Image credit: Grayson Rodriguez (Photo by Tony Farlow)
Jon Meoli: Good afternoon! Glad to be back for another year of Orioles prospect rankings at Baseball America, an endeavor that is getting more and more fun and worthwhile as the organization’s rebuild puts a focus on the farm and adding talent there in a way that hasn’t been seen in these parts in decades. As always, I’ll begin with a thank-you to the folks at BA and my bosses at the Baltimore Sun for letting me do such a worthwhile project, and direct everyone to the Sun’s site where you can find some more background on these rankings and what went into them. I’ll answer everything we get here in the next hour or so. Here we go.
- Keegan Akin…is he a top 10 guy because he is in the sweet spot of being a decent AAA SP, but not really having the stuff to be a MLB SP or the pitches to ramp up to be a meaningful RP?
Bored Lawyer, Esq. (MD):
- is there much of a difference between Akin and Lowther, beyond a couple ticks on the FB? Lowther racks of the Ks from the left side, and seems rather durable. How do you distinguish these two?
Jon Meoli: Figured we’d start where these top-10 rankings always start: Keegan Akin. To answer the first question, he’s a top-10 prospect (or at least right in this 9-12 range of pitchers who are largely similar profile-wise including Michael Baumann, Dean Kremer, and Zach Lowther, and your mileage may vary on the order there) based on his track record and the fact he has a Triple-A season under his belt, the work done this year to take him away from being just a guy who relied on his fastball, and the idea there might be more in there that can have his pitches play up even better if he does end up in the bullpen. As far as distinguishing him and Lowther, they had almost identical rate stats in their respective seasons at Double-A Bowie. They have similar profiles, that come with similar risks. Akin’s stuff is just a tick better, especially his fastball. Combine that with being farther ahead, and that’s what that comes down to.
Zac Lowther (Baltimore):
- What’s my future look like? I K a lot of guys and give up very few H and pitch well with runners on base. I know I need to BB less guys, but my WHIP is still solid. Help me make the Show!
Jon Meoli: Hey Zac, hope you’re having a restful offseason. I think your immediate future is going to be spending all of 2020 at Triple-A Norfolk, where no matter how well you pitch you won’t be added to the 40-man roster until the offseason. But if you keep up this level of performance there, especially with graduations, you’ll be in the same place someone like Keegan Akin is now: with a chance to win a rotation job and show that your minor league performance isn’t a mirage. The higher up the ladder you (and your teammate Alex Wells) get in this effort, the harder it will be to doubt it can work in the bigs.
- No love for Hays, before the injuries he was their #1 spect, what has changed? what do you see his outcome as?
Jon Meoli: Never been accused of having no love for Austin Hays before, if that’s revealing my biases at all. But being the No. 4 prospect in one of the top-10 farm systems in the league isn’t no love, and his grade has only marginally fallen since that breakout 2017 season. That said, he needs to be a lot closer to the version of himself that he was in September than the last two minor-league seasons to maximize his skills and tools in the majors. Walking isn’t everything, but for him, if it means not striking out as often as he has, then it does. He has power to all fields when he puts his mind to it, and raked in 2017 because he had a great two-strike approach and wasn’t playing for power. Now that he’s seen the power can come naturally in that approach, I think it might be a long-term advantage. I think he’s an everyday player who can play an above-average outfield if he does that.
- How does Anthony Santander stack up against Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz and Cedric Mullins in your opinion? Of the four outfielders, who has the best tools?
Jon Meoli: Since we’re talking Hays, let’s stick in the outfield. Especially based on what Anthony Santander did this year, there’s got to be belief that he can be a real contributor to whatever the Orioles are building. I like him a lot, though I’m not sure it’s fair to project out the 20-homer power to a full season necessarily. If we’re going best overall tools, I think Hays is probably the best total package, though Santander has smoothed some of his rough edges defensively. Individually, and this is without a ton of thought: Hays best hit tool, Santander/Diaz best power, Mullins best speed and defense (with Hays close), probably Hays best arm, though Diaz can let it go when he wants to.
- Who is more likely to be the long term solution in CF: Hays or Mullins?
