Baby Birds to Watch in 2021: Part 1

As the Orioles system transitions into one of the best in the league, there are lots of individual performances to examine closely.

Some players are new to the Orange and Black. Lots of others have begun their climb up the farm but now have new coaches or instructors to impress. Some are in the early stages of their development and it’s not clear what direction they’re heading as players.

2021 will answer all or most of these questions and will be a welcome continuance of a rebuilding effort that fans (including me) are eager to bear fruit. Several affiliates won their leagues back in 2019 and lots of players led their teams to lofty heights with performances that may not have stood out, both positively and on the bad side. Looking forward to baseball across the minors, but especially in Birdland, here are a couple of players to focus on as Delmarva, Aberdeen, Bowie, Norfolk and the rookie outlets return to action soon….

Brenan Hanifee

Tall and athletic, this righty who works off a sinking heater is in year three of his pro career. He’s been a good soldier, making adjustments and altering his plan of attack all the while growing from a rookie to a man in O’s farm colors. Seeing as how he handled A ball well (24-19 with a career WHIP of 1.22), I’m optimistic that his repertoire will be ready for AA. Innings loads have looked like 68 to 132 to 129 pre-Covid so he can handle the heat in the kitchen. Let’s see what he can do on the mound as his athletic gifts reach their peak. The Hanifees are Orioles fans from VA so he’s got some extra juice coming into 2021.

Jean Carmona

Fan favorite Jonathan Schoop became a Brewer in July of 2018 and the O’s got in return a young speedster who had only played rookie level ball to that point. Since then, Carmona has proved that he can handle second in the minors as well as steal a base with his world class wheels. Leading off and finding a way to first base is where his game needs experience but he’s only 21. I wonder what his profile can become offensively if he can find a way to stop hacking at pitches he can’t do much with. He’s been trying to stay in shape during quarantine with some of the most ridiculous bicycle time/distance combos I’ve ever seen. (I’m an avid cyclist so I watch this stuff). A lot of 7+ pitch ABs will show a strong hitter if he can get there.

Zach Watson

Quick-wristed and wiry strong, Watson reminds me of a throwback player but one with seriously surprising athleticism. He can accelerate and his top speed is all-star level. He’s yet to combine his unique skills with his baseball gifts, and I’m going to blame it on Covid. I can’t make a judgement from 36 games/116 ABs but I’ve seen him practice on both offense and defense and am very curious to see him operate with a pair of healthy arms. A fourth outfielder valued for instincts, speed and effort is a logical floor. Can 2021 show a much better player?

Willy Yahn

A personal favorite for lots of reasons. One is consistency as he hit .278 then .275, and finally .271 in his pro years. Before 2019, his BB to K ratio showed lots of confidence in his batting eye and that changed some at Bowie in 2019. He’s much better than walking once for every 4-4.5 k’s. Yahn goes all out on every rep at every drill and fits the definition of a gamer. Rubbing dirt on his glove-free hands at the plate and smacking high fastballs into the outfield grass is what I expect and look forward to seeing this season.

JC Escarra

Every time I hear O’s fans talk about their lack of corner prospects I cringe and think about this guy who plays big boy baseball with a smile. He’s experienced and highly skilled at both first and third base plus was drafted as a catcher so he’s a versatile cornerman, but he’ll make his money in the batter’s box. Tall and strong with very good bat-to-ball skills, he pulls it lefty and has been making good pop totals as a pro, watching his home runs go from two to seven to 13. Also, his batting eye is gaining steam towards exceptional as he even takes pitches in the batting cage (!!!) and has matched his 144 career strikeouts with 112 walks, while putting up a .355 OBP. It’s exciting; the O’s DO have corners and it’s time to root for JC Escarra who has appeared in the O’s dugout as a Spring Training extra.

Tim Naughton

A late-round (34th) reliever, he’s made some strides as a pro and keeps striking guys out. Long, tall and thin, Naughton has registered 128 K’s in his first 100 pro innings and was his team’s primary closer too as he’s racked up 32 saves in 39 chances overall. Naughton doesn’t have an electric heater, but he locates it with precision and uses a slider to give himself room to work. Only facing guys one time is key to his skill set. He’s a smart and crafty late-inning guy and I look forward to seeing the improvements he can make to reduce the number of hitters he sees going forward.

Fans should be ready to stay tuned to the entire system starting that first week of May. It’s great to have the minors back so let’s start developing some players!

Look for part two tomorrow, where I list even more Baby Birds to watch!

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