanks to his well below-average arm.
4. DL Hall, LHP
Low Class A Delmarva
The youngster in the Orioles’ stacked rotation that started the season in the South Atlantic League, their 2017 first-round pick is showing he’s worth that billing. He’s been reaching 97 mph with his fastball from a consistent delivery and featured one of the best breaking balls in last year’s draft, and the Orioles are using his time in Delmarva to help him build a professional routine while not extending him too much in his first full season.
5. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP
The Orioles had looks from every level of the organization on the Texas prep pitcher who rose up team’s draft boards this year, and passed on several highly-rated arms to take him. Rodriguez rebuilt his body and his delivery to maximize his 6-foot-5 frame and dominated with a mid-90s fastball and a four-pitch mix in high school. He’ll get his professional career started in the Gulf Coast League although he’s unlikely to throw many innings this year.
6. Hunter Harvey, RHP
Harvey flirted with a major league roster spot in spring training, but the focus this year has been building innings and staying healthy for the first time since 2014. He was doing just that when his arm popped out of its socket when his shirtsleeve got caught on the dugout railing trying to avoid a foul ball. It’s another unfortunate injury, and he now has some challengers, but Harvey remains the best arm in the system.
7. Tanner Scott, LHP
Scott has seen his opportunities rise in a depleted Orioles bullpen that began without closer Zach Britton and lost Richard Bleier and Darren O’Day in June. The hard-throwing Scott has shown flashes of dominance, with his slider a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch when it’s on, but hasn’t done so with nearly enough consistency--that’s something that has plagued him throughout his career as his 4.8 walks per nine innings in the majors is actually the best walk rate of his career.. Scott has the stuff to be the Orioles closer of the future and could even begin to get that experience this summer.
8. Keegan Akin, LHP
Akin learned how important maintaining his body and his mechanics were in his first full professional season, and now that he’s doing that, he’s seen his stock in the organization increase dramatically. Akin’s sneaky fastball and command of three pitches have helped him strike out over a batter per inning in the Eastern League through the beginning of July and put him firmly on the radar for a major league rotation spot.
9. Ryan McKenna, OF
Much like Hays last season, McKenna broke out this season at Frederick to the tune of a .392/.482/.582 line with 26 extra-base hits in 61 games. He also impressed with his speed both on the bases and in center field, and showed the ability to impact the game in every way. That earned him a move up to Bowie, where a repeat performance would solidify him as one of the organization’s top prospects.
10. Cedric Mullins, OF
Injuries kept Mullins from putting together the type of standout season he seemed on pace for in 2017, but a return to Double-A to finish off the level showed a switch-hitting outfielder who can influence the game with more than just his bat. Mullins should be up with the Orioles by the end of the summer, possibly injecting some speed and range into an outfield that desperately lacks it.
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Aggregating all roster moves, including trades, made by MLB clubs ahead of Wednesday's 40-man roster deadline.
- LHP Zac Lowther has emerged as a Top 10-caliber prospect in the Orioles system. He had a 1.16 ERA in Delmarva with a 0.68 WHIP before being bumped to the Carolina League, where hitters haven’t fared much better. He’s added some velocity of late to complement his changeup and slider, with his fastball up to 94 mph in a recent outing, and has the profile to move quickly through the system.
- OF DJ Stewart is following up his 20-homer, 20-steal season at Double-A Bowie with a similarly well-rounded year at Triple-A Norfolk. Without a true carrying tool, he’ll have to continue to contribute in a variety of ways, though a major league debut this summer ahead of the team protecting him from the Rule 5 draft is likely.
- RHP Brenan Hanifee has proven precocious due to an advanced, heavy fastball and a feel for pitching in his full-season debut at low Class A Delmarva, and while there's still a lot of improvement left for his complementary pitches and the mid-to-backend starter future many envision for him, his youth and pitchability combined with his early success given plenty of credibility to those who believe he's on the right track.
- RHP Matthias Dietz repeated low Class A Delmarva for his age-22 season and saw a spike in velocity lead to over a full run improvement in his ERA (4.93 to 3.93) while striking out over a batter per inning, brightening his outlook despite command issues that might lead to a future in the bullpen.
- 3B Jomar Reyes is in the midst of his third season at High-A Frederick and looks no closer to tapping into the immense raw power in his 6-foot-3 frame, with swing and timing issues holding him back at the plate. Reyes was hitting .231/.262/.315.
- OF Ademar Rifaela was the Carolina League MVP in 2017, but the combination of his sellout swing not paying dividends at Double-A Bowie and his defensive limitations in the stacked high-minors outfield situation has knocked whatever glean he carried into this season.
- RHP Cody Sedlock rehabbed a flexor mass strain in his elbow this offseason and dedicating himself to finding his old mechanics this offseason, but the Orioles' 2016 first-round draft pick struggled badly in three starts back at High-A Frederick with his fastball dipping into the mid-80s before he went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
- LHP Chris Lee suffered an oblique strain in spring training that sent him out of major league camp, and he pitched to a 10.64 ERA and a 3.00 WHIP before going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury for the second time in three seasons.
- C Chance Sisco made the Orioles' Opening Day roster and remains the catcher of the future, but just after graduating from rookie status, was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk to get his throwing back on track before he quickly returned.
- OF Anthony Santander was forced into an everyday role and thus graduated from rookie status due to injuries in the Orioles outfield as he served out the last seven weeks of his Rule 5 requirement earlier this season. The 23-year-old Santander struggled against major league pitching but has settled in nicely and still remains well-regarded in the organization as he gets his footing at an age-appropriate level with Double-A Bowie.
- RHP David Hess impressed early as he was handed his major league debut in May and took a rotation spot with the Orioles soon thereafter, though the fact that he has more area command than spot command with his mid-90s fastball and doesn't have a standout secondary pitch in his four-pitch mix has created challenges as the league gets familiar with him