A year ago, the Orioles’ top six affiliates combined for a .455 winning percentage.
Only Low-A Delmarva finished with a winning record. None made the playoffs.
Because of that dismal overall showing, for the most part, it was tough to put together the inaugural BaltimoreBaseball.com Orioles Minor League All-Star Squad last September. Sure, some top prospects were slam-dunk selections at their respective spots on the diamond. But at more than one position, I was forced to choose the best player with average statistics.
This year, with the unveiling of the second annual BaltimoreBaseball.com Orioles Minor League All-Star Squad, I have (slightly) better news for readers. But I also have bad news.
I’ll start with the good: The Orioles’ top six affiliates – Triple-A Norfolk, Double-A Bowie, High-A Frederick, Delmarva, Short-A Aberdeen and the Rookie-level GCL Orioles – improved on the organization’s overall record. Collectively, they posted a .482 winning percentage in 2017. It’s still not something to brag about, but it’s better than last year.
Plus, as you know from following the “Dean Jones Report” all year, two of those clubs – Bowie and Frederick – made it to the postseason. The Baysox were swept by Altoona in three games during the Eastern League Western Division Championship Series, while the Keys lost a chance at sharing the Carolina League title when they fell to Lynchburg in a best-of-three series in the league’s Northern Division Championship Series.
And some better news: Three members of my All-Star team played for the Orioles on Tuesday night at Pittsburgh. That doesn’t include outfielder Anthony Santander, who tore up Double-A pitching this year, but didn’t play long enough on a rehab assignment to warrant serious consideration for a season-long award. Still, some of the future is currently the present for the Orioles.
Now, I need to share the bad news: As you’ll see, the Orioles still don’t have true “All-Stars” at every position in the lineup. For the second straight year, some of the honorees were picked simply because they stood slightly above other average performers.
For each position, I picked one All-Star and then listed several deserving candidates with the “honorable mention” designation. To be consistent, I only considered players for the position in which they played the most total games this season.
For example, as you’ll notice, Bowie’s Garabez Rosa was considered only for selection as a right fielder even though he also appeared at five other positions in 2017.
Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s start behind the plate.
CATCHER: Chance Sisco, Norfolk/Orioles
For the second straight year, the 2013 second-round pick gets my vote as the top catcher. Sisco, 22, played most of this season at Norfolk after getting a four-game “cup of coffee” with the club’s top minor-league affiliate to end 2016. In 97 games with the Tides, he hit .267 with seven home runs, 47 RBIs and 23 doubles. Sisco’s offensive numbers were down across the board (his .736 OPS, for example, was about 80 percentage points lower than his career average), but he still earned a major-league call-up when rosters expanded on Sept. 1. Since then, Sisco (pictured above) has appeared in eight games with the Orioles. He’s batting .333 (4-for-12) with two home runs and three RBIs. Defensively, Sisco threw out 21 of 93 runners (23%) attempting to steal this season, according to MILB.com. That still needs to improve for Sisco to be the Orioles’ everyday catcher. He had four passed balls and a .987 fielding percentage. For now, Sisco stands head and shoulders above the other catchers in the organization. That’s why he’s the pick here once again. With that said, Aberdeen’s Ben Breazeale, the Orioles’ seventh-round pick this summer, had an impressive debut. Breazeale, 22, batted .318 with five home runs and 32 RBIs in 57 games. He was the club’s Minor League Player of the Month in July after hitting .390 with 23 RBIs in 27 games.
Honorable mention: Ben Breazeale, Aberdeen; Austin Wynns, Bowie.
FIRST BASE: Aderlin Rodriguez, Bowie
It’s positions like this that make me wonder why I subject myself to selecting a “winner” at every position. On one hand, I could pick a major-league veteran – Norfolk’s Pedro Alvarez – who hit a lot of doubles and home runs while spending nearly the entire year in the minors. (Alvarez, 30, played 42 games in right field during a failed switch to the outfield, but he finished the year with 52 games at first base.) He hit .239 with 31 doubles, 26 home runs and 89 RBIs in 138 games. On another hand, I could choose the son of a former major leaguer – Delmarva’s Preston Palmeiro – who flashed a little bit of pop in his first full season in the system. Palmeiro, 22, batted .253 with 13 home runs and 27 doubles in 127 games. The 2016 seventh-round pick finished with 77 RBIs. On a third hand (we’ll pretend I have one), I could go with a repeat honoree – Bowie’s Rodriguez – who moved up a level and still finished with impressive offensive numbers. The Dominican Republic native, who signed with the Orioles as a minor-league free agent in January 2016, hit .279 with 22 home runs, 25 doubles and 76 RBIs in 125 games with the Baysox. Call me crazy, but I’m going with Rodriguez for the second straight year. In a Baysox lineup that typically featured multiple prospects and other players with higher profiles among Orioles fans, Rodriguez led the team in home runs and finished second to Garabez Rosa in hits (135). Plus, he finished in the top 15 in the Eastern League in OPS (.812). While Alvarez has the noteworthy past and Palmeiro could have a bright future, I’m sticking with my pick from a year ago. One other player worth mentioning: Norfolk’s David Washington, who will turn 27 in November, hit .264 with 18 home runs and 42 RBIs in 102 games. However, he struggled in three games with the Orioles in the middle of June – striking out five times in six at-bats.
