As the minor league season nears, there are many exciting players I’m looking forward to finally seeing once again. As a crazed O’s minor league observer, I’m eager to get my fix but more than that, I want Orioles fans to see some players who have little or no pro experience. To share some anticipation and maybe initiate some thoughts from other minors-starved Bird fans I thought I’d share some of my own here. I feel strongly that a case can be made for each and every player in the organization as far as appeal and upside, but let’s be honest: we just want to see them playing competitive ball and reaching their potential. We’ve been baseball deprived for way too long.
Thinking about this stuff all day long, every day, plus taking in some in person action and watching lots of video, it wouldn’t be hard to profile handfuls of players but here I picked a random group. To be clear, I am looking forward to each player and each team in the O’s system with intensity and focus. I’m optimistic that this could be the year where talent shows itself throughout the organization and fans can begin to believe in the rebuild and throw their chips in. To have baseball back, and to have a system rising in the ranks performing in front of fans who appreciate development…I can’t think of anything better. Why not shoot for number 1?
That said, here’s a list of players you might not be thinking of that I’m looking forward to watching in 2021. I’d love to know who across the farm you’re eagerly anticipating as well, but here are some of mine.
Chris Burgess – C
Catcher of the 2019 GCL championship team I followed in person. Levelheaded leader and athletic backstop with cannon to add to sizzling pop time mixture. Barked the signals out with confidence and just oozed baseball savvy and on-field communication.
Batted in the middle of the order and showed bat skill and good power to all fields. These are all the skills I prefer so I’m over the top excited to see the next step in his progression.
Hand/eye coordination has helped Burgess excel in golf during quarantine and he’s improving fast!
BONUS FACT: His brother Brent is a highly thought of pitcher currently rising in the Braves system with a deep pitch mix and a bright future. The baseball bloodlines are very strong with the Burgess family.
Mason Janvrin – OF
An absolute burner with a lead-off future. One of the fastest base runners I’ve seen. Acceleration to burn and a smooth yet powerful mover/slider between the lines. Think Porsche. Stolen bases are less of a strategy in today’s game yet he can utilize his speed and make them a weapon as long as he gets on base. That part is a work in progress, but it’s progress fans haven’t seen much of.
In the outfield, his routes are confident and he strides with his head up. When the pitcher locks in plateward and Mason leaves the base with purpose, he’s going to go through the gears faster than you’d expect and beat some good throws. Who doesn’t want to see that?
BONUS FACT: Comes from a family of movers and his dad was an Olympic decathlete.
Jean Carlos Encarnacion (3B/Corner IF)
While still so young (23), Jean Carlos has torque and a powerful uppercut in his swing, and is capable of 400-foot drives. Wrists are also advanced; it’s easy to see his potential. More than adequate trunk strength is what solidifies his offensive profile, but he shows nimble feet and a fine transfer as well as a strong arm.
The last time I had eyes on him I saw rawness; now it’s months later and I’m eager to see how his game has advanced. Too many strikeouts weigh down the lack of walks so far, but I prefer to focus on the 9 HR & 12 SB he put together in his most recent season. Consistent performance could bring out some potential only his coaches have seen in development. I don’t know how to properly phrase it, but a little anger in his game could go a long way.
BONUS FACT – Speaking of “a long way,” he hit the longest HR I saw in 2019 Spring, def 445-460 feet into the trees.
Zach Peek/Kyle Brnovich (P)
Time to see the other two arms from the Dylan Bundy trade. Both righties appear to be higher k% guys with some pitch efficiency skills and somewhat similar arsenals. With these two I can say I don’t care about stats or stuff, I just want to see how they handle themselves, find roles and show the competitive fire I’ve seen only in spurts. They’ll help the organization somehow….we’ve waited long enough.
BONUS FACT – Neither pitcher has thrown a pitch in a game as a pro yet due to Anaheim’s onboarding program for the season they were drafted and swapped for the Orioles former no 1. One more BONUS FACT: Brnovich learned his curveball from his grandfather, who was an earlier version of Brno on the mound a few years back. Source: Grandpa Brnovich
Connor Gillespie (P)
Seemed to be ahead of the curve (baseball pun) in terms of exercise science, weighted balls, bands etc. His stats were solid in his first 20.1 pro innings but I liked the way he releases and repeats a similar delivery with consistency. He’s not a pronator so he relies on arm/wrist action but his ball can really move. Plus, I got a great scouting report from his workout partner pitcher Nick Roth so I’m ready to see what CG can do with a real innings load.
BONUS FACT: Gillispie’s high school coach was former MLB star reliever Billy Wagner.
Reed Hayes (P)
Has a skill that intrigues me: range of MPH between the hard stuff and the off-speed. He’s shown that he can sniff triple digits with his 4-seamer but the change up comes in slower than average and really there’s a flat one and a dropper. That’s a fair amount to work with on its own but there’s more. Hayes pitched at Vandy and I noticed a desire to learn an bulldog mentality just to play ball.
Jaylen Ferguson (OF)
Slugger-type offensive profile who stays on the ball through the zone. Not ideal k% but barrel to ball is his skill. Strong lower body makes distance easy, but consistent contact is the next step in his development. Looks like he went to driveline this off-season so I’m ready to see some positive results. If things break right, he’s an AL East 4/5/6 run producer and you won’t have to squint to see it.
BONUS FACT: Shares a name with Ravens defensive player.
Lamar Sparks (OF)
Gliding, long-striding outfielder with very serious range. With draft, injury and COVID has not had much time to show how his athleticism transfers to the diamond. I’ve always been curious of how much he can show with regular playing time and something about his skill set and low effort output makes me think it’ll be worth waiting for. The quarantine layoff has been long enough for Sparks to have put on the necessary early development weight so I’m going to focus on seeing how his baseball skills and natural athletic gifts can mix.
Cadyn Grenier (IF)
This guy can pick it. Watching him in grounder/defense drills and then in games it’s so crystal clear that he can play the infield with warranted confidence. From positioning to pace to hand speed to measured lateral movement he’s just advanced wearing a glove. Can that skill set go from advanced to elite?
Defense first fans (like me) appreciate him more but that doesn’t mean his bat is without the potential to spark too. An organizational philosophy of applying much more selectivity in the box could change a lot for Grenier. As it could for another yet-to-burst NCAA pedigree hitter with infield chops, Zach Watson. Watson fits best in the outfield to me as his routes and rhythm really fit fly balls.
If Cadyn shows some pop, the chance to showcase a pair of 2nd basemen with totally different skill sets in he and Adam Hall means that the infield wave that’s coming is significantly better and deeper. Lots of if’s for a polarizing prospect but watch him work and you’ll like his grit and hustle.
Every 2020 Draft Pick!
Fans haven’t seen this group at all so this is the first chance to see the recent draft class in action. Heston Kjerstad has his medical issues to work through initially and Baumler’s hurt so we’ll have to wait on him until 2022 or 23 but Mayo, Servideo, Westburg and Hudson Haskin along with a group of free agent signees will get their first chance to play and compete.
Bonus Fact: A minor leaguer from a rival organization who played with and against Haskin throughout amateur ball recently told me something that I remembered about the Tulane product. He said about Haskin, ‘it’s obvious he’s a stud when you watch him play, but because I know him I can say that his best ball is ahead of him.”
Are you ready to watch yet? We’re only weeks away!!!