December 17, 2015
Baltimore Orioles Top 10 Prospects
The State of the System: The healthy versions of Harvey and Bundy would pad the system’s overall strength considerably, but then that's the whole darned story of pitching prospects, inn't it?
The Top Ten
1. Hunter Harvey, RHP
Harvey has been excellent when healthy, demonstrating the electric fastball-curveball combo that prompted the O’s to use their first-round pick on the tall, slender right-hander in 2013. Injuries, however, derailed Harvey’s 2015 campaign, beginning with a fractured fibula that he suffered on a comebacker during spring training. While rehabbing, Harvey began experiencing elbow discomfort; he was eventually shut down for the remainder of the season after a July MRI revealed a strained flexor mass. Elbow discomfort popped up once again during instructs, which forced Harvey onto the shelf after only one day of throwing.
Harvey possesses no. 2 upside and just turned 21, so it’s hardly time to get too concerned over early-career injury hiccups. That being said, his injury woes speak to the heightened risk a club takes when drafting a pitcher with such a slender frame. Yes, he’s “ultra-projectable,” but describing a pitcher’s body in that way is only a positive for so long. At a certain point, if the player doesn’t start filling in he’s just “skinny,” and the attribute that once made the player desirable migrates to the weaknesses section of a report.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It’s really hard to get too excited about a pitcher who doesn’t pitch in dynasty leagues. And unlike someone out with TJ, there’s no specific path here and uncertainty breeds diminished value. It’s true that Harvey still has an SP2 ceiling, even in the AL East, with the ability to contribute meaningfully in all four categories, but right now, he’s not a top-50 fantasy prospect. If you’re feeling risky, he makes for an interesting trade target.
Major league ETA: 2018
2. Dylan Bundy, RHP
If you haven’t done so already, go read Jeff Long’s recent piece on Dylan Bundy, the obstacles he’s encountered over the course of his developmental path in pro ball, and the obstacles he will face going forward. As Bundy is out of minor-league options, he’ll be forced to rehab and build up arm strength under less-than-ideal conditions, either on the DL or as a part of Baltimore’s bullpen. Like his younger, injury-prone org-mate Harvey, Bundy possesses no. 2 starter upside. Unlike Harvey, however, Bundy’s need to be on the active roster will complicate the recovery/development process going forward. It’s too early to completely adjust expectations for him, but if 2016 turns out to be another injury-plagued season, the most reasonable course of action might prove to be an unequivocal conversion to the 'pen. This would of course be a fairly conservative approach, but Bundy the reliever is preferable to no Bundy at all. The organization is under a great deal of pressure to keep the much-hyped right-hander on the field given their poor track record of developing high-value starting pitching prospects.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: It remains hard to separate Dylan Bundy from DYLAN BUNDY, even so many years after the height of his fantasy value. In dynasty leagues, he’s similar to Harvey in that there is SP2 upside and a sinking boat full of risk. He’ll be a trendy endgame AL-only and deep mixed pick this year because he’s out of options, but counting on him to make any impact as a starter in Baltimore this year is wishful thinking. This is another arm not for the faint of heart.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2012
3. Chance Sisco, C
Sisco has quickly climbed the organizational ranks, reaching Double-A at the age of 20. He features a no-doubt plus hit tool thanks to sneaky bat speed and a fluid, effortless launch of the barrel to the point of contact. He's impressively balanced at the plate, and shows an ability to command the zone and manipulate the barrel expertly to match pitch trajectories. The power is fringy, but the raw hitting and on-base abilities are good enough to project plus overall offensive output with plenty of doubles.
