Image credit: Grayson Rodriguez (Photo by Cliff Welch)
The Orioles Top 10 for 2021 is here! Orioles correspondent Jon Meoli answered questions below.
Jon Meoli: Good afternoon and thanks for joining another year’s chat about the Orioles’ top prospect list here at Baseball America. As ever, thanks to the folks at BA and my employers at the Baltimore Sun, where I cover the Orioles, for making this illuminating exercise possible. It was a disappointment and a challenge to put together the Orioles’ content this year without a chance to see so many of these players in action and gather information on them from a full season. Still, I think this is a pretty representative snapshot of a farm system that’s already produced some interesting big leaguers who haven’t yet graduated, have some high-level impact talents at the lower levels, and are adding names to know faster than anyone can keep track of. We have a good amount of questions so far and we’ll try to get to them all, but feel free to ask more!
- How far off were the non-Kjerstad 2020 draftees from making this year’s top ten?
- Jordan Westburg left off the Top 10. Is that a bit of a red flag for him, or a testament of where the system is at?
Jon Meoli: Wanted to get to these first, because as is always the case, there was one too many players to fit all the deserving ones in the top-10. Jordan Westburg, by virtue of being the 30th overall pick and a productive SEC player, had a case for being on the published side of this 10-player list even before he went down to the instructional camp in Florida and wowed people inside and outside of the organization. That camp, however, happened after this was done and dusted. So, definitely not a red flag, but more of a commentary on what there was to go off of for this. It’s not super easy to sift through all the information that comes ones way during a process like this in normal times; this year, there was just a lot more to go off of on guys who have been around before and who spent a lot of time at the Orioles’ secondary camp in Bowie, where I spoke to plenty of staff members about what was worked on and who looked the best.
- With the organization being more active in Latin America, when can O’s fans expect to see more of their international signings among the top 10 and what names should we look for?
Alex P (Rockville, MD):
- The Orioles are clearly playing a bigger role in the international market than ever before. What are your thoughts on some of the bigger names they’ve picked up? And how long do you think it will be till they’re competing for the best of the best?
Jon Meoli: These two kind of go together, and probably represent the biggest change in the Orioles’ farm system in the last year-plus. At the fall instructional camp, they brought more than a dozen of the most developed Latin American players from their re-emergence in that market both under Dan Duquette in 2018 and Mike Elias with senior director of international scouting Koby Perez since. The upcoming 2020 signing class is meant to be one where the Orioles swim in the highest levels of the market, but with the mid-range, low six-figure signings of the last few years, they’ve definitely hit in some areas. The standout was outfielder Luis Gonzalez, who turned 18 last week and spent his time in Sarasota hitting home runs to places few big leaguers are able to in spring training. Outfielder Isaac Bellony and shortstop Leonel Sanchez were names that came up in this process, as well as pitcher Luis Ortiz. They couldn’t bring Venezuelan right-handers Raul Rangel or Moises Chace due to travel restrictions, but both are viewed as good signings by the organization as well.
Jon Meoli: As far as when they’ll be competing with the best of the best, it’s unclear given the pending minor league restructuring just how quickly international players will be brought to the United States in 2020 with less space on rosters for those already here. There are rare exceptions who prove to be prodigies and fly through the minors, but many will be arriving in Baltimore past the middle of this decade, if at all. If they look like they’re poised to make an impact, though, they’ll be publicly recognized by outlets like this and the Orioles will have international representation in their top-10 and maybe in the league-wide top-100 before long.
Bob Strait (Terp Twitter):
- I keep hearing about minor league contraction…any idea which, if any, of the affiliates gets contracted?
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Sure it is speculation and a guessing game, but how do you figure the minor league reorganization/contraction shakes out for the Oriole farm teams?
Jon Meoli: Since I brought it up, probably best to address it. It seems like the minor league reorganization and restructuring is nearing a point of finality, but it’s hard to imagine things changing in too much of a negative way for the Orioles. Mike Elias has said on numerous occasions that the Orioles like their set-up with affiliates in Norfolk, Virginia, then four across Maryland in Bowie, Frederick, Salisbury (Delmarva) and Aberdeen. The problem will be that there will be four affiliates for each major league team, so one will have to be dropped. I don’t really have a best guess worth blasting out to the world as to which will be left without a Birdland-branded chair when the music stops. I do, however, think that the Washington Nationals would be happy to add a nearby affiliate if one of the Orioles’ five comes available. I just hope there’s resolution to this and a full minor league season so that many of the good people I’ve gotten to know at these affiliates over the years can get back to work at the jobs that they love.
