Baltimore Orioles Top-15 Prospects: Mid-Season Update
With the July 6 draft signing deadline approaching, the Baltimore Orioles are seeing a new crop of prospects enter the farm system. That, combined with the performance levels of players already in the system, warrants an updated look at the Orioles top-15 prospects.
(You can discuss this on the BSL board here.)
Before delving into this list, there are a few things that should be noted. Some players that have not officially agreed to their contracts with the Orioles are included, and their statuses will be noted within their reports. Additionally, I opted to take a longer term look and not include players currently in the majors that are close to exceeding their rookie statuses. This list will likely be updated later this summer, as the trade deadline figures to lead to an influx of new prospects who could reshape the Top 15.
1.) Ryan Mountcastle, third baseman (Bowie Baysox)
Mountcastle has shown no signs of slowing down in 2018, despite a fractured right hand that cost him the early weeks of the season. His bat has allowed him to emerge as the best prospect in the system, as his power and pitch recognition should be strengths that translate to the majors. Defense—specifically whether he stays at third base or moves to another position—remains a question mark, but Mountcastle’s bat will carry him to Baltimore and could do so by late 2018.
2.) Austin Hays, outfielder (Bowie Baysox—DL)
Hays entered the season as arguably the top prospect in the system, but injuries cut into both his spring training and regular season. When playing, his numbers took a major downturn from how he performed in 2017. The ingredients for Hays to be an everyday right fielder in the majors are still there, but he will have to bounce back once he returns from the DL.
3.) Hunter Harvey, right-handed pitcher (Bowie Baysox)
Harvey entered the season as a high-risk, high-reward player and that remains the case. He has been sidelined since early June, when he injured his shoulder attempting to get out of the way of a foul ball, but reports indicate that he will begin throwing again soon. Even with a 5.57 ERA, Harvey showed promise before the injury (30:9 K:BB ratio in 32 1/3 innings) and should offer the Orioles value if he stays healthy. At worst, Harvey might profile as a high-leverage reliever.
4.) D.L. Hall, left-handed pitcher (Delmarva Shorebirds)
In his first full season, Hall has had issues with walks (5 BB/9 in 48 2/3 innings) but his overall production has been solid for a 19-year old in Low-A. The Orioles are expected to take their time with Hall, so it will be years before he reaches Baltimore, but the consensus is that he could emerge as a solid mid-rotation starter down the road.
5.) Cedric Mullins, center fielder (Norfolk Tides)
With better health in 2018, Mullins has met and exceeded some of the expectations facing him between Bowie and Norfolk. Now just one level away from Baltimore, Mullins looks to have the speed and contact skills to justify at-bats at the major league level and could emerge as a table setter if he can make strides with his on-base skills. On defense, his range should allow him to patrol centerfield, even if his arm is below-average. A call-up in late 2018 is possible, but regardless Mullins is playing his way into the conversation about players that could help the Orioles in 2019.
6.) Grayson Rodriguez, right-handed pitcher (GCL Orioles)
Rodriguez boosted his stock significantly prior to his senior season at Central Heights (Texas), allowing him to be chosen in the first round of this year’s draft. The Orioles nabbed him with the 11th overall selection, noting a four-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball that can top out in the high-90’s. Expect the Orioles to take their time with Rodriguez, who will need to develop his changeup and continue to refine his other offerings, with a full-season debut at Delmarva next year a possibility.
7.) Keegan Akin, left-handed pitcher (Bowie Baysox)
Akin still has room to develop when it comes to his control, but he is showing improvement with his three-pitch repertoire (fastball, slider, changeup) this year while generating strikeouts at a high rate. If he makes continual strides with his control, Akin could profile as a mid-rotation starter, and potentially see time in the major league rotation by some point in 2019.
