Rookies Who Could Help the Orioles in 2017
The new year could bring a new crop of rookies to the Baltimore Orioles. With some roster holes in place, and the potential for others to emerge, there are a handful of prospects that could fill voids for the Orioles during the 2017 season.
Here is a look at four notable prospects who could be utilized in 2017, plus a few others who could reach Baltimore at some point. Some have consistently ranked among the organization’s best prospects, while others are making a name for themselves.
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Chance Sisco, catcher
The Orioles’ signing of Welington Castillo establishes a few certainties about how they will align their depth chart. Castillo and Caleb Joseph will handle the catching duties, all but assuring that Sisco will spend most, if not all, of 2017 at Triple-A Norfolk.
Sending Sisco back to Norfolk is a move that the Orioles seemed likely to make, even before the Castillo signing. While he is probably the organization’s top prospect heading into this year, Sisco will still just be 22 on Opening Day and has played only four games at the Triple-A level in his career.
That said, because of the general vulnerability of the position, the Orioles could find themselves needing another catcher in the event of an injury. Bringing up Sisco to cover for a relatively short DL stint seems unlikely, but if the Orioles find themselves with a fairly long-term void at the position, it would make sense to give Sisco an extended shot in the majors.
Another variable to watch is how the team’s situation at DH plays out. If Castillo’s track record as a solid hitter but suspect defender follows him to Baltimore, and the Orioles also find themselves dissatisfied with their situation at DH, it could make sense to give Castillo more at-bats as a DH while trying Sisco and Joseph behind the plate. That scenario is a longshot for now, but it is worth keeping in mind until the Orioles’ direction with DH is settled.
Trey Mancini, First baseman/DH
I covered Mancini’s case extensively in December. Since much of that profile still applies, my sense for how Mancini could be used remains unchanged.
As of right now, he is a solid option at DH and could fill in at first base if the Orioles decide they want to move Chris Davis around a little more than they did in 2016. Unless the team goes in a different direction for filling its holes in right field or DH, Mancini is probably on the Opening Day roster.
Given the current makeup of the roster, it is hard to foresee Mancini being left off. If, however, the Orioles make another move and leave Mancini without at-bats in at least a platoon scenario, then he probably returns to Norfolk, where he will be one of the first players the team calls upon when it is need of a hitter.
Joe Gunkel, right-handed pitcher
Acquired from the Boston Red Sox in a June 2015 trade for outfielder Alejandro De Aza, Gunkel’s name is not one that jumps out on the prospect radar. The right-hander had an underwhelming 4.04 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last year, and his lack of premium velocity does lend itself to a lot of strikeouts.
With that said, Gunkel has two attributes that could be helpful to the Orioles: his control in the minors has been excellent, and he has been durable throughout his career. Over 430 1/3 career innings, he has a 1.6 BB/9 rate, including a microscopic 1.2 mark in 161 frames last year. That also marked another year of increased workload for Gunkel, who threw 103 innings in his first full season in 2014 before jumping to 144 2/3 in 2015.
Control may not always translate to the majors, but there is a sense that the Orioles, who have used Gunkel exclusively as starter, could need him in 2017. Added to the 40-man roster in November, Gunkel is likely to start the year back at Norfolk, but could be called upon at some point in 2017.
Chris Lee, left-handed pitcher
A year ago, it seemed that Lee’s arrival in Baltimore would already be in the rear-view mirror by this point. After a solid 2015, his stock was rising at about the highest rate among the team’s top prospects and it seemed destined to soar even more in 2016.
Unfortunately for Lee and the Orioles, a shoulder injury in May derailed his season. While he struggled to pick up strikeouts at Double-A Bowie—where he fanned just 19 batters in 51 1/3 innings—he walked just 13, and had a 2.98 ERA over eight appearances.
Keeping the injury in mind, it is hard to pinpoint exactly how the Orioles will handle Lee in 2017. Once he is on the mound, a return to Bowie is possible, as the Orioles may decide that 89 1/3 innings at Double-A over parts of two seasons is not enough for Lee, especially as he returns from the injury. However, the club may still look to him at some point in the season, particularly if he makes a successful return to the rotation.
Keep an Eye on:
- His control has to improve, but Tanner Scott’s premium velocity could make him a fit in the Orioles’ bullpen. A return to Bowie is most likely in store for the start of 2017, but if Scott’s control makes strides during the season, the hard-throwing left-hander will be a very tempting call-up option for the Orioles.
- Following a solid season between Low-A Delmarva and Bowie, Jesus Liranzo joined Gunkel on the Orioles 40-man roster in November. Like Scott, he needs to iron out his control as he gains experience, but the right-handed reliever mostly held his own after an aggressive promotion from Delmarva to Bowie. If Liranzo builds upon his numbers from last year, he could crack the Orioles’ bullpen at some point in 2017.
- One last player to note is outfielder Anuery Tavarez, whom the Orioles acquired from the Red Sox in December’s Rule 5 Draft. Tavarez will compete for a roster spot in spring training, but the likelihood of him making the Opening Day roster depends largely upon the extent that the Orioles tweak their current outfield situation.
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.