Baltimore Orioles Top 20 Prospects for 2015
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2015 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders for the book, so order early and order often!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS
Grade A prospects are the elite. In theory, they have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Theoretically, most Grade A prospects develop into stars or at least major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don’t intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don’t make it at all.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for the full analysis about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Dylan Bundy, RHP, Grade A-: Same grade he got last year as we awaited Tommy John recovery. He came back within slightly less than a year and stuff (not surprisingly) wasn’t crisp early, but it got better in his last few outings until he went down with a lat strain in early August. Still the class prospect of the organization. Age 22.
2) Hunter Harvey, RHP, Grade B+: Borderline B. Rated as a strong B entering 2014, would be a firm B+ now if not for forearm injury that ended season early. "Flexor mass strain" supposedly not a big deal but there has been pre-injury concern about his delivery, so we’ll see. When right, looks like a future number two starter with three quality pitches and plus makeup. Turns 20 in nine days.
3) Chance Sisco, C, Grade B: At this point, an outstanding hitter for average, hit .371 in rookie ball in ’13 and .340 in Low-A in ’14. Not much home run power yet but that may come; defense also needs polish but tools seem reasonable enough. Upside: All-Star catcher. Risk: turns out like Bryan Anderson. Age 19.
4) Christian Walker, 1B, Grade B-: Power outburst in Double-A (.301/.367/.516 with 20 homers) didn’t fully carry forward (.259/.335/.428) in Triple-A but he’s shown the ability to make adjustments before. While he’s not a 30-homer type, I think he made real progress and can be a decent/solid regular along .270/.330/.450 lines, which is pretty decent nowadays. Age 23.
5) Dariel Alvarez, OF, Grade B-: Cuban defector, age 26, hit .306/.330/.472 in the high minors, 15 homers, 37 doubles, solid defender as well with a strong throwing arm. Not a high-walk hitter but had few problems with contact and showed some punch.
6) Tim Berry, LHP, Grade C+: Age 23, perhaps the top talent of a very large group of Grade C+ prospects who project as back-end starters or bullpen options. Throws a bit harder than Zach Davies with very similar performance (3.51 ERA with 108/45 K/BB in 133 innings in Double-A) and comes from the left side so I put him a spot ahead. You can make a case for several of the guys below him in this spot however.
7) Zach Davies, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, stands out for outstanding pitchability, posted 3.35 ERA with 109/32 K/BB in 110 innings in Double-A despite an 86-91 MPH fastball. Limited physical upside at 6-0, 150 pounds and is maxed out, but he uses what he has very well. Like Berry, possible back-end starter or bullpen option.
8) Jomar Reyes, 3B, Grade C+: High ceiling alert, just 17 years old, hit .285/.333/.425 in rookie ball. Long way off, but likely the highest-ceiling power bat in the system and he doesn’t strike out excessively. Strong throwing arm but will have to watch his size to maintain his range at third base.
9) Mike Yastrzemski, OF, Grade C+: Age 24, doesn’t have Reyes’ ceiling of course but much closer to the majors. Perfect fourth outfield profile, with average tools in all respects but great instincts that fit the family name.
10) Brian Gonzalez, LHP, Grade C+: Third round pick was top player in 2014 Orioles draft that lacked first and second round choices. Advanced Florida high school arm with three pitches, posted 1.34 ERA with 36/10 K/BB in 34 innings in pro debut. Age 19, not classically projectable with big body (6-3, 230 or 250 depending on what listing you believe) but could end up the best of the bunch not named Bundy or Harvey.
11) David Hess, RHP, Grade C+: Age 21, fifth round pick out of Tennessee Tech in 2014, posted 3.24 ERA with 36/8 K/BB in first 33 pro innings, fastball up to 96 and secondary pitches were better than anticipated, threw strikes too. Sleeper Alert guy, could vault ahead on this list in 2015. Keep a close eye on him.
12) Stephen Tarpley, LHP, Grade C+: Age 21, third round pick in 2013, another Sleeper Alert choice, live-armed lefty posted 3.66 ERA with 60/24 K/BB in 66 innings in short-season ball. Inconsistent but athletic with good fastball and curve, finished the season very strongly after some mechanical adjustments.
13) Oliver Drake, RHP, Grade C+: Not your typical age 27 Double-A pitcher, posted 3.08 ERA with 71/17 K/BB in 53 innings, 41 hits, 31 saves, throws hard with nasty splitter/sinker combination and signed a major league contract for ’15. United States Naval Academy graduate, befitting the name "Drake."
14) Tyler Wilson, RHP, Grade C+: Age 25, doesn’t draw great reviews for his stuff (fastball peaks at 90-91) but works the zone well with his secondary pitches and has a better recent track record than Mike Wright, 3.67 ERA with 157/43 K/BB in 167 innings in Double-A/Triple-A this year.
