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Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have one of the best systems in baseball, and while I could have gone 20+ deep on their system, I stopped at 17.  The system is led by two of the best minor league prospects in baseball: Gunnar Henderson and Grayson Rodriguez.  Henderson built on a solid 2021 to explode in 2022, all the way to the Major Leagues.  Rodriguez was on the doorstep of the Major Leagues when he suffered a Lat strain which delayed his debut to 2023.  It doesn’t end there.  In July, they drafted uber-talented Jackson Holliday with the first pick in the draft.  He’s a few years off but brings speed and power with a feel to hit.  Colton Cowser, Jordan Westburg, and  Connor Norny are just about ready and should see time in Baltimore, and while DL Hall struggled in his big league debut, he flashes serious swing and miss stuff.  It goes on from there.

The Orioles are building something special with a window starting to open.  They’ll never spend with the Yankees or Red Sox, but I bet they will compete exceptionally well…perhaps as early as 2023.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Gunnar Henderson
  • Biggest Mover: Cesar Prieto
  • Emerging Prospect: Sam Basallo

1. Gunnar Henderson (3B)

  • Highest Level: Majors  ETA: 2022  Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 fantasy player
  • Tools Summary: He took it to the next level in 2022, showing power and speed with an advanced approach to the plate.

Gunnar Henderson jumped to #10 on our mid-season Top 100 list after breezing through Double-A and making Triple-A look easy.  He then excelled in the Major Leagues in his September callup.  He’s first and foremost a hitter who should be able to post 20+ home runs and steal bases early in his career.  It would not surprise me to see a gaudy stat line of .300/.370/.450, 25 home runs, 15 stolen bases with many runs scored, and RBIs.  He’s a star in the making.

2. Grayson Rodriguez (RHP)

  • Highest Level: Triple-A  ETA: 2023  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: All the tools to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation.

Grayson Rodriguez was on the clock for his Major League debut when he suffered a grade 2 Lat strain in early June, pushing his big league debut to 2023.  Before that, he was dominant.  In 11 starts, he pitched to a 2.09 ERA, striking out nearly 13 per nine while walking 2.3 per nine.  He did return in September and picked up where he left off, but the Orioles were very careful with overworking him at the end of the season. 

While he has a chance to be an excellent Major League pitcher, I must stop short of putting an Ace label on him.  His fastball and slider are plus pitches, but his change-up lags.  It lacks fade, which could cause platoon splits.  He’s not had that problem yet, but the Orioles have also not allowed him to pitch deep into many games.  In his 17 starts, he pitched 6+ innings in only two.  While I might be nit-picking, I think it’s important for my readers to get a 360 view of a player…actually, a 361 view.

3. Jackson Holliday (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A  ETA: 2025-26  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS
  • Tools Summary: Plus speed and plenty of bat speed to project a 20-20 performer at the highest level.

The Orioles took Jackson Holliday with the first overall pick in last July’s MLB Draft.  It was mildly surprising as I believed Druw Jones had the higher upside.  However, it’s hard to criticize a selection by the Orioles given their recent success at the draft table and the depth they now have in their system.  Holliday is a plus runner with enough bat speed to grow into 20 home run pop.  He should be able to stay at shortstop, but if needed, he’s athletic enough to move to center field and be a plus defender.  He’s short to the ball, so he should make plenty of contact to hit for a high average.   If you’re keeping track, the upside is a 20-20+ performer who should be able to hit.

4. Colton Cowser (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A  ETA: 2023  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 OF
  • Tools Summary: He’s always shown an advanced approach at the plate. If the power he showed in Double-A is real, he has a chance to be a significant Big Leaguer.

Colton Cowser was taken with the fifth overall pick in the 2021 Draft. As we wrote last year, the hit tool was advanced, but there were questions about how much power he would ultimately have.  After a slow start in 2022, he showed not only the aforementioned advanced approach but also plenty of power.  He slugged .568 in 49 games in Double-A with ten home runs.  While he only slugged .419 with his promotion to Triple-A, I’m going to chalk that up to a small sample size.  He’s also an above-average runner, and while he stole 14 bases last season, I think low double-digits is a more realistic annual total.  When you add it all up, it’s an impact performer with 15 to 20 home run pop, double-digit stolen bases with high on-base skills.

5. Jordan Westburg (2B/SS)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A  ETA: 2023-24  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B with upside
  • Tools Summary: Toolsy with plus power potential and enough foot speed to steal double-digit bases. The bat has a lot of swing and miss, which could ultimately limit his upside.

