After a short stretch of continued success throughout the previous decade, the Baltimore Orioles quickly descended into an organizational dumpster fire from top to bottom. Several failed opportunities to compete and consistently poor player development led to a full-blown turnover.
A new group led by former Houston Astros baseball executive Mike Elias was brought in with the hope being that they’d completely turn this organization around. Since Elias was hired, Baltimore has made significant strides on the player development side of things and is slowly trending away from the negative connotation attached to their organization.
The re-opening of that contention window is still far away for the Orioles, but to say they haven’t bolstered this farm system would be a bit far-fetched. There are some talented names scattered throughout this organization, including a former number one overall pick whom they hope can become the future face of their franchise.
Everything written in this piece comes from my own opinions on these players, but that doesn’t mean that external resources haven’t influenced my decisions. In this particular list, I’d like to thank Jason Kamlowsky of Prospects Live for providing me with more information on a handful of these prospects.
Without any further delay, let’s jump right into this list:
1. Adley Rutschman, Catcher, 22 years old
The number one overall pick in last year’s draft is undoubtedly the top prospect in this system. It’s not often that we see a competent switch-hitting catcher with elite defensive upside, but that’s precisely what the Orioles have in Rutschman.
A generational catching prospect, Rutschman dominated the Pac-12 throughout his college career to the tune of a .411/.575/.751 slash-line. He owns an advanced recognition of the strike zone and his walk rate is nearly equal to his strikeout rate. Rutschman’s power plays more gap-to-gap right now than it does over the fence, but he still has room to tap into that plus raw pop and Camden Yards is an ideal place to call home for hitters. You’re looking at a catcher that can hit for both power and average from both sides of the plate with Rutschman.
Honestly, the only real knock on Rutschman is when he’s going to be up at the major league level. Baltimore is in no hurry to compete and they’ll almost certainly manipulate his service time to keep him under team control for as long as possible. We could see him at some point in 2021 with the expectation being that he’ll take over as the team’s full-time starting catcher in 2022. Once he comes up, it’s hard to envision a world where Rutschman isn’t immediately a top-five fantasy catcher and could even be at the forefront during his prime.
2. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, 20 years old
A first-round pick back in 2018, Rodriguez has quickly solidified himself as the top pitching prospect in this farm system. He’s one of the more physical arms in the minor leagues, standing at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds as a 20-year-old.
Rodriguez had a rather successful start to his professional career in the Gulf Coast League, but his performance last season is what shot him up prospect lists. Over a 94-inning span, Rodriguez struck out 129 batters, posted a 15.1% swinging-strike rate, and held opposing hitters to a disgusting .171 batting average against. His numbers were flat-out ridiculous and he was arguably the most dominant pitcher in the South Atlantic League in 2019.
The reason that Rodriguez has such a high upside is the development of his secondary pitches paired with what he already brought to the mound in his draft year. His delivery is a bit deceptive, as he somewhat throws across his body, allowing his mid-to-high-90s heater to play up. He throws both a slider and curveball, the former flashing plus-to-double plus actions that make it a swing-and-miss pitch. His curveball is still developing, but it’s showed slight depth and his ability to spin has certainly improved. Rodriguez’s final pitch is a tumbling changeup that he’s comfortable throwing to any kind of hitter and pairs well off his fastball. That gives him at least three above-average-to-plus pitches, with the curveball potentially being a fourth as his progression continues.
Very few pitching prospects have that true ace upside. With that being said, Rodriguez has the physicality and stuff for me to feel comfortable tagging him with that label. There is clear risk attached to him, as there is with any pitcher, but if he hits his ceiling you’re looking at someone who can headline a rotation as early as the 2022 season.
3. D.L. Hall, LHP, 21 years old
Baltimore is set up to have one of the more intriguing young one-two punches in the minor leagues over the next few seasons with Rodriguez and Hall. A first-round pick back in the 2017 MLB Draft, Hall is a premium athlete with an electric arm that produces downright filthy stuff.
He is the rare left-handed pitcher that can run his fastball up to 97 mph with blistering late actions. He does an excellent job of complimenting his heater with a fading changeup and tight breaking ball with 1-to-7 shape. His arsenal consists of three above-average pitches, while both the changeup and fastball have plus potential.
Hall struck out 33.5% of batters last season and there are no clear signs that he won’t do so as he continues to ascend through the minors. The problem lacks with his ability to control his stuff, as Hall sometimes gets a bit too erratic at times and can’t fully command his devastating pitches quite yet. He walked hitters at a 15.6-percent clip in 2019, a mark well above the league average.
For development’s sake, Hall is still 21 years old and his stuff is ready to get outs at the highest level right now. The walk rate may always be a bit higher than you’d like, but he’s going to be a power arm that misses bats at an exceedingly high rate, and that plays in the fantasy game.
