It’s clear that the Orioles’ minor league teams collectively had a rough 2016 season.
As I mentioned in the final “Dean Jones Report” last week, only Delmarva finished with a winning record this year. The Orioles’ top six affiliates – Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick, Delmarva, Aberdeen and the GCL Orioles – combined for a .455 winning percentage.
But I didn’t realize how bad the year went for the organization as a whole at some positions until I sat down to compile our inaugural BaltimoreBaseball.com Orioles Minor League All-Star Squad.
Sure, there were a handful of players who took big steps forward in 2016. And you’ll see that a couple of positions required tough choices. But you’ll also notice that other positions have a winner with very average statistics.
For each position, I named one All Star and recognized any additional deserving candidates with the “honorable mention” designation. To be consistent, players were only considered for the position in which they played the most total games in 2016.
I didn’t include players who are no longer in the organization – even if they spent the majority of the year within the Orioles’ minor league system.
For example, left-hander Ashur Tolliver – who was 1-1 with a 2.09 ERA in 29 appearances for Bowie and Norfolk this season – would have been a candidate as the organization’s top minor league reliever. But the Los Angeles Angels claimed Tolliver off waivers from the Orioles earlier this month.
With all of that said, let’s start behind the plate and work our way around the diamond.
Chance Sisco, Bowie/Norfolk
The 2013 second-round selection gets the nod here over breakthrough candidate Yermin Mercedes in what really was a two-player race all season. Sisco, 21, batted .320 and led the Eastern League with a .406 on-base percentage before finishing the year with four games at Norfolk. All he did in his limited action with the Tides was hit two home runs and drive in seven runs, including five in his Triple-A debut on Sept. 1. Five of Sisco’s six home runs came in the second half, and he added a career-high 28 doubles with the Baysox. He was a midseason and postseason All-Star selection in the Eastern League and homered in the All-Star Futures Game in July. Mercedes, 23, hit a combined .345 with 20 home runs, 31 doubles and 77 RBIs in 122 games between Delmarva and Frederick. The Dominican Republic native also earned midseason and postseason All-Star honors – with his coming in the South Atlantic League. He hit three home runs in the Shorebirds’ 8-6 win over Kannapolis on July 23. If I were giving these awards based solely on statistics, Mercedes would be the runaway winner at catcher. But Sisco’s status at the top of the prospect ladder within the organization makes him my pick.
Honorable mention: Yermin Mercedes, Delmarva/Frederick; Alex Murphy, Delmarva; Audry Perez, Norfolk.
Aderlin Rodriguez, Frederick
Remember everything I just said above about prospect status taking precedence with my All-Star squad? Well, I think what the eight-year minor leaguer Rodriguez – who will be 25 in November – did with the Keys this year still puts him ahead of Norfolk’s Trey Mancini as far as the best performance by a first baseman within the organization in 2016. Sure, the 24-year-old Mancini played two levels above Rodriguez for most of the season. And if I had picked the winner in July, it more than likely would have been Mancini. But the 2013 eighth-round selection batted just .262 with three home runs and 24 RBIs in 52 games after the All-Star break for the Tides. Meanwhile, Rodriguez hit .325 with 16 home runs and 53 RBIs in 65 games with the Keys during the second half. He led the Carolina League with an .891 OPS this year and finished second in the league with 26 home runs – a total that led all Orioles minor leaguers. He also finished first among Orioles minor leaguers with 93 RBIs. Mancini obviously has the higher ceiling of the two players. But Rodriguez dominated his High-A competition from start to finish this year and deserves the nod.
Honorable mention: Seamus Curran, GCL Orioles/Aberdeen; Trey Mancini, Bowie/Norfolk.
Garabez Rosa, Bowie/Norfolk
This is one of those positions that I was talking about earlier. There isn’t much depth at second base in the Orioles’ minor league system right now. I guess that’s not entirely a bad thing considering 24-year-old Jonathan Schoop is cemented at the position at the major league level. Plus, the Orioles could always shift other players over to second base if needed, just like they did with Schoop as he came up through the system. For this year, though, Rosa had the best all-around season for a second baseman. The 26-year-old utility player also played first base, third base, shortstop, center field and right field this year. Rosa, who was selected as a midseason and postseason All-Star in the Eastern League, batted .293 with nine home runs, 22 doubles and 65 RBIs in 130 games (110 at Bowie, 20 at Norfolk). He has logged more games for Bowie than any other player in Baysox history. This was his highest season average since he hit .322 in 55 games with the GCL Orioles and Aberdeen in 2008. Corban Joseph, the younger brother of Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, batted a career-high .315 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs while splitting the year between the Baysox (22 games) and the Tides (85 games). Alejandro Juvier, 20, only hit .228, but the 2014 15th-round pick led the IronBirds with 28 RBIs in 58 games this season.
