This Orioles franchise is a pivotal point, with a lame duck GM and an uncertain future. They don’t spend internationally, so they bank on nailing the draft each and every year. That’s not the best practice in my opinion – or anyone’s opinion for that matter.
In fact, Jim Palmer seems to agree.
2018 MLB International Signings Tracker https://t.co/3aIUdJTa3U
— Jim Palmer (@Jim22Palmer) July 3, 2018
I’m here today to talk the O’s farm system as it sits now, before the trades that will – hopefully – be made in July to improve the franchise’s outlook. So let’s go level by level to evaluate.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
Top 30 Prospects (according to mlb.com): Cedric Mullins #5, D.J. Stewart #10, Chris Lee #11, Yefry Ramirez (currently on Orioles) #15, Austin Wynns #20
Mullins is clearly the star of this group with the most tools overall. He has great speed and a tremendous outfield glove. Mullins could be Adam Jones’ replacement if the team chooses to go that route. Although he’s faced some struggles since being promoted to Triple-A, Mullins has rebounded nicely, hitting .393 in his last eight games. Mullins also has shown some pop with the ability to get on base (.338 OBP at Norfolk and .362 at Bowie). He should be up to the big-league club at some point this year.
The other outfielder to take note of on this roster is Stewart, the 1st-Round Pick from 2015. Stewart basically disappointed his first two professional years, but last year started to show some of that 1st Round promise. A 20-20 guy, Stewart began showing speed and power, with a .859 OPS. Since college, Stewart has amended his batting stance from an extreme crouch to a more upright stance, resulting in a fluid swinging motion. What I personally like about Stewart is his keen eye at the plate. Stewart can work counts, and once he gets on the base paths, has the ability to wreak havoc.
A few other notable names include: Chris Lee, Austin Wynns, Joely Rodriguez, Drew Dosch, Mike Yastrzemski, Jimmy Yacabonis, and John Means.
I like the squad as a whole, but there isn’t that one breakout prospect, or one with a super high ceiling.
Overall Grade: C+
Double-A Bowie Baysox
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
Top 30 Prospects (according to mlb.com): Ryan Mountcastle #1, Austin Hays #2, Hunter Harvey #3, Keegan Akin #6, Luis Gonzalez #21, Ademar Rifaela #22, Branden Kline #26, Ryan McKenna #27, Brian Gonzalez #28, Zach Muckenhirn #30
Bowie is clearly the most top-heavy team in the system with the Top 3 prospects in the organization. However, I’d like to focus on three prospects: Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, and Ryan McKenna.
Mountcastle has been highly touted since he was drafted as a 1st-Rounder. For the most part, he’s met expectations and is off to a great start with the Baysox. His hit tool is unquestionably his best, but he’s also shown power. Mountcastle hit 18 bombs last year, and seven so far on the 2018 campaign. Mountcastle’s biggest issue is his defense and specifically his arm. Currently at third, Mountcastle may have to be moved around the infield until he finds a suitable defensive position.
Keegan Akin, the highest quality arm on the team (until Hunter Harvey can prove that he can stay healthy), was the afterthought of the 2016 Orioles Draft Class. 1st Round Pick Cody Sedlock has yet to show he can get out hitters consistently, but Akin has done just that. What’s most encouraging is that hitters hit under the Mendoza line against Akin. In college, Akin set Western Michigan’s single-season strikeout record as he impressed scouts as a junior. Akin’s fastball sits 91-94, but along with a wipeout slider and changeup, he could continue to move through the ranks and conceivably be a serviceable big-league starter.
Ryan McKenna was the Orioles Player of the Month for June. McKenna’s breakout season is here after being drafted in the 4th Round of 2015. McKenna hit .337/.467/.556 at Frederick (that’s a 1.023 OPS, folks) before being moved up to Double-A. Scouts give McKenna a 60 speed on the 20-80 scale, and as most cold-weather players do (drafted out of New Hampshire) McKenna may have just needed some time to develop.
Some other Baysox noteworthy players: Austin Hays is underperforming this year, and has been hurt for the majority of the season. Luiz Gonzalez has quietly been one of the best Orioles minor league relievers. O’s Rule-5 pick Anthony Santander continues his development.
This Baysox team is really good and probably their best since 2015. They have a pretty decent balance of pitching and offense and we could see a few of these players on the Orioles this year or next.
Overall Grade: B+
Single-A Frederick Keys
Top 30 Prospects (according to mlb.com): Alex Wells #8, Cody Sedlock #9, Michael Baumann #12, Zac Lowther #14, Jomar Reyes #17, Matthias Dietz #24, Randolph Gassaway #25, Preston Palmeiro #29
Pitching, pitching, pitching. Frederick has a few names Orioles fans may want know, in Alex Wells, Michael Baumann, and Zac Lowther. Wells was awarded Orioles Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2017 and both Baumann and Lowther have established that they can dominate the lower levels of the minors. Wells was known last year for his masterful control, but this year has been a slightly different story. He has issued 24 walks in 80 innings, which isn’t horrendous, but coupled with 93 hits and a .292 batting average against, he is definitely experiencing a sophomore slumps of sorts. The changeup is his best pitch, with his fastball only topping out at about 90.
The O’s went with a University of Jacksonville player in the 3rd Round in consecutive drafts in 2016 and 2017, and the latter was Michael Baumann. Baumann is said to have a durable frame with a fastball that has touched 97. Meeting just a few struggles since he’s hit High-A ball, Baumann should be just fine moving forward.
Zac Lowther may be the prospect that intrigues me most. Lowther has had strikingly similar numbers moving from Delmarva to Frederick. However, at Delmarva, Lowther held a 14.8 K/9, and at Frederick the strikeout numbers aren’t quite as dominant (8.4). Lowther, though, was a college pitcher and has a chance to not only move up the Orioles prospect rankings, but has a good chance to move through the system fairly quickly if he continues this dominance.
Frederick has some promise on the pitching side, but their offensive prospects aren’t near the cream of the crop of the organization.
Overall Grade: B-
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
Top 30 Prospects (according to mlb.com): DL Hall #4, Brenan Hanifee #7, Cameron Bishop #13, Mason McCoy #23, *Cadyn Greiner NR
Even more pitching….Delmarva has last year’s 1st Rounder DL Hall, who has impressed so far and other pitchers Brenan Hanifee and Cameron Bishop. Recent College World Series champion and elite defensive shortstop Cadyn Greiner will report directly to Delmarva, forgoing both the GCL and Aberdeen. The Shorebirds recently graduated Dietz, Baumann, Zac Lowther, or they would have gotten my first A grade.
The Shorebirds also have a few other notable names: Kirvin Moesquit, Ryan Ripken, and Zach Jarrett (son of NASCAR’s Dale). This squad is also coached by Zach Britton’s brother, Buck. Overall, this team has promise and reinforcements coming from this year’s draft.
Overall Grade: B-
Single-A Aberdeen Ironbirds
Top 30 Prospects (according to mlb.com): Adam Hall #16, Gray Fenter #19
ITCHY XU IS ON THIS TEAM! My apologies for my excitement, but I root for guys like him. Not too many names of note on this team besides those Top 30 prospects in Hall and Fenter. I fully expect 2018 1st Round Pick Grayson Rodriguez to be there in a couple of weeks, but not quite yet. Blaine Knight, their 3rd Rounder, may be there too once he signs. But as of right now, not a wealth of talent.
Overall Grade: D
Top 30 Prospects (according to mlb.com): Lamar Sparks #18, *Grayson Rodriguez NR
The GCL is the rookie ball affiliate, used for young players just drafted and for others requiring more development. O’s 1st Round Pick Grayson Rodriguez is on this team along with draft picks Drew Rom and Yeancarlos Lleras. Dariel Alvarez is rehabbing there as a pitcher…remember him?
Overall Grade: C (considering the talent level for Rookie Ball)
In general, I actually like the Orioles system more than the industry consensus. With that being said, I would not consider it even a Top 15 system. As the July trades trickle in, and if the Orioles decide to go full rebuild, that may change. The Orioles actually have a good amount of young arms, and like they say, “Have 10 good pitching prospects, produce two.” In Duquette….we trust?
*Neither Cadyn Greiner nor Grayson Rodriguez are ranked, but when the prospect rankings are updated, I fully expect them to be in the Orioles Top 30