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Impact bats make the difference.
In Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, Chance Sisco and Cedric Mullins, the Orioles enter 2018 with as many as four potential future regular position players in their system. Hays and Mountcastle, in particular, have impact potential with the bat.
For as much promise as pitchers like Hunter Harvey and D.L. Hall possess, they haven’t proven their stuff can hold up for a full season. In fact, the system lacks a single impact rotation arm who could conceivably help in 2018. Even college arms like Cody Sedlock and Keegan Akin have not made seamless transitions to pro ball. Elsewhere, the Orioles don’t engage in the market for international amateurs, and they had traded all but $500,000 of their bonus pool money for 2017-18, ensuring another thin class of Latin American imports.
Notable Graduations: OF Trey Mancini (5) and LHP Donnie Hart (16).
Track Record: Hays' ascent from an unheralded and undersized amateur player to becoming the first 2016 draftee to make the majors has been a testament to his dedication and the benefit of playing baseball regularly, no matter the level. A four-year starter at Spruce Creek (Fla.) High, Hays spent a year at Seminole State (Fla.) JC and was the team's MVP before going to the University of Jacksonville. There, he blossomed into a star, posting a solid sophomore season but hitting 16 home runs and shooting up draft boards as a junior. The Orioles selected Hays in the third round of the 2016 draft, and despite him missing time with a wrist issue after the draft, he began 2017 at high Class-A Frederick and reached the majors by mid-September. The power spike that began at Jacksonville continued as a professional, as he went from three home runs as a sophomore to 33 between two minor league levels and the majors this season. To earn his September callup, Hays hit .332 with 32 home runs and 32 doubles between high Class-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, and was a finalist for Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year Award. The symmetry in his batting lines and the consistent success that he showed at both levels indicated that he was a steady enough to handle the majors. In 20 big league games, Hays hit .217 with a .555 OPS and one home run, while playing every day for the last two-plus weeks. Scouting Report: A baseball rat who has endeared himself to Orioles brass for his lack of batting gloves and a playing style that's energetic-bordering-on-reckless, Hays' compact swing and above-average bat speed help him attack the ball and drive it to all fields, and he has proved to be particularly adept at hitting fastballs in any count. While he controls the barrel and can be a plus hitter with plus power, his aggression in attacking fastballs made him susceptible to major league secondary pitches, an issue that Hays and the Orioles knew of before his stint in the big leagues and believe can be improved with more experience. Hays can be an above-average right fielder thanks to a plus arm and good instincts in the field, and he has played some center field. Though he hasn't stolen many bases as a professional, he runs a tick above average and always hustles out of the box. The Future: While Hays' best raw tool may be his arm, his overall package plays as an every-day regular who contributes in all phases of the game, and his solid-average tools play up because of his effort and makeup. Hays will need to adapt his aggressive approach to major league secondary pitches, but his defense and ability to hit lefthanded pitching could help him hold down a major league roster spot in 2018. He'll likely get a chance to earn the Orioles' vacant right field job in spring training.
Track Record: Signed for a below-slot $1.3 million bonus in 2013, Mountcastle has looked like a bargain because of his powerful bat. After hitting .281 with 10 home runs in his full-season debut for low Class-A Delmarva in 2016, Mountcastle won the Carolina League batting title for high Class-A Frederick, hitting .314 with a minor league-leading 51 extra-base hits at the time of his promotion to Double-A. Scouting Report: That promotion came with a move from shortstop--where he had committed 13 errors in 82 games and showed a well-below-average arm--to third base. Early reports indicate the momentum taking him toward first base on most plays from the hot corner helps his arm tick up to below average. Many scouts believe he's ticketed for left field or first base. Mountcastle's plus raw power, advanced approach and plus hit tool will carry him, but he'll face added pressure because of his defensive profile. He gets good extension in his righthanded swing to attack the ball and hit with power to all fields, and has shown ability to recognize spin and stay with pitches. The Future: While Mountcastle's defensive future is in doubt, his above-average offensive potential makes him the most promising bat in the system, and he could become an every-day player regardless of his position. He'll be back at Double-A Bowie to start 2018.
