Top 32 Prospects: Baltimore Orioles

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Baltimore Orioles. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here.

**Editor’s note** Rule 5 pick Drew Jackson was originally ranked 26th on this list but was removed after he was returned to Los Angeles.

Orioles Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 DL Hall 20.4 A LHP 2020 50
2 Yusniel Diaz 22.3 AA RF 2019 50
3 Ryan Mountcastle 21.9 AA LF 2019 50
4 Grayson Rodriguez 19.2 R RHP 2023 45
5 Austin Hays 23.6 AA RF 2019 45
6 Keegan Akin 23.8 AA LHP 2020 45
7 Ryan McKenna 22.0 AA CF 2020 45
8 Zac Lowther 22.7 A+ LHP 2019 45
9 Dean Kremer 23.1 AA RHP 2019 45
10 Brenan Hanifee 20.7 A RHP 2021 40+
11 Adam Hall 19.7 A- SS 2022 40+
12 Brett Cumberland 23.6 AA C 2019 40
13 D.J. Stewart 25.2 MLB LF 2019 40
14 Jean Carlos Encarnacion 21.0 A 3B 2021 40
15 Cadyn Grenier 22.2 A SS 2020 40
16 Richie Martin 24.1 AA SS 2019 40
17 Zach Pop 22.4 AA RHP 2019 40
18 Blaine Knight 22.6 A- RHP 2021 40
19 Cody Carroll 26.3 AAA RHP 2019 40
20 Branden Kline 27.3 AA RHP 2019 40
21 Lamar Sparks 20.3 R CF 2022 40
22 Hunter Harvey 24.1 AA RHP 2019 40
23 Dillon Tate 24.7 AA RHP 2019 40
24 Evan Phillips 24.4 MLB RHP 2019 40
25 Matthias Dietz 23.4 A+ RHP 2020 35+
26 Rylan Bannon 22.8 AA 3B 2020 35+
27 Michael Baumann 23.4 A+ RHP 2021 35+
28 Jean Carmona 19.2 A- 3B 2022 35+
29 Drew Rom 19.1 R LHP 2023 35+
30 Luis Ortiz 23.3 AAA RHP 2019 35+
31 Jake Zebron 19.0 R RHP 2023 35+
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50 FV Prospects

1. DL Hall, LHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from Valdosta HS (GA) (BAL)
Age 20.4 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/60 50/55 40/50 92-96 / 97

Though he’d flash three plus pitches and at times look like a top 10 pick, teams had the kind of pre-draft concerns about Hall that are typical of high school pitchers (holding stuff deep into starts, command), and some teams rounded down due to perceived off-field issues, concerns that have proven to be unfounded, or at least were quickly remedied, in pro ball. Hall has also made on-field progress throughout 2018. Early in the season, he was wild. As it wore on, some mechanical issues were ironed out, and his changeup feel turned a corner through increased use. He dominated for long stretches of games during the second half of the season, including a commanding July during which he allowed just 10 hits and struck out 39 in 26.2 innings. The strike-throwing is still not great, but it has gotten better, and Hall’s stuff is really good. At around 6-feet even, Hall is short but he’s thick and strong, and scouts aren’t worried his durability. He has mid-rotation upside if his command continues to progress. He’s in the midst of answering every pre-draft question asked of him and has a chance to be an All-Star.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Cuba (LAD)
Age 22.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/55 50/50 40/50 50/50 50/55 55/55

Diaz was a prominent and expensive part of the Dodgers ’15-’16 international spending spree that is now the subject of a Department of Justice investigation. He signed for a $15 million bonus — the Dodgers paid a dollar-for-dollar tax on his deal for exceeding their pool limit — during a CBA era that was more lucrative for international players. So advanced was Diaz that at age 19, the Dodgers saw fit to send him directly to Hi-A Rancho Cucamonga the following year, and he performed admirably for what amounted to a season and a half before enjoying a statistical breakout at Double-A Tulsa starting late in 2017. His stock and performance reached a pinnacle in 2018; Diaz slashed .314/.428/.477 with Tulsa, homered twice and won MVP at the Futures Game in July. Shortly thereafter he was traded to Baltimore as the headline prospect in the Manny Machado deal.

Diaz has a well-rounded collection of average tools that, in aggregate, promise to make him a valuable everyday big leaguer. He has slowly whittled down what was once a pretty big leg kick into something more simplistic, and it seems to have benefitted Diaz’s timing without subtracting from his power. He can open up and get the bat head on pitches in, and he has feel for opposite-field contact if he’s a little late on something away from him. We’d be surprised if Diaz became a 3-plus win annual WAR producer, but we think he’s a very stable everyday outfield prospect who’ll be big league ready in the next year and a half or so.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Hagerty HS (FL) (BAL)
Age 21.9 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/55 60/60 35/50 45/40 30/40 30/30

Mountcastle was identified early in high school because he played at an Orlando-area powerhouse that had eight players drafted between 2011 and 2016, including a first rounder in Zach Eflin, and, over on the gridiron, current Bengals quarterback Jeff Driskel. His high school coach, Jered Goodwin, now a FIU assistant, ran arguably the top travel program in Florida at the time, so Mountcastle had year-round reps in front of scouts for years. He’s still largely the same player he was in high school in terms of raw tools: plus bat control, plus raw power, with fringy speed and no clear defensive home because he has issues throwing. He’s played mostly shortstop and third base in pro ball but scouts keep comparing his profile to Nick Castellanos‘ and think he ends up in left field.

