Projecting where the Orioles' top prospects will start in 2020 - Part 1 - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Projecting where the Orioles’ top prospects will start in 2020 — Part 1

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

With the Orioles struggling at the major league level in 2019, fans looked to the minor leagues for optimism. When he was hired, general manager Mike Elias said he wanted to create an “elite talent pipeline,” and that plan got off to an encouraging start in 2019. Several prospects left over from the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era made progress, and a few 2019 draftees made an immediate impact.

Baseball’s offseason has begun, and I’m breaking down where Oriole prospects are likely to start the 2020 season. Part 1 focuses on the top prospects; Part 2 next week will be about fringe prospects and some I find intriguing.

1.) Adley Rutschman, catcher
2019: .254/.351/.423 across Gulf Coast League, Short season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva
2020 projection: High-A Frederick

The 2019 No. 1 overall pick should continue to progress through the Orioles’ system in 2020. By starting in Frederick, Rutschman can continue to develop a rapport with 2018 first-round pick Grayson Rodriguez and promising 2018 fourth-rounder Drew Rom. Rutschman’s defense appeared to be ahead of his offense in his first professional season. He threw out seven of 11 runners and drew rave reviews from Delmarva’s coaching staff behind the plate, while settling in and adjusting to the pitching at each level. If everything goes according to plan, Rutschman should get promoted to Double-A Bowie during 2020.

2.) Grayson Rodriguez, pitcher
2019: 10-4, 2.68 ERA, 119 strikeouts in 94 IP in Delmarva
2020 projection: Frederick

The 19-year-old Rodriguez (pictured above) lived up to his first-round billing for the Shorebirds, selected to the MLB Futures Game and sharing the Jim Palmer Pitcher of the Year Award with Michael Baumann. Opponents hit .171 off him, and only .268 on balls put in play, according to Fangraphs. Even though he shows a ton of promise, don’t expect the Orioles to rush him through the minors. Pitchers drafted out of high school generally build up their arms, which is exactly what Rodriguez will do with the Keys next year.

3.) DL Hall, pitcher
2019: 4-5, 3.46 ERA, 116 strikeouts in 80 2/3 IP in Frederick
2020 projection: Bowie

Hall’s stuff was electric in Frederick; opponents hit just .189 and struck out nearly 13 times per nine innings. But when Hall wasn’t getting batters out, he was struggling with control. He walked 6.02 batters per nine innings and ended up allowing more walks (54) than hits (53). Hall’s 2019 season ended slightly earlier than expected because of a left lat strain, though it was more of a precaution than a serious injury. Despite the control issues, Hall had enough success in the Carolina League to move up to Bowie in 2020.

4.) Yusniel Diaz, outfielder
2019: .265/.341/.464 across Aberdeen, Frederick, Bowie
2020 projection: Triple-A Norfolk

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The top player from the July 2018 Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers has lost a bit of his luster, though he still put together a solid year while battling through nagging injuries. He hit .262 in Bowie compared to .239 last year, and his weighted runs created plus jumped from 106 to 135, according to Fangraphs. However, there are still some concerns about the Cuban outfielder. His strikeout rate jumped from 18.4 percent for the Baysox in 2018 to 20.8 percent in 2019, and his pull rate increased from 43 percent to 49.3 percent, which could make him an easy shift target. Diaz looks like a major league ballplayer and has shown flashes of that talent in spurts, but there are still questions about whether he’ll put it all together.

5.) Gunnar Henderson, shortstop
2019: .259/.331/.370 in GCL
2020 projection: Aberdeen or Delmarva

The Orioles’ 2019 pick initially struggled in his first professional season with a 2-for-17 start but batted .285 the rest of the way. That’s promising, especially when you consider how young Henderson is. He was still a few weeks shy of his 18th birthday when the Orioles drafted him and was the second-youngest position player drafted in the first two rounds. He’ll still be 18 when next year begins and may not be ready for a full minor league season. Henderson could take the same path Adam Hall did when drafted as an 18-year-old in 2017. Hall was sent to the IronBirds in 2018 after spending his first professional summer in the GCL.

