Dean Jones Report: Wrapping up another minor league season - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dean Jones Report

Dean Jones Report: Wrapping up another minor league season

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

Just like that, another minor league season is in the books.

Triple-A Norfolk (69-71) fumbled away a postseason berth with a 5-15 record in its final 20 games, including an eight-game losing streak from Aug. 26 through last Saturday. Because of that slide, the Tides wound up in third place in the International League’s South Division.

On the other hand, Double-A Bowie (67-71) went 19-13 after the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. Of course, that’s when the club received an injection of new players during the Orioles’ overhaul. But it was too little, too late for the Baysox to make a serious run at the playoffs. Bowie ended up in fourth place in the Eastern League’s Western Division.

Things didn’t turn out any better at the lower levels.

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In the Carolina League’s Northern Division, High-A Frederick (65-72) went 35-34 in the first half. The Keys finished three games behind Potomac for a playoff spot. In the second half, Frederick dropped to last place in the division. The club finished with a 30-38 record.

With seven straight wins to start the year, it looked like Low-A Delmarva (68-66) might be headed for a special season. But after the one-two punch of right-hander Michael Baumann and left-hander Zac Lowther headed to Frederick, the Shorebirds lost their momentum.

Delmarva ended the first half in fourth place in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division with a 35-32 record. The Shorebirds were 33-34 in the second half.

In a tight New York-Penn League, Short-A Aberdeen (38-37) remained in contention for a playoff spot until the final week of the season. However, the IronBirds ultimately finished tied for last place in the McNamara Division, seven games out of first place. They only ended up 2 1/2 games out of the league’s wild-card spot, but trailed three other teams.

The Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles (13-42) played a lot like the major-league squad. The GCL Orioles finished 20 games out of first place in the league’s South Division.

By now, you know the drill – or at least, you should if you’ve been reading all season.

The weekly “Dean Jones Report” is my way to keep readers updated about the top players in the Orioles’ minor-league system. It includes the latest news on the 12 prospects in my “Dean’s Dozen” rankings, as well as other notable performers in the organization.

Remember, as I told you last week, we’ll publish BaltimoreBaseball.com’s third annual “Orioles Minor League All-Star Squad” later this month. In the meantime, I want to hear which players you think should be included. Share your thoughts in the comments section.

One final note before this week’s update: Because I had a lot of “surging” players who I wanted to feature, I decided to skip the “falling” category. After all, during a season in which the Orioles will lose more than 100 games, we don’t need any more negativity.

DEAN’S DOZEN

No. 1: Ryan Mountcastle, 3B, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: .297, 13 HRs, 59 RBIs, 19 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 63 runs in 102 games
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With a trio of three-hit performances in his final five games, the 2015 first-round selection (36th overall) finished strong. Mountcastle, 21, had a double, two singles and three runs in Bowie’s 17-6 victory over Altoona in the season finale Monday. A day earlier, he hit his 13th homer of the year – a two-run shot with no outs in the sixth – as the Baysox charged back from a 10-1 deficit with six runs in the inning. However, they still lost to the Curve, 10-8. Last Friday, Mountcastle went 3-for-6 with three singles and an RBI. Although he only hit .275 in 45 games after the Eastern League All-Star break – compared with .316 in 57 games in the first half – I’m still “bullish” on Mountcastle. His star is as bright as ever.

No. 2: Yusniel Diaz, OF, Bowie
BEARISH
Statistics: .314, 6 HRs, 30 RBIs, 10 2Bs, 4 3Bs, 36 runs in 59 games (Double-A Tulsa); .239, 5 HRs, 15 RBIs, 5 2Bs, 23 runs in 38 games (Bowie)
MILB.com Player Page

On the surface, the Cuba native’s overall performance with the Baysox doesn’t stand out. With a .239 average in 38 games, he finished 75 percentage points below his .314 average in 59 games at Double-A Tulsa in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization earlier this year. However, he hit safely in five of his final six games before leaving Sunday in the top of the fifth. Diaz also didn’t play in the season finale Monday, but I heard that he isn’t injured. Nevertheless, I’m listing Diaz as “bearish” this week simply because I expected to see more firepower by now. With that said, he still has plenty of time to develop into a star.