There’s some optimism that his arm will improve with a throwing program, or that he could play second base (which is worth a try), but usually these situations end with the player at the lower end of the defensive spectrum. Like Castellanos, Mountcastle is a little too aggressive at the plate but has the bat control to keep his strikeout rates from getting too high. The projection here is something like a 55 bat and 55 power, maybe a bit less if the approach doesn’t continue to improve, with below average speed and defensive value, wherever he ends up playing. We wish he were a little choosier at the dish — that’s a lower-risk, 2 WAR-type prospect. Mountcastle will start 2019 in Triple-A, so the wait shouldn’t be long.

45 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Central Heights HS (TX) (BAL)
Age 19.2 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/60 50/60 40/50 40/50 93-96 / 99

Rodriguez was an early-velo guy in his draft class, notable as an underclassman because of his prodigious size and arm strength. Then he plateaued a bit and was sitting mostly 90-92 in short stints on the showcase circuit leading into his draft year. But right out of the gate the next spring, Rodriguez began running his heater up to 98, and was instantly in the first round conversation as soon as teams got in to watch him dominate pretty weak competition in Nacogdoches, TX. Rodriguez fits the mold of a first round prep righty, a player demographic increasingly perceived as risky on draft day. He has a big frame that remains relatively projectable, has big velocity and a great breaking ball, and shows other starter traits often enough that he projects as part of a rotation. Some scouts thought the changeup and command would progress, but not be weapons of their own; they had Rodriguez toward the back of the first round. Others thought the curveball and slider both flashed plus and didn’t care about the change, or thought his delivery only needed small tweaks. Those teams thought he could become a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2016 from Jacksonville (BAL)
Age 23.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 205 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
45/50 60/60 45/50 55/55 50/55 60/60

It’s hard to get a grip on Hays, who has hovered at the edge of the 45/50 FV line here at FanGraphs since his breakout 2017. The tools are for real: plus raw power, plus arm strength, above-average bat control, speed and defense in right field and, until 2018, an unassailable record of performance. Still, corner-only hitters with approach issues — Hays is a free swinger with a pull-heavy approach — run the risk of having their lack of discernment taken advantage of in the majors with little defensive value left to fall back on. After reaching Baltimore in 2017, 2018 was a nightmare for Hays: he struggled out of the gate, had his approach tinkered with to try to fix things only to have it not work, then injured his ankle and needed surgery. He missed two months and continued struggling when he returned. Some rival clubs see a buy-low opportunity and would love to take a chance on Hays’ tools, but the Orioles probably aren’t selling low, with the rebuilding club offering an easy road to MLB playing time for the foreseeable future. There’s big offensive talent here if Hays can bounce back and find an approach that works in the big leagues. He’s volatile, though, and will be 24 in July, so this spring and early season are pretty important.

6. Keegan Akin, LHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Western Michigan (BAL)
Age 23.8 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 45/50 55/60 45/50 92-95 / 98

The first thing you notice about Akin is his hefty frame. He’s listed at 6-feet and 225 pounds, but he’s a bit north of that and has come into the last two spring training camps larger than expected. That said, Akin’s build isn’t seen as a huge problem going forward, as it hasn’t impacted his stuff, and most think he just needs to keep it in check a bit. Sources indicated to us that had he not hit his innings limit late in 2018, he would’ve gotten a big league look in September. The condition of Baltimore’s pitching staff is certainly favorable for a soonish Akin debut, and he’ll likely open 2019 in Triple-A.

He has above-average big league stuff, especially for a lefty: he sits 92-95 and hits 98 mph, mixing in a solid average slider and a plus changeup. His command ranges from 40 to 60 depending on the start, and Akin’s build often leads scouts to believe this is due to his conditioning. We’re wary of discounting a player just because he doesn’t fit traditional rubrics for success, and baseball is littered with unusual frames and mechanics, but Akin has also had hamstring and oblique issues. The stuff is of the No. 3/4 starter and, considering Baltimore’s current predicament, we expect him to be developed as a starter for as long as possible, though there is some bullpen risk. He’ll likely be up in 2019.

