By any measure, the Orioles’ minor leagues are getting better. MLB Pipeline has their system ranked as the best in baseball while Baseball America rates the Orioles’ system second best.
Keith Law, who follows minor league prospects for The Athletic, ranked the minors’ top 100 prospects and has five Orioles in his top 100.
It’s no surprise that Law has catcher Adley Rutschman ranked as the top prospect but, unlike Baseball America, doesn’t rank Grayson Rodriguez as the top pitching prospect. Baseball America ranks Rodriguez as the sixth overall prospect while Law has the 22-year-old right-hander ranked 14th, and as the third-highest pitching prospect behind Tampa Bay right-hander Shane Baz (seventh) and Cincinnati right-hander Hunter Greene (12th).
Baz, the 17th overall pick in the 2017 draft by Pittsburgh, was 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings in three late-season starts for the Rays. Greene, who was the second overall pick in 2017, was 5-0 with a 1.98 ERA in seven starts for Double-A Chattanooga and 5-8 with a 4.13 ERA in 14 starts for Triple-A Louisville.
Rodriguez, who has yet to pitch in Triple, was the 11th overall pick by the Orioles in 2018. Last season, he was a combined 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA in 23 starts for High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie.
Law raved about Rutschman, who was drafted first in the 2019 draft
“Rutschman answered every possible question he could have answered in a superlative 2021 season, one that, in a world that wasn’t addled by service time considerations, would have ended with him in the major leagues,” he wrote.
“He hit .271/.392/.508 in Double A, more than earned a promotion to Triple A, and hit better there (.312/.405/.490), walking nearly as often as he struck out on the season. That performance would probably make him a top-20 prospect even as a right fielder, but that he did so as a strong defensive catcher in every aspect of the game is what makes him the No. 1 overall prospect.”
Law concludes: “The only thing I see that could hold him back is the wear and tear of the position. A switch-hitting catcher with power, plate discipline and excellent defense across the board? Orioles fans should march on Camden Yards if he’s not the Opening Day starter.”
As for Rodriguez, Law said:
“Rodriguez’s 2021 stat line is just comical: He struck out 161 batters in 103 innings across High A and Double A, good for a 40.4 percent strikeout rate, which was the highest of any pitcher in the full-season minors last year,” he wrote.
“He walked just 27 batters, was hard to hit, and only gave up 10 homers. He couldn’t have dominated any more given the way that Baltimore used him. Rodriguez gets it done with a big fastball (96-99 mph), and you can see from hitters’ reactions that the ball gets to them faster than they expect, resulting in some ugly swings even on fastballs out of the zone.”
Law’s conclusion: “The Orioles have heavily restricted Rodriguez’s usage, so that he’s never thrown more than 100 pitches in a pro game, and in 2021 he never threw more than 89. Will the stuff be different when he’s planning to throw 95-105 pitches every time out, and might face hitters three times? We’re still just speculating. That’s not his fault, though, and his performance last year was unimpeachable.”
The other Oriole prospects in Law’s Top 100 are outfielder Colton Cowser, last year’s No. 1 pick, ranked 52nd; infielder Gunnar Henderson, drafted in the second round in 2019, who’s 73rd; and left-hander DL Hall, the Orioles’ No. 1 pick in 2017, who’s ranked 81st.
Promotion schedule: Even though there’s been little progress on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Orioles are hoping that Opening Day won’t be delayed. The team will be begin selling individual game tickets on Friday at 10 a.m. through Orioles.com/Tickets. Opening Day is scheduled for March 31st against Toronto.
The Orioles are offering $10 bleacher seats for their 30th anniversary season at Camden Yards. Season ticket-holders can buy individual game tickets on Wednesday, and fans can buy tickets on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to midnight by signing up for the team’s newsletter at Orioles.com/Newsletter.
Among the promotions will be the Boog Powell bobblehead on August 20th. On Mother’s Day, May 8th, there will be a Orioles floral cap handed out. On Father’s Day, June 19th, the giveaway is an Orioles golf visor.
Floppy Hat Night returns on July 8th. One night later, it’s the Birdland Hawaiian Shirt giveaway.
On September 3rd, there will be an Orioles soccer jersey giveaway followed a night later by an Orioles tote bag.
During the lockout, teams can’t promote players on their 40-man roster, but the Orioles are listing a player bobblehead giveaway on August 5th and T-shirt nights on June 4th, July 4th, August 6th and September 5th.
Orioles Advocates seek partners: The Orioles Advocates, which sponsors the team’s Hall of Fame, and the Cardboard to Leather program, which has donated more than 100 tons of baseball equipment to help 40,000 children in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Nicaragua play ball, has another worthwhile endeavor.
The Orioles Advocates Challenger Baseball program has provided opportunities for physically and developmentally challenged children to play baseball since 2010.
The program supports Little Leagues, Miracle Leagues and Recreation Councils in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia as well as the Baer School in Baltimore.
Most years, about 900 children on about 60 teams are sponsored, and the Advocates are hoping to again have a special day at Oriole Park this season featuring the Oriole Bird and players.
The Advocates are looking to expand their programs and find potential partners to help kids play baseball. If you know of any potential opportunities to do so, please contact [email protected].
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB