Baltimore Orioles Top 20 Prospects for 2018
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. All of these grades are subject to change as the winter progresses.
The final grades will be finished sometime in February when all 30 teams are complete.
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. 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) Austin Hays, OF, Grade B+: Age 22, third round pick in 2016 from Jacksonville University; breakout campaign in ’17, hitting .329/.365/.593 with 32 homers, 25 walks, 85 strikeouts in 523 at-bats between High-A and Double-A, followed by .217/.238/.317 line in 60 major league at-bats; impressive bat speed can drive ball to all fields, approach is aggressive and he could use a bit more patience but whiff rate was reasonable especially considering his power; very strong arm fits well in right field and he runs well enough to manage center; strong makeup reputation; in my opinion he could use some Triple-A time to lock down the strike zone but he may be pushed more quickly; ETA 2018.
2) Ryan Mountcastle, INF, Grade B/B+: Age 20, first round pick in 2015 from high school in Oviedo, Florida; hit .314/.343/.542 with 15 homers, 14 walks, 61 strikeouts in 360 at-bats in High-A, but just .222/.239/.366 with three walks, 35 strikeouts in 153 at-bats in Double-A; strike zone got away from him at the higher level, granted he was very young for the Eastern League; combined for 48 doubles; plenty of bat speed and hasn’t fully tapped his power yet; obviously needs some work with the strike zone but pure hitting skills draw praise, giving him a good chance to adjust; played shortstop at High-A and third base in Double-A, not a complete butcher at either spot but his arm is marginal and many observers believe he’ll end up at left field or first base eventually; there are risks here but offensive upside is quite high. ETA 2020.
3) Chance Sisco, C, Grade B: Age 22, second round pick in 2013 from high school in Corona, California; hit .267/.340/.395 in Triple-A with seven homers, 32 walks, 99 strikeouts in 344 at-bats; went 6-for-18 with two homers in the majors; numbers from Norfolk undersell what he can do, holds .311 career average and draws praise for line drive hitting ability; not a big home run guy but has enough pop to keep pitchers honest; questions continue about his glove, which has improved enough to keep him behind the plate for now although not enough to erase all doubts; receiving and leadership qualities are solid enough but he still has issues with the running game, throwing out just 23% last year; ETA 2018.
4) Hunter Harvey, RHP, Grade B-: Age 23, first round pick in 2013 from high school in Catawba, North Carolina; missed all of 2015 and most of 2016-2017 with elbow injury/surgery; came back late in ’17 to post 0.96 ERA in 19 innings, 30/6 K/BB; velocity is back to normal, 92-97 MPH, and he had no problems throwing strikes in his return; flashes plus curveball; change-up still needs some work and he has to show what kind of workload he can manage after so much lost development time but current signs are positive; ETA late 2019.
5) DL Hall, LHP, Grade B-: Age 19, drafted in first round in 2017 from high school in Valdosta, Georgia; small sample debut with 10 innings in Gulf Coast League, struggled with 6.97 ERA and 10 walks but also fanned 12; reportedly pitched very well in instructional league; fastball 90-95 MPH with above-average curveball for his age; change-up and command need work but could be number three starter if all goes well; ETA 2022.
6) Michael Baumann, RHP, Grade B-: Age 22, third round pick in 2017 from Jacksonville University; Minnesota native posted 1.31 ERA, 41/19 K/BB in 41 innings in New York-Penn League, only 25 hits; physical 6-4, 225 pounder with 90-95 MPH fastball, along with solid slider and change-up; command needs tightening and unclear if he starts or relieves at highest levels, although he did enough in his debut to remain in the rotation for now; ETA 2020.
7) Tanner Scott, LHP, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, sixth round pick in 2014 from Howard Junior College; posted 2.22 ERA in 69 Double-A innings, 87/46 K/BB, just 45 hits; pitched 1.2 MLB innings with two walks, two strikeouts; may have best left-handed fastball in the minors, 95-100 MPH with movement; slider is erratic, plus pitch when he’s right; control is a peg better than terrible but his stuff is so good hitters struggle even when he’s having issues with the strike zone; would need a better change-up to start; ETA late 2018.