Drafted: 4th Round, 2015 from St. Thomas Aquinas HS (NH) (BAL)
Age 22.0 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/50 45/45 30/40 70/70 55/60 50/50

McKenna’s 2018 Arizona Fall League showing took those who had seen him during the spring and summer a bit by surprise. Even as he was hitting a raucous and unsustainable .377/.467/.556 at Hi-A Frederick, McKenna dealt with a myriad of lower body ailments that clouded his speed and defensive abilities in center field. In the autumn though, he was posting 70 and 80-grade run times to first base, and his range is center field is perhaps the best Baltimore will have seen since Ed Reed. Offensively, McKenna’s abilities fall somewhere between that incredible first half and his lousy late-summer showing at Double-A Bowie. He doesn’t have much raw power but he may hit an awful lot of doubles by slashing balls down each baseline, and by turning dribbling gap liners into hustle doubles. Big league pitching may eventually find locations to attack McKenna that prevent him from getting to his brand of power — he struggled to do anything with pitches down and in during Fall League, for instance — and if that’s true, he may end up as a fourth outfielder, but we tentatively have him projected as a low-end regular in center field.

8. Zac Lowther, LHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Xavier (BAL)
Age 22.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 235 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/60 45/50 45/55 88-91 / 94

Lowther is the kind of prospect who grows on you the more you watch him and once you see his Trackman readout. At first blush, he’s an unimpressive athlete who sits around 90 mph with his fastball, and throws from a lower slot that makes you wonder if he’s an obvious reliever. Sure, the curveball flashes plus and you’ve noticed he commands all of his pitches, which might enable an average changeup to be a successful third weapon. As you dig a little deeper, you notice that Lowther hides his arm behind his body for much of his delivery and that he has nearly seven feet of down-mound extension, which screws with hitters’ feel for timing his fastball and helps it play up.

Most scouts don’t like pitchers who work up in the strike zone, but there is a specific type who can make this work and we think Lowther is exactly that type. The formula is to get down the mound, throw from a lower release point, and have a fastball that “rises” — that’s rare to create from a low slot — and command it to parts of the zone where hitters are vulnerable; Lowther does all of these things. He has below-average velocity, but we think the fastball is a 55 pitch with these separators, and some scouts think his changeup plays up for the same reason. With all that in mind, you see Lowther in a different light: as a durable innings-eating starter with a long track record of success, three 55-to-60 grade pitches and command, along with the pitchability and deception qualities that help ensure he’ll still stick in a rotation if his raw stuff takes a step backward. Lowther turns 23 in April and likely starts the season in Double-A, but he may be one of the top five starters in the Orioles organization by midseason. He’s about as low risk of a pitching prospect as you’ll see among those who haven’t been above A-ball. We often under-rank these types, as there is sneaky No. 3 or 4 starter (55 FV) upside lurking beneath the surface.

9. Dean Kremer, RHP
Drafted: 14th Round, 2016 from UNLV (LAD)
Age 23.1 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/50 55/60 45/55 45/50 90-94 / 96

Some international evaluators had a longer history of seeing Kremer than area scouts did, as Kremer spent his freshman and draft-eligible sophomore seasons at two different schools, but he’s been pitching for Israel’s national team since 2014. A dual citizen, Kremer was the first ever Israeli to have his name called during baseball’s draft. His stuff drastically improved once he began to be nurtured by the Dodgers’ player development machine, and Kremer K’d more hitters over 131 innings of work in 2018 than he did during his entire college career. His fastball has middling velocity but it’s lively, and Kremer’s arm slot is tough on righties. Both of his secondaries are capable of missing bats and while Kremer lacks pinpoint command, he throws enough strikes to start. Before he was part of the Manny Machado trade, Kremer projected as a No. 4 or 5 starter or multi-inning reliever. We think he’s best suited for the latter role, but given the rebuilding nature of the Orioles, he’ll likely begin his big league career as a starter.

40+ FV Prospects

Drafted: 4th Round, 2016 from Ashby HS (VA) (BAL)
Age 20.7 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 45/50 45/50 45/50 91-93 / 95

Baltimore had originally planned on taking Hanifee, who grew up an Orioles fan, in the third round of the 2016 draft but instead took the surprisingly available Austin Hays. Hanifee was still on the board the next time Baltimore was on the clock and he signed for $500,000. A terrific on-mound athlete built like an NFL quarterback, Hanifee relies heavily on a sinking mid-90s fastball. The rest of his profile is pretty raw. He doesn’t have great natural feel for spin, and it probably behooves him and the Orioles to focus on changeup development if his mediocre strikeout rate is going to climb. But the sinker, and high-volume strike throwing ability, provide the foundation for an innings-eating backend starter at the least, and you can feel free to project heavily on much of the rest of Hanifee’s profile because of his prototypical frame and athleticism, though it’s becoming more evident that spin isn’t a teachable quality. There’s risk Hanifee is forced into the bullpen due to the lack of repertoire depth, but if his velo ticks up in max-effort, single-innings stints, he could be dominant. He should be developed as a starter to get reps with the change and refine the fastball command.