Track Record: The Orioles saw in Sisco a natural hitter who had taken well to catching duties once he picked up the position as a senior in high school, signed him to a $785,000 bonus, and may now have their catcher of the future. A career .311 minor league hitter, Sisco represented the Orioles in the last two MLB All-Star Futures Games, and made his major league debut in September. Scouting Report: Sisco has a calm lefthanded swing with fluid hands, and projects to be an above-average hitter with the potential for average power as he continues to add strength to his slight frame and improve on his gap power. While the team touts improvement in all facets of his defensive game, including receiving, blocking and game-management, the running game has always challenged Sisco's average arm strength. Sisco threw out 41 percent of would-be base stealers in the second half at Triple-A Norfolk, but that only raised his season rate to 22.6 percent. He'll need to have perfect footwork and transfers to consistently lower his pop times below 2.0 seconds. The Future: The Orioles believe that Sisco is ready to contribute in the majors, though his defense will dictate how comfortable manager Buck Showalter is in using him. Average defense will make him an every-day catcher due to his offensive abilities, especially against righthanded pitching, and he'll enter spring training with the chance to make the Opening Day roster.
Track Record: Harvey dazzled in his first 12 months as a professional before elbow injuries derailed him. Two years of elbow soreness culminated in Tommy John surgery in June 2016, though he also dealt with a shin fracture and a sports hernia in that span. Harvey rehabbed to full strength by the end of 2017, allowing his first earned runs in his eighth and final rehab appearance to finish with a 2.08 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 18 innings. Scouting Report: Harvey's 92-95 mph fastball reaches 97 mph and rates as an above-average pitch with downhill angle that he can command to both sides of the plate with armside run. His curveball slowly came back after the surgery, but showed the sharp, two-plane break that made it a plus pitch pre-injury. He seldom throws his changeup in games, but the pitch has average potential. Harvey matured physically and grew into the wiry frame that initially led to durability concerns. The Future: A healthy Harvey projects as a No. 3 starter, with the potential for high-leverage relief if his changeup doesn't develop or his crossfire delivery prevents him from throwing quality strikes with all three pitches. He'll likely be added to the 40-man roster this fall, but the team's hope is that he can build up his innings in the minor leagues to provide a firm base for his future.
Track Record: In the summer before his junior year, Hall solidified his status on the national scene by striking out seven batters in three innings of work at the 2016 East Coast Pro Showcase. Even with an inconsistent spring a Valdosta (Ga.) HS, performances like that convinced the Orioles that he'd be gone by the time they picked at No. 21 this summer. When he was available, they pounced, signing him away from a Florida State commitment for an above-slot $3 million bonus. Scouting Report: Hall struggled in his professional debut, walking nearly a batter per inning (10 in 10 .1) and ending with a 6.97 ERA, but was one of the best pitchers Baltimore had in the Instructional League and impressed club officials with his consistent release point along with his pitchability. Even with expected physical maturation, his fastball is already plus at 92-95 mph, with the ability to throw inside to both sides of the plate. His 1-to-7 curveball projects as an above-average pitch, with his changeup presently below-average but with average potential. The Future: Though far from the majors, Hall was seen as having the highest upside of any pitcher in the 2017 draft, and could blossom into a mid-rotation starter. He'll be ticketed for Class-A Delmarva to begin his first full season, where he'll be further introduced to the professional game as a 19-year-old.
Track Record: A sixth-round pick in 2014 who signed for an above-slot $600,000 bonus out of junior college, Scott showed himself to have one of the most electric (albeit wild) arms in the system. After two years as a reliever, Scott was put on a starter's schedule in 2017 to allow him to hone his delivery and develop his secondary pitches, both in games and in between-start bullpens. Scouting Report: Scott shows well-above-average velocity on his fastball, which he can sink and run at 97-100 mph with deception coming out of his hand. His slider went from average to above-average at 86-90 mph with tight break. While his command improved with the extra work on his mechanics, his violent delivery will produce more control than spot command. That could still prove effective as he's difficult to square up, even over the plate. The Future: The Orioles haven't committed to using Scott as a starter long-term, but the initial plan is to keep him in a five-man rotation for continued development in 2018. His changeup and control will need to improve for him to profile as even a back-end major league starter, but with his fastball-slider combination out of the bullpen, the Orioles see a possible future closer.
