There is hope for Oriole fans. That’s the message from MLB.com Pipeline’s Jim Callis, who recently ranked the franchise’s minor-league system No. 1 among all 30 teams.
Under executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, the Orioles have gone from having one of the worst farm systems to the best in this ranking.
”The growth of the system has been impressive,” Callis said. “It was a bottom-third system when Elias was hired in November 2018 and now we’ve ranked it the best in baseball. They have both the game’s best prospect in Adley Rutschman and the game’s best pitching prospect in Grayson Rodriguez, and their minor league talent depth is the best it has been in years.”
The good news is that the teams that have top-tier minor league systems generally see a boost at the major-league level. Major League Baseball teams that stock their farm system with talent should see the fruits of their labor.
Teams that contend for playoff spots at the major-league level are usually full of homegrown players who thrived in their farm systems.
“The track record of top-ranked farm systems translating into big league success is strong,” Callis said. “We’ve been ranking the farm systems since 2015 at MLB Pipeline, twice a year before the season and after the trade deadline. Our first three No. 1s — Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers — all have won the World Series. The next two — Brewers and Braves — have made three straight playoff appearances, and the two after that — White Sox and Padres — ended long playoff droughts last year and are well-positioned for the future.
“Then the Rays ranked No. 1 three times in a row, and they went to the World Series last year and currently have the best record in the American League. I spent most of the previous 25 years at Baseball America, and most of our No. 1 systems there experienced a lot of success.”
Rutschman, who was the top overall pick in the 2019 draft, has been exceptional all the way through his recent promotion to Triple-A Norfolk. Callis contends that Rutschman is a generational talent who is going to make an impact at the MLB level when he eventually makes his way to Camden Yards.
“Rutschman is the best catching prospect I’ve covered in 30 years of covering prospects,” Callus said. “He has more power than Joe Mauer or Buster Posey, and he’s more advanced than Posey was at the same stage. I had a scout liken Rutschman to Mark Teixeira offensively — and then you throw Gold Glove potential as a catcher on top of that. He’s ready now. If there weren’t service-time reasons to keep him in the minors, he’d be up already.”
The Orioles have prioritized developing pitchers. Grayson Rodriguez has been dominant throughout the season and is thriving at Double-A Bowie. The Orioles have a number of other pitches who could make their MLB debuts before the end of the season.
The team’s other top prospects include left-handed pitcher DL Hall (No. 78 overall), High-A Aberdeen shortstop Gunnar Henderson ( 80), and Low-A Delmarva outfielder Colton Cowser (83).
Hall, who began 2021 at Double-A Bowie, had his season cut short because of an elbow injury.
The overall success of the Orioles’ rebuild could hinge on their young pitchers.
“The Orioles’ ability to develop pitching will determine how quickly they return to contention,” Callis said. “Rodriguez is the best pitching prospect in baseball and DL Hall has a lot of upside, though he still needs to throw more strikes. But a lot of Baltimore’s best prospects are bats and they’re going to need more arms beyond Rodriguez and Hall. Guys like [Norfolk’s] Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith are sort of sleepers, but they’re going to need more than that.”
Elias has not publicly estimated when the Orioles might be competitive again. Callis said the organization has the pieces in place to turn its fortunes around. The Orioles could still be a couple of years away from contending, but the wait could be worth the current angst.
“Teams with outstanding farm systems tend to contend sooner than expected, too,” Callis said. “The difficulty facing the Orioles is that they’re in the strongest division of baseball and the rest of the AL East teams either have a lot of young talent, immense financial resources or both. The Orioles are still at least a couple of years away.
“Orioles fans have legitimate hope. The track record of success for No. 1-ranked farm systems is encouraging. But they’re still a couple of years away.”
Rodriguez dominant: Rodriguez had another solid performance for Double-A Bowie, allowing two runs with nine strikeouts in five innings in a 6-5 loss to Erie on Saturday night. Rodriguez is a combined 8-1 with a 2.60 ERA in 49 games (48 starts) for Aberdeen and the Baysox. He has struck out 144 batters in 90 innings.
More Baysox: Bowie had an impressive display of power with four home runs, including three consecutive homers from designated hitter Kyle Stowers, first baseman Andrew Daschbach, and rightfielder Zach Watson in a 6-5 victory over Erie on Sunday. The stakes become higher this week when the Baysox play the Somerset Patriots, who are just behind them for the second and final playoff spot.
Cowser sets the tone: Cowser, the Orioles first-round pick in this year’s draft, homered in his first game for Delmarva. In his first 10 games with the Shorebirds, Cowser had a hit in each game, including the walk-off single on Saturday. He’s batting .324 with an .885 OPS.