11. Adam Hall, SS
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Lucas HS (CAN) (BAL)
Age 19.7 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 50/50 20/40 60/60 45/50 55/55

Hall left his family in Bermuda at age 12 to pursue high-level baseball in Canada. As an amateur prospect, he was on the radar pretty early; the Canadian Junior National Team plays a strong schedule that includes a spring training tilt against the Blue Jays, so they typically travel with their top underclassmen. Hall was a middle-round prospect for most scouts, who saw him as more of a second baseman and questioned his ability to hit, but still liked the plus speed and average raw power. Enthusiasts rounded up on the hitting skills because of his cold weather background. Baltimore popped Hall in the second round in 2017, but he didn’t play an extended run of regular season professional games until the summer of 2018.

Sources tell us he was excellent in the lightly-scouted extended spring training camp early in 2018, then struggled early in the New York-Penn League season as he had a red light on stealing bases and also on swinging in some counts. Later in that season, we’re told that Hall ignored that directive; he swiped 15 bases in August alone, then had a strong instructional league showing. Other clubs noticed and hoped they could snatch him in a minor trade during Baltimore’s regime change. He now looks more like a viable shortstop. He’s bigger and stronger, with a better sense of the strike zone and what kind of swing and approach works for him. We’ve moved him up pretty aggressively as there’s a story to his improvement that makes sense and he’s from a demographic that’s usually later to peak.

40 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Cal (ATL)
Age 23.6 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 188 Bat / Thr S / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/50 55/55 30/55 40/35 40/50 50/50

As an amateur at Cal, Cumberland was seen as an fringe-to-average bat with above average power, questionable catcher defense, and arm strength that may push him to first base. The Braves drafted him in the second compensation round for an overslot bonus, using the pick they bought from Baltimore in exchange for Brian Matusz‘s contract. Eventually, and ironically, Atlanta traded him to Baltimore as part of the multi-player return for Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day’s contract. Since signing, Cumberland’s defense and pop times have improved, due in part to a slimmed-down physique and in part to improved throwing mechanics that make the most of his average arm strength. We think he’ll be able to catch regularly and also have enough of a bat to contribute at first base, DH, or as a pinch hitter. He’s moved down a bit for us since last season as his strong start and improved defense early in 2018 tailed off a bit later in the season, which is somewhat common for players who are dealing with physical change during the longest full-time catching spell of their career. Some scouts questioned Cumberland’s bat control and thus his hit tool and game power in late 2018 looks, so looks early in 2019 may tell us if this was a slight regression in tools, or just temporary fatigue he can get past. The likely upside looks like a valuable switch-hitting backup catcher whose bat you want to get in the lineup most days, which we value the same we would a low-end regular.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Florida State (BAL)
Age 25.2 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/40 60/60 40/55 40/40 40/45 50/50

Stewart was a standout athlete at Bolles HS in Jacksonville, where he won five state titles in baseball and football. He then went to Florida State, where he put up monstrous, well-rounded numbers, but had questionable speed and defensive ability, a squatty frame, and a squatter batting stance. Baltimore took him late in the first round in 2015 and he didn’t perform as expected until a 2017 breakout and a successful big league cup of coffee late in 2018. Stewart has slowly come out of his signature crouch more and more, as nearly every scout projected he would need to as he faced better pitching. His arm strength has improved to be about average so he can play both corner outfield spots now, though he’s a 40 runner with a 45 glove at each, so first base and DH — or a platoon role — aren’t out of the question as he ages. The power and patience are still the calling cards here, with some question on the contact upside that makes him similar to Cumberland, ranked one spot higher on this list. The likely outcome for Stewart is a good multi-positional corner platoon bat, and he may get pushed to that role as soon as late 2019, with Yusniel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle, and Austin Hays all lurking near the big leagues as better corner outfield fits with more offensive potential.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (ATL)
Age 21.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 60/60 30/50 50/50 40/45 55/55

Encarnacion was a bit of an afterthought when he signed for a $10,000 bonus as a 18-year-old in 2015 and became the DSL Braves everyday shortstop. By that fall’s instructional league, the Braves realized they had a prospect on their hands and acted accordingly, pushing Encarnacion to Low-A at age 20 where he put up a 118 wRC+ as an age-appropriate prospect in a full-season league, just two years after he signed for almost nothing. The change was obvious: Encarnacion’s projection and actions turned into tools with physical development. He now shows 60 raw power in BP, above average arm strength and bat control, and average speed. Encarnacion still has some skills that require growth, as his plate approach is too aggressive to work at the upper levels. And while he has the physical tools to play third base, he’s error-prone. The raw tool package and quick-developing statistical performance are a rare combo, so Encarnacion and Cumberland headlined the Orioles’ return in the Kevin Gausman trade with Atlanta last summer. It’s not a stretch to say Encarnacion has the best tools of any Latin prospect in the Orioles’ lower minors, but that’s mostly because the Orioles have had a near non-existent international program and their three best international signees (Yusniel Diaz, Encarnacion, Jean Carmona) were all acquired from rival clubs last summer.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Oregon State (BAL)
Age 22.2 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/45 50/50 20/45 70/70 45/50 60/60