Track Record: Sedlock was the top player in an Orioles draft class that received high reviews, signing for a $2.097 million bonus. Combining what they saw as he earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors at Illinois and his professional debut at short-season Aberdeen, the Orioles saw fit to start him at high Class-A Frederick this year. But Sedlock struggled and later dealt with a strained flexor mass in his right elbow that shelved him on two occasions. Scouting Report: Sedlock's delivery gives scouts pause, as he has a pronounced stab behind his body and a long arm action. His fastball was missing the high-end velocity spikes from Illinois, but remains a future plus pitch at 91-94 mph with hard run and late sink. His curveball and changeup both project as above-average pitches, while he also throws a slider that could be an average pitch. He didn't pitch in the Instructional League, but worked there to revert back to his delivery from last summer, which he altered after the 2016 offseason in an unsuccessful effort to add more velocity. The Future: The Orioles hope that Sedlock's old delivery allows him to command an arsenal that profiles as a No. 3 starter. If not, he could see his stuff play up in shorter bursts in relief, where repeating his delivery won't be as much of an issue. Sedlock could return to Frederick in 2018.
Track Record: The Orioles knew the risk in selecting Santander in the Rule 5 draft from the Indians after offseason shoulder surgery, but his standout 2016 for High-A Lynchburg, where he hit .290/.368/.494 with 20 home runs and 42 doubles, intrigued them. However, elbow issues emerged while he rehabbed in spring training, and the team shut him down to ensure that he was fully healthy before they began their Rule 5 evaluation. Santander didn't join the major league team until mid-August, when he played sparingly, hitting .267 in 30 at-bats. Scouting Report: A switch-hitter with fluid hands and above-average power from both sides, Santander has drawn Victor Martinez comparisons. Santander is a below-average runner with a fringe-average arm who needs experience to be a fringe-average corner outfielder, meaning his bat will have to carry him should he continue as a corner outfielder. However, that's possible, especially with the traditional uppercut lefthanded swing that he's shown in the minors. The Future: Because he spent only 46 days in the majors in 2017, he'll need to be there for the first 44 days of 2018 for the Orioles to keep his rights under the Rule 5 stipulations. If they accomplish that, the 23-year-old could benefit from his first substantial time in Double-A, where the Orioles hope he'll develop into a solid-average regular.
Track Record: Despite his 5-foot-8 frame and small-college pedigree out of Campbell, Mullins has been a dynamic presence in the Orioles' system since they selected him in the 13th round of the 2015 draft. He was one of eight minor leaguers to reach double-digits in doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases while hitting .273 for low Class-A Delmarva in 2016, and jumped to Double-A Bowie in 2017, where hamstring issues led to two disabled list stints. Scouting Report: Mullins impressed the major league coaching staff in limited spring training looks with his calmness and range in the outfield, showing the ability to play solid-average defense in center field and above-average defense in left. His above-average speed is enough to cover ground at all three spots, but his below-average arm will limit him. At the plate, he's a switch-hitter with average potential and a line-drive swing from the left side who is still developing as a righthanded hitter. But his quick-twitch swing and reactions at the plate intrigue scouts. The Future: With just 76 games at Double-A, Mullins could return there to start 2018, though he'll likely get a chance to make another impression in major league camp. His defensive profile and speed are such that he should get the opportunity to hold down an every-day outfield job at his peak.
Track Record: Given how the Orioles shuttle 40-man roster pitchers between the minors and the majors, it's a wonder that Lee has been on the 40-man for two seasons without a big league appearance. Added after an impressive 2015 season that followed a trade for international signing bonus slots from the Houston Astros, Lee pitched just 51 1/3 innings in 2016 due to a lat strain in his left shoulder. He was challenged with an assignment to Triple-A Norfolk in 2017, where some of his best outings came later in the season as a piggyback starter. Scouting Report: Lee works from a fluid, athletic lefthanded delivery and features a 91-95 mph fastball that sinks, a changeup with plus potential, and a developing slider, though the pitch is currently below average. Lee's secondary pitches, especially the slider, need to be more consistent in order to be swing-and-miss threats, though he's effective against lefthanded hitters, and scouts believe his stuff can tick up if he moves to the bullpen. The Future: For now, the Orioles' focus is on getting Lee as many innings as possible, and they're showing uncharacteristic patience with a young talent who at worst can be a late-inning relief arm if he doesn't reach his No. 4 starter ceiling. Lee will be in the mix for a major league role in spring training, but a return to Norfolk is more likely in 2018.
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