Orioles: All-Sleeper Prospect Team
Before the sports world was brought to an abrupt pause, we at Baltimore Sports and Life’s The Verge podcast published our pre-season list of Top 30 Baltimore Orioles prospects, which proved to be an exciting look into a farm system quickly on the rise.
You can find part one of our list here and part two here. I also highly encourage you to subscribe to the podcast here to check out our expanded thoughts on both of these lists.
As someone who remains glued to MiLB TV on a near daily basis year round, I wanted to dive a little deeper into this Orioles system and provide a few more names worth paying attention to, should we get to enjoy minor league baseball this season.
I’ve compiled a list of ten Orioles prospects who did not appear on our Top 30 list, one player at each position around the diamond, two pitchers, and three outfielders, but are still worth noting for various reasons. Prospects come in all shapes and sizes and there isn’t just one set path to making it to the major leagues. While the players on this list may have more of a difficult journey to reach the big leagues, don’t be surprised if one or two names mentioned below eventually break out and get their shot to carry out their big league dreams.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
C – Maverick Handley – 6th round pick, 2019/ Stanford
Someone has to back up Adley Rutschman in a few seasons, why not the man who shared Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors with him in 2019, Maverick Handley. Handley, a Bioengineering major at Stanford, called his own pitches throughout college, something about as rare as seeing another human being outside of your immediate family now, and is quick and smooth behind the plate. He cut down 52% of base stealers over his final two seasons at Stanford and 19 of 30 with Aberdeen last season (63%). Handley was also behind the plate for eight shutouts with the Ironbirds. While his defense may be his calling card, Handley has shown he can hit, posting a .265/.383/.397 slash line in college and hitting .252 during a summer in the Cape Cod League.
1B – J.C. Escarra – 15th round pick, 2017/ Florida International
The Orioles don’t have much in terms of future major league talent when it comes to first base prospects on the farm, but they do have a Palmeiro and Ripken. Unfortunately, Preston Palmeiro (25 years old) struggled mightily in Bowie last season and Ryan Ripken is about to turn 27 with just 30 games of Double-A experience under his belt.
But the Orioles do have one name to keep an eye on in J.C. Escarra, a 6’3” and 205 pound left-handed hitting first baseman who is coming off a solid season in Frederick where he recorded 30 extra-base hits, including 13 home runs. Escarra is an athletic first baseman who played third base and catcher during his prep days and is someone who started getting a lot of attention last season after being buried behind a long list of first basemen in the lower minors. The athleticism and bat have put Escarra above those names now as he moves one step closer to the big leagues. He ended 2019 on a high note, slashing 255/.327/436 in August after hitting .131 in July. It will be important to watch how he handles left-handed pitching in the upper-minors. Escarra hit .269 with a 41/38 K/BB ratio against RHP last season and .157 with a 35/14 K/BB ratio against LHP.
2B – Jean Carmona – Trade with Milwaukee, 2018/ Dominican Republic
Jonathan Villar is now in Miami due to offseason payroll slashing in Baltimore and we can go ahead and write off RHP Luis Ortiz as a loss, but the Orioles still have 20-year-old infielder Jean Carmona in the system, acquired in the 2018 Jonathan Schoop deal. Carmona has played in just 49 games since 2018, all with Aberdeen, but the switch-hitting infielder still provides a bit of intrigue. He’s athletic with a bit of pop in the bat and quick hands through the zone, but Carmona is still an undisciplined hitter at the plate and has struggled with strikeouts since joining the Orioles (56 in 178 at-bats). He throws in just enough impressive defensive plays and good at-bats to keep me interested, but he has to stay on the field and start producing soon.
SS – Mason McCoy – 6th round pick, 2017/ Iowa
McCoy just missed our Top 30 list and received serious consideration after a solid season at the plate in Double-A and his continued additions to his impressive defensive highlight reel. A major league glove ready for shortstop or second base duty with the Orioles, McCoy will need to prove he can continue to hit in the big leagues and get on base without much in terms of power. However, McCoy has a long track record of success against top competition and would have likely been a call-up at some point in 2020 for the Orioles. My The Verge co-host Zach Spedden recently discussed McCoy on a deeper level which I encourage you to read here.
3B – Toby Welk – 21st round pick, 2019/ Penn State-Berks
How often do baseball fans instantly fall in love with a 21st-round pick out of a Division-III school? Not very often. Outside of Adley Rutschman, Welk was one of the more talked about 2019 Orioles draft picks last season after slashing .344/.397/.500 with 18 extra-base hits and a 165 wRC+ in 48 games with Aberdeen before spending the final two weeks of the season in Delmarva. Welk took off under the Orioles new player development system and physically looks like a major league third baseman, but there are still a lot of questions surrounding the beloved prospect. Can he handle higher velocity as he moves up the system? Will the power numbers come or does he profile more as an athletic utility player who finds the gaps? There’s a wide open path for Welk to take as he climbs the ladder and attempts to become an unbelievable story.