- What a great list. What do you think Yusniel Diaz will turn out to be? Maybe a decent third outfielder? Also, Do you know when the competitive balance A and B picks will be revealed? Late November? Early December? Mid-Late December?? I am hoping for a competitive balance A pick for the O’s!!!!!
Jon Meoli: Thanks for the kind words, Jason. Let me answer the second part and then I’ll get to Diaz with another question. The last CBA made it so that the teams in Round A and Round B alternated each year, with the teams who are in Round A getting a smaller international bonus pool that year and the teams in Round B getting a larger one. So, the Orioles will be in the B round in 2021, but will get a boost to their pool for Koby Perez and his staff to work with once the abbreviated 2020 period is finished.
- What are your expectations for Yusniel Diaz in 2021 and at the major league level? It felt like his reports out of the instructional camp were not as glowing as Rutschman or Henderson.
Jon Meoli: It’s a bit wild to think that Diaz was a top-50 prospect and the undisputed No. 1 in the Orioles’ organization after the Manny Machado trade, but there was probably a version of this year’s top-10 where he’s not even in it. I think he’s ranked in the right spot and think that if, say, by July or August he’s making it so that the Orioles can’t keep him in Triple-A anymore, then he’ll come up and be exactly the guy everyone was told he would be back in July 2018. The problem is he hasn’t forced the issue despite showing flashes and at times long streaks of being that guy. It’s not as if he doesn’t do the work–in 2019 he did early work with Bowie’s hitting coach Keith Bodie every day, and all accounts are he responded well to the challenges put forth by the Orioles’ player development staff this year at the Bowie camp. But I don’t think he’s going to be fully what he can be until he’s in the big leagues and the bright lights are on, which is an issue if he doesn’t play to a level that makes them promote him there.
- Is a mid season callup for Diaz and Bauman realistic, much like mountcastle, Akin and Kremer were in 2020?
Jon Meoli: To stay on this tangent for a bit, yes, I’d say those are very realistic. Baumann’s will be dependent on health after he was shut down with a flexor mass strain at the Bowie camp, but he’ll be on the roster and has the kind of explosive stuff that the Orioles’ rotation can use. As for Diaz, there will need to be an opportunity in a crowded outfield that will have all of Trey Mancini, Mountcastle, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, and DJ Stewart all in camp hoping for a chance to play every day.
- Awesome list! Im really excited to see all the talent Elias has built up. What is the ultimate ceiling for Grayson Rodriguez? Who is a sleeper more down in the system? Also, I don’t know if you know or not, but when do you expect BA will have a combined list of HS and college guys for the 2021 draft. Maybe when the full draft order is revealed? Like a top 50 or 100 2021 draft list. Right now it’s just top 100 for HS and College individual. I am having a hard time wrapping my head around who the Orioles should take at 5. Thanks for ur time! Sorry for the long questions!!
Jon Meoli: Thanks, Logan. As for Rodriguez, I have him with a No. 3 starter ceiling here simply because anything higher for someone in the low minors seems like a stretch, but he’s spending another offseason as the top pitching prospect in Baltimore. He certainly has a peer in DL Hall, who is throwing upper-90s with a better-defined four-pitch mix and much-improved mechanics.
Jon Meoli: My sleeper farther down in the system are two guys who actually were close to being in last year’s top-10 in infielder Adam Hall and right-hander Brenan Hanifee. Hall just seems like the type of player who can do a little of everything and isn’t going to waste an ounce of his opportunity, and I think Hanifee can really make waves as a throwback sinker-slider guy as he continues to improve his command and develop out pitches. There are so many to choose from though.
Jon Meoli: As for the draft rankings at BA, I’m sure those are in the works, but that’s more for their staff to answer. I will say this–I’m not sure Heston Kjerstad would have been anywhere near the top of that kind of list this time in 2019, so no use getting too married to anything like that now. My own guess is they’ll continue to take the best bat available.
- Good list when will Kjerstad be ready
Jon Meoli: Hard to say exactly considering Kjerstad missed the fall camp with an undisclosed medical issue and hasn’t really played any baseball since Arkansas shut down its season in March, but if he showed up some time in 2023 in Baltimore, that would mean he basically spent 2021 at the two A-ball affiliates, most of 2022 at Double-A, and then finished off his development early in 2023 at Triple-A. Seems reasonable enough to me, but he and the Orioles will both have more of a say in that than I do.