8) Cedric Mullins, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, 13th round pick from Campbell in 2015; limited to 76 games in Double-A by hamstring injury but hit .265/.319/.460 with 19 doubles, 13 homers, nine steals, 27 walks, 58 strikeouts in 309 at-bats; switch-hitter with 50-grade power and 60-grade speed; manages strike zone solidly and could provide high secondary averages; arm is mediocre but has excellent range in center field; can be a multi-category regular if skills max out, or a very good fourth outfielder as mid-range outcome. ETA 2019.
9) Anthony Santander, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 23, from Venezuela, drafted by Orioles from Cleveland Indians system in 2016 Rule 5 draft; spent most of season rehabbing shoulder surgery as well as a sore elbow; hit .380/.458/.780 in 50 at-bats in Double-A, .267/.258/.367 in 30 major league at-bats; switch-hitter with 60-grade power, has some rust to work off but controls strike zone reasonably, chance to hit for both power and average; lacks speed and defense is just OK but if he hits enough it will work; ETA 2018.
10) D.J. Stewart, OF, Grade B-/C+: Age 24, first round pick out of Florida State in 2015; had problems in ’16 but made adjustments in ’17 and played well, hitting .278/.378/.481 in Double-A with 21 homers, 20 steals, 65 walks, 87 strikeouts in 457 at-bats; swing changes enabled him to get to his raw power more often while maintaining disciplined approach and high OBP; steals bases on instinct; arm fits best in left; a lot of people soured on him after ’16 struggles but he made needed changes last season and I think the rebound is real; ETA 2019.
11) Keegan Akin, LHP, Grade C+: Age 22, second round pick in 2016 from Western Michigan University; posted 4.14 ERA in 100 innings in High-A, 111/46 K/BB, 89 hits; live arm with low-90s fastball, clocked as high as 95 in college; plus slider is a good pitch, too, but command and change-up need to improve; mid-rotation upside but would not surprise me to see him in the bullpen eventually; ETA 2020.
12) Adam Hall, SS, Grade C+: Age 18, second round pick in 2017 from high school in Ontario; got into just two rookie ball games but went 6-for-9 with a double and tripled; 65 or 70 speed, overall athleticism stand out, has tools to remain at shortstop; line drive hitter with the potential for some gap power; obviously we need to see him play but he’s young and athletic and plays a premium position, keep an eye on him. ETA 2022.
13) Nestor Cortes, LHP, Grade C+: Age 22, drafted by Yankees in 36th round in 2013 from high school in Florida; acquired by Orioles in Rule 5 draft; you probably won’t see him this high on other lists but for me he is the very intriguing because his profile is so different, plus he’s close to the majors; 2.06 ERA with 105/32 K/BB in 105 innings, finishing the year with a 1.49 ERA in 48 Triple-A innings; holds a career 2.08 ERA in 324 innings with 344 strikeouts; despite all that he does not throw hard at all, just 87-89 MPH, but hitters can’t pick him up; Wayne Cavadi filed a detailed report on him in August; read it; he knows how to pitch, could be another Jordan Montgomery; ETA 2018.
14) Jomar Reyes, 3B, Grade C+: Age 20, signed out of Dominican Republic in 2014; received a lot of hype after hitting well in Low-A at age 18 in 2015; stock fell after disappointing 2016; missed most of 2017 with a broken hand but hit well when active, batting .302/.333/.434 with four homers, eight walks, 31 strikeouts in 182 at-bats in High-A; still very young; best tools are raw power and throwing arm; error-prone at third base and has strikeout concerns but bat remains intriguing. ETA 2020.
15) Zac Lowther, LHP, Grade C+: Age 21, compensation round pick in 2017 from Xavier University; dominant in New York-Penn League with 1.66 ERA in 54 innings, 75/11 K/BB, just 35 hits and one homer allowed; fastball isn’t especially fast around 90 but it plays up due to movement, command, and solid secondary pitches (curve, change); pitchability will make short work of A-ball so Double-A will be the first real test, could be fine number four starter, maybe more, if command remains this impressive at higher levels; ETA 2020.
16) Yefry Ramirez, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, from the Dominican Republic; acquired from New York Yankees for international bonus money last summer; posted 15-3 record with 3.47 ERA, 117/49 K/BB in 124 innings in Doube-A, 105 hits; 6-2, 215 pounder with 90-96 MPH fastball, made good progress with breaking ball and change-up in ’17 and hasn’t received as much notice as he may deserve; chance as a four/five starter or bullpen asset. ETA late 2018.