Teams had $1 million evaluations on Grenier when he was in high school, just about half a million shy of what it likely would have taken to sign him. He matriculated to Oregon State, where his abilities sufficed to push phenom Nick Madrigal over to second base. Indeed Grenier is the rare college player who scouts saw as capable of playing shortstop. He’s a plus-plus runner with a plus arm, and infield-worthy footwork and actions. Neither acrobatic nor sexy in any way, Grenier’s look as a defender, and his overall profile, has been compared to J.J. Hardy’s. Like Hardy, Grenier also has some power but his college swing likely needs to be altered for him to get to it in games. With player development now firmly ensconced in the era of swing changes, it seems reasonable to anticipate that Grenier will make some adjustments. The track record for college shortstops is not great, but Grenier has everyday tools.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Florida (OAK)
Age 24.1 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/50 50/50 30/40 60/60 45/50 55/55

Martin was a high profile athlete when he arrived on campus at Florida, and some scouts pegged him as the type who would go from a sub-$500,000 player in high school (basically, a talented lottery ticket) to a top two rounds guy in college, and that’s exactly what happened. Oakland took Martin in the first round when he was a plus runner with average raw power, had a good chance to stick at shortstop, and demonstrated surging contact skills. The more pessimistic projections about Martin’s bat ended up being more accurate — the speed, defense, and raw tools have held steady while he has struggled against pro pitching. In 2018, he repeated Double-A at age 23 and finally hit well, but now will jump two levels to the big leagues as the top pick in the Rule 5 Draft. Offensive expectations are low, in part because Martin has never been able to tap into his raw power in games, but also because he has needed to repeat levels to find success. That said, some clubs see these raw tools as rare even at the big league level and think there’s some low-end regular upside still here with the right coaching.

17. Zach Pop, RHP
Drafted: 7th Round, 2017 from Kentucky (LAD)
Age 22.4 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
70/70 60/60 40/45 93-97 / 99

Pop didn’t start pitching until his junior year of high school, but he was quickly into the low-90s and the Blue Jays made a late-round run at him in 2014. He didn’t sign, and instead ended up in Kentucky’s bullpen, where his velocity climbed into the mid-90s. Late in April of his junior year, Pop had forearm issues that ended his college season and drove him down draft boards, but he’s been healthy and dominant in pro ball, and had a minuscule 0.33 ERA in the Cal League before he was sent to Baltimore in the Manny Machado trade. Though he’ll occasionally snap off a plus slider, a crackling, upper-90s two-seamer is Pop’s best pitch, and he milks it for all it’s worth, throwing it nearly 70% of the time. It has devastating armside run because of his lower slot, and it’s the driving force behind his absurd 68% ground ball rate. The delivery remains a cause for concern, but of all the obvious, relief-only prospects in this system, we think Pop has the best chance to turn into a high-leverage option.

18. Blaine Knight, RHP
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2018 from Arkansas (BAL)
Age 22.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/50 50/50 55/55 45/50 45/50 91-94 / 97

Knight was an a draft eligible 21-year-old sophomore in 2017 when he starred for Arkansas, but he went in the late rounds when his high price tag didn’t match his upside on the mound, where he lacks a plus pitch. He performed about the same as a junior but had a little less leverage and opted to start his pro career when the Orioles took him in the third round. The main concern with Knight is his slight build, which makes many scouts hesitant to project him as a 180 inning starter. Everyone agrees that Knight is a performer who competes and throws four average to above pitches for strikes. He’ll hit 96 or 97 early in games then settle at 91-94 mph, relying mostly on a curveball that has a high spin rate but grades as a 55 for most scouts. Knight should perform well through the lower minors, so durability will be the main question until he hits the upper levels.

19. Cody Carroll, RHP
Drafted: 22th Round, 2015 from Southern Mississippi (NYY)
Age 26.3 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Splitter Command Sits/Tops
65/70 55/60 40/45 40/45 93-97 / 99

A big league ready middle relief piece, Carroll is the highest ranked prospect acquired from the Yankees in last year’s Zach Britton trade. He grew into what is now premium velocity pretty late, and was only throwing 88 in high school and 92-95 as a starter in college. Shortly after they drafted him, the Yankees moved Carroll to the bullpen and his velocity continued to climb into the upper-90s. Though he has tried several splitter grips, Carroll remains mostly a fastball/slider, single-inning reliever. He was briefly up last year and we’d be very surprised if he were list eligible next season.