Honorable mention: Pedro Alvarez, Norfolk/Orioles; J.C. Escarra, GCL Orioles; Preston Palmeiro, Delmarva; Aderlin Rodriguez, Bowie; David Washington, Norfolk/Orioles.
SECOND BASE: Steve Wilkerson, Frederick/Bowie
The 2014 eighth-round pick played almost as many games at third base (45) between Frederick and Bowie as he did at second base (54). Wilkerson, 25, also made appearances at three other positions this season – right field, first base and shortstop. However, I’m picking the utility player as the top second baseman in the organization since he spent the most time there – and because the organization doesn’t have a lot of talented depth at the position. In 112 games with the Keys and the Baysox, Wilkerson batted .305 with eight home runs, 45 RBIs and 23 doubles. Sure, he hasn’t been flying up the leaderboards. But Orioles manager Buck Showalter has personally noted Wilkerson’s improved play. Plus, the club is sending him to the Arizona Fall League. So, we’ll get a chance to see how he does against some of the game’s top prospects. Meanwhile, the Orioles don’t have much else to talk about at the position. Veteran Johnny Giavotella, hit .306 with 31 extra-base hits and 45 RBIs in 83 games at Norfolk, but he’s not a long-term solution anywhere. Luis Sardiñas, 24, came to the organization via a waiver claim in late May. He finished the year with a .319 average in 83 games and earned the International League’s Player of the Week award on Sept. 4. Max Hogan, 24, turned some heads with the GCL Orioles. The 32nd-round selection batted .310 with 18 extra-base hits, 32 runs scored and 28 RBIs in 40 games.
Honorable mention: Johnny Giavotella, Norfolk/Orioles; Max Hogan, GCL Orioles; Adrian Marin, Bowie; Luis Sardiñas, Norfolk.
SHORTSTOP: Ryan Mountcastle, Frederick/Bowie
I know what you’re thinking: Yes, the Orioles did move Mountcastle, 20, to third base when the club promoted him to the Baysox on July 20. But the 2015 first-round selection (36th overall) played in more games at shortstop (82) than he did at the hot corner (37). Regardless of position, Mountcastle deserves a selection here because of his bat. In 127 games between Frederick and Bowie, he hit .287 with 18 home runs, 62 RBIs and an impressive 48 doubles. While most of the doubles came with the Keys, he did heat up after some early struggles with the Baysox. After struggling to get his average above .200 for the first month at Double-A, Mountcastle had 13 doubles in 39 games. Pay close attention to where he plays during the upcoming Arizona Fall League. Mountcastle has really come along offensively over the past couple of seasons, so the club just needs to find a defensive home for him as he continues to climb the ladder. He’ll most likely start next year at Bowie. We’ll see what happens in his second stint at the Double-A level. Meanwhile, Aberdeen’s Mason McCoy, 22, batted .301 and earned a New York-Penn League All-Star selection in his first season. The club took him in the sixth round in June.
Honorable mention: Chris Clare, Delmarva/Frederick; Mason McCoy, Aberdeen; Erick Salcedo, Bowie.
THIRD BASE: Drew Dosch, Bowie/Norfolk
When I sat down to put together the inaugural BaltimoreBaseball.com Orioles Minor League All-Star Squad last fall, I didn’t initially give Dosch, 25, much thought for the honor. But after looking at the 2013 seventh-round pick’s performance over the course of the entire season – he led all Orioles minor-league third basemen in RBIs in 2016 – I decided to choose him as the honoree at third base. This year, he’s a repeat selection. Dosch quickly earned a promotion to Triple-A after batting .424 with nine RBIs in nine games for Bowie in April. With the Tides, he hit .265 with eight home runs and 47 RBIs in 120 games. Like Wilkerson, those numbers aren’t “offensive standout” material. However, Dosch led the International League with 36 doubles. He scored 58 runs, which was second on the Tides behind Pedro Alvarez (60) – who knocked himself in 26 times with home runs. Lower on the farm, Aberdeen’s Trevor Craport, 21, and the GCL Orioles’ Willy Yahn, 21, both caught my attention during their first season in the organization. Craport – the club’s 11th-round pick this summer – hit .302 with 30 RBIs in 52 games for the IronBirds, while Yahn – the 25th-round selection in June – had 12 doubles and 33 RBIs at the Rookie level. Frederick’s Jomar Reyes, 20, could have been a lock for this spot if he didn’t break his hand punching a wall in late April. The Dominican Republic native batted .302 with four home runs and 21 RBIs in 50 games for the Keys. He’ll likely move to Bowie next year, but we’ll have to see how the positions shake out since Mountcastle will also probably start the season with the Baysox.