Sisco’s overall defensive game still leaves much to desire, but it has always been understood that the former high school shortstop’s defense would take some time to develop. The old axiom that “catchers aren’t born, they’re made” will be tested by Sisco, but he’s a hard-working kid and the organization remains convinced he can make the transition. Don’t be surprised if his developmental trajectory slows down a bit over the next two seasons as he puts the finishing touches on his defense, but if the bat pushes the organization’s hand it’s entirely possible a future roaming the outfield grass could come to pass.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The eligibility is all we care about, and it still isn’t looking great for Sisco in that respect. If he could stick enough for his 20 games, he could be a top-five catcher in his best years, with near .300 averages and 10-15 homers. That’s still valuable at one of the four corners (well, maybe not so much first base), but it’s a much more stringent governor for his value.
Major league ETA: 2017
4. Mychal Givens, RHP
Givens’ ascent to the big leagues is particularly impressive given that he’s only been pitching on a full-time basis since the 2013 season. He’s hasn’t fully figured out how to harness the immense gift he’s been given, but what he does have to work with is quite impressive and immediately impactful. He offers an excellent mix of stuff and deception, and made serious strides in the command and control department this past season. With a fastball that sits in the mid 90s (and has the ability to touch the upper 90s at will), a plus slider and a nascent but usable changeup, Givens will be a force in the back-end of the O’s bullpen.
He figures prominently in the Orioles’ 2016 plans and will likely compete with Brad Brach for seventh-inning duties. Givens struggles to hold runners and has the unfortunate habit of taking a while to really crank it up when he enters the game, sitting in the low 90s to start and then creeping up as he moves deeper into his outing. Givens possesses relief-ace upside and will combine with O’Day and Brach to form a formidable corps of right-handed relievers for the next few seasons.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Relievers, even very good ones, behind one of the best one-two punches in baseball are even poorer investments than the ones who have “clear” paths to saves. Of course, it’s a fallacy, as no one has a clear path to saves. That said, Givens could be a darkhorse to strike out 100 this year, and there are no shortage of leagues where that is useful in the near term if it comes to pass.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2015
5. Jomar Reyes, 3B
The first guy you notice “off the bus,” Reyes is physically comparable to an NFL tight end. That physicality, however, is a double-edged sword, as the lack of mobility and foot speed that comes with such a large frame will likely facilitate a move to first base sooner rather than later. That being said, there’s a lot to like about Reyes even as a first base-only player. He couples average bat speed with a compact swing path that’s particularly impressive given how typical barrel inefficiency is for guys of his size. Reyes shows double-plus raw power in BP but it hasn’t manifested to the degree you’d expect, due in part to poor lower-half utilization.
Having conquered Low-A in his age-18 season, Reyes possesses above-average-regular upside and will look to continue his upward climb through the organization in 2016 at High-A Frederick. Reyes is a big man and will always be a big man, so keeping his weight in check will be an ever-present concern.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There is an argument to be made that Reyes, and not any of the names ahead of him, is the top dynasty league prospect in this system—and that argument is based on the potential 30-homer pop with enough batting average (think .260-.270). If he does that, it won’t matter if he ends up at first.
Major league ETA: 2018
6. Trey Mancini, 1B
Mancini broke out in 2015, conquering High-A before moving up to Double-A, where he proceeded to slash .359/.395/.586 over 354 plate appearances. Mancini doesn't run or throw well enough to play anywhere but first base, so he will only go as far as his bat takes him. His feel for the barrel and demonstrated ability to drive the ball with authority to the opposite field are very appealing characteristics that separate him from other strong performers within the pool of minor-league first base-only types. While Christian Walker, who is already on the 40-man roster, stands to get the first shot at internally filling 1B/DH needs for the O’s, Mancini possesses more upside and is the more likely candidate between the two to man first base in the long run.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If your league doesn’t allow for in-season prospect pickups, Mancini is someone to keep on your radar during dynasty drafts this winter. Of course, given his statistics, he won’t be overlooked in many places. The average and power is there to dream on, plus the attractive ballpark doesn’t hurt matters. If it works, Mancini could be similar in fantasy value to Matt Adams.