Westburg was the Oriole’s first-round supplemental pick in 2020 from Mississippi State and split time between Double and Triple-A in 2021.  The tools are loud as he’s a plus runner with excellent bat speed.  The problem is there’s a lot of swing and miss in his game with a high chase rate.  Although, he looked better in Triple-A as he lowered his strikeout rate to 22%.  He has always been patient at the plate, and we should expect him to walk at least 10% of the time once he’s promoted to the Major Leagues.  The Orioles have also played him at second, short, and third base but second, appears to be his best position.  The offensive upside is very high (20-20 potential), and assuming his contact skills have genuinely improved; the ceiling could be substantial.  For now, I will put him as a Top 15 2B with upside.

6. DL Hall (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors  ETA: 202Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Premium athlete with premium stuff.  However, his health and inability to throw strikes are holding him back.

I’ve long been a fan of DL Hall.  He’s extremely athletic, with two double-plus pitches in his fastball and curveball and a change-up that is good enough to neutralize the power of the right-handed power.  However, he’s struggled to both stay healthy and throw strikes.  In 2022, the control was once again a problem.  In 76.2 innings in Triple-A, he walked over five per nine.  In his brief time in Major Leagues late last season, he walked 4.8 per nine.  The stuff is as filthy as ever, posting one of the best strikeout rates in the minor leagues.  Assuming his health problems are behind him, although it’s easy to correlate his control problems and health, I still put his ceiling as a number two starter.  I learned long ago that you don’t give up on pitchers who throw hard and are great athletes.  Throw in that he’s a southpaw, and I remain bullish!

7. Connor Norby (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A  ETA: 2023  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: Plus hit tool with mostly doubles power that could turn into 20 home run pop with a handful of stolen bases yearly.

Connor Norby is one of the best hitters in the Orioles organization.  He has a solid approach at the plate, doesn’t chase pitches out of the strike zone, and makes hard contact.  Since his swing is flat, most of his power results in doubles, but with a tweak to his swing, 20 home runs are possible.  He’s an average runner and should also be able to steal 8 to 10 stolen bases yearly.  That production will not make him a star, but for fantasy owners, that’s the kind of production that falls under the radar and wins fantasy manager’s leagues.

8. Coby Mayo (3B)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A  ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B or 1B
  • Tools Summary: He was very young for both High and Double-A and held his own.  There is substantial raw power in the bat, and if he keeps his strikeouts in check, he could be a 25+ home run bat at third or first.

Coby Mayo, the Orioles’ fourth-round pick in 2020, got off to a hot start in his aggressive assignment to High-A in 2022.  He slashed .251/.326/.494 with 14 home runs and five stolen bases while striking out 21.5% of the time and walking 9% of the time. Things got tougher in Double-A, where he chased more and wound up striking out 34.5% of the time and batting .250.  Things would have been much worse if it weren’t for a .365 BABIP.  At 6-foot-5, there is natural length in his swing, and once he gets accustomed to the level (he was in the top 5 youngest players in the league), I think he will post a sub-25 % K-Rate.  There is substantial raw power in the bat which should point to 25+ future home run power with a handful of stolen bases early in his career.  He primarily played third, but at 6-foot-5, he likely moves off the position to either first or a corner outfield.  He did play some first base at the end of the season. 

9. Cesar Prieto (2B)

  • Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: Aggressive approach but with excellent contact skills.  There’s also enough power to hit 15 to 20 home runs annually.

The Orioles signed Ceasar Prieto out of Cuba in early 2022, and he hit the ground running.  He had no trouble with High-A, where he slashed .340/.381/.619 in 25 games.  He then spent the remainder of the season in Double-A, posting nearly identical numbers.  He makes excellent contact but does have an aggressive approach.  There’s solid-average power with a chance to hit 15 to 20 home runs annually with enough speed to steal a handful of bases annually.  He’s not young, as he’s already 23, but he should move quickly with his advanced contact skills.  The upside is a full-time regular who could be an option at second base in deeper fantasy leagues.

10. Hudson Haskin (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A  ETA: 2023-24  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: He changed his swing to get more power but did not use his speed last season.

The Orioles had Hudson Haskin incorporate more of his lower half into his swing, resulting in significantly more power in 2022.  In 109 games in Double-A, he slugged .455 with 15 home runs.  He’s a plus runner but only stole five bases, getting caught three times.  It’s unclear why he didn’t run last season, but the speed is real as I clocked him down the line at 4.2 seconds.  If it all comes together, the upside is a full-time regular with a chance to hit double-digit home runs while stealing 20+ bases yearly.