Jon Meoli: I’m very interested to see which version of Cedric Mullins shows up in spring training next year. But both of these players have been pumped up pretty hard and fallen down to earth just as hard; we’ve seen Hays bounce back and learn from that to get close to what his previous ceiling was, at least in my mind. Mullins might not hit right-handed enough to be a true everyday center fielder, so my nod goes to Hays, who will need to get more experience there but isn’t going to skip on the work it will take to get him there defensively. At the plate, Hays has always had more impact potential, but if Mullins gets back to a more traditional leadoff type approach where he uses his speed and is more of a slasher type, it’s a conversation again.
BennyFunk (Loxahatchee, Florida):
- I fully expected to see Dylan Bundy at #1 for the 17th season in a row
Jon Meoli: That honor goes to Hunter Harvey, who JJ Cooper pointed out on Twitter has tied Gary Sánchez for the most consecutive years in his organization’s top-10 with seven. Congrats Hunter! But, the relief ceiling he showed this year is such that the grading system here makes it hard not to include him this high. Hopefully, we aren’t looping back for No. 8 this fall.
- Why don’t Wells, Akin show up in the 2022 rotation?
- I noticed Santander is not on the projected list for 2023. What are your thoughts on him? Also what are your thoughts on Rom and Fenter? Thanks!
Jon Meoli: Let’s bunch these two together as well. I never really know what to do with the future lineup and rotation stuff. I believe Akin was supposed to and I never made that switch, so my bad. He’d be above Baumann though, based on their rankings. As for Wells, he’d have to supplant someone. On the Santander front, outfield is especially tough in this organization. While he never ranked above Hays, Diaz, or Mullins while eligible, he also wasn’t a 20-homer bat in the majors at that point either. That said, I feel like those other guys will have more long-term value than him. I also feel his switch-hitting will mean he’ll play a ton in any scenario, especially in an outfield like this with some pretty heavy platoon splits.
Juan peguero (Dominican republic):
- Alguna firma internacional consideración???
- The Orioles publicly went into the international signing day with gusto. Not a single player is on the list. When should we expect to see the international effort start bearing fruit?
George McClellan (Antietam battlefield, Sharpsburg, MD):
- Discuss the Orioles evolving strategy in the International marketplace. Are they shifting more from Trading away their Bonus slots to now actually trying sign some of these Amateur free agents?
- After completely neglecting the international market for years, it’s clear you can’t simply reverse course overnight and start signing premier talent at the drop of a hat. Having said that, how long do you think it will be before the Orioles begin properly evaluating and adding young, high-end foreign talent to the system each J2 period?
Jon Meoli: Lot’s of international questions, which could probably be separated out alone but I’ll just take them in a relative group. While spring international signee Stiven Acevedo made the top-30 in the summer, there were too many players domestically who are farther ahead to replicate that in the offseason list, so Alex Wells is the only Orioles international signee on the list. That said, the kind of players who make a top-10 list in their first year after signing are the absolute top-of-the-class players with seven-figure bonuses. There’s no showing up with gobs of money and just signing these players without an infrastructure, and the Orioles got into even the 2019-2020 market way late to do that. That said, they spent over $2 million in the 2018-2019 signing period and had their biggest class ever on July 2, 2019. The carryover from that should start getting stateside soon, and that’s where it’s a little easier to talk to people with eyes on them and get some better context statistically for where said players should fit into something like this. But the Orioles believe they’ll be shopping at the top of the market within the next couple of years as Koby Perez and his team get their operation built up, and that means no more trading bonus slot money going forward.
- If the Orioles pulled the trigger last year and got Victor Victor Mesa and his brother…where would they be on the Orioles rankings?
Jon Meoli: Just based on what they did this year (Victor Victor Mesa was awful, and Victor Mesa Jr. held his own in the GCL), I’d probably say the elder would be in the low teens and his brother the high teens, but I never claimed to be a Mesa expert and I’m glad I don’t have to be one now.
Jason (Pleasant Hill, CA):
- Rule 5 Draft is coming up. Do the Orioles have Buyers Remorse for drafting Richie Martin away from Oakland last year? Not sure he is a going to be the O’s every day Shortstop.