6.) Dean Kremer, pitcher
2019: 9-6, 3.72 ERA, 122 strikeouts in 113 1/3 innings in Frederick, Bowie, Norfolk
2020 projection: Norfolk

A year after being traded to the Orioles in the Machado deal, Kremer looks like the prospect with the highest upside. He was one of the best pitchers in the Eastern League before being called up to Norfolk, striking out 87 batters in 84 2/3 innings with a solid fastball-curveball combination. He didn’t have the same success in Triple-A, posting an 8.84 ERA in four starts. Kremer’s opponents’ batting average jumped from .236 to .359, and Norfolk manager Gary Kendall said Kremer struggled to adjust the second time through the order. Kremer was sent to the Arizona Fall League to catch up on innings after missing the first few weeks of the season with an injury. He posted a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings in Arizona.

7.) Zac Lowther, pitcher
2019: 13-7, 2.55 ERA, 154 strikeouts in 148 innings in Bowie
2020 projection: Norfolk

Since being drafted by the Orioles in the second round of the 2017 MLB Draft, Lowther has been one of the best pitchers in the organization. After sharing the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Keegan Akin in 2018, Lowther might’ve been even better in Double-A Bowie. His fastball sits in the high 80s to low 90s, but its movement continues to deceive batters. Opponents hit just .194 off him after hitting .197 across Delmarva and Frederick, and the percent of balls in play hit to the opposite field jumped from 30.9 percent with the Keys to 36.3 percent with the Baysox, according to Fangraphs. Lowther walked more batters in 2019, but that might have been the result of continuing to develop secondary pitches. He’ll look to continue that development to complement his fastball in Triple-A.

8.) Alex Wells, pitcher
8-6, 2.95 ERA, 105 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings in Bowie
2020 projection: Norfolk

Like Lowther, Wells has had to prove people wrong at every level. He’s another slower-throwing left-hander, though that doesn’t stop him from continuing to attack batters. Wells never hit the Double-A wall that some players face, pitching even better than he did in High-A Frederick. His ERA dropped from 3.47 to 2.95, and he induced more weak contact, increasing his groundball rate from 34.8 percent to 41.6 percent. That success carried over into the Arizona Fall League, where he had an 0.57 ERA in 15 2/3 innings in eight appearances.

9.) Michael Baumann, pitcher
2019 stats: 7-6, 2.98 ERA, 142 strikeouts in 124 innings in Frederick and Bowie
2020 projection: Norfolk

As a 6-foot-4 right-hander whose fastball can reach the upper 90s, Baumann fits the traditional pitching mold. He was leading the Carolina League in strikeouts when he was promoted to Bowie, where he had a 2.31 ERA in 70 innings and threw a no-hitter in just his third Double-A start. However, Baumann hasn’t developed a third pitch yet, so there are questions about whether he’ll be a starter or bullpen arm if he gets to the major league level. For 2020, the biggest question is whether he threw enough innings in Bowie to start in Norfolk. Baumann was promoted to Frederick in the middle of 2018 and stayed there to start last year, but was much better in Bowie than he was in his midseason call-up to the Keys.

10. )Adam Hall, infielder
2019: .298/.385/.395 in Delmarva
2020 projection: Frederick

Hall followed up a strong year in Aberdeen with a similar one in Delmarva. He was the most consistent player on the Shorebirds, setting the tone at the top of the lineup while playing solid defense at second base and shortstop. With both Aberdeen and Delmarva, he’s been a contact hitter who hasn’t shown much power. Hall will try to provide that consistency with the Keys, teaming up with Cadyn Grenier once again.