Honorable mention: Corban Joseph, Bowie/Norfolk; Alejandro Juvier, Aberdeen.
Ryan Mountcastle, Delmarva
In a slam-dunk selection, the 2015 first-round selection (36th overall) was the only real candidate who had an All-Star-caliber year at shortstop in the organization. Mountcastle, 19, finished the season with a .281 average, 10 home runs, 28 doubles and 51 RBIs in 115 games for the Shorebirds. Although he only batted .268 in 60 games after the All-Star break (compared with .297 in 55 first-half games), Mountcastle had 13 extra-base hits (seven doubles, two triples, four home runs) and 18 RBIs in 25 games in August. It’s fun to look at the small sample size of his splits, too. In 116 at-bats against left-handers, Mountcastle hit .379. He only batted .248 in 339 at-bats versus righties. Overall, Mountcastle appears to be ready offensively to take the next step within the organization. It would have been nice for him to move up to Frederick late in the year – like outfielder and fellow 2015 first-round pick DJ Stewart did – but it’s clear that the Orioles are being patient. Erick Salcedo, 23, hit the first three home runs of his seven-year minor league career with the Keys in 2016. He also shattered career highs with 23 doubles and 30 RBIs in 133 games. The Venezuela native finished tied for third in the Carolina League with eight triples.
Honorable mention: Erick Salcedo, Frederick.
Drew Dosch, Bowie
Quick, tell me which third baseman within the Orioles’ minor league system had the most RBIs in 2016. OK, I pretty much gave it away since I have Dosch, 24, listed above. The 2013 seventh-round selection matched a career high with 55 RBIs in 113 games for the Baysox this year. That’s more than Jomar Reyes at Frederick (51 RBIs in 126 games) and Michael Almanzar at Norfolk (41 RBIs in 118 games). Dosch hit .261 and had the most home runs (nine) and triples (nine) in his three-year minor league career. And, most important, he finished the season strong. Dosch batted .306 with 22 extra-base hits (11 doubles, six triples, five home runs) and 25 RBIs in 47 games after the All-Star break. Reyes, 19, played the 2016 season as the youngest player in the Carolina League. And it showed at times. Although he reached double digits in home runs (10), Reyes’ doubles dropped from 29 in 89 games last season to 16 this year. Still, the organization’s top prospect at the position will have plenty of time to bounce back in 2017 and beyond.
Honorable mention: Michael Almanzar, Norfolk; Jomar Reyes, Frederick.
Christian Walker, Norfolk
Walker, 25, appears to have taken a backseat within the organization after he failed to play in a major league game – to this point, at least – for the first time since 2013. But despite shifting to the outfield this season, the 2012 fourth-round pick quietly ranked among the International League leaders in several offensive categories. Walker (pictured above, with Orioles in 2014) finished fifth in total bases (220), eighth in hits (133), tied for eighth in home runs (18) and tied for 10th in doubles (29). On the negative side, he was also third in the league with 138 strikeouts. Defensively, Walker had a .978 fielding percentage after making just three errors all season. Julio Borbon, the 30-year-old veteran who played in six games with the Orioles earlier this year, finished seventh in the Eastern League with 30 stolen bases. Stewart, 22, fared much better after a midseason promotion to Frederick. He batted .279 with six home runs and 30 RBIs in 59 games with the Keys (compared to a .230 average, four home runs, 25 RBIs in 62 games in the first half at Delmarva). The 2015 first-round pick (25th overall) was successful on 26 of his 35 stolen-base attempts between the two levels this year.
Honorable mention: Julio Borbon, Bowie/Orioles; Randolph Gassaway, Aberdeen/Delmarva; DJ Stewart, Delmarva/Frederick.
Cedric Mullins, Delmarva
The 21-year-old switch-hitter demonstrated his speed and power with the Shorebirds in 2016. Mullins, who was picked in the 13th round last year, batted .273 with 61 extra-base hits (37 doubles, 10 triples, 14 home runs) in 124 games for the Shorebirds. He also had 30 stolen bases and was caught stealing just six times. Mullins earned the South Atlantic League’s Player of the Week award after he hit .433 (13-for-30) with three home runs, seven RBIs and three stolen bases in seven games during the final week of the season. He finished among the league leaders in several offensive categories – including second in triples and extra-base hits, as well as third in hits (141), doubles and runs scored (79). Jay Gonzalez, 24, only hit .251 in 104 games split between the Keys (85 games) and the Baysox (19 games), but his speed has earned him a regular role in the organization. He led Orioles minor leaguers with 43 stolen bases in 52 attempts this year. Jake Ring, the club’s 31st-round selection in June, hit .278 with 21 RBIs in 51 games for the GCL Orioles before earning a promotion to Delmarva for the final weekend of the season.