Jon Meoli: I don’t think getting major-league caliber defense at shortstop and wearing it for a year so you can have it for five or six more is worth buyers remorse. I think it’s a fine use of a resource like that to build depth, though considering the expectations around Baltimore that these Rule 5 picks can be something more because they’re typically the only real additions to the team before February and we all need something to talk about certainly hurts the player when he turns out not to be a world-changing guy. Martin came on pretty significantly at the plate in the second half, though, so whether he gets a Triple-A reset or continues that growth, it’s nice that the Orioles have him.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- The Delmarva 1st baseman (Seamus Curran) of the most wins in baseball team, the Shorebirds, was on the Sally league all-star team and the winner of the home run ruler award for the Shorebirds longest home run of the season (470′) – is he a prospect or an organization guy?
Jon Meoli: As a New Englander myself, I’d love for every player drafted from that fine area to make it. It’s just hard to project someone of his profile to be a big leaguer, especially with the swing-and-miss he’s shown in his career and the general lack of utility for the hit tool that comes with it. Credit to him for cutting down his strikeouts some, though. I can see a world where he crushes the ball at Frederick and gets himself into the mix next year if the rate stats continue to go in the right direction.
- How long do you think it will take G Rodriguez to get to the majors after his great performance last season? Do you see him as a future # 1?
Jon Meoli: I don’t think there’s any rush to get Grayson Rodriguez to the majors, despite him being flat-out awesome in his first full year at Low-A Delmarva. He’ll be at High-A Frederick next year, and might spend a full year there as well before getting to the high minors and seeing what happens. His case will be an interesting one, though. Rodriguez could theoretically be getting to that point where if he’s pitching like this in Double-A two years from now when this team really starts to try to be good again, he could test their theory of station-to-station, methodical development. A No. 1 is a little heavy, but he’s a front-half of the rotation starter at least, and even if his performance doesn’t make him a No. 2 type, No. 3-type stats with his projected durability are plenty valuable.
- At what positions are the Orioles still devoid of talent in the farm system?
Jon Meoli: I’d say infield for sure, especially the non-first base variety. In the high minors, there are nice players like Mason McCoy and Rylan Bannon. Then there’s Adam Hall, Cadyn Grenier, and JC Encarnacion in the low-minors, and then Gunnar Henderson and Darell Henaiz in this year’s draft class. I think this is something they’ll continue to address in the draft, but also is a type of player that a vibrant international program can provide a wave of stateside each year to fill out rosters and add some talent.
- Who’s a good comp for Gunnar Hendersen? Does he remind scouts of Groshan Groshans, another bigger SS drafted last year? Does he have a chance at sticking at SS?
Gunnar Hendersen (How do I compare…):
- To Jordan Groshans coming out of HS? We are both similar size and seem to have similar tool grades as well? Do scouts think that’s my upside?
Jon Meoli: A couple of similar questions here. Focusing on the Orioles’ system exclusively, I don’t know a ton in-depth on what other teams have. But reading Groshans’ report, that’s probably the ideal outcome. I think Henderson is going to be a bat-first player, which isn’t to say he’ll be a positionless one like Ryan Mountcastle. The Orioles believe he can stay on the left side of the infield and provide a lot of offensive impact, which is a fine outcome. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to see him. I heard on the radio yesterday that these lists shouldn’t be well-regarded because people don’t see all the players, but he’s one of four players ranked that I didn’t see in person this year. Just wanted to make sure I noted that.
- 1.5 years down the road from when they happened…How did the Gausman, Machado, and Schoop deals transform the Orioles farm system?
Jon Meoli: I think those trades will be remembered for being the start of a real deepening of the system, for lack of a better word. A year out, seven of those players are in the BA Top 30, albeit many of them in the 20s. I don’t think when anyone thought about the Orioles trading such big-name players, they thought there wouldn’t be a ton of impact coming back. That remains to be seen. But especially since it was a lot of high-minors performers coming over, those trades could produce a few major-league contributors who make Mike Elias’ job easier in having so many bridge players as he builds the farm to the image he’d like to see it three or four years from now.
- Sedlock’s value fell apart quickly in his career, but he experienced a bit of a bounceback last year. Was that due to the new system put in place? What does he need to do to get back into a top prospect conversation again? Did that ship sail?
Jon Meoli: I think Cody Sedlock’s bounceback is owed equally to his health and to the new system in place under director of pitching Chris Holt to emphasize players’ strengths and do what’s best for the individual. Huge credit to Sedlock for that as well. He’s as hard a worker as there is in the system. As far as being a top prospect, the stuff never matched the first-round billing he had as an amateur, so I’d say probably not. It’s a tough delivery to love, and even if he’s been better as he emphasizes his secondary pitches, it’s a tough sell to have him be above a lot of the pitchers ahead of him.
