December 10, 2014
Baltimore Orioles Top 10 Prospects
The Top Ten
1. Dylan Bundy
What Happened in 2014: The 22-year-old right-hander made his return to the mound after missing all of 2013 due to Tommy John. The results were mixed, but eventually the stuff started to show a return to previous form.
Strengths: Extremely athletic; body put together well; near-elite arm strength; smooth arm action; crisp delivery; repeatable; fastball will work 94-97; exploding late life and finish; creates tight spin and rotation with curve; hard snap from high three-quarters arm slot; deep, bending break with teeth and heavy downward action; present plus offering; change shows good guise to fastball; solid arm-side fading action; crisp with cutter when throws in sequences; late glove-side break and slice; can both miss barrels and create weak contact; power-arm potential.
Weaknesses: Runs into ruts of not finishing delivery; command suffers as a result; fastball will work too elevated; can be loose with curveball; lacks finish and will drift into upper tier of zone; change gets too firm; inconsistent action; overall arsenal still in the stages of returning to form; fastball velocity yet to reach prior levels; re-finding feel for cutter.
Overall Future Potential: High 7; no. 1 starter
Realistic Role: 6; no. 3 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; Tommy John on resume; continued return of feel for arsenal.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The combination of absenteeism and underwhelming statistical performance puts Bundy’s perceived value at the lowest point since he was drafted. For shrewd owners who can see past that to the SP2 that Bundy can realistically progress into, this represents a great buying opportunity. He’s a potential high contributor in all four categories, despite likely calling a bandbox home. He easily remains a top-five fantasy arm.
The Year Ahead: Bundy passed the initial marker in his return from injury this past season as the right-hander showed that his health is trending in the right direction. Reports were clear that the 22-year-old is still finding his way in terms of feeling the stuff, but the flashes shown during his time on the mound were a very positive sign that things were coming back together. While the fastball velocity and crispness of the cutter were lacking, his curveball displayed the same prior shape and excellent bite. That’s a good clue that Bundy is building the confidence and trust in his arm to let loose again. This is a player who has been universally praised for both his work ethic and makeup. The expectation is that with a strong foundation already built and another offseason at his disposal, there’s a very strong chance the prospect will show big gains this year. While we must be prepared that things may not approach the previously identified potential outcome, the belief here is that Bundy will return to his prior form. Once his workload is built back up, it will be all systems go as he attempts to achieve his monster ceiling, with a legit chance to help at the major-league level during the stretch run this season.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2012
2. Hunter Harvey
What Happened in 2014: The former first-round pick carved up A-Ball hitters in his full-season debut, firmly cementing his status as an upper-echelon prospect in the process. However, a scare with a shoulder strain ended his season early and cast somewhat of a cloud on an otherwise positive year.
Strengths: Ideal frame; plenty of room to add size and strength; very athletic on mound; loose arm; fastball works 91-95 with late finish; occasional glove-side cutting action; lively in lower tier of zone; aggressive and fearless with pitch; creates hard snap with curveball; power offering at 78-82; deep bend through zone; will change shape; bat-missing potential; changeup flashes strong parachuting action; high growth potential with repetition and trust; competitor on mound.
Weaknesses: Physical maturation needed to hold up over the long season and push arsenal; fastball velocity tends to yo-yo from outing to outing; can jerk head and body off target during delivery; heater works elevated as a result; command is presently fringe average; can cast curve, which leads to early break; change is presently projection; on the firm side; still developing trust to work into sequences consistently; presently heavily fastball and curve dependent.
Overall Future Potential: 7; no. 2 starter
Realistic Role: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; limited professional experience; shoulder strain (2014); emergence of true third offering.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: With three pitches that can potentially miss bats at the major-league level, Harvey’s strength as a fantasy asset is going to be his 200-strikeout potential. Like Bundy, and everyone else in this system, the division and ballpark will work against him, but there’s SP2 upside here as Harvey could put up a 3.25 ERA, and 1.10 WHIP to go along with those big K numbers at peak.
The Year Ahead: Everything for Harvey on the mound flows off of an extremely athletic and loose delivery. The right-hander creates easy velocity, with the ball effortlessly coming out of his hand when delivering the heater. The offering explodes on hitters, often showing strong late finish that makes it difficult to square up and for hitters to gauge. The 20-year-old is also adept at staying above the baseball when spinning his curveball, which already plays around above average. The early feel at the young age bodes very well for a consistent plus-plus power breaker emerging in the near future. The athleticism and overall ease point to command growth being highly achievable as well. Toss in a competitive streak that stands out on the mound, and this profile has the makings of an impact starting arm. The near-term task at hand for Harvey is developing his changeup which is imperative for reaching his full potential. Reports from the season and sources spoken to for this list pointed to increased comfort utilizing the offering as the year wore on. The other pieces of his arsenal will likely push him out of the lower levels before the change is fully progressed, but the view here sees further growth with the offering coming this season. If it occurs, it should lead to a strong chance the prospect closes out 2015 in Double-A, and will begin to put the righty on the radar for major-league consideration in the not-so-far-off future in the process.
Major league ETA: Late 2016
3. Chance Sisco
What Happened in 2014: Sisco put together a solid first full professional season, showing surprising advancement at the plate and the ability to create consistent, hard contact, but left opinions mixed when it comes to the defense.
Strengths: Athletic; good frame; solid-average arm strength; strong hands; plus bat speed; capable of adjusting to the path of the ball; extends well post-contact to use the whole field; present gap power; potential for more home-run pop as physically matures; has shown early improvement in transition to catching; body and athleticism to handle position; high baseball IQ.
Weaknesses: Choppy footwork; gets tangled when firing feet; glove hand will drift; needs a lot of work getting body in good position to block; questions as to whether there’s enough to stick; swing on the flat side; power may ultimately play at fringe average; will lunge at stuff with spin; below-average runner; lacks impact tools.
Overall Future Potential: 6; first-division player
Realistic Role: 5; average big-leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach upper minors; dual-threat development; some questions on ability to stick behind plate.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: If Sisco stays behind the plate, his offensive potential will certainly put him above the mixed-league line of demarcation, but moving off the position would certainly be a blow to his value. On the other hand, sticking behind the plate will slow his ETA, so it’s a double-edged sword. Either way, there’s a .280 hitter with 15 homers in there, which is usable everywhere in this offensively challenged environment.
The Year Ahead: Sisco has emerged within this system over the past season, during which he offered a glimpse at an offensive skillset that proved to be more advanced than previously thought. A fluid stroke and strong hands enable the backstop to create consistent contact along with good backspin into both gaps. The soon-to-be 20-year-old is more than willing to use the whole field at an early age and displays a level mindset at the plate, which bodes well for consistent adjustments with each step up the ranks. While there are still improvements to be made in handling good breaking stuff, the hands play well and stay back when attacking offerings. The potential exists for 270s-280s averages, with home-run power that can round out as average in peak seasons. However, opinions are mixed on the defense and ability to stick behind the plate; some see the athleticism and early progression of the skills as an indication that Sisco can reach an adequate defensive level as a backstop, while others feel there are key limitations and the gap is too large to close. The placement within this list and role grades speak to the belief that the player has taken some steps at closing the initial gap and that things can look very different down the line. This is a player who will need time to marinate on both sides of the ball, but can reward the developmental patience with a solid major-league player at full bloom.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
4. Christian Walker
What Happened in 2014: Walker continued to hit at a solid clip and prove himself at each stop. He handled Double-A arms to the tune of a .301 average with 20 bombs, but did drop off some at the highest level of the minors before a brief call to The Show.
Strengths: Sturdy build; good present strength; strong bat-to-ball ability; consistently barrels up pitches hard; keeps hands inside of offerings; recognizes ball quickly; all-fields approach; understanding of strike zone; grinds through plate appearances; has been learning how to muscle up and add lift to swing; punishes mistakes; improving around the bag; hard worker.
Weaknesses: Body is maxed out; can be on the passive side at the plate; swing flashes in-zone miss; can struggle keeping hands above high-velocity stuff; capable of being worked away with spin by good arms; questions on ultimate power translation; may have to sacrifice too much contact for power to translate; at times clunky at first; limited range.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average regular
Realistic Role: 5; average major leaguer
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; achieved major-league level; translation of power.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s more pull here in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only formats, as Walker doesn’t carry top-tier potential for a corner bat. At best, we’re likely looking at an Adam LaRoche-type with slightly less power—and LaRoche was barely a top-20 fantasy first baseman in 2014. Think a .260 average with 20 homers, even with the park helping him. Though with Nelson Cruz moving on, Walker may see a healthy amount of playing time in 2015.
