Five Prospects to Watch This Spring
The first indicator of the Baltimore Orioles’ prospects who could reach the majors in 2016 is spring training. Along with acting as test run for prospects on the 40-man roster and the non-roster invitees, the spring will provide an idea as to which players will continue to make this strides this year.
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To profile some of those options, I have compiled the top five prospects to watch. With proximity to the majors in mind, I omitted a few big names—including Hunter Harvey and Chance Sisco—but the list of players that should provide major league insurance is fairly intriguing.
Bundy, a former first-round pick, enters this spring out of options, meaning that the Orioles will have to put him through waivers if they assign him to the minors. For that reason, it seems likely that if the right-hander is healthy, the Orioles will keep him in the major league bullpen.
Ultimately this spring will be a true indicator of the strides Bundy has made in regards to health. While most of the most recent reports have indicated that he is healhty, there is plenty of reason for caution. He pitched just 22 innings at Double-A last season and was later pulled from the Arizona Fall League after just two appearances. Given his stuff and that the Orioles have established a good formula for bullpen management under Buck Showalter, Bundy should be able to make the transition to the majors, but he will need to log innings this spring.
Lee was a success story for the Orioles last year, as he improved his command while maintaining a low-to-mid 90’s fastball after being acquired in an under-the radar deal with the Houston Astros. The southpaw still has some ways to go when it comes to honing his three-pitch repertoire, but the Orioles were encouraged enough by his progress to give him a spot on the 40-man roster.
Given his limited experience at Double-A, Lee is a longshot to reach the majors on Opening Day. However, his stuff has generated plenty of attention around baseball, adding to the speculation that he might become an impact player late in the season. Should the Orioles find themselves in a pennant race, Lee would profile as someone who could provide a boost by either making a few spot starts or pitching in relief. In the event that the club struggles, he could use a late-season call-up as an audition for a rotation spot in 2017.
Much like Lee, Bridwell honed his command and pitch closer to his potential in 2015. Though he did not appear in a game after July 26 because of elbow tendinitis, the right-hander posted a career-low 3.99 ERA while cutting his walks and posting a very solid 8.6 K/9 rate. Bridwell was placed on the 40-man roster by the Orioles, and should be healthy this spring.
Much of his success last year seems to be tied to the progression of his off-speed offerings, particularly his changeup. While some observers still feel that Bridwell’s best long-term fit is in the bullpen, he should have a role in Baltimore before too long. Look for him to get his first assignment at Triple-A Norfolk, which could make him—along with Lee—an effective option for the late-season stretch.
Last year, everything went right for Mancini, who cruised through High-A Frederick before earning a promotion to Bowie, where he won the Eastern League batting title with a .359 clip over 84 games. Despite that achievement, there are still a persistent question as to whether he will be able to provide enough power to be an everyday first baseman in the majors.
A limited sample of at-bats at spring training will not answer that question, but Mancini is still a name to watch. For starters, he is likely to start this season at Norfolk, meaning that he—along with Christian Walker—could be one of the first bats the club turns to in the event of a need. Additionally, his time as a non-roster invitee will give the Orioles a chance to use him against some major league pitching. His at-bats will also provide insight into the subtleties of his approach, such as his in-game adjustments and pitch recognition.
Back in January, I discussed how the Orioles could use Rickard a reserve outfielder this season, but that has become decreasingly viable proposition. Whereas he once looked like a plausible candidate to win a position battle, the Orioles’ recent pursuit of external outfield options has clouded his status. If the Orioles do indeed pull the trigger on the move, it is hard to see how Rickard—a Rule 5 pick from the Tampa Bay Rays—makes the cut for the Opening Day roster.
Even in that instance, however, there is another scenario in which he can help the Orioles. If Rickard’s spring performance convinces the club that he could contribute at some point, the Orioles can provide the Rays with some compensation—perhaps another player—in exchange for Rickard. At that point, the club would be able to assign him to the minors as they would any other player. Given that the Orioles face some questions about their outfield defense, they might value having a player like Rickard—who is regarded as a good defender—waiting in the wings if their early-season experiments backfire.
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, and Loyola University; Spedden has previously spent time in the Washington Nationals organization as a videographer for the Hagerstown Suns. As a blogger, Spedden is an Editor / Writer for the Suns fan club. Additionally, he contributes to The Nats Blog as a prospect writer, and Ballpark Digest. For BSL, Spedden covers the Orioles Minor Leagues.