No. 3: Austin Hays, OF, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: .242, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs, 12 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 34 runs in 66 games (Bowie); .189, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs, 6 runs in 9 games (Aberdeen)
MILB.com Player Page

If I were judging the entire season, I’d have to be “bearish” on the 2016 third-round pick. Hays, 23, missed more than two months because of an ankle injury. And even before that, he struggled at the plate – batting only .224 with 43 strikeouts in 43 games in the first half. But since I’m only looking at recent performance, I’m staying “bullish” today. In nine games from Aug. 26 until the end of the season Monday, he hit .286 (12-for-42). More important, he had four homers, four doubles and 13 RBIs in that stretch. Last week, he was named as one of the Orioles’ representatives for the Arizona Fall League. However, Orioles manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Seattle earlier this week that Hays’ ankle remains sore. If that’s the case, just let him rest and get ready for spring training next year.

No. 4: DL Hall, LHP, Delmarva
BULLISH
Statistics: 2-7, 2.10 ERA, 100 Ks, 42 BBs in 94 1/3 innings
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In the second half, the 2017 first-round selection (21st overall) went 2-2 with a 0.84 ERA in 11 games (10 starts). Hall, who will turn 20 on Sept. 19, only allowed five earned runs in 53 2/3 innings after the South Atlantic League All-Star break. Meanwhile, he struck out 64 batters and only surrendered 32 hits in that span. That should tell you all you need to know about Hall’s season. He wrapped up the year with five shutout innings in the Shorebirds’ 3-1 win at Lakewood last Friday. Hall had five strikeouts and gave up two hits in the game. He’s ready to take the next step up the organizational ladder, but how far will he climb in 2019?

No. 5: Keegan Akin, LHP, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: 14-7, 3.27 ERA, 142 Ks, 58 BBs in 137 2/3 innings
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Akin, 23, didn’t start for the Baysox in their season finale Monday as initially expected. As a result, the 2016 second-round pick finished one win short of right-hander Brad Bergesen’s franchise record in a single season. Even though Akin allowed 10 runs in 7 2/3 innings over his final two starts, you can’t take anything away from his performance in 2018. On Sunday, the Eastern League named Akin as its Pitcher of the Year. He allowed three earned runs or fewer in 20 of his 25 starts. We could see him at Camden Yards in early 2019.

No. 6: Dillon Tate, RHP, Bowie
BEARISH
Statistics: 5-2, 3.38 ERA, 75 Ks, 25 BBs in 82 2/3 innings (Double-A Trenton); 2-3, 5.75 ERA, 21 Ks, 9 BBs in 40 2/3 innings (Bowie)
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In his final start, the Texas Rangers’ 2015 first-round selection (fourth overall) threw 103 pitches in 5 2/3 innings Saturday against Altoona. Bowie rallied for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game and get Tate, 24, off the hook before eventually falling, 6-3. Acquired from the New York Yankees on July 24 in the deal for closer Zach Britton, Tate failed to impress in seven starts with the Baysox. Despite two quality starts toward the end of the year, opponents batted an alarming .302 in 40 2/3 innings against him after the trade. I’m not throwing in the towel on Tate, but it’s a situation worth watching in 2019.

No. 7: Luis Ortiz, RHP, Orioles
BULLISH
Statistics: 3-4, 3.71 ERA, 65 Ks, 18 BBs in 68 innings (Double-A Biloxi); 2-1, 3.69 ERA, 21 Ks, 8 BBs in 31 2/3 innings (Norfolk)
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On the flip side from Tate is Ortiz, who will turn 23 on Sept. 22. After coming over from the Milwaukee Brewers in the deal for infielder Jonathan Schoop, the Rangers’ 2014 first-round pick (30th overall) went 2-1 with a 3.69 ERA in six starts with the Tides. On Saturday, Ortiz gave up four runs and seven hits – including three homers – in five innings at Durham. He hadn’t allowed that many runs in a start since June 21, when he was still at Double-A Biloxi. And in 53 2/3 innings during that stretch, he had only surrendered two homers. So, I’m willing to dismiss that performance as an anomaly. More important for Ortiz’s future, the Orioles promoted him to the majors this week. We’ll see how he pitches down the stretch.