The Year Ahead: An oft-debated player with regards to the ultimate role, it should not be downplayed that the former fourth-round pick has hit his way onto the prospect landscape. Walker possesses the type of profile where there’s more than initially meets the eye and requires a longer study before one warms up to the overall portfolio. This isn’t an aesthetically pleasing player who’s graceful on the field and oozes natural tools. But what the 23-year-old has proven to do well is hit, and players who do so consistently end up having careers in some capacity or the other. There are questions about whether there’s enough in the hit tool to keep the hard contact from plateauing against unforgiving arms who mercilessly exploit weaknesses as well as concerns as to how much of the power is going to translate. Sources spoken to for this list were uniform in that the outcome likely isn’t a first-division talent, but things are very much trending towards an overall body of work that can include some productive seasons. Walker should get more seasoning in Triple-A at the onset of 2015, with the player in the driver’s seat as to whether an extended chance is in the cards at some point before the year’s end.
Major league ETA: Debuted in 2014
5. Josh Hart
What Happened in 2014: The former first-round pick’s first full season of pro ball was fairly underwhelming and received mixed reviews, with the raw athleticism still having a ways to go to translate into polished baseball skills.
Strengths: Excellent athlete; wiry frame with some room for growth, especially in lower half; easy plus runner; strong instincts in center; gets good jumps and reads; plus range into both gaps; routes have been rapidly improving; quick, efficient stroke; life in hands; capable of barreling up offerings hard; willing to use the whole field; can develop some power with more physical maturation.
Weaknesses: Offensive game is unrefined; in the early stages of learning strike zone; expands often; fooled by spin frequently, especially soft stuff away; contact tends to be hollow; falls back on slashing and slapping rather than driving; needs more comfort and confidence; power could play down to well below average; arm is fringe average at best.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; solid-average player
Realistic Role: High 4; 4th outfielder/below-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; yet to reach upper levels; large gap between present and future; surgery for meniscus repair (2014).
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: Don’t let the full-season resume fool you, this one is going to take a while; however, the payoff could still be surprisingly valuable. Hart’s biggest asset is going to be his potential 30-plus steals, and if he can somehow turn his hit tool and/or approach into a top-of-the-lineup hitter, he could get very interesting.
The Year Ahead: The speedy centerfielder proved to be somewhat overmatched in his full-season debut, but a meniscus injury broke up his season and reports from later in the year did highlight some offensive improvement. Make no mistake, though, Hart is a long-term project, especially with the bat, where things may just be middle of the road for some time to come. However, the speed and potential with the glove give him a chance to be able to ride both tools up to the majors. A couple of evaluators spoken to for this list had extremely positive remarks about how quickly the defensive adjustments were implemented since signing and how the glove can impact the game down the line. Whether it’s just sitting at his floor as a reserve or reaching his full potential, at some point, Hart will have to hit. Some suggested that with increased comfort and more confidence to be aggressive with his swing, the 20-year-old can display the hard contact he flashed at time last season on a more consistent basis as soon as 2015. The belief here is that a more subtle progression will take place this season following a repeat assignment in the South Atlantic League. Positive results there will aid in building confidence before a decision is made as to whether the player is ready for a bump to the next level at some point in the summer.
Major league ETA: 2018
6. Zach Davies
What Happened in 2014: The former 26th-round pick logged 110 innings in Double-A, where he continued to show strong pitchability, and then more than held his own in the prospect heavy Arizona Fall League to close out the year.
Strengths: Athletic; fluid delivery; easy arm action; fastball operates 88-91 with strong arm-side run and sink; can spot to all four quadrants of the zone; turns over solid-average change; good deception via consistent arm action to that of fastball; fades heavily to arm side; confident to use offering at any point in the count; flashes feel for both curveball and slider; above-average command profile.
Weaknesses: Very lean; needs added strength to maintain stuff; creates so-so plane out of delivery; fastball is merely average; must locate and hit spots in lower tier to be effective; extremely hittable when mis-located; will cast curve; command of offering is spotty; needs further sharpening to play at average; heavily relies on change to put hitters away; no plus pitch in repertoire.
Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter
Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter/long reliever
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; 21 appearances in Double-A; walks a fine line with stuff.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: This is not the type of profile you want to use a roster spot on in mixed leagues. Davies will be a major-league pitcher, but he has limited stuff and he’ll be pitching in a tough environment—and that could lead to underwhelming contributions in all categories.
The Year Ahead: Davies is an undersized right-hander with limited stuff who navigates through lineups by changing speeds often, working backwards, and spotting on the corners. This arm operates with a razor thin margin of error, but does possess plus command and an understanding of how to execute within his means. The small body makes it tougher to see the arm being able to consistently handle the rigors of the long season and emerge into a workhorse. If Davies does end up growing a bit more into his body as he approaches his mid-twenties, achieving the potential role becomes that much more attainable. However, the likely scenario is that the 21-year-old slides somewhere in as a fifth starter/swingman. The belief here is that the arm has a much better chance at being successful in the long run as a reliever, but the competitiveness and feel for the craft give the prospect a shot to stick around as a starter at the major-league level longer than expected. A placement in Triple-A to start 2015 will be yet another test of the arsenal against more advanced hitters, but if the previous ones are any indication, the small righty will pass it and get a chance in The Show in the process.
Major league ETA: 2015
7. Mike Wright
What Happened in 2014: Wright struggled to make the transition to Triple-A, where he found plenty of barrels and failed to miss enough, but the big right-hander did put together a strong final month of the season and logged another heavy workload in the upper minors.
Strengths: Strong body; capable of withstanding rigors of position; clean delivery and arm action; fastball comfortably works 91-93; can reach for more; shows heavy, downward action and angle; snaps slider with tilt; tight, late break in mid-80s; can miss bats; turns over change with arm-side fade; deception between fastball; capable of throwing entire arsenal for strikes.
Weaknesses: Stuff is solid average across the board; lacks strong chase pitch; works consistently around the plate; leads to a lot of contact against; slider gets slurvy in lower velocity band (low-80s); change more deception than action; limited overall growth potential.
Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter
Realistic Role: 5; late-innings reliever (7th/8th inning)
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; 43 starts in upper minors; mature arsenal.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: The strikeouts are just not going to be there with Wright for him to be a viable mixed-league stash—given that he’s unlikely to ever make it past waiver-wire material. The WHIP would be reasonable if he can avoid getting hit too hard, but that’s really all you’re hoping for.
The Year Ahead: Wright is all but likely to return to Triple-A to start 2015 and will look to prove his final month of the season was more the norm than an anomaly against quality competition. This large right-hander offers promise as a workhorse starter, who can take the ball every fifth day and give the ball club more good performances than bad. The 24-year-old’s bread-and-butter is a heavy low-90s fastball with which he likes to aggressively pound the zone. The pitcher isn’t afraid to come right after hitters and understands the value of getting ahead in sequences. Wright’s strike throwing ability can be both a strength and a weakness, however. When the righty is consistently snapping off his slider in the mid-80s while mixing the changeup in sequences, there’s enough to miss bats. The slider plays down with some frequency, mostly spinning and sweeping into the zone, which leaves the changeup and fastball prone to a lot of contact given their around-the-plate nature. The pressure of churning through lineups may ultimately be too much for this arm’s stuff, but a rebound in the International League this season will at the very least get the player a call to The Show in some capacity sometime this summer.
Major league ETA: 2015
8. Tim Berry
What Happened in 2014: The 23-year-old southpaw put together a solid season in Double-A, where he often kept batters off balance, especially lefties who he held to a .212 clip.
Strengths: Room for more physical growth; loose arm; low energy-expending delivery; fastball works low 90s with tailing action; curveball flashes deep break when staying on top; can miss bats; turns over change with loose wrist; best action in low 80s; deceptive versus fastball; strike thrower; good feel for craft.
Weaknesses: Delivery can be inconsistent; body will open early; fastball tends to play down; loose within the strike zone and becomes very hittable; questions on whether stuff will start advanced bats early; can cast curve; change too firm on occasion; lacks overpowering arsenal.
Overall Future Potential: 5; no. 4 starter
Realistic Role: Low 5; no. 5 starter/middle reliever
Risk Factor/Injury History: Low; 133 1/3 Double-A innings; Tommy John on resume (high school); questions on translation of stuff against elite hitters.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There’s slightly more strikeout potential with Berry than either of the two names ahead of him, but it also comes with a higher bullpen probability. However, like Davies and Wright, he’s not a good use of a mixed-league roster spot.