Alex P (Rockville, MD):
- On a skill-by-skill basis, who do you see with the top upside among the guys drafted in 2020? e.g. Top Power: Heston…
Jon Meoli: Off the top of my head, it’d probably be Kjerstad for power, Westburg for defense, Haskin or Servideo for speed, Mayo for arm. Baumler, by virtue of being the only pitcher, would probably be the best one. I heard great things about him at the instructional league, and I know the Orioles are bummed about his surgery.
- Really love the list! Who was your favorite orioles draft pick this past year? I really love Coby Mayo! Also, I saw earlier that competitive balance a and b picks alternate every year. Does that mean the teams that had competitive balance b picks last year (2020 draft) will have competitive balance a this year (2021 draft)?? Thanks for ur response! I love the draft if u can’t tell 🙂
Jon Meoli: To dovetail off this, I thought the Orioles had a good draft overall. I think Mayo is the type of guy who will be fascinating to watch develop, think Kjerstad will hit enough to make any questions about that pick go away, and saw enough small-school infielders who couldn’t really hit on Orioles affiliates over the year to know Westburg and Servideo are going to be big-time upgrades on the farm. I won’t use the word favorite, but if Hudson Haskin’s swing works at the professional level, he could be a player who impacts the game with all five tools. The Orioles don’t have many in their system like that, and he might have the best chance.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Sure he is getting older for a prospect, but everybody is rooting for Ryan Ripken to succeed. Having made it to AA and putting up reasonable numbers, do fans still have cause for hope with Ryan?
Jon Meoli: As always, lots from Karl. Thanks for joining again! I wrote a story about Ryan back when he was in high school at Gilman and I was a reporter for the nearby Towson Times, and we both laughed as we talked about it last summer imagining what our hair looked like at that point in our lives. It was really good to see him have success at Bowie in 2019, and I’m glad he keeps getting the chances that he does here with the Orioles. Even a cup of coffee in the big leagues would be quite an achievement, but considering who built up the Orioles’ first base options are with players like Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle best equipped to play there, Chris Davis still around, and their proclivity to really stick anyone at first base to get their bat in the order, extraordinary circumstances would probably be required to get Ripken to Baltimore in that capacity.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Rutschman is a costly guy, and the Orioles want to control him as long as possible. Therefore it would be in the O’s best interest not to have him at Camden Yards until a month or two into the 2022 season – true or false?
Jon Meoli: Another from Karl here. Though Mike Elias did say at the beginning of this season that if the Orioles were unexpectedly in a playoff race and Adley Rutschman could make a difference then he might join the big league team, that didn’t happen even as the Orioles were mathematically alive until the last week of the season. It stands to reason that could be the case again, though it’s hard to imagine that happening again in 2021. The best guess would be that Rutschman is still a year away, though he certainly seems like the type who would be happy to tear up the minors and force the Orioles’ hand.
Warren (New London):
- The obvious question about Adley Rutschman, where the Orioles “envision a generational offensive producer at his peak, standout defense behind the plate and multiple all-star nods.” They, and a lot of other people, thought the same about Matt Wieters, who was a very good major league player but not this. What makes you think Rutschman will be different?
Jon Meoli: On the topic of Rutschman, this is a fair point. The same way people who remember the Cavalry and all the other disappointing pitching prospects to not make it in Baltimore’s rotation might be reticent get excited about the new wave of young arms, there’s probably some Matt Wieters PTSD happening with Rutschman. I think there’s always a chance players don’t meet expectations, especially those this high. I also think that Adley Rutschman has the potential to be a really special bat, and until he shows any signs that this isn’t what he’s capable of being, those lofty marks are going to be the ones he has to meet.
Ian Kahn (New York):
- How much of a difference maker will Rutchman be? Might he have a Soto like impact when he comes up?
Jon Meoli: I’m not sure Rutschman will come up and just start hitting crazy home runs like Soto did, though the Orioles think there are some big power seasons in there at his peak. I think Rutschman will just immediately improve the entire lineup with his approach, his patience, and his overall production capacity. The Orioles have a bunch of free-swingers in their lineup now and probably still will when Rutschman gets called up. He simply doesn’t chase, and having those good at-bats in the middle of the order will make a big difference.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- After years of mediocrity the Shorebirds won more games than any minor league team for the 2019 season – other than Greyson Rodriquez and Rutchman who is your favorite position player and pitcher from that team?
