With thanks to Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies, this is the sixth installment of our Top 10 prospect lists. At this point, we’ve had the Padres, Pirates, Nationals, Angels, Tigers, and Orioles, and the Rockies, Reds, and Braves are headed your way next week. Remember, there’s a 2012 Baseball America Prospect Handbook on the line for the first person to guess my method of selecting the next teams.
It really has to suck to be the Baltimore Orioles right now, no offense to Daniel Moroz. They have to face the two premier financial powerhouses in the Yankees and Red Sox, the extremely resourceful Rays, and the rising Blue Jays who are about two steps ahead of the Orioles at the moment, especially in regard to the farm system. One of the worst things about all of it is that the Orioles had such a bright outlook a few years ago due to a farm system brimming with young talent, but as an example of how depending on prospects can go horribly wrong, none of the Orioles prospects have really worked out as planned, though Matt Wieters is quietly turning into a very good player.
The only real prospect to make his debut this season for the Orioles, which is a bit surprising considering the shape of the team, and his name was Zach Britton. Depending on how you want to look at it, Britton had a successful rookie campaign. He kept the ball on the ground (1.86 GB/GB), but his strikeout (5.6 per 9) and walk rates (3.6) weren’t stellar. But hey, how many times do you get 2.5 WAR out of your rookie pitcher in the AL East?
Moving down the ladder to the rest of the prospects, the top four prospects in the Orioles system look pretty good. Manny Machado looks a future superstar shortstop, and 2011 fourth pick Dylan Bundy certainly has enough scouts drooling. Jonathan Schoop made significant improvements, and with a few more, he could become a star-level player as well. Hoes has a lower ceiling, but he has a better chance of making and contributing in the majors than any of the other three. But after that, the system drops quickly. Some of the rest are toolsy players that haven’t turned those into skills. Some are new draftees that need to get some experience under their belts. Others are lower-ceiling prospects that are getting close but may not play significant roles in the majors. Every farm system has risks, but this one seems to have a lot of them without the probability or upside that other systems have.
Dan Duquette has just taken over as the Orioles GM, and it remains to be seen what he’ll do to boost the system or if he’ll be allowed to. Peter Angelos is notoriously meddlesome, and with so many of the possible candidates backing out after being interviewed, it seems as though he’s given no one the idea that he’s ready to back down. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Manny Machado SS
Age/Level (as of 4/2012): 19/High-A
Projection: 4+ WAR
After doing damage in Low-A, Machado had some trouble in High-A, but despite some minor issues there (possibly due to an injury suffered mid-season and age), Machado is still an elite prospect. Shortstops are hard to find, and Machado should be able to stay there, though there are some concerns that he’ll need to move as his frame matures. Offensively, he has an above-average to plus hit tool, and as he gets a little bigger, he should start to hit for more power. You have to really nitpick to find something not to like about him.
Dylan Bundy SP
Because he’s only 6’1 and isn’t immune to getting hurt, Bundy isn’t a perfect pitching prospect, but he’s really darn good anyway. With a mid-90s fastball, a vicious cutter, a hammer curve, and an average change, Bundy already has a stellar and deep arsenal, and with excellent mechanics, his already-good control should improve into excellent control and command. We obviously want to see some pro data before getting too excited, but this kid looks awesome.
Jonathan Schoop 3B
Age/Level: 20/High-A or AA
Projection: 2-4 WAR
No longer a shortstop, it has become more necessary for Schoop to hit, but Schoop offers plenty of potential. After wailing away in Low-A, Schoop had problems with his switch to High-A in a similar way to Machado, but again like Machado, Schoop was young for the level at 19 (just turned 20). Offensively, he has excellent hand-eye coordination and should hit for a high average, but there are concerns about what kind of power he’ll develop, though he certainly looks like he should fill out well. At the hot corner, he has more than enough range and arm for the position, but he still needs to get accustomed the position. I tossed-and-turned over what tier to put him in, but he could really have a big breakthrough next season.