Honorable mention: Jay Gonzalez, Frederick/Bowie; Ryan McKenna, Aberdeen; Jake Ring, GCL Orioles/Delmarva.
Austin Hays, Aberdeen
There were a lot of solid – but not great – candidates among right fielders in the Orioles’ minor league system in 2016. Dariel Alvarez, 27, led the International League with 38 doubles and had a 20-game hitting streak from July 8 through Aug. 4. And the Cuba native had 13 outfield assists while only making one error all year. Conor Bierfeldt, 25, had 20 home runs and 21 doubles in only 83 games between Frederick and Bowie. Ademar Rifaela, 21, had 13 home runs in 97 games for the Shorebirds and the Keys. And 2016 19th-round selection Cole Billingsley, 22, was a New York-Penn League All-Star. While a case could be made for Alvarez as the best right fielder in the organization this year, I’m going with the promise that Hays, 21, showed in his first few months in the system. In 38 games with the IronBirds, the third-round pick batted .336 with 15 extra-base hits (nine doubles, two triples, four home runs) and 21 RBIs. He had 17 multi-hit performances this year, including six, three-hit games. He’s going to be one of my “must see” players heading into 2017.
Honorable mention: Dariel Alvarez, Norfolk; Conor Bierfeldt, Frederick/Bowie; Cole Billingsley, Aberdeen; Ademar Rifaela, Delmarva/Frederick.
Brian Gonzalez, Delmarva
The 2014 third-round selection would have been my selection for Bounceback Player of the Year if I had created that award in this write-up. Gonzalez, 20, was 4-9 with a 5.71 ERA in 23 starts for the Shorebirds in 2015. The left-hander made nine starts that were shorter than five innings. This year, Gonzalez was 10-8 with a 2.50 ERA in 27 starts with Delmarva. He pitched at least five innings in 24 of them. In the first four months (20 games) of the season, Gonzalez only allowed three home runs in a span of 109 1/3 innings. Keegan Akin, 21, dominated the New York-Penn League after the Orioles picked the left-hander in the second round in June. He had a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings and didn’t allow a run after July 24 – a span of 20 innings. Alex Wells, a 19-year-old Australian left-hander, was selected for the New York-Penn League All-Star Game after going 4-5 with a 2.03 ERA in 10 starts before the break. He finished with a 2.15 ERA in 2016. Matthew Grimes, 25, went 8-4 with a 1.45 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) with the Keys before being promoted to Bowie. The right-hander struggled with the Baysox, going 3-5 with a 4.68 ERA in 11 starts and taking himself out of the discussion for this honor. Still, he led all Orioles minor leaguers with 11 wins overall this year.
Honorable mention: Keegan Akin, Aberdeen; Cristian Alvarado, Delmarva; Matthew Grimes, Frederick/Bowie; Jhon Peluffo, GCL Orioles/Delmarva; Alex Wells, Aberdeen.
Donnie Hart, Bowie/Orioles
When I started writing today, I initially picked Jason Stoffel as the top reliever in the organization in 2016. The 27-year-old right-hander was 3-4 with a 2.44 ERA and 24 saves in 31 chances between Bowie and Norfolk this year. He had 78 strikeouts in 59 innings across the two levels. But Stoffel stumbled a bit down the stretch. The same can be said about Garrett Cleavinger, the club’s third-round selection in the 2015 draft. The 22-year-old left-hander was 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 39 innings for Delmarva in the first half. But after earning a promotion to Frederick, Cleavinger was just 2-3 with a 4.82 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. Right-hander Jesus Liranzo, 21, might have received the most praise among Orioles minor league relievers this year. He had 46 strikeouts and a 1.05 ERA in 34 1/3 innings with Delmarva before jumping up to Bowie in July. Overall, opponents batted only .116 in 53 innings against him in 2016. But my pick for the best man out of the bullpen in 2016 goes to Hart, 26, because of the left-hander’s success at the major league level. In 40 games with the Baysox this year, Hart was 3-1 with a 2.72 ERA. He struck out 50 hitters in 46 1/3 innings and lefties batted just .188 against him. Through Hart’s first 14 appearances with the Orioles, he has yet to allow a run. Left-handers are only hitting .185 versus him.
Honorable mention: Garrett Cleavinger, Delmarva/Frederick; Oliver Drake, Norfolk/Orioles; Jesus Liranzo, Delmarva/Bowie; Ryan Meisinger, Delmarva/Frederick; Richard Rodriguez, Norfolk; Jason Stoffel, Bowie/Norfolk; Jimmy Yacabonis, Frederick/Bowie.