OF – Johnny Rizer – 7th round pick, 2019/ Texas Christian University
A senior-sign out of TCU and a bit undersized (6’0” and 192 pounds), Rizer has above-average defensive tools and put up big offensive numbers immediately after the draft. Rizer slashed .305/.374/.537 with 14 XBH in 27 games with Aberdeen, including the team’s third ever cycle and a home run of a rehabbing Noah Syndergaard, and .310/.359/.401 line in 36 games with Delmarva. He doesn’t really have a standout tool you can point to, so he will have to continue to put up big offensive numbers as he climbs the ranks, but for now, he’s one of a handful of exciting outfielders in the lower levels of the minors in Birdland worth a hard look.
OF- Robert Neustrom – 5th round pick, 2018/ Iowa
A big lefty bat with a plus-raw power grade, Neustrom spent a lot of 2019 on the injured list, playing in 78 games between Delmarva and Frederick. The raw power hasn’t quite turned into game power yet (7 home runs last season) and the bat really needs to play against higher quality pitchers if he wants to stick in the outfield due to lower scouting grades on his defensive abilities. Neustrom has had success against Big Ten competition and hit right at .300 in both the Northwoods and Cape Cod Leagues during college. This combined with his raw power still make him an intriguing outfielder in the system. A healthy start in 2020 in Frederick could have been a launching pad to a quick promotion to Bowie.
OF- Lamar Sparks – 5th round pick, 2017/ Seven Lakes High School (Texas)
Sparks has appeared in just 78 games since the Orioles drafted him out of high school in 2017 and has yet to move out of the Gulf Coast League, but Sparks is still a name to keep an eye on in 2020. I’ve been waiting since 2017 to have the opportunity to watch Sparks in live game action and may likely have to wait a bit longer, largely due to him missing all of 2018 with a torn labrum which has greatly slowed his development. Sparks is listed at 6’2” and 170 pounds and many of the few scouting reports out there on him love his plus-speed, ability to stick in centerfield, and potential to be a double-digit home run hitter down the road as he fills out and finds his swing. When baseball does return, a big performance from Sparks in full-season affiliate ball could skyrocket him up many prospect lists.
RHP – Cristian Alvarado – International Free Agent, 2011/ Venezuela
Top prospects are fun, but what makes minor league baseball so interesting to follow are the guys you have to dig deep for and won’t find on anyone’s prospect list. Cristian Alvarado is one of those guys. Signed at 16 years of age, slowly worked through the organization, and even re-signed as a minor league free agent this offseason, the 25-year-old has taken the same path as Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate and found a home in the bullpen. In his first season as a reliever and first season in Double-A, Alvarado posted a 2.66 ERA, a 23.8% strikeout rate (a jump of more than 5% from 2018) and .186 average against, 61 points lower than his lowest previous BAA with 70+ innings pitched. Alvarado can run his fastball up to 95-96 mph out of the pen, isn’t afraid to attack inside and added in a curveball to his repertoire last season. He would have been up in 2020, but that may have to wait another season now.
RHP – Kyle Brnovich – Trade With Los Angeles Angels, 2019/ Elon
The Orioles have recently tapped into the Colonial Athletic Association’s depth of pitching talent after selecting RHP Griffin McLarty out of the College of Charleston and RHP Shelton Perkins out of James Madison University in last year’s draft and trading for Elon’s Kyle Brnovich as part of the return for RHP Dylan Bundy over the offseason. While an abundance of scouts were at the CAA tournament last season, only two or three were focused on Brnovich in his tournament start, one of those being the Orioles scout who was in attendance. Brnovich didn’t pitch last season after the Angels drafted him in the 8th round, a three starter at Elon who went 21-10 with a 2.75 ERA and 1.10 WHIP during his career.
Across 281 innings, Brnovich posted an 11.53 K/9 IP mark and allowed a total of 20 home runs. The former NCAA All-American has had success with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and was one of the top strikeout pitchers in the nation thanks to an elite slider, his bread and butter pitch (also throws a low-90’s fastball and a changeup).
A former high school teacher and coach in the mountains of Virginia, Nick Stevens has been writing about the Baltimore Orioles and their minor league system for five years. When he isn’t at a minor league stadium, he’s enjoying a Wizards game or supporting his alma mater, James Madison University.
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