Honorable mention: Trevor Craport, Aberdeen; Chris Johnson, Norfolk; Willy Yahn, GCL Orioles.
LEFT FIELD: DJ Stewart, Bowie
I’ll admit it: I wasn’t sure how successful Stewart, 23, would be at Bowie even though he hit a respectable .279 during the second half of the 2016 season at Frederick. Then the 2015 first-round pick (25th overall) got off to a terrible start with the Baysox. Through his first 11 games, Stewart was batting .132 with nine strikeouts and three extra-base hits. But he turned things around dramatically. With back-to-back three-hit games in late April, Stewart vaulted his average above .200 and never looked back. In 27 games in August, he batted .340 with six home runs, nine doubles and 20 RBIs. Along with Austin Hays (more on him in the next section), Stewart played a major role down the stretch in leading the Baysox to an Eastern League playoff spot. In 126 games overall, Stewart finished with a .278 average, 21 home runs, 26 doubles, 79 RBIs, 80 runs and 20 stolen bases (in 24 attempts). He’ll be moving up my “Dean’s Dozen” list of prospects later this offseason. Cole Billingsley, 23, had a solid season for the Shorebirds. The 2016 19th-round selection batted .282 with 24 doubles and 27 stolen bases in 120 games at Delmarva before finishing the year at Bowie. Keep an eye on 18-year-old newcomer Jacob Brown. The 2017 18th-round pick had 13 extra-base hits (six doubles, two triples, five home runs) and 22 RBIs in 43 games for the GCL Orioles.
Honorable mention: Cole Billingsley, Delmarva/Bowie; Jacob Brown, GCL Orioles; Randolph Gassaway, Frederick/Bowie; Gerrion Grim, Delmarva.
CENTER FIELD: Austin Hays, Frederick/Bowie/Orioles
You could call this the biggest no-brainer pick in the history of the BaltimoreBaseball.com Orioles Minor League All-Star Squad. OK, so it has only been two years. Still, the 2016 third-round pick’s meteoric rise through the organization is one that will be hard to duplicate for as long as I’m compiling these postseason accolades. After debuting with a .336 average in 38 games at Aberdeen last season – and earning a spot on this team as a right fielder – Hays, 22, started the year at Frederick. In 64 games with the Keys, he batted .328 with 16 home runs, 41 RBIs, 15 doubles and 42 runs. After a late-June promotion to Bowie, Hays hit .330 with 16 homers, 54 RBIs, 17 doubles and 39 runs in 64 games. But instead of stopping there, the Orioles brought him up to the majors on Sept. 5. In 16 games, Hays is hitting .239 with one home run and eight RBIs. Regardless of whether he makes the Opening Day roster next season, Hays will be a cornerstone in the lineup for years to come. Another player who I believe could grow into that label is Bowie’s Cedric Mullins, who will turn 23 on Oct. 1. Although injuries limited the 2015 13th-round selection to 76 games, he still had 13 home runs, 19 doubles and 53 runs. Look for Mullins to bounce back in 2018.
Honorable mention: Ryan McKenna, Delmarva; Cedric Mullins, Bowie; T.J. Nichting, Aberdeen.
RIGHT FIELD: Ademar Rifaela, Frederick
In right field, I had to pick a winner in the battle of league Most Valuable Players. I gave the edge to the Keys’ Rifaela, who will turn 23 in November. The Curacao native earned the Carolina League MVP award after hitting .284 with 24 home runs, 23 doubles and 78 RBIs in 126 games. His OPS (.858) was significantly better than it was last season – .713 OPS in 97 games, mostly at Delmarva. In 2018, we’ll see whether Rifaela continues to emerge as a genuine prospect or if he just had a career year. For now, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. In the meantime, the other MVP in the running at this position – Bowie’s Rosa – actually played six different positions in 2017. Rosa, who will turn 28 on Oct. 12, appeared in right field (38 games), first base (32), third base (27), center field (18), second base (two) and left field (one). In his 11th season in the organization, the Dominican Republic native batted .310 with 14 home runs, 24 doubles, 75 runs and a league-leading 91 RBIs in 124 games. Jake Ring, 23, earned the organization’s Minor League Player of the Month award in April with a .359 average, three home runs and 19 RBIs in 21 games for Delmarva. But he only batted .232 in 60 games after the All-Star break for the Shorebirds before moving up to Frederick to close out the year.