4. Austin Hays, OF, 24 years old
Hays made his major league debut back in 2017 and became the first player from his draft class to achieve that goal after absolutely demolishing minor league baseball for a season. His production wasn’t stellar after dealing with some injuries and the Orioles sent him back down to Double-A, where he played until eventually earning the call back to Baltimore last season.
Hays is a solid all-around prospect that doesn’t excel at one thing. His best offensive tool is his power that we’ve seen translate to games at times throughout his professional career. Hays makes consistent contact with the baseball, but he doesn’t have a strong grasp on the strike zone. He’s too aggressive at the plate and tries to sell out for power at times, which is evident by his well below-average 4.8% walk-rate. A world exists where he can be a league-average hitter with 20+ home run power if adjustments are made in his approach.
Defensively, Hays makes the necessary plays to be Baltimore’s center fielder moving forward. Adjustments must be made or he’ll perennially bat towards the bottom of the lineup.
5. Ryan Mountcastle, 1B, 23 years old
Most people are actually down on Mountcastle as a prospect, which I can agree with, but his upside from a pure fantasy standpoint is actually quite intriguing to me.
He’s somewhat of a highly-regarded prospect internally by the Orioles, which means they’ll probably give him every opportunity to show what he can do given their inability to compete for virtually anything right now.
Mountcastle has plus raw power in his 6-foot-3 frame. He probably won’t make contact at anything more than a league-average rate and doesn’t walk much, but the thought of him launching 25+ home runs at Camden Yards on an annual basis is somewhat realistic. He’s a borderline top-30 dynasty third baseman for me and should be an under-the-radar target.
6. Gunnar Henderson, SS, 18 years old
It’s entirely possible that Gunnar Henderson eventually takes over as the Orioles’ top prospect after Rutschman and Rodriguez graduate. He’s a toolsy, projectable athlete with so much upside in his wiry 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame.
Henderson didn’t put up eye-popping numbers in his first taste of professional ball last season. Take into consideration, however, that he was an 18-year-old kid in the Gulf Coast League and his .259/.330/.361 slash-line is actually somewhat impressive. His strikeout numbers and swinging-strike rate were high last year, but again, it’s a teenager getting his first taste of professional baseball.
The tools for Henderson to be a quality finished product are evident. He’s shown bat speed in his swing and has plus raw power that has shown flashes of translating to in-game already. As Henderson continues to mature, he’ll add muscle onto his body that could directly correlate into him being a legitimate power threat at the major league level. Defensively, he owns an absolute bazooka for an arm and his hands will probably play better at third base than shortstop. Expect him to make a full-time move over to third base as early as this season.
When I watch Henderson play and swing, it’s hard for me to not see a little Corey Seager in him. That’s a lofty comp to throw on someone so inexperienced, but Henderson’s ceiling is high. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the 2021 season, Henderson is the top prospect in this system, assuming Rutschman has graduated by then.
7. Adam Hall, SS/2B, 20 years old
Hall doesn’t have a lofty ceiling by any means, which might automatically make him unattractive to some people. His lack of power alone is enough to turn people off, but I actually think that Hall has a somewhat decent chance of being a contributor at the major league level.
When I previously stated that Hall lacked power, it might’ve been an understatement. He posted an appalling .093 ISO at Delmarva in 2019 and his estimated fly ball distance of 284 feet is below the league average.
Even so, Hall has the assets necessary to be a successful fantasy baseball player. He managed to post an on-base percentage of .385 despite striking out at a 22.1% clip last season and has swiped 55 bags over the last two years. You’re not getting much power production from Hall, but it seems like he’ll be a consistent on-base threat with stolen base upside, and that’s going to play any day.
8. Michael Baumann, RHP, 24 years old
Baumann was flat-out dominant across two levels in 2019 but was more impressive with Double-A Bowie. He tossed 70 innings with the Baysox, posting 0.94 WHIP and held opposing hitters to an impressive .186 batting average against.
A physical 6-foot-4 righty, Baumann’s fastball touches 98+ mph and plays with late-life that makes it a swing-and-miss pitch. He throws both a slider and curveball, although it might be better suited for Baumann to solely throw his slider moving forward. It’s already a wipeout pitch with a true two-plane break that’ll allow him to rack up strikeouts as he continues to ascend through the minors. His changeup is a work in progress and its effectiveness will ultimately determine whether or not he continues to be a starting pitcher.
I’m torn between whether or not Baumann is going to be a starter at the big league level. If the changeup does develop his spot in Baltimore’s future rotation is all but secured as the team’s number three starter. A lack of that third pitch will ultimately lead him to transition into a bullpen role, where he’d thrive, but his fantasy output would be limited. Regardless of what role he pitches in, expect to see him in Baltimore at some point in 2020 as the Orioles attempt to fill out their pitching staff with young talent.
9. Yusniel Diaz, OF, 23 years old
Once viewed as the prize of the Manny Machado trade, Diaz just hasn’t lived up to the hype since entering the Orioles farm system. He’s dealt with injuries each of the last few seasons that have clearly limited him to reach his potential, which is actually a positive sign moving forward for the 23-year-old outfielder because we just haven’t seen what he a fully healthy season looks like from him.
Diaz has some intriguing tools at the plate even though he’s failed, in a way, to capitalize on them. He doesn’t swing-and-miss at more than an average rate and walked at nearly a 10% clip last season, but also doesn’t make consistent enough contact for me to have confidence in him to successfully hit at the next level. For someone that is a fairly chiseled 6-foot-1 athlete, Diaz doesn’t tap into his power as well as he probably should. He’s only hit 11 home runs in each of the last three seasons and owns a career .440 slugging percentage as a professional. It’s not a promising trend that his hard-hit percentage at Double-A Bowie was below league average last season, either.
Several question marks are surrounding Diaz but it’s hard to not envision what he could be, which is why I have him ranked where he is. He’s going to be given opportunities, mostly because he was the main piece in the Machado deal, and Camden Yards is known for being a hitter-friendly ballpark. We’re currently playing the “wait and see” game with Diaz and it’s not going well.
10. Ryan McKenna, OF, 22 years old
McKenna had an absolutely bonkers year in 2018 when he tore up the Carolina League to the tune of a .377/.467/.556 before earning a promotion to Double-A Bowie. His struggles began there and continued into 2019, leading to what seems like a fairly significant drop in his industry-wide prospect status.
McKenna is still ranked somewhat highly on this list for what he could eventually become. There’s a common saying in the scouting community that we should “buy-in” to the great athletes because they tend to make adjustments more than those who don’t have that athleticism. McKenna is a borderline elite athlete with a plus run tool. He swiped 25 bags last season with the wheels capable of stealing that amount, or more, each season.
At the plate, McKenna’s bat travels on a flat plane that doesn’t allow him to consistently elevate the ball. Still, he’s got bat speed and his swing works in rhythm, which allows me to actually buy into his contact skills moving forward. McKenna doesn’t seem like he’s ever going to hit more than 15 home runs at the major league level, but his speed and gap-to-gap approach will lead to steady doubles production from him.
Most people tend to forget that McKenna is a 22-year-old that still has plenty of room to develop his craft. He’s shown flashes of what he can become and that version of McKenna can be a quality bat for the Orioles. The determining factor will obviously be how capable he is of going back to being that guy.
11. Hunter Harvey, RHP, 25 years old
A former first-round pick, Harvey was once a highly regarded pitching prospect in this system that’s been plagued by injuries. He’s undergone Tommy John surgery already and dealt with a shoulder injury, which not only hindered his development but has also directly impacted his performance on the field.
It’s not normal that I’d have someone that I know is going to be a reliever slated in the upper half of a top prospects list. Harvey, however, has already seen success at the major league level in a bullpen role and should be pegged as the Orioles’ closer of the future. He compliments a triple-digit fastball with a power breaking ball and an improving splitter, giving Harvey an improved arsenal that is going to miss bats. Assuming that my prediction of him being a closer someday comes true, Harvey does hold value.
12. Zach Watson, OF, 22 years old
A former star outfielder at Louisiana State University, Watson’s unique athleticism makes him an intriguing prospect to monitor throughout this system even if he’s somewhat raw from a pure baseball standpoint.
This past season was Watson’s first dive into professional baseball and the Orioles were aggressive to push him through both Class-A levels. He struggled offensively, which is something that most industry folks should’ve expected. Watson’s swing is a bit long and his hand’s slot in an awkward position, making it difficult for him to consistently make contact right now. The approach isn’t completely there right now either and he gets a bit too aggressive when hunting pitches he should probably lay off. We saw him have success in college at the plate, so there’s something there, but Watson has plenty of adjustments to make for him to progress.
Watson’s most impactful tool and what makes him an appealing prospect is his speed. A double-plus tool already, he can impact the game with his legs and could be a legit stolen base threat if Baltimore wants him to be aggressive in that regard. There’s always going to be some value in a player that can truly fly like Watson and if the bat starts to come around, he’s going to skyrocket up this list.
13. Dean Kremer, RHP, 24 years old
Kremer was once a complimentary piece in the aforementioned Machado deal and the Orioles have helped develop him into arguably the top piece from that transaction.
For a starting pitcher that’s had an impressive run through the minors, Kremer doesn’t have your typical “starters” arsenal. He throws a mid-90s two-seamer that plays with late arm-side run and compliments it with a plus curveball that he’s comfortable throwing at any point in a given at-bat.
Outside of those two pitches, Kremer throws a changeup that’s still developing and could be an average pitch someday. His pitchability and feel on the mound are certainly advanced, but I’m not sure how well his stuff is going to play at the next level with just those two pitches, which is why I have him ranked where he is.
14. Zac Lowther, LHP, 23 years old
Lowther is your typical crafty left-hander that employs the spin-over-speed tactic in his arsenal. He’s run his fastball up to 94 mph in the past and typically sits anywhere between the 88-91 mph range. That velocity does play up, however, as Lowther does an ample job of hiding the ball and creating extension downhill.
He compliments that fastball well with a high-spin curveball that tunnels from the same arm slot as his heater. Similar to Kremer, Lowther doesn’t comfortably throw another pitch and that’s significantly capping his ceiling without more velocity in the tank. His upside is a back-end starter, although it’s more likely that we see him become a swing-man out of the bullpen.
15. Kyle Stowers, OF, 22 years old
At first glance, Stowers looks the part of an absolute masher. He’s a physical 6-foot-3, 200-pound left/left prospect that oozes raw power and owns a certain physicality in the batter’s box.
It’s easy to see the power potential in Stowers, but once you actually see him go up against professional competition that facade starts to slowly dwindle. His swing is too long and he just doesn’t have a strong enough approach at the plate to convince me that he’ll have success at the higher levels. A complete refinement of what he does at the plate has to happen for Stowers to have value and he’s ranked where he is solely on the upside.
16. Cody Sedlock, RHP, 24 years old
Sedlock has dealt with a myriad of injuries throughout his professional career that has limited him to less than 100 innings pitched in each season. He finally looked healthy last season and his stuff played, posting a 2.84 ERA and limiting opposing hitters to a .199 batting average against.
While his stuff isn’t the same as it once was, mostly in part to the injuries, Sedlock showed he can still miss bats with improved control and the development of his secondary offerings. He compliments a low-90s fastball with a feel-to-spin slider and a changeup that we only really see him throw against left-handed hitters.
17. Bruce Zimmerman, LHP, 25 years old
In my quest to fully understand this farm system some more, I randomly turned on a Bowie Baysox game a few days ago. Zimmerman was on the bump for Bowie that day and he threw an absolute gem, going the distance on 85 pitches and striking out nine batters.
Zimmerman is primarily a fastball/changeup type of arm that’ll mix in a breaking ball every once in a while. His fastball sits in the low-90s with late arm-side run and he was able to throw strikes to both sides of the plate. A plus offering with natural sink that showed swing-and-miss actions, Zimmerman’s changeup is easily his best pitch. He comfortably threw it at any point in the count and rarely allowed it to play up in the zone. You could tell that he regularly kept his opponents off-balance in this specific game because there were several ugly and uncomfortable swings each inning.
His upside is ultimately capped by the development of his breaking ball. He did flash feel to spin at times, but the lack of it being used struck me as he doesn’t have the confidence to throw it consistently. It also leaked up and over the plate too much. Zimmerman should get his shot in Baltimore sooner rather than later and I’m fairly confident he’ll stick as a back-end rotation arm throughout his major league career.
18. Drew Rom, LHP, 19 years old
Rom reminds me of San Diego Padres’ pop-up prospect Joey Cantillo. A fourth-round pick in the same draft as Cantillo, Rom uses an advanced feel for pitching to get batters out rather than blowing them away at the plate.
His fastball usually sits between 88-91 mph and tops out at 92 mph, similar to what Cantillo was entering the 2019 season. There’s plenty of room for him to add muscle and fill out his fairly projectable frame that could lead to more velocity. He pairs his heater with a sweeping breaking ball that is his go-to strikeout pitch and a split changeup with natural downward actions. Rom consistently pounds the zone, already throwing all three of his pitches for strikes at such a young age.
There are a few reasons why Rom is this low on this list. One being that lower velocity arms typically don’t have success translating through the minor leagues and we just haven’t seen enough of Rom to fully get a grasp on if he’ll be able to consistently get outs as he progresses. It’s possible that he follows the same track as Cantillo and blows up next season with added velocity, but there are just too many question marks until he physically does it.
19. Keegan Akin, LHP, 25 years old
If there’s an arm in this system that I’m almost completely out on, it’s Keegan Akin. He’s undersized with a less-than-ideal frame and while his stuff misses bats at the minor league level, I just don’t think that success will translate to the big leagues. Akin doesn’t excel at hitting spots and Camden Yards isn’t an ideal place to pitch at, to begin with. It’s best to just stay away from him entirely.
20. Elio Prado, OF, 18 years old
Prado is a shot-in-the-dark prospect that is several years away from the thought of contributing at the major league level. Still, he’s a tooled-up athlete with off-the-charts athleticism and potential for above-average power. He slashed .299/.403/.391 in the Dominican Summer League last season as a 17-year-old, walking nearly as much as he struck out. This isn’t someone I would pick up right now unless you’re in a deep dynasty league, but certainly put him on your prospect radar.