Ben Badler is a senior writer for Baseball America, and he works on their prospect rankings. In the most recent one, the Orioles have eight of the Top 100 prospects: Grayson Rodriguez (4), Jackson Holliday (6), Colton Cowser (33), DL Hall (66), Jordan Westburg (67), Connor Norby (80), Joey Ortiz (87) and Heston Kjerstad (97).
This interview was edited for brevity.
Question: Gunnar Henderson has recently graduated from prospect status, but doesn’t it seem as if there’s always someone to replace him or other prospects?
Ben Badler: “You go from having Adley Rutschman being the number one prospect in baseball. He graduates, and obviously he was everything that was advertised. Gunnar Henderson takes his place as the number one prospect in baseball after him, and now you’ve got Jackson Holliday, who is making a push.
“We have him as a Top 10 prospect right now, and each time we keep doing an update, he keeps moving up our list and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. They keep bringing in these premium players, and it’s not just obviously Jackson Holliday or just Gunnar Henderson or just Adley Rutschman. If you look at their top 10 prospects, it’s still just about as strong as any team’s in the game right now.”
Q: If you look at Holliday’s minor league stats versus some of the other players they considered drafting instead of him, they’re much better than most. How impressive is it that someone so young has gotten off to a strong start?
Badler: “It’s really unusual. You’d typically see a high school player spend at least the first half of the season in Low-A as a 19-year-old, and he’s quickly proved that that level was just not enough of a challenge for him. I don’t really typically see the Orioles especially being an organization that really pushes their high school players super aggressively like this, but obviously in his case, it’s merited.
“It just seems like everything with him the last year, the last two years has just really ticked up as far as the strength, the tools, the speed, the power. With him, what’s really impressive is the pure hitting ability, that strike zone judgement. You rarely see him chase outside the strike zone. He’s consistently swinging at good pitches and has really good hand-eye coordination to put the bat to the ball when he does swing.
“So many boxes that you’re looking to check between the athleticism, the tools, the ability to play a premium position, and then the hitting ability, the strike zone judgment that comes with it, too, is just a pretty special well-rounded package where even if you’re trying to nitpick and poke holes in him, there’s not too much to poke at right now.”
Q: Colton Cowser has moved up on your list. What has impressed you about Cowser?
Badler: “He continues to perform. I saw it coming last season with him. He keeps moving up and showing a combination of patience and power. Strikeouts last year definitely a concern. They’re on the higher end. So far this year, it hasn’t been too bad for him, so you’ve seen a lot of patience and power with him to go with some pretty solid athleticism, too, in the outfield.”
Q: It seems that DL Hall has been on your top prospect list longer than anyone. When does he graduate?
Badler: “He certainly has really powerful stuff from the left side. I think that’s never been in question. What always has been a big concern with him has been the command or just the control. In his case, it’s a lot of walks. If there’s not great fastball command.
“There’s a good probability that he ultimately ends up in the bullpen because I think the control is something that has been an issue as long as he’s been drafted, and it’s made some progress. I’m not convinced it’s not enough to be a starter, but at the same time you can put him into a bullpen potentially and see really good results over short spurts with him.”
Q: Heston Kjerstad’s performance with Bowie has enabled him to make your list for the first time. Do you think he’s made up the time he lost?
Badler: “He’s such a tough one to know what to do because of such unusual circumstances. When he was coming out of Arkansas, everything sounded really good about him, especially offensively the hitting ability, the power that he had and everything seemed like it got sidetracked and derailed there ever since, going back to his draft year, which was shortened at Arkansas and missing so much time with health issues.
“It’s tough. He’s 24, so he’s older for the Eastern League, but at the same time, you understand the unusual circumstances and why he would be older for that league. What he has shown on the field has been extremely impressive, so I still want to see him do this for a more extended period of time and hopefully get pushed to a higher level shortly, which I think is probably going to come pretty soon, but definitely a lot of good signs pointing in the right direction where it looks like this might be the guy that they were hoping for when they drafted him from Arkansas a few years back.”
Question: Grayson Rodriguez should exceed the innings limit for prospects soon. Do you think Drew Rom might make it on the Top 100 list?
Badler: “He’s a good prospect. We haven’t discussed him yet in a Top 100 conversation to this point. I like him. He’s a solid prospect. It’s not somebody we’ve been talking about to this point as being on the cusp of the Top 100 quite yet.”
Q: Are any of the international players close to making the list?
Badler: “Lower down the chain you have Samuel Basallo. I can see the start that he’s off to an 18-year-old, turning 19 years old later before the season ends. Whether it’s catcher or first base long-term, not sure. He’s such a big dude already, but if he can catch, that’s a pretty potentially exciting offensive package that he brings with the package and the performance that we’ve seen so far. It’s very encouraging to me to see the young, international players start to come through, at least at the lower levels now since they’ve changed their operations and the way they approach signing Latin American players over the last few years.”
Call for questions: I’ll be answering Orioles’ questions later this week. Please email yours to: [email protected]