Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles continued with their rebuild this year and while they lost an insane amount of games again, their offense showed promise.  Their pitching, well…it was beyond bad. 

There is help on the way with one of the better pitchers in the minor leagues in Grayson Rodriguez.  He should develop into a number two starter, maybe more.  There’s also DL Hall who has yet to throw consistent strikes, and this year, hurt his elbow and missed a good chunk of the season.  After that, I see very little help on the pitching side. 

On the offense, some stars are coming.  First and foremost is Adley Rutschman.  He has a chance to be the best catcher in the league and the “Buster Posey” of the Orioles.  I also have high hopes for Colton Cowser, the Orioles’ number one pick last June.  We should see Rutschman early next season and Cowser the following year.   But it’s not going to be enough, and the Orioles need to continue to wheel and deal and develop as I don’t think they can be effective in the free-agent market yet. 

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Adley Rutschman
  • Biggest Mover: Adam Hall
  • Emerging Prospect: Moises Ramirez

1. Adley Rutschman (C)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  #1 Catcher in Fantasy
  • Tools Summary: All-around complete player.  Great defensively, plus hitter with 25+ home run potential.  Looking for a fault?  He’s not fast, but hey, he’s a catcher

I finally got a chance to lay eyes on Adley Rutschman this season in a couple of Double-A games.  After seeing him, I felt confident in ranking him as the #4 prospect in the game, and based on promotions, he’ll be the #2 prospect in the game in the Spring.  He’s everything you want in an elite player.  He’s great defensively with a strong arm and leadership skills to control the game.  Offensively, he has the size and bat speed to hit for 25+ home runs annually and the understanding of the strike zone to be a .300 hitter.  He doesn’t have much speed, so a low BABIP will drop that average to .280 or so, but with a high OBP.  The stat line from last season supports what I saw.  He walked nearly as much as he struck out and slugged over .500 across Double and Triple-A.  He should see Baltimore early in 2022.

2. Grayson Rodriguez (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP
  • Tools Summary: Gaudy 2021 numbers were aided by the Orioles not letting him pitch deep into games. Double-plus fastball but inconsistent secondary pitches show there is still work left for him to reach his potential

Grayson Rodriguez has a chance to be a top-of-the-rotation starter!  However, despite an impressive stat line across High and Double-A where he posted a 2.75 ERA, striking out over 14 per nine while walking 2.6 per nine, I have some concerns.  First, his fastball is elite.  He can run it up to the upper 90s and hitters don’t get a good look.  It’s a long stride to the plate and that helps with the deception.  But, his secondary pitches are very inconsistent.  I saw him pitch twice in 2021, both in High and Double-A, and he rarely threw either his change-up or curveball.  While I saw some good curveballs, I never saw a change-up I would grade out as above-average.  Plus, and this is the most concerning thing to me.  The Orioles rarely let him pitch more than five innings per outings.  Despite the gaudy numbers, there is still work to be done.  But, I’m going to throw a number two starter profile on him in hopes that his secondary pitches will improve.

3. DL Hall (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 30 SP but he needs to throw strikes
  • Tools Summary: Has the best arsenal in the Orioles system but with 30-grade control, he’s not going to be effective.  He also hurt his elbow and missed the second half.  Still a ton of talent

Before he was shut down for the season with an elbow issue, DL Hall was once again showing a plus arsenal with poor control.  In 31.2 innings, he struck out 56.  The problem is, he also walked 16, or 4.5 per nine.  Which, believe it or not, was better than what he did in High-A in 2019.  He’s got great stuff with a fastball that sits 95 to 96 MPH with a great change-up and even better curveball.  The problem of course is he can’t throw strikes.  The good news is he’s athletic and usually, athletic pitchers figure it out.  Back to the injury.  It’s concerning – tendonitis turned into a stress reaction of his elbow.  Hopefully, rest is all he needs.  I still see him as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher but his inability to throw strikes does remind me a little bit of Jesus Luzardo.  Yeah, I know…I didn’t want to say it.  Hall has a better breaking pitch, but they are both hard throwers from the left side who can’t control their considerable arsenal.

4. Colton Cowser (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Excellent approach and contact rate.  There are questions about how much power he ultimately will have unless his swing is tweaked

With the fifth pick in last June’s draft, do I wish the Orioles would have selected one of the high-end high school shortstops still on the board?  Yes.  But, they didn’t ask me and decided to go safe with maybe the best hitter in the draft in Colton Cowser.  He has a contact-oriented approach and just doesn’t swing at balls outside the zone.  Consequently, he has a chance to hit .300 annually with a .400 OBP.  He did just that in his two stops in the minor leaguers.  While he’s strong with plenty of bat speed, his swing is not geared for power, and without a change, I doubt he’ll hit for much power.  But, the Orioles will likely have him add loft which should at least profile him to hit for average power.  He also has enough speed to steal 8 to 10 stolen bases annually.

5. Gunnar Henderson (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS with risk
  • Tools Summary: Exciting power-speed tools-set but with a strikeout rate of nearly 30%

There’s a lot of 50s on Henderson’s scouting chart but his inability to make contact is becoming a problem.  It’s not a long swing but instead, he’s chasing too many pitches out of the strike zone.  He spent most of his time between Low and High-A and struck out nearly 30% of the time.  He hit 17 home runs and stole 16 bases and even walked 11% of the time.  But, the pitching gets better as you move up and it’s going to be a problem.  While he got a week in Double-A to end the season, he struck out 10 times in 17 plate appearances.  While there are exciting fantasy tools, managers need to understand the parameters and set their expectations.

