Oriole Prospect Notes: Opening Weekend
DL Hall, LHP, Frederick Keys (Advanced-A, Carolina League)
Ht / Wt: 6’0’’ / 180 lbs. B/T: L / L Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 6m
Video | Scouting Report
Baltimore’s top pitching prospect threw three innings in his 2019 debut, pulled early after running up a high pitch count. His stuff showed through plenty, striking out six on three hits and two walks en route to one earned run. The 20-year-old spent all of last season with Delmarva, making Friday’s outing his High-A debut in the Carolina League.
Hall’s fastball topped out at 96 mph, sitting at 93-to-94 mph for most of the outing. His signature curveball showed the same tight spin and sharp, two-plane break that has drawn praise from scouts since his high school days. Hall developed his changeup quite a bit as last year went on, and he worked it in regularly with effect in the low-80s. If anything, he may have been a bit amped up this look, falling into some long counts. No cause for long-term concern; Hall just placed #64 on our recently-released Top 125 at 2080 Baseball, grading as a potential mid-rotation lefty with the polish to move quickly through the system for a high school draftee.
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Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Delmarva Shorebirds (Class A, South Atlantic League)
Ht / Wt: 6’5’’ / 220 lbs. B/T: R / R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 19y, 4m
The 11th overall pick in 2018, Rodriguez’ first career start at the full-season level was a memorable one. Pitching on the road in Lexington, he struck out 10 across five scoreless frames, scattering two hits and walking two.
Already very physical at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, Rodriguez is strong enough to generate velocity without significant effort, allowing him to focus on control and his mechanics. Improvements in those departments have been visible since he turned pro, and he’s athletic enough to continue projecting up on the fastball command. His fastball touches 97 and sits comfortably in the 93-to-95 mph range, exploding late on hitters for swinging strikes up in the zone. Both his slider and curve flash above-average upside, the curve looking especially sharp at times in this look. Another enthusing development was the clear progression of a low-80s changeup, a pitch that was fairly crude in high school but played like an effective weapon to lefties at best.
Rodriguez surprised some by going so early in the first round last year, but he has done nothing but back it up since signing. It’s early, but there’s a lot to be excited about from his first 10 professional outings. Especially considering the rate his changeup and pitchability have progressed, the best-case ceiling looks like a #2/#3 type starter with power stuff.
Zac Lowther, LHP, Bowie Baysox (Double-A, Eastern League)
Ht / Wt: 6’2’’ / 235 lbs. B/T: L / L Age (as of April 1, 2019): 22y, 11m
Video | Scouting Report
The crafty lefty has done nothing but dominate since signing with the O’s as the 74th overall pick in 2017. He coasted through two A-Ball stops last year, picking up where he left off last weekend in his Double-A debut. Lowther held Harrisburg scoreless for five innings, striking out six and allowing just two hits with two walks.
Lowther’s fastball plays way above its 87-to-90 mph velocity because of his command and late movement. A high-spin pitch, the heater finishes with plus ride that induces a surprising amount of swinging strikes for someone working with such limited velocity. He repeats a clean delivery well, pounding the zone and able to spot his fastball to the lower-third on both sides of the plate. Lowther can change the shape of his breaking ball—having shown a true slider on top of his curveball in the past—but favored the mid-70s hook in this look. It’s a shapely pitch with consistent two-plane depth, especially tough for lefties to stay in on due to its long diagonal tilt across the zone. He doesn’t use his changeup as much as you’d expect for a soft-tosser, but it’s an effective third speed that projects as an average offering. Lowther tunnels both secondaries well off his fastball, giving both pitches extra deception.
While unorthodox, Lowther is a testament to how changing speeds, hitting spots, and keeping hitters off-balance can be every bit as effective as traditional plus stuff—especially from the left-hand side. He has pitched his way near the top of Baltimore’s top prospect list, now looking like a potential back-rotation starter that has some chance to reach the big leagues by next year.
Brenan Hanifee, RHP, Frederick Keys (A+, Carolina League)
Ht / Wt: 6’5’’ / 180 lbs. B/T: R / R Age (as of April 1, 2019): 20y, 10m
The O’s fourth-rounder in 2016 from the prep ranks, Hanifee was a multi-sport star at a Virginia high school. A plus athlete with a ton of projection when he signed, the 20-year-old righty has made steady progress the last two seasons and quietly pitched to a 2.86 ERA across 23 starts last year with Delmarva. He was uncharacteristically wild in his 2019 debut, walking five batters in four innings and being charged with six earned runs.
Usually, Hanifee throws a lot of strikes and racks up contact outs as a result. His fastball worked in the 90-to-93 mph range, and he’s still young enough it might tick up a bit as he finishes filling out a 6-foot-5 frame. The primary off-speed is an upper-80s slider with short, lateral slant. He relied heavily on those two pitches last year, as his changeup still lags a bit behind the other two offerings. Coming in at 85-to-87 mph, it flashes short, late dive but acts more like a fastball due to minimal velocity separation.
One bad start in April isn’t reason to be concerned. Hanifee has tools to work with, and he’s athletic enough to foresee improvements to his velocity and third pitch in time. Hanifee’s overall projection and #5 starter upside landed him 15th on our Orioles top prospect list at 2080 Baseball.
A native of Washington, D.C., Adam will be periodically contributing scouting pieces on Orioles prospects for Baltimore Sports and Life. Currently, he’s the Assistant Director of Professional Evaluation at 2080 Baseball. Previously, Adam worked in the Baseball Operations departments of the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers after serving as a Senior Prospect Writer for Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter: @2080adam. Adam can be reached at [email protected] for all podcast and media requests.