20. Branden Kline, RHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2012 from Virginia (BAL)
Age 27.3 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
65/65 50/55 45/50 40/45 94-98 / 99

Kline’s story is already one of perseverance. He and his fastball have hung around through multiple surgeries and two and a half years away from an affiliated mound. In 2014, he had something of a breakout and reached Double-A as 22-year-old starter. The following spring he felt elbow discomfort, had a PRP injection that didn’t work out, and finally had Tommy John in October. He missed all of 2016 rehabbing from TJ, then had two more surgeries in 2017 to remove scar tissue. When he finally pitched again in 2018, Kline was a 26-year-old Hi-A reliever. But he was throwing in the mid-to-upper-90s, his terse, upper-80s slider was flashing plus, and Baltimore saw fit to add him to the 40-man this offseason. Given his durability issues, the only real fit is in relief and he’s ready for a big league look.

21. Lamar Sparks, CF
Drafted: 5th Round, 2017 from Seven Lakes HS (TX) (BAL)
Age 20.3 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
25/55 20/45 30/45 60/60 40/55 60/60

Twitchy and lean, Sparks looked more comfortable during his initial foray into pro ball than was expected based on his high school track record. Suddenly this raw, developmental project had feel for contact, and became one of the more interesting prospects in this system. Then Sparks missed all of 2018 — except for some time during extended spring training — due to a torn labrum. Obviously it’s not ideal for any prospect lose an entire year of development, but it’s especially bad for a prospect of this ilk for whom in-game reps are important to his development and our understanding of his abilities. And because the injury was shoulder-related, it created uncertainty around one of Sparks’ louder tools, his arm. So while we know much less about Sparks than the typical second year pro, we know enough about his athleticism, defensive profile, and the speed with which he initially adjusted to pro ball to be intrigued.

22. Hunter Harvey, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2013 from Bandys HS (NC) (BAL)
Age 24.1 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 60/60 45/45 40/45 93-96 / 97

Injuries have wreaked such havoc on Harvey’s career that his nine appearances in 2018 were the most he’s had in a single season since 2014. His career game log is freckled with clusters of two and three-inning rehab outings amid multiple shoulder and elbow ailments of varying severity. In 2018, Harvey injured his shoulder dodging a foul ball in the dugout, then was shut down in August with elbow discomfort as he tried to rehab back from the shoulder issue. Somehow, Harvey’s stuff is still excellent. His fastball/curveball pairing is standard late-inning fare and he’s likely to be fast tracked into a relief role immediately in the spring to give him a better shot at having big league success right away.

*Editor’s Note* The above paragraph initially indicated Harvey was out of options; he actually has two option years remaining. FanGraphs regrets the error. -EL

23. Dillon Tate, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from UC Santa Barbara (TEX)
Age 24.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/45 55/55 50/55 45/50 91-94 / 96

Tate’s stuff has never produced results commensurate with the visual evaluations of his pitches, especially his fastball. Though he has experienced fluctuations in velocity as a pro, even when his fastball is humming in at 93-96, it gets touched up. It has some sink but lives in a part of the strike zone that hitters seem able to handle. Tate still has the same quality breaking ball he had in college and he quickly developed a changeup in pro ball; we think he’ll need to pitch off of these very heavily in the big leagues because of his fastball’s limitations. That may be viable in a multi-inning relief role, but for now we have Tate projected as a No. 5 starter or multi-inning reliever.

24. Evan Phillips, RHP
Drafted: 17th Round, 2015 from UNC Wilmington (ATL)
Age 24.4 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 50/55 50/55 40/45 92-95 / 97

There’s an epidemic of baseball personnel calling one another “coach” that is believed to be derived from the lexicon of Phillips’ signing area scout. That scout finds players, coach, as Phillips is another in a long line of Braves late-round steals at smaller colleges in the Carolinas. Atlanta traded him to Baltimore in the Kevin Gausman deal last summer, during Phillips’ breakout season. Before 2018, Phillips would sit in the mid-90s, reach 97, and mix in a solid average slider, but the off-speed consistency and command weren’t strong. Both of those things ticked up in 2018 at Triple-A, but regressed during Phillips’ 11.2 inning MLB debut. Like Cody Carroll, Phillips will look to put his late summer struggles with the new club behind him and reach his upside as a middle reliever in 2019.

35+ FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Logan JC (IL) (BAL)
Age 23.4 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Most talented junior college prospects end up either signing or transferring to a Division I program after a single year, but Dietz is the rare two-year JUCO prospect who stuck around for multiple seasons and still saw his draft stock soar. He’s a hulking 6-foot-5 with huge arm strength, but the rest of the profile has not progressed despite two and a half years of development as a starter. Even during starts, Dietz sits 94-97 and will touch 100. Heavy use of that pitch alone could make him a fine middle reliever, even if his slider is only average. Scouts are hesitant to project on Dietz’s secondaries because he’s a below-average athlete, but we’re curious about what the velo might do if he were just airing it out for an inning at a time.

