|Original Published Date: November 29, 2019|
After years of a mediocre, if not a downright bad minor league system, the Orioles depth has improved greatly. It helps when you draft number one overall but based on the changes the Orioles made to incorporate more analytics into the development process, several of their players took a big step forward.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a still significant work left to do to improve their organization, not the least of which is building a better presence in Latin America. But the Orioles appear to be in it for the long haul which could include a five-year rebuild. The good news is year one, is done.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Adley Rutschman
- Biggest Mover: Dean Kremer
- Emerging Prospect: Elio Prado
Enjoy the list and please click on the baseball card to visit our partner amazon.com to explore additional information on each player.
1. Adley Rutschman (C)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top three catcher
- Tools Summary: Plus hit tool and power. Elite catching skills.
Being selected 1:1 in a draft brings riches but also a ton of expectations for Adley Rutschman. What are the riches? $8.1 million dollars. What are the expectations? Joe Mauer (when he was a catcher)/Buster Posey type of career.
He got off to a slow start and only hit .230 over his first three weeks and it was amazing how the naysayers came out on my Twitter feed. But, he got hot and hit .325 in the New York Penn League with 16 strikeouts and 14 walks in 20 games. Of course, the naysayers are still out saying he should be in High-A or Double-A if he’s that good. Sigh.
I’m a big fan of Rutschman and believe he will be an elite player at a scarce fantasy position. He can hit with plus power and could put up a .280/.370/.550 slash line with 20 to 25 home runs. Sure, his runs and RBIs will be muted a little because he won’t play in 150 games, but if he hits as much as I think he will, the Orioles will find a way to get him more at-bats and with that, the counting stats will increase.
Defensively, he’s a plus catcher and should make the Orioles a better club. Sure, for fantasy owners…who cares. But I contend with all the platoon situations occurring in the game, having a player locked into a position is a good thing. Plus, I play exclusively in two-catcher leagues and I’m convinced that having a plus player at each catcher slot gives you a huge advantage. Net-net, don’t back away from Rutschman because he’s a catcher in your upcoming Dynasty League drafts. Take him with confidence. I know I will.
2. DL Hall (LHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
- Tools Summary: Three potential plus pitches but control is currently well below average. The athleticism is present with a better than average shot for the control to improve significantly.
While the stat line was a little uneven for DL Hall in 2019, the stuff and overall performance were still very promising. In 19 games in the Carolina League, he showed impressive swing and miss stuff where he struck out nearly 13 per nine but he also walked six per nine. Since being drafted in the first round in 2017, he’s never showed good control, but his walk rate spiked substantially from his performance in 2018. At some point, likely in 2020, he needs to show a more consistent release point in order to see a meaningful improvement in his walk rate.
The stuff is very good with a fastball that sits 92 to 93 MPH but will touch higher with two above-average, if not plus secondary pitches in his curveball and change-up. He’s also athletic and with the new leadership in Baltimore, I believe the ingredients are there for Hall to develop into a solid mid-rotation starter or even a number two starter. The performance is likely to still be uneven as he learns to control his arsenal but bet on the arm and the talent and trust the control will come.
3. Yusniel Diaz (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF
- Tools Summary: Down season but still has great bat speed with a chance for solid power with a handful of stolen bases.
Yusniel Diaz was the big return when the Orioles traded Manny Machado in July of 2018. When he arrived in Bowie, the Orioles Double-A affiliate, things just didn’t click. He hit a ho-hum .239 with a .403 SLG. It was more of the same to start the 2019 season as he posted a .225/.312/.338 slash line in the month of April. He then hit the IL with a hamstring injury and when he returned, he’s looked like a different player.
The bat speed was back and he started to hit the ball with more authority. I had a chance to see the bat speed once again in July and it was as good as was when I saw him two years ago in the California League. As the old saying goes, the ball just makes a different sound coming off his bat.
I still believe that Diaz ceiling is a Top 45 outfielder in the game with 20 plus home runs and a handful of stolen bases. Plus, I think he hits. He makes very good contact and understands the strike zone. Again, I don’t see a star, but instead, I see a solid major league regular.
4. Grayson Rodriguez (RHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
- Tools Summary: Good size and plus fastball but secondary pitches need work as does his delivery.
Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles number one overall pick in 2018 (pick 11) spent the entire season in the Sally League and has had little trouble. In 20 starts, he’s pitched to a 2.68 ERA striking out 12.4 per nine while walking 3.5 per nine. Ok, you can say that the control is not there yet, but the Orioles appear to be handling Rodriguez very carefully.
At 6-foot-5, Rodriguez has the size that teams are looking for in a starter. He’s got a quality fastball that sits 93 to 94 MPH, but as we saw in the Futures Game, he can run it up to 96 we needed. His breaking pitch is more of a slurve and when I saw him earlier this year, his change-up needed a lot of work.