6. Adam Hall (2B)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: He’s a speedster that could develop a little power as he gets stronger.  Struck out too much last season but I like the swing and think that improves

Hall’s carrying tool is his double-plus speed and that was on in full display last season when he stole 26 bags in 81 games in High-A.  There’s not a ton of power yet, but I think he grows into 8 to 10 home runs pop eventually.  Last season though, he struck out too much (29% K/9).  I had a chance to see him play this year and would not have thought that.  He’s short to the ball and didn’t overly chase when I saw him.  I think there’s something there and hopefully, as he gains more experience, the strike-out rate will in turn improve.

7. Jordan Westburg (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS/2B
  • Tools Summary: Loud tools with good on-base skills but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts for long-term success

Westburg was the Orioles first-round supplemental pick in 2020 from Mississippi State and split time between High and Double-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.  He does have some on-base skills as he can work a walk.  The Orioles will continue to work with him on his approach because the tools point to an impressive upside.  Like in 20-20 potential. 

8. Connor Norby (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: A statistical beast in his draft year at East Carolina.  It looks like he can hit with good speed and growing power.

How did a guy that hit .415 in his draft year in college with 15 home runs and 18 stolen bases last until the 2nd round?  Sure, he’s limited to second base and he didn’t go to an SEC-level school, but statistically, you really can’t do better than that.  In his first exposure to professional ball, he did just fine slashing .283/.414/.434 with 3 home runs and 5 stolen bases in 26 games.  More caveats – it was Low-A and he should have done well.  As a fantasy manager, we don’t care that he’ll play second.  That might be a good thing.  If his hit tool is for real, then with plus speed and a little bit of power, sign me up!

9. Heston Kjerstad (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: 70-grade power with significant swing and miss in his game

Heston Kjerstad was the Orioles’ first pick in 2020 (2nd overall) and he has yet to post a stat line.  2021 was unfortunate as he developed myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle.  In reading about the disease, it can be quite serious, and it was not good news when Mike Elias indicated that he had a setback in his recovery in mid-June.  Assuming health, he has 70-grade raw power with significant swing and miss in his game.  However, he’s got more important things to deal with than cutting down his strikeout rate.

10. Maikol Hernandez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS/OF with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Athletic and toolsy who impressed in the DSL with his approach at the plate

Hernandez was the Orioles big international signee last January.  The Venezuelan shortstop held his own in the DSL despite being one of the youngest players at the level.  He showed nice plate awareness with some speed.  Despite being 6-foot-4, he needs to get stronger and likely will.  There is plenty of bat speed to project future power and while he’s fast now, at a growing 6-foot-4, he’s likely to lose a step as he matures.  He’s a long way off, but he’s well thought of inside and outside the organization.

11. Kyle Bradish (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 75 SP or bullpen arm
  • Tools Summary: Good stuff but doesn’t throw enough strikes

Bradish had an uneven season in 2021 pitching to a 3.68 ERA while striking nearly 12 per nine.  The problem continues to be his inability to throw strikes.  He’s never had a walk rate below four per nine; in college or professional baseball. until this season when he squeaked out a 3.9 BB/9 rate. The stuff is good enough to get guys out, but unless he can learn to repeat his delivery better, he’s a back-of-the-rotation talent, or more likely, a bullpen arm.

12. Michael Baumann (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP or Bullpen arm
  • Tools Summary: Lacks a true out pitch

Baumann couldn’t build upon his breakout 2019 season.  Part of it could have been a flexor strain that he started the season with and consequently, was never healthy.  He did make his Major League debut and it didn’t go well either.  He just could not throw strikes and at least in Baltimore, he got hit hard with an average exit velocity of 95.5 MPH.  Last year we wrote his ceiling is a number four starter or bullpen arm.  I think we will post that again this year with a leaning towards a bullpen arm.

13. Jahmai Jones (2B)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Middle Infielder
  • Tools Summary: He has good speed with a little bit of power

Call me crazy, but I still think Jahmai Jones could be relevant.  He has good speed with a little bit of power and while he’s never going to hit a ton, I think he hits enough.   I do think he gets a chance next season, so if you’re in a deep Fantasy League, he might be a great late pick.  If he doesn’t do anything, you haven’t lost much.

14. Joey Ortiz (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Middle Infielder with upside
  • Tools Summary: Started to show a little more offensive punch but missed half the season with shoulder surgery

Ortiz is known for his glove more than his offensive skills.  He does control the strike zone well and last season, he showed a bit more power as he slugged .449 across High and Double-A.  However, it was more doubles-power as he only hit 4 home runs.  Unfortunately, he missed the second half of the season when he had shoulder surgery to repair a labrum problem. One thing I do know.  The Orioles like this kid.  You hear two “under the radar” names from them: Adam Hall and Joey Ortiz.  Take that for what it’s worth.

15. Moises Ramirez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Complex League ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 SS with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Started to show some relevant skills in the Complex League with good contact albeit an aggressive approach

The Orioles had to completely rebuild their presence in the International Market after years of completely ignoring the region.  One of their first significant signings was Moises Ramirez.  He signed in 2018 and this year in the Complex League starting to show some promise.  He’s an aggressive hitter but is short to the ball with plenty of bat speed to project future power.  He’s a good runner now but as he fills out, he’ll naturally slow.  He’s a good name to know as the Orioles have done a good job of developing their hitters.  Their pitching, well, that’s a story for another day.