Major league ETA: 2016
7. Ryan Mountcastle, SS
Mountcastile shows an intriguing mix of projectability, offensive upside, and a strong chance of sticking on the left side of the infield. While he has played almost all of his professional innings to this point as a shortstop, it’s only a matter of time before he shifts over to the hot corner full time—not just because he’s going to outgrow the position, but also because he lacks the shortstop actions, quickness, and ability to manipulate throwing angle that he'll need to stick. Still, his soft hands will serve him well at third base, where he projects to be average. He has made strides with his swing since last season—most notably relaxing and lowering his hands into a position that’s more conducive to attacking pitches on the inner third of the plate. He’ll likely start the 2016 season at Low-A Delmarva and will look to shake the notion that he was an overdraft.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: A likely fourth or fifth round pick in dynasty drafts, Mountcastle has the type of offensive upside that shouldn’t allow him to be forgotten, but not enough all around potential to make him much of a name to remember. Once you’ve gotten past the first 40 or so names though, the specter of a 25-homer bat one day is worth gambling on.
Major league ETA: 2019
8. David Hess, RHP
The maxed-out, though well proportioned, right-hander has established a track record of low-minors success as a starter. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be able to make it work in that role against advanced competition. Hess relies on a heavy fastball that sits in the low 90s, and an above-average slider, but he lacks an impactful third pitch. His high-effort delivery, which features aggressive trunk rotation, a head whack, and less-than-ideal arm deceleration tendencies, all suggest an eventual move to the 'pen. That being said, Hess will be given every opportunity to prove he’s not a starter, as he possesses no. 4 upside.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Outside of extremely deep leagues, there’s not much point in investing here. As a starter, Hess would be barely above waiver-wire fodder and as a reliever, he’d be a reliever.
Major league ETA: 2017
9. Gray Fenter, RHP
The Orioles used the savings they accrued with some early-round under-slot signings to land Fenter in the seventh round for $1 million—well above the $178,300 allotted. Fenter is on the short side at 6-foot-1, but he possesses a durable frame, a mid-90s fastball, and an above-average power curveball. As is the case for many young pitchers, Fenter’s ultimate role will be determined by the development of his changeup, which more closely resembles a BP fastball than a legitimate change-of-pace offering at present. His delivery and arm action are a bit clunky, and his inefficient arm deceleration pattern is concerning, but these are hardly insurmountable obstacles, and Fenter, like Hess, will be given every opportunity to start. Even if his change-of-pace offering doesn’t come along and he proves ineffective as a starter, his fastball-curveball combo gives him a strong chance to have an impact as a back-end reliever.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If he becomes more likely to be a starting pitcher by this point next year, Fenter will be worth monitoring in dynasty leagues. Until then, he’s just another pre full season arm without anything resembling ToR upside.
Major league ETA: 2019
10. Christian Walker, 1B
Walker performed adequately at Triple-A in 2015, but it wasn’t nearly enough to force the big club into giving him pre-September playing time. The concerns about Walker’s ultimate power output remain, but there are reasons to like him and hold onto the hope that he develops into a second-division regular. There isn’t a ton of space between Walker and Mancini, and while Mancini has the edge when it comes to upside, Walker is closer to getting a shot at big-league playing time. He has made strides since signing, both in terms of his body composition—which could be best-described as “soft” during his college days—and in terms of his swing, which has improved dramatically. He has added some fluidity and rhythm to his pre-launch actions, which has allowed him to slightly delay launch relative to his hips, thus creating greater hip-shoulder separation
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Go figure that Walker is likely to have his best opportunity at playing time after his stock has taken a full step back in dynasty leagues. He makes for an interesting short-term play, because if he can have initial success, there’s a chance you could trade him for an upgrade. If not, it’s not like he costs much to acquire right now.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2014
Lazaro Leyva, RHP – Little was known about the Cuban right-hander before he signed with the Orioles for $725,000 in September 2014. Leyva can really bring it, though, sitting 95-98 mph with a plus curveball. He started seven games for Short-Season Aberdeen in 2015, but he’s almost certainly destined for the ‘pen given the apparent effort in his delivery and the non-existence of a third pitch.