26. Rylan Bannon, 3B
Drafted: 8th Round, 2017 from Xavier (LAD)
Age 22.8 Height 5′ 10″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Before he was included in the package that returned Manny Machado to Los Angeles, Bannon had a scintillating 89 games in the admittedly hitter-friendly Cal League, where he slashed .296/.402/.559 with 20 homers. His exaggerated open stance is reminiscent of a right-handed Odubel Herrera, and Bannon’s power is generated by a big leg kick and a low hand load that enables him to lift the ball (35% ground ball rate, well below league average) despite a flat-planed swing. He’s vulnerable up in the strike zone and has middling bat control because of all the effort in the swing, but there is pop here. Combine that with above average plate discipline and Bannon’s chance to stay on the infield, either at second or third base, and he’s at least an intriguing bench/platoon option based on eyeball scouting reports, and perhaps more if you really buy the on-paper production.

Drafted: 3rd Round, 2017 from Jacksonville (BAL)
Age 23.4 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Baumann was dominant for a month and a half at Delmarva but his strikeout rate was sawed in half after he was promoted to Hi-A Frederick. A vertical arm slot creates a tough angle on Baumann’s fastball and vertical action on his breaking stuff. It also makes it hard for him to have east/west command, and a large portion of the industry has Baumann projected to the bullpen because of this. Dissenters believe his repertoire depth (four average pitches) fits at the back of a rotation.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (MIL)
Age 19.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 183 Bat / Thr S / R FV 35+

Carmona had such a strong 2017 summer in the DSL that the Brewers sent him to the AZL for the season’s final few weeks, where he was instantly of interest to scouts. He had flashy actions at shortstop, above average bat speed, and he made hard contact through the 2017 fall instructional league despite a long, somewhat stiff swing. When Carmona arrived in Arizona the following spring, he had filled out quite a bit, and his already middling lateral range became a larger issue. He suddenly seemed more likely to end up at third base, though he could potentially be very good there. The Brewers pushed Carmona to the Pioneer League during the summer. He struggled there, and continued to after he was traded to Baltimore in the Jonathan Schoop deal. The bat is very much a work in progress and Carmona is a risk to trend down the defensive spectrum, but he has the physical talent to be an above-average defensive third baseman with some pop if all of his issues are remedied.

29. Drew Rom, LHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2018 from Highlands HS (KY) (BAL)
Age 19.1 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr L / L FV 35+

The Orioles are high on Rom, who was a late-rising projection and pitchability prep arm from Kentucky they took in the fourth round last summer. His velo was 89-92 in his better prep outings, but dipped back to his summer showcase mid-80s velocity in pro ball as a late and heavy prep workload caught up with him. Rom has room to add more weight and stabilize at that higher velocity, but his separator is a two-plane sluve (scouts differ on if it’s a slider or curve) that flashes plus along with above average feel for pitching and command projection.

30. Luis Ortiz, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2014 from Sanger HS (CA) (TEX)
Age 23.3 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Since his first round selection in 2014, Ortiz has bounced around to three orgs. He was part of the package Milwaukee acquired from Texas for Jonathan Lucroy, then part of the 2018 Jonathan Schoop trade with Baltimore. Layered between these trades have been several trips to the disabled list, including two consecutive seasons with time lost to hamstring issues. Ortiz has had injury issues every season dating back to his senior year of high school, and his fastball, which already plays down due to a lack of extension, was slower than usual during his brief big league debut with the Orioles last year. He profiles as a No. 5 starter, but we’ve rounded him down due to unavoidable concerns about his ability to stay healthy.

31. Jake Zebron, RHP
Drafted: 18th Round, 2018 from Colonel Richardson HS (MD) (BAL)
Age 19.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

It sounds like only a small subset of teams were on Zebron before the draft, and those that were hoped he’d keep a low profile on Maryland’s inconspicuous Eastern Shore. But that’s Baltimore’s back yard, and the Orioles were able to draft and sign him for $125,000. Pro scouts were intrigued by what they saw from Zebron in the fall, who was up to 93 during instructs. He’s loose, semi-projectable, and can spin a breaking ball (his curveball averages 2750 rpm, so Trackman-influenced teams are probably interested, too) but is also very raw for a 19-year-old, and he may need to spend 2019 repeating the GCL. He’s a very interesting long-term developmental project who realistically may fit at the back of a rotation.

Other Prospects of Note

Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.

Lefties in Their Mid-20s
Alex Wells, LHP
Chris Lee, LHP
Luis Gonzalez, LHP
Josh Rogers, LHP
Bruce Zimmermann, LHP
Cameron Bishop, LHP

Wells is an elite strike-thrower who has walked just 52 hitters in 338 career innings, but he only sits 87-92. Proponents think his curveball (which is plus) and changeup (there’s dissent as to whether it really plays off of a 35 fastball) are good enough for Wells to lean on and pitch at the back of a rotation. Lee has shown typical lefty bullpen stuff at times (up to 97, above-average slider, cutter) but has also dealt with a myriad of injuries (shoulder, lat, oblique). He’s legally blind in his right eye but has been since birth, so it’s not really an issue. Gonzalez, 27, also has a 55 fastball/slider combination and we’re not sure why Baltimore hasn’t pushed him to the big leagues yet. His stuff ticked way up in 2017 and has been good for two years now. Rogers was part of the Britton deal and may open 2019 in the O’s rotation. He sits 88-91 and has an above-average changeup. Zimmermann has several average pitches and projects as a No. 5 to 7 starter. Bishop has been up to 94 with four average pitches in the past, but his stuff was down last year.