Ultimately, I see his ceiling as a number four, perhaps a number three starter. That might be lower than others, but I’ve had a chance to see him live. In fact, the outing in which I scouted was his worse of the season. I just don’t see front-of-the-rotation stuff. Plus, the delivery needs a lot of cleanup. Perhaps it’s for these reasons that the Orioles kept him in Low-A for the entire season. Expect him to start 2020 in High-A.
5. Dean Kremer (RHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
- Tools Summary: He has the stuff to be a solid Major League pitcher with a number four starter profile or slightly more.
Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dean Kremer was part of the return in the Manny Machado trade. His 2019 season started slow due to an oblique strain and he appeared rusty out of the gate. Once he got his sea legs under him in Double-A, the control returned, and the stat line started to look a lot better until of course he hit Triple-A and posted an 8.84 ERA in four starts. But, Double-A was good. In 15 starts, he pitched to a 2.98 ERA striking out over a batter an inning while walking just over three per nine.
Kremer has a good arsenal but it’s more back-of-the-rotation as opposed to front-of-the-rotation. His fastball sits 92 to 94 and will scrape higher with an average curveball. He’s still trying to find a feel for his change-up. All his pitches play up when he’s able to throw them for strikes. The delivery has some crossfire, and while that provides some deception, it could lead him vulnerable to arm-side bats.
If you put it all together, the upside is a number four starter (maybe slightly more) or a nice bullpen arm. However, since most of the better arms in the Orioles organization are in their lower minors, he should get an opportunity in 2020 and 2021 to make a major league career.
6. Ryan Mountcastle (1B)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 1B or DH
- Tools Summary: Big power should yield 30+ home runs, but a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio will limit his upside.
A lot of fantasy owners pay little attention to a player’s defensive ability because all they care about are the offensive stats. While that’s totally understandable, sometimes defense matters. In Ryan Mountcastle’s case, it has in part, slowed his progression to the big leagues.
He was drafted as a third baseman but never had the arm or athleticism to play there. This season, the Orioles have played him at first and left-field with first his logical defensive home. While many believe his bat is ready, I have questions and when you combine that with his defensive struggles, I’m not sure he’s ready.
Major League teams care about defense unless of course you have the kind of raw power and hitting ability that it appears Yordan Alvarez has. It’s hard to promote a 22-year-old to the big leagues and put him at-bat (aka, DH). When you consider Mountcastle’s very aggressive approach, the decision to promote him becomes difficult. In looking at his 3.4% walk rate, there’s a good chance he’ll post a sub .300 OBP and when you combine that with poor defense, it’s a problem. Plus, don’t the Orioles already have that guy in Renato Nunez?
I know it sounds like I’m bashing Mountcastle and perhaps I am. However, from a fantasy standpoint, owners need to understand the risk. Sure, there is 30 home run potential, but it’s going to come with a low on-base percentage and no speed. In my opinion, you can get that anywhere.
7. Gunnar Henderson (SS)
- Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: Top pick in the second round last June. Good size with a chance to hit and hit for power with some speed; at least early in his career.
The Orioles drafted Gunnar Henderson with the first pick in the second round last spring and signed him to a $2.3 million dollar signing bonus. The high school switch hitter has a ton of athleticism and played well in his introduction to professional ball. In 33 games in the GCL, he hit .281 with a home run and five stolen bases. He showed a decent approach by walking 9% of the time and struck out 23% of the time. It was a small sample size and it was in rookie ball, but the reports out of Sarasota were very positive with the Orioles liking both his power potential and the ability to hit for average.
I’m not sure the Orioles will rush Henderson with a full-season assignment or hold him back and send him in June to the New York Penn League. The upside is a full-time regular with power and speed, at least early in his career.
8. Michael Baumann (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Some reliever risk but pitched very well in 2019, including tossing a no-hitter.
Taken in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Michael Baumann has been making steady progress through the minor leagues. While he has a good fastball that can touch 97 to 98 MPH, the knock against him has always been that his secondary pitches (slider and change-up) were average-at-best. Most evaluators believed he would wind up in the bullpen. By doing so, that 97 MPH fastball might turn into 100.
In 2019, Baumann has been better. His secondary pitches have improved with his change-up flashing plus at times. The result is he’s missing more bats and that was evident in 11 starts in High-A where he posted a 12.83 K/9 rate. To begin July, the Orioles promoted him to Double-A where on July 16th he pitched a no-hitter against Harrisburg striking 10 and walking two.
He should begin the 2020 season in Triple-A with a chance to see the Major Leagues at some point later in the year.
9. Austin Hays (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: Solid power with an average hit tool should make him a regular on a team like the Orioles. On a Championship level team, he’s a backup.
It’s hard to believe that Austin Hays is still a prospect. After an impressive 2017 season where he hit .330 in Double-A and even got a taste of the Major Leagues, it appeared he was on the doorstep for significant playing time in big leagues in 2018. But injuries and poor performances in both 2018 and 2019 have at best delayed his timeframe to Majors, or worse, lowered his ceiling.