Tanner Scott, LHP – The strong-armed lefty couples easy mid-to-upper-90s velo with a usable slider to create a profile suited for eventual late-inning work. Scott was particularly impressive in his recent trip to the AFL, sitting at 97 and touching 99 over eight AFL appearances. As a lefty with an upper-90s fastball, Scott should move quickly and will likely figure into the Orioles’ bullpen plans as early as the 2017 season.
DJ Stewart, OF – After an impressive college career at Florida State, the 2015 first-round pick underwhelmed evaluators in his first taste of pro ball. The stocky left-handed hitter lacks a plus tool and likely won’t stick in left field long-term. He has enough offensive upside to carry first base, but not at the level of a first-division regular. He’s more likely a second-division regular or a strong-side platooner—not exactly the profile one is hoping to acquire with a first-round pick on draft day.
Chris Lee, LHP - Since coming over to Baltimore in a deal that netted the Astros two international signing bonus pool slots, Lee has taken off, showing increased velocity and an improved feel for finding the zone. His changeup and slider are both fringy at best, but have become much more palatable now that they’re coupled with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s as opposed to the low 90s. There’s back-end upside, but Lee’s more probable eventual home will be in the bullpen, where his fastball can be accentuated and his fringy secondaries can be hidden.
Mike Wright, RHP – While Wright has the frame of a workhorse and the ability to generate easy velo, his fringy collection of non-fastball offerings suggest that he’s better suited for the pen. The Orioles, however, have a well-stocked nest of right-handed reliever options at the moment, so it’s quite possible he remains a starter for the foreseeable future—either in the no. 5 spot in the Baltimore’s rotation or as an emergency option stashed in Norfolk. Letting Wright air it out in short bursts is undoubtedly appealing, but the club’s need for rotation depth could take precedence over deploying Wright in his optimal role.
Bonus Rule 5 Draft Analysis!
Joey Rickard, OF – The ex-Rays farmhand broke out in 2015, slashing .321/.427/.447 across three levels, and was rewarding for his efforts by being selected eighth overall in the Rule 5 Draft. Rickard’s speed, defense and plate discipline make for an interesting fourth outfielder profile, but his low-yield swing inhibits his offensive potential and gives him a low probability of meeting the offensive threshold expected of an everyday outfielder. That being said, the Orioles have a track record of hitting on low-profile peripheral pieces. The club’s corner outfield situation is far from solidified at the moment but it’s not difficult to envision Rickard filling a Craig Gentry-like role, manning the weak side of an outfield corner platoon, pinch-running, and coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/90 or later)
Instead of just writing “MANNY MACHADO,” then dropping the mic (which would be an entirely defensible approach to this section in my opinion), I want to play a game. The game is very simple. Pull up your catch-all defensive metric leaderboard of choice (ideally a projection, but selecting the past three seasons will suffice), select all shortstops then sort in descending order. Go down the list, player by player, and identify the first guy you believe to be a worse defender at shortstop than Manny Machado. You don’t have to go very far down the list, right?
While J.J. Hardy has been one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball since joining the Orioles in 2011 (third among SS w/ 48 DRS), it’s not unreasonable to believe that at this moment in time, 23-year-old Manny Machado is a better true talent defender at shortstop than the 33-year-old Hardy. Hardy is still a well above average defender but if his 2015 TAv of .209 starts looking more like an indicator of a significant decline in true talent than an unfortunate run-in with the BABIP goblins, don’t be surprised if a “Manny Machado to shortstop” narrative emerges.
Very rarely does a player move up the defensive spectrum after spending multiple years at a given position in the majors. But if there’s a player who’s deserving of the chance to make it work, it’s Machado, and if there’s a club that’d be willing to eschew the conventions that govern positional deployment, it’s the Orioles (see Pearce, Steve at second base and Davis, Chris in right field). Stay tuned!
