I don’t like making lists because of the connotation that comes with names organized in an ordered fashion. However there is a value in writing it out, particularly for a close minor league follower like me.
The finished product indicates a state of the system in a capsule. This updated version tells a story and this one is that the Orioles farm is simply in a better spot than it has ever been. There are high quality, projectable players who aren’t on this list. Clear evidence that the front office is hitting on draft picks and maximizing potential is that a upside bat like Creed Willems isn’t on it. Creed is a star slugger but is too close to the beginning. So many names have proved them right by starting the climb successfully or improving somewhere along the line. It used to be the exact opposite with underachievers marking each level’s roster. It’s a testament to the group and their abilities as a whole that great names are left off.
As a writer, I hate to not include guys whose games I truly trust but as a long suffering fan the perspective is different. This is the heavenly buffet I’ve been in the waiting room stewing over for most of my life. Take a deep breath and remember that the system went from wasteland to vastly improved to crown worthy in the last few cycles.
The Lower Levels
As always, I put a heavy emphasis on the lower minors and usually exclude using the word prospect to describe someone like Zac Lowther or Alex Wells. They are closer to being major league players and as much as I like them, my idea of a prospect list includes the upside of younger players more than the reality of close-to-formed vets.
The fact of the matter is that over the last 30-40 months the framework has been built to win and then contend. As a supporter for several decades I’m shocked in a positive way that the system has become what it always should have been. I now expect high end talent from multiple pipelines to compete and bring out the best in large groups of performers. Get used to communicating young coaches who are laser focused on daily improvement. It’s time to not just be called the top system but to execute like it. These are the names of the players I expect to start breaking through as soon as March.
In honor of my all-time favorite Oriole Eddie Murray this list has 33 members. Let’s go O’s!
Top of the List
Adley Rutschman C-deserving of the system’s current crown. He’s the switch-hitting stud oozing with competing contact and pop and the winner will undoubtedly be Birdland. Him bringing the foundation on his broad shoulders and a fruitful 500+ at bats per season will start so soon it’s almost here.
Grayson Rodriguez P-coming into the organization with a handful of effective pitches, he’s been transformed into a top of the rotation lock. Bigger by a bit but better with the ball in the air by a lot, his time in the minors has been effective and efficient. Credit to coaches because he’s improved while making lineups look bad while adding to that repertoire. The offspeed stuff is now as good as everything else. This guy is as ready for the bright lights as any human in the organization. I’m liking his leadership from that #1 spot as a storyline, hopefully forever.
DL Hall P-if you make the mistake of calling him injury prone or wild it’s you saying that you simply don’t understand development and what happens when assignments are given out and pitches get better/more effective. His stuff is as good as any arm not in the majors, questioning that is worthless. But I like him so much and rank him here because of the intangibles that he’s shown: Passion, heart and desire fuel him like a football player and he brings that to the mound but controls it like the spin on a slider. I trust him more seeing his approach to recovery and believe that preserving and protecting the arm is going to pay off big time.
Coby Mayo 3B-this guy made so much progress in such a short window, how can you not dream about more? Seeing his amateur coaches swoon in the stands at what he’s turned into as a teenager, I wondered why they weren’t thinking about 2023 and beyond like me. What I expect is an All-Star fielder with offensive skills and the aptitude to add to them throughout a long career. He’s 20 and getting so much seasoning but look how good he is today. He just started playing as a pro last June. Not only would he be ranked as the top prospect on several teams today, he’d probably be the draft’s top pick if the O’s didn’t convince him to join the rebuild and power it forward. Nice job guys!
Gunnar Henderson SS-speaking of infielders who’d be ranked No 1 elsewhere, it’s baffling to think that the Orioles drafted their SS of the future in the 2019 draft where they nabbed Adley at the top. Wonder why they got that top ranking….
Putting on significant muscle hasn’t slowed down his athleticism one bit. Getting more reps is all he needs to do to close the gap between wherever he starts and Oriole Park. The coaching and education that was fast tracked at the alternate site has paid off and Gunnar is thriving in the team’s program. Like those mentioned above him, there are elements of a leader with Gun too. Can’t wait to see him turning double plays and knocking in clutch hits.
The Next Tier
Michael Baumann P-I like him so much and have seen him be at his best. He convinced me of his readiness and I don’t know who has the stuff and experience in the system to pass him right now. The sturdy frame and 4 pitch (or more) mix pairs well with a nasty disposition and disdain for those in the box. We need some mean on the mound and Big Mike brings it.
Colton Cowser OF-So much offensive skill that it’s just evident in every rep. The O’s have in him an OF who is strong and fast to the ball in the air and quick to pivot and get rid of it. Will that movement efficiency stay as he gains the muscle needed to compete at the highest level? That remains to be seen but I have noticed and discussed that his legs are already thick and he runs well in the outfield gaps. This year isn’t make or break for the team’s top pick in 2021, he’ll need to continue making progress and be ready for a leap into the top 5 after some earned graduations.
