I don’t like making lists because of the connotation that comes with names organized in an ordered fashion. However, there is a value in writing it out, particularly for a close minor league follower like me. The finished product indicates a state of the system in a capsule. This updated version tells a story and this one is that the Orioles farm is simply in a better spot than it has ever been. There are high-quality, projectable players who aren’t on this list. Clear evidence that the front office is hitting on draft picks and maximizing potential is that a upside bat like Creed Willems isn’t on it. Creed is a star slugger but is too close to the beginning. So many names have proved them right by starting the climb successfully or improving somewhere along the line. It used to be the exact opposite with underachievers marking each level’s roster.
It’s a testament to the group and their abilities as a whole that great names are left off.
As a writer, I hate to not include guys whose games I truly trust but as a long-suffering fan, the perspective is different. This is the heavenly buffet I’ve been in the waiting room stewing over for most of my life. Take a deep breath and remember that the system went from wasteland to vastly improved to crown-worthy in the last few cycles.
As always, I put a heavy emphasis on the lower minors and usually eschew using the word “prospect” to describe someone like Zac Lowther or Alex Wells. They are closer to being major league players and as much as I like them, my idea of a prospect list includes the upside of younger players more than the reality of close-to-formed vets.
The fact of the matter is that over the last 30-40 months the framework has been built to win and then contend. As a supporter for several decades I’m shocked in a positive way that the system has become what it always should have been. I now expect high-end talent from multiple pipelines to compete and bring out the best in large groups of performers. Get used to communicating young coaches who are laser focused on daily improvement. It’s time to not just be called the top system but to execute like it. These are the names of the players I expect to start breaking through as soon as March.
In honor of my all-time favorite Oriole Eddie Murray, this list has 33 members. Let’s go O’s!
33. RHP Cesar Alvarez
Cesar Alvarez has filthy plane-altering stuff and appears to be a very strong candidate to come stateside where he can contribute to the rookie league squad in 2022. And “strong” is the operative word as following along on his Instagram page, it’s impossible to not notice the dedication to exercise and the changes that have come with it, specifically his lower body. Alvarez on video looks to have finishing pitches that scream starter loudly.
Another guy who could be either a sleeper or a straight up stud, I’m eager to see an arm that has come with several trusted recommendations.
32. RHP Carlos Tavera
I’m surprised that there hasn’t been steam around Carlos Tavera’s profile but he only totaled 12 innings in his debut season. The barrel-chested righty brings a pair of fastballs to the table. The one with less spin can hit 95 and he’s got a major league quality tumbler for his change-up to pair with a biting slider away from righties.
That’s a lot to work with as he starts his transition from Sun Belt stud to potentially minor league rotation candidate.
31. SS Maikol Hernandez
Maikol Hernandez is probably higher on other lists. Seeing him at hitting camp, there’s significant physical development already underway, yet he looks youthful which makes sense, as he’s only 17. The movements in the dirt are fluid as can be and can be considered standout. Long-limbed and lanky, he makes the footwork and up/downs seem like he’s been playing for decades. His lower minors will be in front of me this season so I’ll give him every chance to rise, but the brief looks give an indication that it’ll be something worth paying close attention to.
The impression is early, the sample size minimal but it would be a surprise if he moves off SS during early development.
30. OF Zach Wilson
Say it with me, with pride:’Zach Watson is a power hitter.’
In the time I’ve been paying attention to the system, no player has changed my impression more than Zach. Also, no player has smoothed out their swing mechanics as much as Zach. These things are not mutually exclusive as he was somehow convinced to alter his approach. Twelve AA taters in 50 games is certainly something significant. Swinging at the ideal offerings is where he needs to keep grinding, but great on the bases and even better as a fielder, Watson has shown himself to be a member of the OF conversation.
29. SS Joey Ortiz
Admittedly, Joey Ortiz would be so much higher had he not suffered an injury last year. Ortiz had begun to show some of the stuff that made him a 4th-round selection after a stellar career at New Mexico State. Joey is rigid yet flexible moving at short, but when he gathers and unfurls that arm it begs to be noticed. The dude has a hose in the hole and runners can’t expect anything other than for the ball to arrive fast. In a good system, when time is missed, the population passes guys and that’s what happened with Joey. Rankings on lists like this mean very little and it would surprise nobody if he jumped back in and seized a spot in the fight for shortstop reps.
28. 3B Moises Rivera
Another rookie leaguer, youngster Moises Ramirez showed me a lot in his short time in Sarasota. Very strong and powerfully built, he’s got plenty of pop to work with a selective eye at the plate. Developing a plan and implementing it is the next phase of his offensive development. Defensively, he’s tough to hit it past at 3B, where his instincts lead him quickly to screamers down the line. His first US experience included 5 HR/8 SB in 121 AB w a .314 avg/.878 OPS; not too shabby.
As much as I enjoyed watching him play 3rd right in front of me, it’s time to exit denial and accept he’s moving on to affiliated ball. I expect him to kick butt there.
27. LHP Kevin Smith
The O’s have a K/9 plan and guys like Kevin Smith bring it to fruition. Bowie was a cinch for him and Norfolk proved to be a bit of a challenge. But the K’s remained despite the challenges at the minors’ highest level. The lefty might have some reverse split tendencies to bring to the table, and he’s not exactly sitting on elite spin rates or heat. Getting by with guile seems to be how he’ll make his way upward and I’m curious to see how much of big league shot he gets this camp as he was added to the 40-man roster in November.
26. OF Stiven Acevedo
I watched closely as Stiven Acevedo’s body changed during the rookie level season and the results altered accordingly. This guy is big and strong and that makes his profile very different than it was mere months ago. The website says 6-4 185 and I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. Known as much in Sarasota for his diving catches and outfield routes, this kid is built like a tall tight end and can put punch into a pitch to drive it into the sky. There was a time where I saw Stiven as a lottery ticket type, but no more. He’s a legitimate power prospect coming into his own physically.
To be honest, the rookie league featured several similar cases but his frame has him here ahead of a few comparable players.
25. RHP Brandon Young
Tall Texan Brandon Young was another UDFA signed in 2020. Racking up 114 k in his first 84 innings is impressive, but so is registering a 1.21 WHIP w/37 BB. That means he gave up a very low 65 hits in those innings. Eliminate or reduce the walks and Baltimore could have another ace in the making. Let’s see how he navigates out of A ball and into that higher level.
24. RHP Kyle Brnovich
Part of me wanted to rank Kyle Brnovich higher based on bias/opinion but I couldn’t, and that’s a credit to some outstanding drafts and early development. Brno has good command of a couple elite pitches but the curve is standout. Got up to AA and that brought the K/9 down from 12.6 to a still elite 11.13. From the day I saw him debut in camp he’s reminded me of one pitcher, a personal favorite: Kevin Brown. He’s not a pitch waster and at 0-2 is much more inclined to embarrass you than waste one high and away. We can debate the merits of that mentality, sure, but not his dominance of the lower minors.
I hope he sticks as a starter.
23. OF Robert Neustrom
The thing about Robert Neustrom is that in years past I think he’d be ranked so much higher due to a lack of true projectable talent in the system. He’s damn good at hitting for power today and shows an ability to even add pop as his core solidifies. But that’s not the full scope of him as a player. Watching him drill and warm up, he’s always impressed me with a better than average arm but even more as a runner. Balanced strides and tight turns on the bases mean he can pick up a bag when he needs to too. Neus is a complete and ready player at 25 (except for hitting vs LHP, but nobody’s perfect). Conquer that hill, stay healthy and I believe we’re looking at an Oriole instead of just a minor league story turned good.
Stay tuned for the rest of the list!