Tonight begins the Arizona Fall League, MLB’s annual offseason instructional league, comprised of some of baseball’s most elite Minor League talent from all 30 teams. Each year, MLB clubs send a minimum of seven prospects to Arizona for a bit of additional offseason work.
The Orioles are not known for sending their best prospects to the desert; the last notable O’s duo to participate was Dylan Bundy and Chance Sisco in 2015. However, in its 27-year history, the Fall League has included 19 future Most Valuable Players and 29 future Rookies of the Year. That’s a pretty impressive track record.
RHP Dean Kremer and IF Rylan Bannon, both acquired in last July’s Manny Machado trade, highlight this year’s Orioles representatives. Also participating will be SS Mason McCoy, RHP Cody Carroll, RHP David Lebron, and LHP Alex Wells. OF Austin Hays will join them at the conclusion of the MLB regular season.
That group will be part of this year’s Surprise Saguaros, one of six Fall League teams, and will be teammates with prospects from the Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, and Washington Nationals.
Let’s start with the pitchers. Kremer, 23, spent most of this season with the AA Bowie Baysox and is the Orioles’ #8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He posted a 2.98 ERA (3.56 FIP) and 1.23 WHIP in 84.2 innings with the Baysox this year, striking out 87 and walking 29. His numbers after his promotion to AAA Norfolk were not pretty, though much of his 8.84 ERA across those four starts can be attributed to a staggering .459 opponent batting average on balls in play. Kremer still struck out 21 in 19.1 innings.
Carroll, 26, is one of the three pitchers the Orioles acquired from the Yankees in the Zack Britton trade. After a short stint in the majors last season during which he walked nearly seven batters per nine innings, Carroll missed most of 2019 with a disc issue in his lower back. He’ll hope to get back on track in the Fall League, pitching in a relief role for the Saguaros.
Lebron, 34, is a former #1 overall pick, 3x NBA Champion and Finals MVP, 4x NBA Most Valuable Player, and 15x All Star. David Lebron, 26, is a former 26th round draft pick who spent the entire 2019 season pitching for the Frederick Keys. In 82.2 innings, mostly as a starter, Lebron struck out 92 but walked 47. He is not currently on the Orioles top-30 prospect list, and at 26 years old, probably will not find himself there.
Wells, 22, pitched 137.1 innings as a starter for Bowie this season, and while his strikeout numbers are nothing special, his ability to force soft contact and limit the home run ball led him to a 2.95 ERA (3.20 FIP). While none of his three pitches are above average, his ability to locate each of them is a big factor in the O’s #20 prospect’s success thus far. If he has a dominant pitch, it’s his change-up, which complements his fastball and curveball very well.
Bannon, 23, is the O’s #23 overall prospect. Like Kremer, he was promoted to Norfolk after spending most of the season with Bowie. His .345 OBP across both levels is respectable, but he doesn’t have the tools to blow anybody away. He knocked 11 home runs and stole eight bases this year, showing a balanced profile, and his sound defense makes him a candidate to stick around as a utility guy at the Major League level if everything works out.
McCoy, 24, is a former sixth-round pick and the O’s #24 prospect, and reminds me of Bannon with a little less power and a little better defense. You may have seen him on twitter a couple weeks ago, thanks to his overhand glove flip that went viral in the baseball world. He’s a very sound defensive shortstop with a mediocre bat, though there’s no lack of that type of player in the Orioles system.
All in all, while it may not be the most exciting group on paper, the Arizona Fall League is a great opportunity for prospects to show off their talent in front of a bevy of scouts and executives. I’m looking forward to covering the Fall League for ESR this season, so keep an eye out for my not-so-expert analysis and hopefully a few player interviews along the way!