The Year Ahead: While the stuff here isn’t overpowering, Berry flashes a solid-average arsenal that he understand how to execute. The left-hander is easy with his release, and combined with his longer limbs, allows the low-90s heater with some late, tailing action, to sneak up on hitters. When the pitcher is spotting his fastball to both sides of the plate and moving it around the strike zone, both the curveball and changeup play up due to opposing hitters being more apt to get their bats started early. The inherent issue for Berry is that often his delivery becomes inconsistent and the command gets loose within the zone, especially when trying to spot to the arm side. Given the fastball is a more hittable offering in general, and the lack of a legit put away secondary pitch, opinions are mixed as to whether the prospect sticks as a starter in the long haul. In all likelihood Berry is the type of arm who can get a chance to start early in his career and then makes the transition to the bullpen. Don’t rule out the pitcher having a chance to stick for longer than expected in the rotation if the command can take a slight step forward, but the smart money says the most successful portion of the career comes as a reliever. Triple-A is the next test for the lefty to begin 2015, where if all goes well, he can push for major-league look by the end of the year.
Major league ETA: 2015
9. Stephen Tarpley
What Happened in 2014: The short-season debut for the left-hander offered a glimpse into what the stuff can accomplish, but also revealed there’s a lot of polishing to do.
Strengths: Strong build; firm lower half; simple and easy delivery; low energy-expending motion; fastball works 92-95; creates angle on hitters from high three-quarters arm slot; shows some arm-side movement; curve flashes deep bend and bite; spins with a loose wrist; good growth potential; learning feel for changeup; will show guise to fastball; good present separation.
Weaknesses: Raw arm despite age; fastball command is below average; tends to straighten out above middle of thighs; will cast curve; wraps release with wrist to become loopy and on soft side; good bats can wait on offering; often deliberate and slows body down when delivering change; lack of turnover leads to floating rather than parachuting action; makeup concerns in the past.
Overall Future Potential: High 5; no. 3/4 starter
Realistic Role: High 4; 6th inning/long reliever
Risk Factor/Injury History: High; short-season resume; emergence of consistent secondary stuff.
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: At least there’s a little more ceiling here, but Tarpley shouldn’t be on your short list of short-season arms to acquire. Unless your league runs 250-300 prospects deep, he shouldn’t be a consideration yet.
The Year Ahead: The intrigue in Tarpely is mainly driven off of the high-energy fastball from the left side and the promise the secondary stuff flashes. Presently, the overall package is raw and in the early refinement stages. However, sources suggest that tangible steps forward are potentially right around the corner given the left-hander is beginning to throw within a regimented structure more consistently. The fastball-curveball combination gives the soon-to-be 22-year-old a foundation for future sustained success while the arm works on trying to find an identity with the changeup. The development of the change would go a long way in helping build more confidence and trust in utilizing the offering in sequences. Tarpley’s command does need about a full grade step forward and the curve can stand tightening to increase the consistency of the depth. If you really gaze off into the horizon and extrapolate larger gains, one can see this arm as a starter firmly cemented as a complimentary piece of a rotation. Given the gaps and distance to the potential, it’s likely the prospect can still carve out a niche in a bullpen if the development falls short. This season is an opportunity for Tarpley to navigate the waters in full-season ball, where there’s a good chance he can mitigate resistance and continue to move forward within the system.
Major league ETA: Late 2017
10. Mike Yastrzemski
What Happened in 2014: The outfielder from Massachusetts played at three levels last year where he put together a solid season overall, but did hit resistance in a 43-game stop in Double-A.
Strengths: Athletic build; good present strength; strong outfield instincts; fundamentally sound; takes excellent routes; solid-average arm; sets himself up well when making throws; compact stroke; up-the-middle approach; willing to use the whole field; brings a plan to the plate; gap power; smart runner; high baseball IQ; plays the game with enthusiasm.
Weaknesses: Maxed out body; little physical projection left; limited future tool growth; inconsistent balance at plate; swing on the flat side; back side tends to cave against arm-side pitching; questions on ability to consistently hit high-quality stuff; power likely to play fringe average at best; more of a tweener in centerfield.