- What’s a realistic timetable for the Orioles to be a) watchable, b) interesting, c) fun, d) competitive?
Jon Meoli: I’d say interesting and fun some time late next year, watchable for non-enthusiasts late in 2021, and competitive by the end of 2022. Man, that’s a long time from now.
- I know the offensive expectations for a top tier catcher have gone down. What do you think the chances are Adley Rutschman is capable of performing like catchers of old at the plate (Posey, pudge, piazza to name a few). Someone who is a top 1 or 2 offensive contributor on a good team.
- I see in the top 100 list, Rutschman’s power is a 70 but in their top 10, it’s a 60. Is that an indication BA thinks his power has taken a step back?
Jon Meoli: Couple Adley questions in the pipeline. As for this one, 70 power is a big number to me. I don’t think it’s a matter of it taking a step back as much as different evaluations. Not sure power alone materially impacts what he is going forward, because to answer the previous question, I do think Rutschman has the potential to be the best hitter on a team that could have several very good ones by the time he’s settled in at Camden Yards. That’s a list that could include Trey Mancini still, and Ryan Mountcastle, and whoever emerges from the outfield competition with the likes of Austin Hays and Anthony Santander. It’s a no-doubt impact bat as long as he’s healthy, because he’s shown the approach and mindset to do it at every point in his career.
- Do you think the O’s will try to keep Rutschman on the same team with Rodriguez/Hall to get more game reps between them? Do you think working as a battery at a lower level helps them when they make it to bigs together?
Jon Meoli: I’m not sure that will be intentionally what happens, though it can’t hurt. I think there’s some comfort in knowing your catcher well, but the way the Orioles’ pitching program (and the game in general) are going, feel for calling pitches and the like is going by the wayside for a more data-based approach. It’s not like how someone uses his pitches is going to be different from one catcher to another, though liking pitching to someone who could be your major-league catcher for the next decade can’t hurt.
- Toby Welk a big leaguer? Obviously too good for Aberdeen, but he looks like a steal
- Any chance to see Tony Welk shoot up these rankings next year?
Not Toby Welk (Not at Toby Welk’s House):
- Toby Welk seemed to be a revelation last year emerging from an often overlooked smaller school program to perform well in Aberdeen and Delmarva. What does his future look like?
Jon Meoli: Lots of love for Toby Welk, and rightfully so. This year’s draft class was particularly hard to rank because there was so much talent in the late rounds, especially on the pitching side but most notably on the hitting side with Welk, the 21st-round pick out of DIII Penn State-Berks. He was someone who everyone on the amateur side I talked to added in after we talked about the big boys as someone to think about, and I already was thinking about him, so that’s strong affirmation. If he hits the way he did over a full-season at Delmarva next year, there’s absolute top-30 potential. I just worry that my (and everyone’s) desire to crown a face of the new draft philosophy finding gems might be a little strong and setting up for disappointment.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Pretty sure Greyson Rodriquez will be a future major league hurler – can we the same thing for Gray Fenter and Drew Rom?
Jon Meoli: Going to hit some quickly before we get moving. I think Fenter can be as a reliever, and talked to a lot of people who wondered why he’s not on that track already. That said, I saw him pitch the game of his life in the playoffs and don’t see any reason to rush him out of the rotation. As for Rom, he goes in the Lowther-Wells basket of lefties without premium stuff who need to do it at every level if he doesn’t grow into more velocity. I like both though.
- Dan Duquette has been mentioned as a possible GM in Pittsburgh. If he was interviewed and asked about how he contributed to developing talent in the Orioles minor league system, could he say the improved the system?
Jon Meoli: I think that he can, especially with some of the late drafts of his tenure and the trades they made. The trades aren’t really producing a lot of impact, but they improved what was a bad system. Same goes for the drafts. By my rough count, his last three drafts produced seven of the top 13 players I ranked. That’s not bad.
- Not a top 10 guy, but personal cheeseball is Jensen Elliott. With the way the O’s have handled pitching development recently, could you see him jumping forward in 2020?
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Of the pitchers moving from the GCL and Aberdeen to Delmarva who are your favorites?