The One International Prospect
Edidson Rojas, 3B
Itchy Xu, DH

This is the only international player on this list who was signed by Baltimore. He’s a two-year DSL prospect who turns 20 in May. He has average bat speed, a frame that likely projects to third base, and a pretty, low-ball, left-handed swing. Xu (pronounced like ‘shoe’) isn’t really a prospect but is of note because he’s one of few players in pro ball from China. For all the flack the Orioles have rightfully received for their aloof international approach, they deserve some credit for poking around China, which due to the size of its population alone, probably has more athletes capable of baseball than are currently being developed.

Corner Guys Who Must Rake
Jomar Reyes, 3B
J.C. Escarra, 1B
Robert Neustrom, RF

Jomar finally performed during an injury-shortened 2017, then struggled again in 2018. He still has monster raw power and a 70 arm, and we think he’s worth monitoring especially because he might be getting something resembling a fresh start now that the org has new leadership. Neustrom was a two-year Big Ten performer with plus raw power and a bunch of average other tools, but he has very limited bat control. Escarra missed time with a shoulder issue and 45 or 50 hit, 55 power at first doesn’t quite get there, but he also has a chance to be a plus defender at the position.

Up the Middle Depth
Martin Cervenka, C
Steve Wilkerson, UTIL
Alexis Torres, SS

Cleveland signed Cervenka, 26, out of the Czech Republic way back in 2011 and he has bounced around to a few teams on waivers and as a minor league free agent, but he’s gotten much better behind the plate and is now a 45 defender with a 45 arm and 55 raw power. He could be a third catcher. Wilkerson, 27, missed some of 2018 due to an amphetamine suspension and more of it due to oblique and hamstring issues. He has above average bat control and is a 40 defender at several positions. He may get a utility look in 2019. Alexis Torres is a 21-year-old who is a defensive fit at shortstop. His lack of physicality has been questioned, but he looked better with the bat late last summer.

System Overview

The Orioles had some pretty clear issues to sort through as the 2018 season ended. It was widely assumed that GM Dan Duquette and/or manager Buck Showalter wouldn’t be returning, and that a number of personnel and long-term organizational issues were likely to be to dealt with. But questions remained. Would the new head of baseball operations have the autonomy to kickstart the non-existent international program? Would they get to rebuild everything, from the big league roster down to the analytics, scouting, and player development staffs, or would ownership insist that the new GM make a foolhardy attempt to compete?

Ownership now appears to be driven more by Peter Angelos’ sons than by the elder Angelos himself, and answers to these questions became more clear when they hired former Astros assistant GM Mike Elias to be the new Orioles GM. Elias brought with him a new analytical chief in curiosity king Sig Mejdal, and it’s safe to assume the rebuild will have structural similarities to the Astros’, with various departments all getting facelifts as part of the effort.

Of the 32 players we’ve ranked above, 18 are either freshly drafted or were acquired from other clubs since last summer, a parting gift from the previous leadership. Before Duquette got the okay to start a sell-off, this was a big league club that had little chance to contend and also a bottom five farm system, and we think he and his staff did an admirable job restocking the farm ahead of the deadline. 12 of the 24 prospects ranked 40 FV or better (those with notably positive trade value) were in the org before this time and the system, minus the summer’s draft and trades, would’ve ranked in a tie for 27th in baseball. We haven’t ranked farm systems yet this winter, but it would appear this system is about 20th at the moment.

And there’s still plenty of upward mobility here. There are a couple more trades to be made (Mychal Givens would seem the most obvious premium talent likely to move), the O’s have the first overall pick in June’s draft, and they may add international talent with the most remaining pool space in the ’18-’19 period. Sources indicate that the hire of Koby Perez to run the international program means the Orioles are going to be immediate players for top prospects in that market, and they have the bonus hammer to wield over the next 18 months across two bonus periods as they see fit. Elias has a lot of things to do in his first year, but the main focus has to be building a data and communication infrastructure for the org while also accumulating assets, something the Astros did better than anyone during the first few years of their organizational overhaul.

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5 years ago

I think that Zac Lowther paragraph–explaining why pitchers like Lowther sometime succeed–might be the best paragraph in this entire series. I learned a ton in that paragraph alone; hats off to you sirs.

5 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Sounds like Tony Cingrani doing his best Joe Smith impersonation. I can’t wait to go home and watch the video.