8.) Blaine Knight, right-handed pitcher
Knight, a third-round pick in June, has not officially signed as of this writing, but MASN reported on Sunday that he is close to reaching an agreement with the Orioles. If he does, Knight would enter the system with a fairly advanced arsenal that includes a fastball that can hit the mid-90’s. His 6’3” 165 lb. prompts concerns about his durability, meaning that he could profile as a high-leverage reliever down the road, but he has a chance to emerge as a decent value for a third-round pick.
9.) Cadyn Grenier, shortstop
Grenier was reported by MASN on Sunday of having reached an agreement on a signing bonus with the Orioles, weeks after being chosen in the second round of the June draft. His advanced glove work at shortstop gives Grenier a leg up coming into the system, and he might profile as an everyday player at the major league level if his offense develops.
10.) Brenan Hanifee, right-handed pitcher (Delmarva Shorebirds)
A fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft, Hanifee has shown exceptional command during his full-season debut at Delmarva. He possesses a solid feel for his three-pitch repertoire, which includes a fastball that typically runs in the low-90’s. For now, the consensus is that he might best profile as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but at 20-years old he has plenty of time to develop.
11.) Michael Baumann, right-handed pitcher (Frederick Keys)
Baumann has made considerable strides this year, starting at Delmarva before earning his promotion to Frederick (edit: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that he had been promoted from Frederick to Bowie). He has topped out in the high-90’s with his fastball, and offers a changeup, slider, and curveball. At 6’4” 225 lbs., Baumann has a frame that should be durable enough to stick in a major league rotation, though his ability to command his pitches will likely determine if he ends up there or in the bullpen.
12.) DJ Stewart, outfielder (Norfolk Tides)
A first-round pick in 2015 out of Florida State, Stewart has eased his way through the system. His strong 2017 at Bowie is being followed up by a solid 2018, but questions remain about whether his power will translate to the majors. He is likely to be limited to left field defensively. It is possible that Stewart gets a chance in Baltimore later this year, and at worst might be a possible role player in the majors.
13.) Robert Neustrom, outfielder (Aberdeen IronBirds)
A fifth-round pick in June out of Iowa, Neustrom earned attention in college for his power and is already one of the more intriguing bats in the lower levels of the farm system. He can play both corner outfield spots, but his arm might make him profile more as a left fielder than a right fielder. If his power potential carries over to the professional level, he could move through the system at an advanced pace.
14.) Cameron Bishop, left-handed pitcher (Delmarva Shorebirds)
Bishop has shown considerable promise in his full-season debut and offers a four-pitch arsenal that could allow him to stick in a major league rotation with refinement. A move to Frederick could be in order at some point this year, but his early returns at Delmarva have been positive.
15.) Zac Lowther, left-handed pitcher (Frederick Keys)
Lowther has shown exceptional abilities between two levels in his first full season. His command of his offerings (fastball, curveball, changeup) will determine whether he remains a starter, but he is showing the makings of a middle-to-back of the rotation starter in the early phases of his professional career.
EDIT: Answering Anticipated Questions
Why Neustrom over McKenna? Why Grenier over Stewart? Why Knight over Lowther?
While I like McKenna a lot, I’m holding judgement until we see more of what he does at Bowie over the coming months before determining exactly where he ends up. He fell just short of my top-15, but that might change by September.
As for Grenier, I feel that his defense will at least make him a role player that gets late-inning work and part-time at-bats. Stewart is more difficult to determine, because what is his role if his power doesn’t translate to the majors? To put it another way, he’s more difficult to evaluate than say Cedric Mullins, whose speed and defense will carry him if his bat doesn’t cut in the majors. Stewart doesn’t necessarily have that skill set to fall back on, so the power determines a wide gap between his ceiling (left fielder with average or above-average power) and floor (fourth or fifth outfielder).
I chose Knight over Lowther, because I think Knight’s ceiling is higher. Yes, Lowther has more pro experience and success this season, but I like Knight’s offerings better as a starter if he addresses his durability concerns. Even if the durability is an issue, Knight looks like a high-leverage reliever, whereas Lowther’s bullpen role is a little more uncertain if he doesn’t cut it as a major league starter.