Jordan Westburg IF-has done everything completely right and validated his comp rd pick while solidifying his future. The stats say he can stick at short or 3rd, and his physical stature seems to line up with that. He’s solidly built, stronger than he looks and aggressive at the right times too which will help his organizational standing no matter where he plays. An outstanding sign, and a reason to focus much more in the 47 XBH in his 1st 112 games than the 2:1 k:bb numbers. I’ll also like the acceleration I saw this year, helping him to use that aggressiveness on the bases where he was 17-23 in steals.
Kyle Stowers OF-Pretty good 2021 has him in the top 10 but it was earned. Maximizing decisions and outputs obviously worked so well for the lefty swinger last year. He really outperformed expectations by leaps and bounds. 27 taters is an amazing year at any level of baseball. But look at his on-base and isolated power numbers, then at his batted ball results and realize that he’s also on track to be an All-Star level hitter. If 2021 is the start of an even better Kyle Stowers, the rebuild™️ could have a slightly different timeline. People have always been excited for what Stowers could turn into if he went from spindly to stout and straightened his uppercut just a twinge. 2021 was when they started being very tight.
Drew Rom P-Maybe higher than other observers but I love his athletic/flexible abilities as much as his stuff. Coming from the left side he can contort and get so much juice on the ball to achieve spin or run that his velocity ceiling is barely a concern for me. I don’t care how much he scrapes 94 if he’s clean with his delivery and release point. Rom is a results oriented profile to me and after his 1st 3 seasons, his whip is 1.13 k/9 is 10.4 and k/bb is 4.15. Those are freaking results. Trust Rom and his mechanics. Be glad you’re not a lefty hitter trying to dodge his darts because he’s going to place then where he wants. Think Dean Kremer maxed out but with better change ups than cutters. At 10 that’s a big change for the Orioles.
Kyle Bradish P-I’m so impressed with his ability to combine control, command and big time spin. When I hear the criticisms of the system’s pitching depth and see someone this ready and good at a spot outside of the top 10 I have to reconsider what depth is if it’s not lots of talented arms to rank. His posture and release remind me so much of a quarterback and his weight transfer is so smooth it makes me think he’ll stay healthy and throwing 165+ innings for a few seasons to come. Looks like AAA was a learning experience for the 25 yr old but he struck guys out enough for me. Will he be effective multiple times through the order and will he limit hard contact by hitting corners better? Either way we should see him learning in the bigs very soon.
Zach Peek P-Bundy trade is looking absolutely brilliant and the best is still ahead with Peek. I think as he matures and gains experience that he’ll turn into an even better strikeout machine than he’s shown so far. With 122 in 90 innings so far he’s been outstanding. The competitive fire and lofty ceiling is why I think to rank him this high, but his confidence in himself is the clincher. Being a student and a coachable player have shown me a future for Peek that even his strongest supporters aren’t expecting. A little bit of stability through delivery could be the final piece that sends his development to the moon.
Connor Norby 2B-its really tough to evaluate a hitter with so much amateur pedigree after such little pro experience. The sample size is small so there’s just not enough data to draw info or base expectations. The times I watched him play I saw a quick swing through the contact zone and someone who handles pitches up better than at his knees. A good look at a fastball meant a measured and hand-led cut that found the sweet spot often. His movements at 2nd were equally measured, this is not a wasted motion athlete. I see piles and piles of line drives between 2nd and short for Norby. .333 w/RISP ain’t nothing and pitchers moving the ball horizontally didn’t phase him a bit. Again, not lots of chances but more than a few good signs.
Terrin Vavra 2B-if Norby doesn’t rush to grab 2nd, it’ll be because someone with a similar profile in Vavra has maximized his skills into a major leaguer which many think will happen. Limited by injuries in year 1 as an Oriole coming over from Colorado he showed himself to be relatively patient at the plate. I’ve heard lots of people wonder if he’ll get stronger and put up better metrics. To them I issue this reminder, 730 innings at 2nd w/a paltry 5 errors. 24 years old, 700+ ABs in milb and a .400 on-base. Yea I’ll take that exact profile to make the competition for the keystone legit.
Carter Baumler P-another arm who I expect to do big things from the absolute jump. So far he’s been in the O’s strength program while he recovered from Tommy John surgery and I believe the muscle will not only help him last longer this year, but help with the movement and drop on his pitches. Seeing his motion at a post draft camp I could tell from hundreds of feet away just how organized and fine his release was pre-procedure. Talking to him in the stands about slider movement and how to initiate it I was able to learn about his approach. This is not a middle of the rotation profile at all. Get ready for Baumler Bawlmer. I did.
Heston Kjerstad OF– it seems that the 2020 draft turned pretty awesome without him. That’s in no way fair and now the SEC stud with the legs that propelled so many aluminum bat dingers gets to catch up to his fellow farmhands. I have no evidence of seeing him play save for his own social media and less than 10 swings through a fence so there’s no reason to pretend I know his game. Will it bounce back to the levels that boosted him to the the 2nd overall selection in that franchise changing draft? Hard to say and again, the not seeing him doesn’t help. I can speculate on his health, pedigree and those I know to be helping him that he’ll now have that opportunity to prove people who doubted him wrong. I don’t know where I am on that scale, but like everybody else I’m thankful he’s ok and eager to see him in a uniform. It’s now a very different kind of pressure on HK’s shoulders now. If he can show a semblance of that shine, there’s reason to believe the O’s drafters are seriously better than we thought. Cross your fingers.
Hudson Haskin OF-something about his swing and abilities to maximize his frame stand out to me, and it’s not the aesthetics, it’s the results. I can’t tell if Haskin is stronger or faster than his 6-0 200lb body belies, but I can like the output in year 1 very much, especially the steals, 22-29. He’s got some room to improve there, and w his eye-32bb/78k so as he develops it’s reasonable to expect some more. Just a reminder that he’s 23 as of 12/31 and drafted 39th overall. His profile could go in several directions, but most of them now seem positive. Not exactly polarizing but due to his age and experience I’m really paying attention to his starting spot for the 2022 season.
Darell Hernaiz 2B-Suddenly stacked at 2nd is such a thrill and a player like Darrell used to simply not be in the Orioles system at all. Someone who brings acceleration skills and solid pivot ability at the bag to combine with outstanding hands is someone who other smart organizations draft. The Orioles plucked Hernaiz in 2019’s 5th round and that’ll always be too low for Darell, which I absolutely love! The weight gain will mean significantly improved data and I’ve been as eager for that to occur as anyone. 2022 is when that will shine through making 2nd a great spot to compete for.
Anthony Servideo 2B-another 2nd baseman, this one’s known for an elite eye. Hurt after a few series, he was on-base at .489 and that’s not a typo. He was drafted high, paid nearly a million bucks and will turn 23 during spring training. I guess I’ll have to trust scouts and players I’ve talked to about him but I would expect this to be his profile. Lead off skills are always in demand and can provide a foundation for other aspects to present themselves. I’m relatively confident that he’ll add himself into a fiery competition on the farm for 2B reps.
Samuel Basallo C-The reports of his weight in the 160-170 range are going to need to hit refresh. He’s the size of a shed and can swing with authority and violence at a very young age. Kind of going out on a limb here but he might have already begun to outgrow a position where squatting is a constant requirement. His wide lower body produces a big swing too, one that’s made for Camden Yards RF power alley. His strength at age 17 is his true separating skill. When you see him in shorts the impression is not ‘teenager’. 51 of 69 base stealers were successful so he seems to be on a DH/corner track more than a backstop.
Jean Pinto P-Upside, powerful arm action through the release and recent success force you to take notice of this righty w the forearms like Popeye. Limiting hard contact and holding his foes to a .171 average show the requisite amount of low minors dominance. Scouts asked me about him and some were downright giddy going over his results before he got moved up from Sarasota so that’s a sign in itself that he is now noticed. Supported by a loyal army led by @nickstevensR its ok to wonder if he’ll shoot through A and start to measure himself against the game’s best prospects at AA.
JD Mundy 1B-from UDFA to passing lots of guys in the org depth chart, this guy deserves some hype. Prob lots. Like most of the hitters on this list he’d benefit from being choosier, but being dissatisfied with .291/15HR and .926 OPS doesn’t make sense. 333 total chances at 1st, 1 error tell me he’s got his position solidified. I love a guy that can be counted on to squeeze that out at 1st so his 300+ putouts in 350 innings is music to my ears. I guess if there’s a sleeper in the group who may be significantly better than the good they’ve already shown, Mundy would fit.
Robert Neustrom OF-the thing about him is that in years past I think he’d be ranked so much higher due to a lack of true projectable talent in the system. He’s damn good at hitting for power today and shows an ability to even add pop as his core solidifies. But that’s not the full scope of him as a player. Watching him drill and warm up, he’s always impressed me with a better than average arm but even more as a runner. Balanced strides and tight turns on the bases mean he can pick up a bag when he needs to too. Neus is a complete and ready player at 25. Except for hitting vs LHP but nobody’s perfect. Conquer that hill, stay healthy and I believe we’re looking at an Oriole instead of just a minor league story turned good.
Kyle Brnovich P-Part of me said to rank him higher based on bias/opinion but I couldn’t and that’s a credit to some outstanding drafts and early development. Brno has good command of a couple elite pitches but the curve is standout. Got up to AA and that brought the k/9 down from 12.6 to a still elite 11.13. From the day I saw him debut in camp he’s reminded me of one pitcher, a personal favorite Kevin Brown. He’s not a pitch waster and at 0-2 is much more inclined to embarrass you than waste one high and away. We can debate the merits of that mentality sure but not his dominance of the lower minors. I hope he sticks at starter.
Brandon Young P-the tall Texan was another UDFA signed in 2020. 114 k in his 1st 84 innings is impressive, but so is registering a 1.21 whip w/37 BB. That means he gave up a very low 65 hits in those innings. Eliminate or reduce the walks and Baltimore could have another ace in the making. Let’s see how he navigates out of A ball and into that higher level.
Stiven Acevedo OF-I watched closely as his body changed during the rookie level season and the results did accordingly. This guy is big and strong and that makes his profile very different than it was mere months ago. The website says 6-4 185 and I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. Known as much in Sarasota for his diving catches and outfield routes, this kid is built like a tall tight end and can put punch into a pitch to drive it into the sky. There was a time where I saw Stiven as a lottery ticket type but now I don’t. He’s a legitimate power prospect coming into his own physically. To be honest, the rookie league featured several similar cases but his frame has him here ahead of a few comparable players.
Kevin Smith P-the O’s have a k/9 plan and guys like Smith bring it to fruition. Bowie was a cinch for him and Norfolk proved to be a bit of a challenge. But the K’s remained despite the challenges at the minors highest level. The lefty might have some reverse split tendencies to bring to the table, and he’s not exactly sitting on elite spin rates or heat. Getting by with guile seems to be how he’ll make his way upward and I’m curious to see how much of big league shot he gets this camp as he was added to the 40 man roster in November.
Moises Ramirez 3B-another rookie leaguer, this youngster showed me a lot in his short time in Sarasota. Very strong and powerfully built, he’s got plenty of pop to work with a selective eye at the plate. Developing a plan and implementing it is the next phase of his offensive development. Defensively he’s tough to hit it past at 3rd where his instincts lead him quickly to screamers down the line. His first US experience included 5 HR/8 SB in 121 AB w a .314 avg/.878 OPS not too shabby. As much as I enjoyed watching him play 3rd right in front of me, it’s time to exit denial and accept he’s moving on to affiliated ball. I expect him to kick ass.
Joey Ortiz SS-Admittedly, he’d be so much higher had he not suffered an injury last year. Ortiz had begun to show some of the stuff that made him a 4th rd selection after a stellar career at New Mexico St. Joey is rigid yet flexible moving at short, but when he gathers and unfurls that arm it begs to be noticed. The dude has a hose in the hole and runners can’t expect anything other than for the ball to arrive fast. In a good system, when time is missed the population passes guys and that’s what happened with Joey. Rankings on lists like this mean very little and it would surprise nobody if he jumped back in and seized a spot in the fight for shortstop reps.
Zach Watson OF-say it with me, and with pride; ‘Zach Watson is a power hitter’. In the time I’ve been paying attention to the system no player has changed my impression more than Zach. Also, no player has smoothed out their swing mechanics as much as Zach. These things are not mutually exclusive as he was somehow convinced to alter his approach. 12 AA taters in 50 games is certainly something significant. Swinging at the ideal offerings is where he needs to keep grinding, but great on the bases and even better as a fielder Watson has shown himself to be a member of the OF conversation.
Last But Not Least
Maikol Hernandez SS-this may seem low in comparison with other lists. Seeing him at hitting camp, there’s significant physical development already underway yet he looks youthful which makes sense, he’s 17. The movements in the dirt are fluid as can be and can be considered standout. Long limbed and lanky, he makes the footwork and up/downs seem like he’s been playing for decades, they’re refined. His lower minors will be in front of me this season so I’ll give him every chance to rise, but the brief looks give an indication that it’ll be something worth paying close attention to. The impression is early, the sample size minimal but it would be a surprise if he moves off SS during early development.
Carlos Tavera P-I’m surprised that there hasn’t been steam around his profile but he only totaled 12 innings in his debut season. The barrel chested righty brings a pair of fastballs to the table. The one w less spin can hit 95 and he’s got a major league quality tumbler for his change up to pair with a biting slider away from righties. That’s a lot to work with as he starts his transition from Sun Belt stud to potentially minor league rotation candidate.
Cesar Alvarez P-the righty has filthy plane altering stuff and appears to be a very strong candidate to come stateside where he can contribute to the rookie league squad in 2022. And strong is the operative word as following along on his IG page it’s impossible to not notice the dedication to exercise and the changes that have come with it, lower body specifically. Alvarez on video looks to have finishing pitches that scream starter loudly. Another guy who could be either a sleeper or a straight up stud, I’m eager to see an arm that has come with several trusted recommendations.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images