No. 8: Jean Carlos Encarnacion, 3B, Delmarva
BEARISH
Statistics: .288, 10 HRs, 57 RBIs, 23 2Bs, 5 3Bs, 45 runs in 97 games (Low-A Rome); .218, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs, 4 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 10 runs in 26 games (Delmarva)
MILB.com Player Page

The Dominican Republic native crashed across the finish line of the 2018 season. Encarnacion, 20, only batted .109 (5-for-46) with 19 strikeouts and two walks in his final 12 games. He went hitless in 18 straight at-bats before hitting a double in the seventh inning Sunday at Lakewood. As a result of the season-ending slump, Encarnacion’s total on-base percentage between Delmarva and Low-A Rome dropped to less than .300 (.298). While I have little choice than to be “bearish” on him this week, I’m still “bullish” in the long run.

No. 9: Ryan McKenna, OF, Bowie
BEARISH
Statistics: .377, 8 HRs, 18 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 37 RBIs, 60 runs in 67 games (Frederick); .239, 3 HRs, 16 RBIs, 8 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 35 runs in 60 games (Bowie)
MILB.com Player Page

Overall, you have to consider the 2015 fourth-round pick’s season a success because of his domination of the Carolina League for two and a half months with Frederick. But McKenna, 21, struggled after moving up to Bowie on June 21, finishing with an average (.239) that was much worse than he hit with the Keys (.377). At Frederick, McKenna had 46 hits in 28 games in May. He only had 51 hits – and 56 strikeouts – in 60 games with Bowie. Look, I’m not writing McKenna off at all. It just proves that he’ll need to adjust in order to be as successful at the higher levels. We’ll see how he performs with the Baysox next season.

No. 10: Zac Lowther, LHP, Frederick
BULLISH
Statistics: 3-1, 1.16 ERA, 51 Ks, 9 BBs in 31 innings (Delmarva); 5-3, 2.53 ERA, 100 Ks, 26 BBs in 92 2/3 innings (Frederick)
MILB.com Player Page

Lowther, 22, finished with the most strikeouts (151) and the lowest ERA (2.18) among qualifying pitchers in the Orioles’ minor-league system. Even though Akin was the Eastern League’s Pitcher of the Year, I’d still pick the 2017 competitive balance round B selection as the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year if I had a vote. Lowther wrapped up his season last Saturday against Myrtle Beach. He only gave up one hit in five scoreless innings. Lowther had eight strikeouts and didn’t walk anyone for the second straight start. He held opponents to two earned runs or fewer in 19 of his 23 games this season.

No. 11: Dean Kremer, RHP, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: 5-3, 3.30 ERA, 114 Ks, 26 BBs in 79 innings (High-A Rancho Cucamonga); 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 11 Ks, 3 BBs in 7 innings (Double-A Tulsa); 4-2, 2.58 ERA, 53 Ks, 17 BBs in 45 1/3 innings (Bowie)
MILB.com Player Page

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2016 14th-round pick struck out 10 batters during Bowie’s 9-5 loss to Altoona in 11 innings last Friday. Kremer, 22, didn’t factor into the decision after giving up three runs and six hits in six innings. It was the first time he reached double-digits in strikeouts with the Baysox. However, Kremer achieved that feat in three other games in the Dodgers’ minor-league system before coming to the Orioles in the trade for infielder Manny Machado in mid-July. He finished with an overall record of 10-5 and a 2.88 ERA in 25 starts this season. Kremer led all minor leaguers with 178 strikeouts in 131 1/3 innings.

No. 12: Jean Carmona, SS, Aberdeen
BULLISH
Statistics: .239, 4 HRs, 24 RBIs, 8 2Bs, 3 3Bs, 28 runs in 39 games (Rookie-level Helena); .226, 0 HRs, 7 RBIs, 7 2Bs, 9 runs in 24 games (Aberdeen)
MILB.com Player Page

Notice that I’m ending the season with a “bullish” rating on the Dominican Republic native. That might seem surprising when you see the overall numbers for Carmona, who won’t turn 19 until Halloween. But in his final six games, Carmona batted .333 (7-for-21) with two walks and five runs. During that stretch, he raised his average with Aberdeen from .194 to .226. In the IronBirds’ 8-7 win at Hudson Valley in the season finale Monday, Carmona had a pair of doubles and scored twice. So, even though Carmona has struggled for the most part in his limited time in the organization, he played well in the final week. He’s still at least a few years away from the majors, but we’ll see if he can start fast in 2019.