Overall Future Potential: 5; average major leaguer
Realistic Role: High 4; 4th outfielder/below-average regular
Risk Factor/Injury History: Moderate; limited Double-A experience; questions on profile
Bret Sayre’s Fantasy Take: There is admittedly very little fantasy upside here, but very deep leaguers could take some solace in knowing that he’s likely going to make the majors in some capacity. With Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz having moved on and little outfield depth in the upper minors, there is more opportunity for Yazstrzemski in the organization.
The Year Ahead: Given the age and level of polish, it isn’t surprising that Yazstrzemski produced well in the low minors and proved worthy of an accelerated push into the upper levels during his first full year of professional ball. While there isn’t a carrying tool in this profile and it is on the bland side overall, the 23-year-old brings a balanced skillset to the table, where he touches a piece of each aspect of the game. Tack on that the makeup and feel for the game draw high praise, and this is a player with a very good chance at achieving the major leagues. What things will look like in the long run is likely to be on the modest side, but Yazstrzemski can carve out an extended career and provide value on a big-league roster. If things break right, mainly with proving the bat can adjust and combat the jump in quality of competition, the outfielder can end up a second-division type who hits in the bottom third of a deeper lineup during peak seasons. The realistic outcome points to a fourth outfielder in the long haul who can spell all three regulars and fill in during extended stretches. This season will see Yazstrzemski return to Double-A, where a few adjustments at the plate will go a long way to putting himself in position for a cup of coffee at summer’s end.
Major league ETA: Late 2015
Prospects on the Rise:
1. C Jonah Heim: The defensive potential is the present calling card for the 19-year-old, with a game behind the dish that can develop into the above-average-to-better category and an arm designed to control the run game. Heim already shows solid footwork at a young age that enables him to fire quickly and move well laterally despite well below-average speed. The body is also an asset when it comes to blocking and controlling offerings in the dirt. What will really establish the switch-hitting backstop is progress with the bat. There’s plus bat speed and raw power to tap into, but the skills are presently very raw and lag behind the defense. The potential exists to ride the glove right up to The Show, while proving the bat is going to be more than an afterthought will push this prospect’s status up another level.
2. 3B Jomar Reyes: This 17-year-old international signee is one of those players to really dream on. So, let’s dream. Reyes’ 6-foot-3 frame already shows physical development and the raw strength is impressive. The third baseman can put a charge into offerings, especially fastballs, and flashes a powerful stroke with natural lift that creates loft. While the prospects of whether he can stick on the left side of the infield are hazy, it’s an offensive profile at full potential that very well may seamlessly carry over to the other side of the diamond as a bona fide right-handed slugger. Of course, reality sets in when remembering this is a player in the infancy his professional career, thus a considerable ways away. Reports were positive on the initial transition in the Gulf Coast League, which makes Reyes an intriguing name within the system and a prospect who could contend for top-10 status next offseason by proving the skills are up to the task in a likely short-season assignment in 2015.
3. RHP Pat Connaughton: Known as a starting guard on Notre Dame’s basketball team in other circles, the thinking is that the 21-year-old right-hander can really blossom when fully focusing on baseball. Connaughton brings a lively fastball that comfortably sits in the low 90s and has the potential to tick up higher as the stamina builds. His 6-foot-5 frame also allows him to get good leverage and create solid plane when delivering offerings. The secondary arsenal does need some work, especially when it comes to sharpening the breaking ball, but he does show solid feel for the changeup. The Orioles are taking a patient route with Connaughton and allowed the prospect to return to school for his final season on the court. They could be rewarded for their strategy and hope that taking a chance on the arm in the fourth round this past year will lead to a solid payout once he enters the system full time next season.
Factors on the Farm (Prospects likely to contribute at the ML level in 2015)
1. OF Dariel Alvarez: The 26-year-old Cuban import spent the past season in Baltimore’s upper levels, where he put together a solid campaign and showed that he’s made the initial adjustment to professional ball. Feedback from sources indicated that the outfielder improved his pitch recognition and avoided frequent bouts of lunging out onto his front foot. The result was a steady output of consistent, hard contact and the ability to adjust his stroke to the path of the ball. Alvarez is more of a free-swinger at the plate, with a larger strike zone and higher margin of error for getting the bat on the ball against less experienced competition. The ante has now gone up with a step into Triple-A and potentially beyond. He should be able to help the big club at some point in 2015, whether it’s in a reserve role or as a fill-in for an extended stretch.