LJ Hoes OF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
With a patient, line-drive approach, Hoes looks like your prototypical #2 hitter (he doesn’t steal enough bases to be a “leadoff guy”, but if he continues to take walks, I think he is). He really can hit, though without much power, and he showed it after a promotion to AA, during which nothing seemed to change but his luck. The Orioles, however, have moved him to the outfield as he just wasn’t cutting it at second, and with that switch to an outfield corner, he has to hit more. Will his patience be enough to make him an everyday guy, or is the switch going to make him a utility player?
Nick Delmonico 3B/C
Age/Level: 19/Low-A or Rookie Ball
Projection: 2-4 WAR
Delmonico’s drat stock took a severe hit with a rough spring, but there are plenty of scouts who will believe he can do some damage. His swing became stiff, but it’s still easy to see that he has good hand-eye coordination and the potential for above-average to plus power. Delmonico has caught before, but he’s not particularly good back there and seems destined for a move to third. That being said, he still has plenty of time if the Orioles would like to try him behind the plate. If he can go behind the plate, the Orioles could have a real steal on their hands, but even if he moves to third, he could certainly have enough bat for the position. Of course, he has to play before we can see either way.
Jason Esposito 3B
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Esposito was one of the more controversial prospects in the past draft. While he’s certainly a plus defender at the hot corner, he’s more of an enigma at the plate, where he has an average hit tool. The questions come with his power and his ability to make consistent contact. He’s a solid young man with the potential for average or better power, but he also has a high leg kick that throws off his timing. Esposito will need to fix these issues or ditch the leg kick to get the full use of his offensive abilities. If he does, he looks like a solid everyday player, but if he doesn’t, he might be of use as a utility player because of his strong defense.
Ryan Adams 2B
Age/Level: 25/AAA or MLB
Projection: 1-2 WAR
No, not the singer/songwriter that my friends love but I feel something slightly warmer than toleration for. This Ryan Adams has a solid hit tool but little else offensively. He can take a walk and hit for a little power, but neither his approach or his power are more than fringe-average. Defensively, he’ll likely be a utility player, but he won’t really help defensively, with his value more that he can play those positions than him being any good at them. Adams will really have to hit to provide significant value to the Orioles, but he’s pretty much a lock to have some role with the club.
Xavier Avery CF
Projection: 1-3 WAR
Defensively, no one has a problem with Avery. His above-average to plus speed is enough to make him a very good defender, despite his fringy arm. Avery on offense, however, is a different story. A toolsy player, he shows flashes of hitting ability and power, but he never really can seem to turn that into actual production. While getting a second taste of AA at age 21, Avery could only muster a .260/.325/.340 line, and even though he is only 21, he only made modest improvements. Avery still has the tools to be a good player, but he’ll need to turn them into skills.
Mychal Givens SS
Projection: 1-2 WAR
Givens was absolutely terrible at Low-A, but he rebounded when he was demoted back to short-season ball. Givens is an average shortstop with the chance to be above-average due to a plus arm and solid range, but he leaves a lot to be desired offensively. Like Avery, he has the tools, but he can’t seem to make them turn into actual production. Yet, scouts still hold out hope. He has the tools, and they believe he simply needs more time and more development. Givens will return to Low-A, and he can’t afford to flop this time.
Bobby Bundy SP
Age/Level: 22/AA or AAA
Yes, he and Dylan are related as brothers, though Dylan is considerably better. This Bundy has a low-90s fastball with a bit of sink along with a curve, slider, and change that are average. While that means he isn’t a front-of-the-rotation pitcher, he continues to convince more scouts that he can start in a big-league rotation. He’ll continue to work on his secondary pitches, with his change showing the most promise, as he heads back to AA, and if he can keep this up, he might (might) beat his brother to the majors.
Big Question – Manufacturing Arms
Here’s a list of some high-profile starting pitching prospects the Orioles have had recently: Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Zach Britton, and now Dylan Bundy. So far the Orioles have had little luck with any of them, though Britton had moments of promise during his rookie season. All of them have had significant bumps in the road. Is this the normal attrition associated with TINSTAAPP (There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect), or is there something systemically wrong with the Orioles player development system? That is something the new front office will have to address as they try to climb out of the cellar.