15) Mike Wright, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24 (25 in January), disappointing 4.61 ERA with 103/41 K/BB in 143 innings in Triple-A, 159 hits. Another member of the back-end starter brigade, though he might be better in relief. Throws harder than Wilson and a little younger.
16) Steve Brault, LHP, Grade C+: Borderline C. Age 22, polished lefty posted 2.77 ERA with 124/30 K/BB in 146 innings in A-ball. Another potential back-end starter in a system full of them.
17) Parker Bridwell, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline C. Age 23, posted 4.45 ERA with 142/70 K/BB in 142 innings in High-A, 123 hits. Very good stuff at his best, into mid-90s and has a decent change-up, held back by erratic command and breaking pitches. Consistently high strikeout rates and low hit rates but with too many walks. Higher physical ceiling than Brault, Wright, or Wilson but still raw despite five years in the minors.
18) Mike Ohlman, C, Grade C+: Borderline C. Tough to get a read on this one. I thought his ’12 and ’13 performances were a real breakout but he couldn’t bring it forward to Double-A, hit just .236/.310/.318 with two homers in Double-A. Defense isn’t good enough for him to get away with that. Age 23, 24 later this month.
19) Pat Connaughton, RHP, Grade C: Former Notre Dame basketball player needs work with command and secondary pitches but has already made progress. Posted a 36/40 K/BB in 62 college innings (not a typo) but 10/3 in 15 pro innings, small sample but greatly improved. Clocked as high as 97.
20) Henry Urrutia, OF, Grade C: Age 27, Cuban defector hit well in 2013 (.347/.406/.506 in Double-A/Triple-A) but 2014 season was ruined by a sports hernia which seemed to rob him of all power at the plate, hit .270 but with zero homers in 204 at-bats in Triple-A. Window is narrow given his age, can’t afford another lost year.
OTHERS: Jean Cosme, RHP; Glynn Davis, OF; Drew Dosch, 3B; Jason Esposito, 3B; Mychal Givens, RHP; Josh Hart, OF; Alex Hassan, OF; Mitch Horacek, LHP; Jon Keller, RHP; Branden Kline, RHP; Lazaro Leyva, RHP; Trey Mancini, 1B; Adrian Marin, SS; John Means, LHP; Ofelky Peralta (High Ceiling Alert), RHP; Garabez Rosa, UT; Tanner Scott (High Ceiling Alert), LHP.
The graduation of Kevin Gausman onto the major league staff was a key positive for Orioles player development in 2014. The minor league system as it currently stands looks thin on the surface with a notable lack of impact talent beyond the top three, but the system has a great deal of depth in C+/contributor types, especially on the pitching side.
Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey are the obvious top arms, both with ace potential if not held back by physical problems. There is a huge group of C+ types who could become back-end starters or bullpen options and you could rank them in about 30 different ways with valid logic.
Tim Berry, Zach Davies, Tyler Wilson, and Mike Wright could all receive trials in 2015, with Branden Kline, Steve Brault, and Parker Bridewell a potential second wave. Pat Connaughton, Jon Keller, and Mychel Givens all have impressive arm strength. Mitch Horacek and John Means provide strike-throwing southpaw balance. At the lower levels of the system super-projectable Ofelky Peralta, 2014 early pick Bryan Gonzalez, athletic lefty Stephen Tarpley, and hard-throwing lefty Tanner Scott are all names to watch closely in Low-A and rookie ball in ’15.
Even with the questions concerning Bundy and Harvey, a lot of teams would love to have a balanced group like this. And there’s also mysterious Cuban signee Lazaro Leyva, signed for $725,000 in September. Reports on him are vague but positive and the Orioles think he could be a huge bargain.
Hitting is much, much less impressive. Christian Walker had a strong ’14 season and I think he can be a solid hitter. Chance Sisco nailed lower-level pitching and plays a premium position, but we’ll have to see how his power and defense pan out. The highest ceiling of all likely belongs to Jomar Reyes, but he’s also the furthest away from being ready to help. Dariel Alvarez and Mike Yastrzemski should be useful and earn opportunities soon, but more likely as compliments rather than mainstays.
'13 "breakthroughs" Mike Ohlman and Henry Urrutia evaporated in '14 and could get buried quickly if they don’t rebound. There are some interesting defense-first types but more impact hitting is an obvious need. There is certainly little to interest fantasy owners besides the top names, and Orioles fans should think more of finding John Lowensteins, Pat Kellys or Larry Harlows in this group rather than Ken Singletons.
Overall, the depth in arms but weakness in bats makes this an average system, though one that can provide some useful parts.