17) Pedro Araujo, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, from the Dominican Republic; acquired in Rule 5 draft from Chicago Cubs system in December; 1.81 ERA in 65 innings in High-A with 83/17 K/BB; fastball reported at 90-95 but it plays up due to contrast with slider and willingness to attack hitters; middle relief profile, has a decent chance to stick in the bullpen; ETA 2018.
18) Jose Mesa, RHP, Grade C+: Age 24, 24th round pick in 2012 from high school in Florida by the Yankees, another 2017 Rule 5 selection; 1.93 ERA in 84 innings in High-A/Double-A with 101/32 K/BB, only 48 hits allowed; big league bloodlines as son of Jose Mesa; statistics were excellent but scouting reports vary wildly; some reports say he hits 93-95 MPH, others say he is more around 88-90; good change-up, curveball is erratic; like Araujo and Cortes, he could help in the bullpen soon; ETA 2018.
19) Cody Sedlock, RHP, Grade C+: Age 22, first round pick in 2016 from University of Illinois; was expected to advance quickly but suffered through miserable ’17 season, 5.90 ERA in 90 innings in High-A with 69/36 K/BB, 119 hits; all stats were mediocre to terrible; mechanical problems cost him a tick off his fastball, which was still 91-94 but not enough to off-set erratic curve, slider, and change-up; made two trips to the disabled list with a strained elbow; still an interesting prospect due to pedigree but he slipped in all respects and has health questions; ETA 2021.
20) Alex Wells, LHP, Grade C+: Age 20, signed out of Australia in 2015; posted 2.38 ERA with 113/10 K/BB in 140 innings in Low-A, 118 hits; does not throw hard at all, tops out at 90 and is often lower, but extremely good control of his curveball and change-up enabled him to dominate Low-A; will always fight the odds but could have some success as a Tommy Milone type. ETA 2021.
OTHER GRADE C+: Cameron Bishop, LHP; Trevor Craport, 3B; Stefan Crichton, RHP; Brenan Hanifee, RHP; David Hess, RHP; Ademar Rifaela, OF
OTHERS OF NOTE: Christian Alvarado, RHP; Jayson Aquino, LHP; Cole Billingsley, OF; Brandon Bonilla, LHP; Ben Breazeale, C; Jacob Brown, OF; Scott Burke, RHP; Seamus Curran, 1B; Matthias Dietz, RHP; Drew Dosch, 3B; Gray Fenter, RHP; Randolph Gassaway, OF; Brian Gonzalez, LHP; Luis Gonzalez, LHP; Reed Hayes, RHP; Lucas Humpal, RHP; Michael Kelly, RHP; Jesus Liranzo, RHP; Chris Lee, LHP; Lucas Long, RHP; Adrian Marin, INF; Mason McCoy, SS; Ryan McKenna, OF: John Means, LHP; Ryan Meisinger, RHP; Cameron Ming, LHP; Irving Ortega, SS; Preston Palmeiro, 1B-2B; Jhon Peluffo, RHP; Ofelky Peralta, RHP; Milton Ramos, SS; Jake Ring, OF; Willie Rios, LHP; Aderlin Rodriguez, 1B: Yelin Rodriguez, LHP; Erick Salcedo, INF; Lamar Sparks, OF; Alexis Torres, INF; Nick Vespi, LHP; Steve Wilkerson, INF-OF; Austin Wynns, C; Jimmy Yacabonis, RHP
The Orioles farm system isn’t that bad, really; they’ve got more guys in the B- area than I expected. They could certainly use more impact players and even the top guys Hays, Mountcastle, and Sisco have some question-marks.
Overall it is a below average system but it isn’t a complete disaster.
Having three pitchers make the list via the Rule 5 draft shows a lack of depth, but on the other hand all three of them have strong analytics and could exceed general expectations. That doesn’t really make up for the failure to develop guys like Sedlock, Matthias Dietz, Chris Lee, etc., but they do have some bullpen options at least.
I’ll be around in the comments to answer questions. Like many teams with a large number of B- and C+ guys, exact placement is less important than the tiers.