If you were expecting a Manny Machado fluff piece, you got one, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the other two impact under-25 players on the Orioles’ roster—Kevin Gausman and Jonathan Schoop.
The 24-year-old Gausman, who seems to be “suffering” from an unfortunate case of post-prospect fatigue, put up nice strikeout and walk rates in 2015, but his performance has yet to match up with his stuff. Gausman threw his 7-grade fastball 69.5 percent of the time—the sixth-highest rate among starters with at least 100 innings pitched in 2015. Yes, it’s a great pitch and it should be thrown a lot, but firing missiles can only get a pitcher so far. Increased reliance on his secondaries should do wonders for Gausman going forward—especially his splitter, which is a(nother) legitimate 7-grade pitch. That no. 2 starter upside, with a relatively safe floor as a no. 3 is still there. Sometimes ya’ gotta’ slay some dragons before you get to the princess, though. Not every heavily-hyped pitching prospect can be Noah Syndergaard.
Jonathan Schoop is interesting for a number of reasons. First off, his nickname—“Johnny Baseball”—is absolutely terrible. The originator should be confined in stocks and publicly shamed. If “bastardized version of actual name + y + sport the person participates in” is the direction sports nicknames are headed, then I might consider ditching baseball for a line of work where naming conventions actually make sense—shipbuilding and pornography are potential options that come to mind.
Schoop offers above-average regular upside that’s driven by an intriguing power-defense combo. That being said, there’s plenty of risk attached and the more realistic peak value is that of a second-division starter. Schoop posted a .271 TAv in 2015, but it’s difficult to envision him sustaining that level of performance (or anywhere near it for that matter) unless he improves his plate discipline considerably. There’s more to come with Schoop but he’ll likely always be a guy whose value never reaches the heights that his tools imply.
In addition to the names on the prospect list and the 25-and-under list, it’s worth mentioning pitchers Jason Garcia, Parker Bridwell, Tim Berry, and Edgar Olmos, all of whom are likely to be frequent fliers on the Baltimore-Norfolk shuttle during the 2016 season.The bottom of the Orioles roster is the closest thing to a perpetual motion machine baseball is going to get and these players will inevitably be called upon at some point as either spot-starters or bullpen-fillers.
Winning in Baltimore is difficult given the perpetual competitiveness of the AL East and the complications that come with operating a family-owned club. However, since taking the helm following the 2011 season, Dan Duquette and Co. have averaged 89 wins per season and have made the playoffs twice. The club’s recent performance is particularly impressive when compared to the previous 14 seasons, in which the O’s averaged 71 wins and never exceeded 79.
The current regime didn’t execute a full-on teardown and rebuild a la the Astros and Cubs, but rather, supplemented the core of major-league and near-ready talent that they inherited with a collection of strong peripheral pieces. The Orioles aren’t a “Scouting Organization” or a “Player Development Organization” or an “Analytics Organization” in the way that some clubs' seemingly broadcast an overly-reductive, overarching philosophical moniker. They are, however a “Creative Organization”—one that shrewdly makes the most of the resources at its disposal by expertly extracting value from otherwise-unwanted assets and tapping unconventional talent pipelines for undervalued talent.
The Orioles don’t have a front-line system at the moment, and that’s partly by design given their present status as a contender. They’ve utilized minor-league assets such as Eduardo Rodriguez, Josh Hader, L.J. Hoes (now back with the club), Zach Davies, and Nick Delmonico to acquire contributors during their playoff runs of the past four years, doing so without entirely emptying the cupboard. As opposed to going all-in at some point over the past four seasons, the club has instead opted for an approach geared toward sustaining success over the long haul. This approach to roster construction will be put to the test in 2016, as the probable departures of Chris Davis and Wei-Yin Chen place additional pressure on the farm system to deliver major-league contributors.