11. Dylan Beavers (OF)

  • Highest Level:  HIgh-A  ETA: 2025  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 OF
  • Tools Summary: Intriguing speed and power, but the swing is long, so there is some fear of how many strikeouts will accompany.

The Orioles selected Dylan Beavers in the supplemental first round last July after a stellar junior year at the University of California.  He hit .291 with 17 home runs and seven stolen bases and walked nearly as much as he struck out. However, he did strike out almost 20% of the time.  He played 23 games in his professional debut, mainly in Low-A, and while he didn’t go yard, he did post a .531 SLG and kept his strikeouts in check.  The profile has intriguing speed and power, but the swing can get long, so I would not be shocked if there were more strikeouts than you would like.  However, the Orioles are getting the most out of their draftees, and when they take players in the first 50 slots of a draft, you have to pay attention.

12. Heston Kjerstad (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A  ETA: 2024  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: He finally made his professional debut and looked OK.  There should be significant power but plenty of swing and miss in his game.

The best news of Heston Kjerstad’s season is that he played!  After the Orioles selected him with the overall number two pick in 2020, he missed the entire 2021 season recovering from myocarditis.  He did not get into games until June 10.

Evaluating Kjerstad is difficult.  He’s played so little that surely there is rust to knock off – but how long will it take?   While he played well in Low-A, he struggled in High-A.  His .362 SLG was also discouraging in his 43 games in High-A.  I still have his ceiling as a Top 45 outfielder, but I worry about the swing and how many strikeouts he will tally.

13. Sam Basallo (C/1B)

  • Highest Level:  Complex  ETA: 2026+  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 1B with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: He is showing a feel to hit with solid-average power as one of the youngest players in the Complex League.

After showing a feel to hit with power in the Dominican Summer League in 2021, Sam Basallo brought his game to the states and did the same thing in the Complex League.  He played nearly the entire season at 17 and looks poised to start 2023 in full-season ball as one of the youngest players in the league.  He has played most of his games behind the plate, but there are questions about whether he has the chops to stay there.  He might need to move to first base; if that happens, that will put increasing pressure on his bat.

14. Max Wagner (3B)

  • Highest Level:  HIgh-A  ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 3B or Top 60 OF
  • Tools Summary: He has plus raw power, and if he keeps his strikeouts in check, he could be an impact performer.

After hitting 27 home runs in Clemson in his draft year, the Orioles paid Max Wagner a $1.9 million signing bonus as the first pick in the second round last July.  He has premium bat speed, which translated into the prodigious home run output last season.  He also improved his contact significantly from his Freshman year (31% K-Rate to 19.6% K-Rate), and if that sticks, he could be a real source of power for the Orioles in a couple of years.  There’s little speed, and I’ve heard mixed reviews on his glove. 

15. Jud Fabian (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A  ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 OF if he improves his contact
  • Tools Summary: He has plus raw power that he showed in spades in college, and while he struck out too much, he looked better in his brief professional debut.

The Orioles drafted Jud Fabian in the supplemental second round last July after slugging 44 home runs in his final two seasons at the University of Florida.  Unfortunately, he also hit .246 with a 25% strikeout rate.  The Orioles like his swing and believe they can ultimately get him shorter to the ball to improve his contact rate.  He looked great in his professional debut, slashing .333/.455/.615 in 22 games across the Complex, Low, and High-A.  Most importantly, he only struck out 21 times in 99 plate appearances.

16. Noah Denoyer (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A  ETA: 2023  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Excellent 2022 campaign.  He does it with a great change-up and pounding the strike zone.  Will it play at the highest level?  Maybe…just, maybe.

Noah Denoyer was signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2019 and finds himself a legitimate pitching prospect for the Orioles two years later.  He’s a big kid at 6-foot-5 with a fastball that only sits 91 to 93 MPH but plays up, given his high spin rate.  His best secondary pitch is his change-up, and together the two have provided him success in Double-A.  Houston followed this same playbook to sign and develop kids like Cristian Javier, Framber Vadez, and Jose Urquidy.  Now, the Orioles under Mike Elias could be finding gold where others are not looking.

17. Kyle Stowers (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors  ETA: 2022  Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 75 OF
  • Tools Summary: He improved his contact skills meaningfully, which unlocked his plus power.

Kyle Stowers made his Major League debut in 2022 after having a terrific year at Triple-A, hitting .264 with 19 home runs.  He improved his strikeout rate significantly, which was the reason for his success.  This allowed his plus power to play.  With all the talent in the Orioles system, I doubt Stowers is a full-time regular in Baltimore, but there’s enough talent for him to get full-time at-bats for a team earlier in the rebuilding process.

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