Jon Meoli: These kind of go hand in hand. From what I was told and saw about a lot of the Orioles’ third-day pitchers from this year’s draft, they all had legitimate cases to be ranked in the top-30 at least. Guys like Elliot, Dan Hammer, Kade Strowd, and Houston Roth all fit exactly with what the Orioles wanted, and it was clear seeing them what that was: lively fastballs and plus breaking balls. It will be tough to fit them all into the Delmarva rotation with the likes of Leonardo Rodriguez also deserving a shot, but any of them could easily dominate and get themselves into this conversation for next year.
ORIOLES SUFFERING FAN (CAMDEN DEATH YARDS):
- SO Orioles fired most of their staff. farm director/ scouts/ new GM brining his own people and hiring new ones. Do you see any changes on Orioles developing pitching on farm system after this happened?
Jon Meoli: The change has clearly already happened on the pitching side, and will probably only continue. As noted above, the Orioles’ draft this year got rave reviews, especially from those who saw the pitchers, and the more people they can get in who know what this organization wants, the better it will be on all fronts.
- I know he’s behind the future king of Baltimore, but any work on Maverick Handley? Threw out a strong percentage (63%) of baserunners, and appeared to solid defensively. Glove first backup? I’d imagine the Os saw something in him if they gave him overslot in the same draft as Adley
Jon Meoli: Can’t say I know a ton about him, but there’s not a lot of catching in the lower minors. He seems the type who could draft off Adley (not to say he won’t deserve it, but without the shine) and be a nice complementary type going forward.
Steve (Westminster, MD):
- The Orioles have famously sold themselves as being more focused on evidence based methods to find talent. They and similar teams employ few scouts, focus on things that can be measured, and take a pass at high school talent. How does their evaluation process differ from how Baseball America evaluates their talent?
Jon Meoli: I don’t know about BA as a whole, but I’m not sure there’s much difference in how they evaluate versus how anyone else does. The decision-making might be more based on data, but in terms of evaluating and projecting tools, I think they probably see a lot of the same things as anyone else does. Where their methods might differ is how significantly their own data forecasts influence all these things. That said, there’s plenty of both outside and internal evaluations that make all this up.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- He had a really good record with the GCL Orioles, plus he went to an eastern shore high school – what a fit for the 2020 Shorebirds pitching staff! Your comments on Jake Zebron?
Jon Meoli: I like Jake Zebron, and know scouts who do as well. He could certainly be in Delmarva, but that’s going to be a crowded list. They’re going slowly with him for a reason, so it may be Aberdeen, but all he can do is pitch as well as he has and make himself hard to pass over.
Josh (N. Virginia):
- With the Orioles taking the no. 2 pick, do we see them taking the best overall talent? Or do we see them go for more a player in areas of talent concern (infield depth)?
Jon Meoli: I think it will be best talent available, though this year’s draft could be about adding multiple impact players by spreading the bonuses around without anyone emerging near the top of the draft and the Orioles’ compensatory round pick being pretty high, meaning they’ll have more money to work with.
- Always enjoy the chats. I am wondering if you can share your thoughts on some of the players farther down in the minors that you see as comers–as ones that might take a big leap in status in the next year. Thanks!
Austin R. (Baltimore):
- If you had to pick a name to be this year’s Michael Baumann, i.e. someone who shoots up the rankings from a relative middle of the pack glut, who would you bet on? I would love to say Blaine Knight (loved him out of Arkansas) but this season scared me a little bit.
Jon Meoli: Last two to wrap up what has been a fun chat. These kind of go together. If I had to pick anyone from the 2019 pitching class to jump out, I’ll go with Dan Hammer, as noted a few questions earlier. In terms of the middle-rankings pitching glut referred to here, I’m going to go with Knight and Gray Fenter. I don’t think Knight will struggle like he did this year, and I think the experience will help focus him a little bit more. As for Fenter, he added a slider that flashed plus this year and absolutely dominated Delmarva. He won’t be young for Frederick by any means, but if he has that type of season again, it’s probably time to consider him another success story for Chris Holt and company. Also, since I haven’t gotten a chance to talk about him, I think Adam Hall is good and could push for the top-10 next year.
Jon Meoli: Thanks to everyone for following along and for all the good questions, and if there’s anything else, track me down on Twitter and ask. Happy weekend!