Bonus: Keegan Akin, pitcher; Ryan Mountcastle, outfielder/infielder

I put these two at the bottom because unlike the previous 10 prospects, Akin and Mountcastle have a good chance of being on the major league roster in 2020. Akin is eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so he’ll be put on the 40-man roster at some point this offseason. Depending on spring training and what the Orioles want to do with Norfolk to start the season, Akin could start the season with the Tides. Despite being the International League MVP, the power-hitting Mountcastle will start the year in Triple-A before a likely May or June promotion.

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. NormOs

    November 6, 2019 at 8:45 am

    Good, informative article Justin. Now to the Major League O’s roster. Of the 26 spots, IMHO the O’s have 18 openings. That would be 10 pitchers and 8 position players. And that depends on whether their smart enough to re-sign Villier and Alberto. I know the O’s wouldn’t think of bringing up Akin and Mountcastle, they might win a few more games and the fans would get too excited. So fill the 18 spots with more minor league rejects and get on with another 100+ loss season. Go O’s!

    • Camden Brooks

      November 6, 2019 at 4:54 pm

      Minor league rejects such as Alberto?

  2. Mark Walters

    November 6, 2019 at 10:16 am

    We will serve no wine before its time.

    • willmiranda

      November 6, 2019 at 10:39 am

      I think you man “whine.”

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        November 6, 2019 at 1:07 pm

        I think you meant “meant”, and I think Mark did indeed mean “wine”.

        • Orial

          November 6, 2019 at 4:16 pm

          You guys are turning this into an Abbott n Costello routine.

          • Boog Robinson Robinson

            November 6, 2019 at 5:44 pm

            Who?

    • NormOs

      November 6, 2019 at 4:44 pm

      Mark, I was just giving an opinion. I’m sorry it doesn’t agree with your opinion but take it as an American’s right to “bitch and moan”. Isn’t that 2 of the “Four Freedoms”? I stand by my statement….”At this time and for the forseeable future, the O’s (Which will always be my team) really stink.” Also, how do you make wine out of “sour grapes”?

  3. garyintheloo

    November 6, 2019 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for the updates as prospects are really suspects until they make it. Hope our rebuild doesn’t last as long as San Diego which still hasn’t arrived..

  4. Lookouts400

    November 6, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Great article!!

    Here’s the thing about slower-throwing lefties, or righties, for that matter. The average batter, whether in the minors or in the majors, is geared to hit the fastball. With so many pitchers throwing mid to upper 90s, batters know they have to get the bat started that much earlier. It’s part of the mindset. And it makes it harder for them to adjust to a guy throwing low to mid 90s. So, guys like Wells, who attacks the strike zone and can put the ball where he wants, or Lowther, who is learning, can be very successful. I’d have them watch video after video of a guy like Jamie Moyer or Jesse Orosco, who learned how to pitch once he reached his mid 30s. Look at his age 38 to 41 seasons here in Baltimore, 271 GP, 212.1 innings, 1.215 WHiP, combined 3.05 ERA, and all this in the midst of the steroid era. Wells, Lowther and guys like them can learn lots from guys like Moyer, Orosco, or even the right handed Greg Maddux, who reveled in his ability to get people out and become a Hall of Famer with a fastball that, on a good day, reached 94. It’s all about learning how to pitch, locating all the pitches, and mixing it up. It’s difference between being a pitcher and being a thrower.

  5. WorldlyView

    November 6, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Could someone explain the O’s decision-making process by which management decides what team to assign each minor leaguer at the start of a new season–and when/if to promote or demote mid-season.

    • Bancells Moustache

      November 6, 2019 at 4:07 pm

      Someone does exactly what Justin Fitzgerald just did, except that person works for the Orioles.

    • Orial

      November 6, 2019 at 4:21 pm

      Thank God for Gunner Henderson because when he makes the bigtime the failure of Diaz may not be so painful. Justin quick question—what’s the diffetence between High A Frederick and Frederick?

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        November 6, 2019 at 5:47 pm

        It’s about 2 bong hits.

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