2. RHP Tyler Wilson: The University of Virginia product has steadily risen up the ranks since signing in 2011 and took a step forward this past season in the upper levels of the system. The 25-year-old right-hander has always shown to be able to handle a heavy workload, but also flashed more consistency with the command and crispness of his arsenal, especially in regards to missing more bats with his curveball. Wilson is capable of pounding the strike zone with his low-90s fastbal and possesses good strike throwing ability. He’s around the plate often, but with continued consistency of the curve he can get good bats started early. The changeup plays inconsistently, often on the firm side and lacking strong separation to the heater. It may ultimately play better as a seventh-inning role at peak in the bullpen, but the arm provides good depth in 2015 wherever the organization chooses to utilize it.
3. LHP Jason Gurka: It’s a two-pitch package for the 26-year-old left-hander, where his low-90s fastball and hard breaking curveball have a chance to play successfully in short bursts. Gurka is especially tough on left-handed hitters, which points to a role as a specialist being the most likely path to the major-league roster. The stuff can also play against a right-handed batter or two, so the versatility is not limited. He has the ability to move his heater around the plate, with the offering also sneaking up due to some deception in the delivery. It’s a 25th-man profile, but a piece who can contribute to the big club’s potential success in 2015.
Special thanks to Tucker Blair for his input, influence, and counsel in creating this list. His knowledge of this system is beyond impressive.
Top 10 Talents 25 And Under (born 4/1/89 or later)
Not many picked the Orioles to make the playoffs in 2014, but the team ended up winning 96 games and running away with the American League East. A large part of their success can be traced to the top two players on this 25U list: Manny Machado and Kevin Gausman. Machado was productive when on the field, but injuries lent to what was an overall disappointing for him. He got a late start recovering from his 2013 left knee injury and then his 2014 season ended prematurely in August when he hurt the other knee. The right knee would also require surgery and proved a major obstacle for Baltimore’s pennant hopes. Big, strong and athletic, Machado likely could have handled shortstop when he arrived in the majors and there was some thought he might eventually get a chance to return to the position. Now having suffered injuries to both knees, he’ll probably stay at third base permanently—though his bat is more than potent enough for him to remain a perennial All-Star at the hot corner. A former Friday-night ace at LSU, Gausman has shot through the minors and showed front line stuff in 20 starts for the O’s. The big right-hander performed at an above-average level in his first extended chance to start in the majors. There are still aspects of Gausman’s game that need to be cleaned up and improved, but he’s at the point now where he needs to figure that stuff out against big-league hitters. At ages 24 and 22, both Gausman and Machado will still be eligible for this list next winter. This is one of the elite pairs of young cornerstone players around the game.
The other player on this list who contributed to the 2014 Orioles was Curaçaoan infielder Jonathan Schoop. While the final numbers weren’t all that impressive (.209/.244/.354), Schoop came up and stabilized a position of need for the O’s with his glove and power hitting. There are plenty of reasons to think Schoop will improve on his 2014. He was arguably rushed through the high minors and had his development impeded by a back injury that cost him a couple months in 2013 and what was originally thought to be a lower-back strain turned out to be stress fracture. Schoop could probably have used a longer run at Triple-A to fine-tune his game, but the major-league club had a pressing need. Schoop looks set to open 2015 at second base for the Orioles with the chance to entrench himself as the long-term solution there. He doesn’t necessarily belong on the same tier as Machado-Gausman-Bundy-Harvey, but Schoop looks very much an everyday big-league regular.
While this isn’t a particularly deep farm system, the Orioles have four potential Role 7 players under the age of 25. That’s a tremendous core to build the future around. The present is a team that won 96 games this past season while averaging 91 wins over the last three. It’s also worth noting the O’s didn’t pick until the third round of the amateur draft this year, having given up their first two picks to sign Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez. With the team again not picking until the late 20's this June the top of this 25U list has a chance to look largely the same for a few years running. –Al Skorupa
A Parting Thought: This is a very top heavy system, with Bundy and Harvey shining bright at the front before the talent steeply drops off. However, a few names have the potential to emerge to provide a thicker supporting cast.