Honorable mention: Jake Ring, Delmarva/Frederick; Will Robertson, GCL Orioles/Aberdeen; Garabez Rosa, Bowie; Mike Yastrzemski, Bowie/Norfolk.
STARTING PITCHER: Alex Wells, Delmarva
Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. played in 2,632 straight games. That’s a streak that you don’t need to look up if you’re reading this post. I know who the true fans are. But Wells, 20, will carry another impressive streak into the 2018 season. The Australian left-hander hasn’t walked anyone since June 25. That’s a span of 11 starts and 68 consecutive innings. In July, Wells went 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA in five starts. He only gave up 13 hits in 31 innings during the month. With his impressive overall numbers – 11-5, 2.38 ERA, 113 strikeouts in 140 innings – and as the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year, in my mind, Wells didn’t have much competition to become the second Delmarva pitcher to get this spot in as many years. (Left-hander Brian Gonzalez was my choice in 2016.) However, that’s not to say a handful of other starters – particularly at the lower levels – didn’t stand out this season. Aberdeen left-hander Zac Lowther, 21, went 2-2 with a 1.66 ERA in 12 starts. The 2017 competitive balance round B pick struck out 75 hitters in 54 1/3 innings. Right-hander Michael Baumann, 22, posted a 4-2 record and 1.28 ERA in 42 1/3 innings between the GCL Orioles and Aberdeen after the club selected him in the third round in June. Finally, you can’t discount what right-hander Hunter Harvey, 22, did this year during his rehab from Tommy John surgery. In eight starts between the GCL Orioles, Aberdeen and Delmarva, the 2013 first-round selection (22nd overall) only allowed two runs and 11 hits in 18 2/3 innings. He finished with 30 strikeouts and six walks in that span. Depending on how conservative the Orioles take things, Harvey could play a role in the majors in 2018.
Honorable mention: Michael Baumann, GCL Orioles/Aberdeen; Cameron Bishop, GCL Orioles; Aberdeen; Brenan Hanifee, Aberdeen; Hunter Harvey, GCL Orioles/Aberdeen/Delmarva; David Hess, Bowie; Zac Lowther, Aberdeen; John Means, Bowie; Cameron Ming, GCL Orioles/Aberdeen; Tanner Scott, Bowie/Orioles; Mike Wright, Norfolk/Orioles.
RELIEF PITCHER: Jimmy Yacabonis, Norfolk/Orioles
In 2016 – his third full season in the organization – the 2013 13th-round pick finally started to emerge as someone who could play a role in the major league bullpen. Yacabonis, 25, went 2-4 with a 2.64 ERA in 50 total appearances with Frederick and Bowie last season. The right-hander’s development continued this year at Norfolk. In 41 appearances, Yacabonis had a 4-0 record and 1.32 ERA. Yacabonis isn’t an overpowering pitcher – he had 48 strikeouts in 61 1/3 innings with the Tides – but he knows how to get outs. And that’s most important. Opponents only batted .144 against him at Triple-A. He has carried some of that momentum into the majors. In his first 12 appearances with the Orioles, Yacabonis was 2-0 with a 3.24 ERA before giving up four runs in two innings Tuesday to push his big league ERA to 4.82. And he has walked 12 hitters in 18 2/3 innings, so that’s an area that will need to improve next season. Right-hander Lucas Long, who will turn 25 on Oct. 7, played a dual role for the Baysox. In 14 starts, the 2014 24th-round pick was 6-4 with a 3.56 ERA. However, Long had a 1.90 ERA and five saves in 17 games out of the bullpen. Two other pitchers worth singling out for their ability to miss bats this season: Delmarva right-hander Jake Bray, 24, and Aberdeen left-hander Brandon Bonilla, 23. Bray, the club’s 12th-round selection in 2013, struck out 82 hitters in 51 innings at Delmarva. Bonilla, the 13th-round pick last year, is the son of former Orioles outfielder/third baseman Bobby Bonilla. In 18 2/3 innings with the IronBirds this summer, he had a 1.93 ERA and 33 strikeouts.
Honorable mention: Brandon Bonilla, Aberdeen; Jake Bray, Delmarva; Scott Burke, Aberdeen; Stefan Crichton, Norfolk/Orioles; Jay Flaa, Frederick; Luis Gonzalez, Frederick; Steven Klimek, Delmarva; Lucas Long, Bowie; Ryan Meisinger, Bowie; Richard Rodriguez, Norfolk/Orioles; James Teague, Aberdeen/Delmarva.