Jon Meoli: Hello again Karl! Quickly on this one, I’m going to go with Adam Hall again as the position player I’m most interested in following from that team, and then I’ll say Drew Rom for pitchers. He got some good experience at a developmental league this summer against higher-level competition and still has some things to work on, but is a young, athletic left-hander who can have three major league pitches if they come along well.
Rhett Polson (Colorado):
- Why did you draft Maverick Handley in the same draft class as Adley? What are the plans for Maverick going forward.
Jon Meoli: I only cover the Orioles and don’t draft for them, but catcher was a very thin position in this organization before they addressed it the way they did in 2019 with three early picks. I will say that in 2013, the Orioles took four catchers in the top-10 rounds in Chance Sisco, Jonah Heim, Alex Murphy, and Austin Wynns. All three of Sisco, Heim, and Wynns ended up making the big leagues. Sisco and Wynns came up all the way through the minors together and credit each other with helping the other improve along their climb. So, Handley will get plenty of chances, maybe alongside Rutschman.
- How would you compare Zac Lowther to Keegan Akin? Is he behind him only in years, or is Akin the better long-term prospect? And who do you see as likely starters in the infield other than Henderson?
Jon Meoli: I think that the main similar thing for these two is the fact that their deliveries mean hitters can’t see their fastballs well and often take poor swings that result in weak contact, but the separator is the velocities they work at. Akin showed his particular brand of sneaky fastball could work in the low-90s and up to 94 and 95 mph at times in the big leagues, whereas Lowther is still a high-80s guy. Lowther worked to define his slider and curveball from one another during the shutdown, which could help, and we’ll see whether it all works in Triple-A. But Akin probably is able to do more at this point and going forward. It’s not a huge difference, though.
Jon Meoli: As for the infielders, I think Jordan Westburg is also probably in a similar tier as Henderson in terms of a big league starter. Then, there’s a dropoff where players like Adam Hall, Terrin Vavra, Anthony Servideo, Darell Hernaiz, and Rylan Bannon come in. All of those second-tier players probably have work to do before they’re big league starters, but that’s how they stack up to me.
- Hey thanks for the chat! A little curious because in best tools you have Rodriguez as having the best CU (55) in the system yet Hall has his CU graded as a 60. Could you clarify this for me please? Also heard really good things about GRods learning the CU in 2019 what type of characteristics does have? Is it a straight change, fade, drop etc.?
Jon Meoli: Hey Dan, looks like somewhere between submission and publication the grades got shifted a little so that would explain that. I think Rodriguez’s will be the best long-term but had the same grade on them; Hall’s is probably a hair better right now. Both are good pitches, though. Rodriguez had really good arm-speed on it and it faded late, if I remember right. Was very difficult for young hitters to adjust to.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Tell us what you think about 6′ 7″ hurler Adam Stauffer. Thinking he makes the lower half of the Orioles top 30 prospects – correct?
Jon Meoli: With a few exceptions, this group of pitchers who would have been at Delmarva this year really were hurt by the shortened season. This includes the 2019 draft class pitchers especially. They didn’t get to pitch and show the strides they made in honing the skillset the Orioles already believed worked well for what they wanted, and thus didn’t get to sort out who in this group is a cut above. I suppose that separation will just be delayed until 2021, but it’s a bummer for Stauffer and so many others who saw the benefits of the first year of this pitching program in 2019 didn’t get to continue those strides. There will probably be several players from that low-minors pitching tier in the conversation next year, but there were simply too many names this year and not enough graduations.
- Are the Orioles in a position where they could spend this winter and potentially speed up the rebuild since it looks like contracts may be smaller than we’re used to? Are there FAs you think would make sense if so?
Jon Meoli: I personally don’t think that the Orioles will even take advantage of a depressed free agent market this winter, though their picking up José Iglesias’ option meant they weren’t cutting costs quite to the bone. That could change come arbitration time when players who contributed for the last two years are set free in lieu of making more than the league minimum. I still think, though, that this front office will only invest real money into the major league team once they think the pieces are already in place to win. Until then, think pitchers on minor league deals, maybe another experienced catcher for cheap.
Jon Meoli: That was the last question I had, so hopefully this was as fun on the outside as it was for me. I was worried that being a new dad would mean my brain didn’t work today, but I think I made it. I appreciate the opportunity from BA to do this each year, and hope that once baseball begins again in the spring, the avenues to go see these players in person and tell their stories becomes available again. If so, you can find them at BaltimoreSun.com. If not, I’ll be writing there as well, only about the big league team. Thanks again for following along!