2018 DRAFT SPOTLIGHT

Cadyn Grenier, SS, Delmarva: On Aug. 11, the competitive balance round A pick’s average fell to a season-low .163. That’s when everything changed for Grenier, who will turn 22 on Halloween. In his final 16 games, Grenier batted .297 (19-for-64) with 11 runs. As a result, he wrapped up his first professional season with a much more respectable .216 average.

SURGING

Rylan Bannon, 2B-3B, Bowie: Bannon, 22, went hitless in 31 consecutive at-bats from Aug. 3 through Aug. 21. That dropped his average with the Baysox to an abysmal .100. But like Grenier, the Dodgers’ 2017 eighth-round selection surged to end the year. Bannon hit safely in 10 of his final 12 games. He batted .368 (14-for-38) with 13 walks in that span.

Michael Baumann, RHP, Frederick: If you’re paying attention, you’ll remember that I had the 2017 third-round pick in the “falling” category last week. But Baumann, who will turn 23 on Monday, earned the Carolina League’s Pitcher of the Week award for throwing seven shutout innings in his final start at Potomac on Aug. 30. That’s worth acknowledging here.

Cameron Bishop, LHP, Delmarva: In five starts in May, the 2017 26th-round selection went 2-2 with a 5.28 ERA in 29 innings. But Bishop, 22, shined in the other four months, posting a 7-5 record and 2.23 ERA in 96 2/3 innings. Although he’s often overshadowed by other pitchers in the system, Bishop held left-handed hitters to a .177 average this season.

J.C. Escarra, 1B, Aberdeen: The 2017 15th-round pick broke Trey Mancini’s club record with a .331 average in 51 games this season. In 2013, Mancini hit .328 in 68 games with the IronBirds. Escarra, 23, batted .362 (38-for-105) with 19 RBIs in 27 games in August. He also played 12 games with Frederick in April, hitting .229 (8-for-35) in that span.

Zach Pop, RHP, Bowie: Things didn’t start well in a Baysox uniform for Pop, who will turn 22 on Sept. 20. In his first appearance after coming to the organization in the deal for Machado, the Dodgers’ 2017 seventh-round selection gave up three runs without getting an out. In 21 1/3 innings after that, Pop only allowed three earned runs (1.27 ERA).

Alex Wells, LHP, Frederick: In August, the Australia native had a 3-1 record and a 1.97 ERA in five starts. Wells, 21, struck out 29 batters and only issued four walks in 32 innings. Opponents only hit .188 against him in that span. As a result, the Orioles picked Wells as the Minor League Pitcher of the Month. Overall, he went 7-8 with a 3.47 ERA in 135 innings.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. boss61

    September 7, 2018 at 8:52 am

    Sarasota should be an interesting free-for-all, with many open positions on the big league club for some of these guys. Some will fizzle too though. Hopefully these trades prove better than Syd Thrift’s, but the jury remains out.

  2. Dblack2508

    September 7, 2018 at 9:58 am

    The minor league system is far better than a year ago, still much needs to be done to catch up with other franchises systems.

  3. Fareastern89

    September 7, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    It definitely looks like we have more pitchers with substantial upside — Hall, Kremer, Lowther, Grayson Rodriguez — than in recent years. Ortiz and Akin ought to fit somewhere on a major league staff — at least in the bullpen. (No disrespect intended.). Let’s see what a few years of high draft choices will add to the mix.

  4. TheGreat8

    September 7, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    thanks Dean! Enjoyed reading this all season. Gave me a little bit of hope!

  5. Grand Strand Bird Fan

    September 7, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    Really enjoyed your work. Hopefully, the Orioles will add more depth to their system in next years draft and continue building a quality farm system.

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