While I don’t believe he has star potential, I do believe Hays will be a Major League regular, perhaps a soft regular on a second division team. I saw him in a series in Charlotte over the summer and the swing still works. He didn’t hit many home runs, but he had no trouble showing good raw power in batting practice. It’s not a highly leveraged swing so if he doesn’t change that, I see 20 home run future potential with a .260 batting average and a .320 OBP. The on-base percentage is disappointing, but he’s always been a very aggressive hitter and ultimately, that might be the difference from a regular on a second division team vs. a regular on a championship level team.
10. Keegan Akin (LHP)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Good stuff that plays down due to poor control and lack of life on his fastball.
I’ve spoken to evaluators who believe Keegan Akin could have a long career in the big leagues as a number four starter and perhaps a little more. Every time I see him, which has now been for three years in a row, I’m left feeling a number four pitcher is the best I can put on him.
While the stuff is pretty good with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH (I got him a couple of times at 96), and a slider and change-up that both grade out at least average, he can not throw consistent strikes. In fact, he’s never had a strikeout rate of less than 3.8 per nine. My fear is once he gets to the Major Leagues, guys are not going to chase like they do in the minors and the stuff will play down. Additionally, he turns 25 on April 1st and has yet to make his Major League debut.
Regardless, we should find whether he’s a back of the rotation guy or someone who might help your fantasy team as soon as next season.
11. Hunter Harvey (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Closer
- Tools Summary: It’s been quite the journey, but Hunter Harvey is a big leaguer. I think there is closer potential.
After being drafted in the first round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Hunter Harvey made his Major League last summer. It was quite the journey for the 24-year-old as he was snake bit with the injury bug at every turn. I’ve always been a huge fan of the potential and was thrilled to finally see him on the big-league mound.
It looks like his career will move to the bullpen, which is understandable as the Orioles want to extract some value, but I still think he can start. But, in the bullpen, his fastball will play up and in fact, he averaged 97.90 in his limited time in Baltimore. You couple that with a 90 MPH changeup and a hard curveball, he could have a legitimate chance to be a closer.
12. Zac Lowther (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 70 SP
- Tools Summary: Has average fastball velocity but batters do not get a good luck at his stuff. He’s had success throughout his career and could have some at the highest level.
The Orioles had a very good pitching rotation in Bowie and the guy that pitched the best was Zac Lowther. He doesn’t have great stuff with his fastball sitting in the upper 80’s, but he has some deception with a lot of life on his fastball that batters clearly don’t get a good look at it. In 26 starts, he won half his games with a 2.55 ERA striking out over a batter an inning but also walked nearly four.
He’ll be viewed as a “crafty” left-hander and could carve out a nice Major League career as a back of the rotation starter. Is that someone you want on your fantasy team? Probably not, but I’ve seen a lot of worse options rostered on deep fantasy teams. He’s worth penciling his name in on your watch list.
13. Drew Rom (LHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Made significant strides in 2019 showing better stuff and improved control.
Drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB Draft, Drew Rom had an excellent season in Low-A as a teenager. In 20 appearances, he pitched to a 2.56 ERA striking out over 11 per nine while walking just over three per nine. He’s already put on weight since being drafted and has consequently seen his velocity tick up a grade. His fastball now sits 92 to 93 MPH and touching higher. His slider has also taken a noticeable step forward and has become his primary swing and miss pitch.
Rom was signed for overdraft money in 2018 and it looks like it was a good evaluation by the Orioles. The upside is a number four starter.
14. Kyle Stowers (OF)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: An athletic outfielder who has a little bit of speed and pop with questions on how much he will eventually hit.
Taken in the supplemental second round last June, Kyle Stowers is an athletic outfielder who has a little bit of speed and pop with questions on how much he will eventually hit. In his junior year at Stanford, he hit .303 with a 12% strikeout rate but in his first taste of professional ball in the New York Penn League, he only hit .216 with a 24% strikeout rate. Granted it was a small sample size after a long college season, but he does expand the strike zone and at 6-foot-3, he’s naturally going to have some holes in his swing.
He’s an interesting prospect because there is good bat speed with a chance to hit for future power and he runs well. He’s not a guy I’m adding in a Dynasty League yet, but he’s on my watch list.
15. Elio Prado (OF)
- Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
- Tools Summary: Semi-famous for being traded by the Red Sox in the Andrew Cashner deal. He was one of the better hitters in the DSL showing a little bit of speed and pop.
Along with Noelberth Romero, Elio Prado was the return the Orioles received when they sent Andrew Cashner to Boston. Some Red Sox fans would say that even if neither makes it to the big leagues, the Orioles won the deal given how poorly Cashner pitched in his short tenure in Boston. Of the two, Prado appears to have the best chance to become fantasy relevant.
He’s only played a season in the DSL, but he showed great bat-to-ball skills by hitting .300 with a .403 on-base percentage with three home runs and 12 stolen bases. He also walked nearly as much as he struck out and posted an excellent 13.4% strikeout ratio.
Prado was only signed for a small $85,000 signing bonus, so he’s completely a lottery pick up by the Orioles. But when you’re rebuilding, these are the type of deals you make as sometimes they bear fruit.