One day, baseball will be played again. It might not be until the summer, or it might not be until next year. But it will happen again, and when it does, it will be a very good day.
With the understanding that baseball isn’t all that important right now, in the meantime, we’re left to hope and wonder — usually two things reserved for spring training that eventually fade (in the Orioles’ case recently, fade almost immediately). A couple months ago, I wrote about my five favorite O’s prospects who could be close to making their major league debuts. For that group, their debuts could still happen this year, or they unfortunately could get pushed to next year instead. It’s not fair, really, but there’s a lot of unfairness going around these days.
Much of what is exciting about the O’s minor league system isn’t close to major league duty — yet. Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall are often mentioned as Baltimore’s top three prospects, usually in that order, and none of them has played above High-A ball. All three will likely start at or above that level if and when this season gets underway, but they all have more work left to do.
Of course, plenty of lesser-known prospects are just as far away and have even more to do. Here are five of them who could be interesting to watch this year:
You know who could use a young, exciting infielder who doesn’t play first base? Well, pretty much every team, but especially the Orioles! Out of the O’s top 15 prospects as rated by MLB Pipeline, Henderson (No. 6) is one of just two non-1B infielders (the other being Adam Hall (No. 13).
Selected by the O’s with their first pick in the second round last year, Henderson doesn’t turn 19 until June. He’s still listed as a shortstop, but prospect analysts seem to agree that because of his age and size (6-foot-3, 195 pounds), he’ll eventually shift to third base. Regardless, his combination of youth, power and athleticism is exciting, and it wasn’t a bad sight either to see him hold his own in rookie ball for the GCL Orioles (103 wRC+). With his talent and upside, he’s the kind of prospect that the O’s need more of.
Rom, 20, fits in nicely among O’s lefty starting pitching prospects between DL Hall, a top-100 prospect with top-of-the-rotation potential, and a handful of pitchers who are close to the majors (Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Bruce Zimmermann and Alex Wells). He was part of a record-breaking Delmarva squad and put up impressive numbers: an ERA (2.93) and FIP (2.74) under 3.00 and a 30.3 percent strikeout percentage in 95.1 innings.
At the moment, Rom projects as a back-end starter because his fastball velocity tops out around 91 mph. But he has useful secondary offerings (two breaking balls, including a slider/slurve and a changeup) and showed that he could pitch through some adversity and work through delivery issues in his first year after rookie ball.
While Hall will likely receive a promotion to Double-A Bowie to start the year, Rom has earned the chance to take his place in High-A Frederick. He’ll have big shoes to fill.
While Gunnar Henderson has the higher ceiling between the two, don’t sleep on Adam Hall. Surprisingly, there is more variance about where Hall sits among O’s prospects than some may have anticipated. MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs have Hall 13th. But Baseball Prospectus ranks him 7th, and Keith Law of The Athletic recently rated him as the O’s 5th-best prospect.
The 20-year-old shortstop had a strong year at Single-A Delmarva (.298/.385/.395, 133 wRC+), and he did it all while his father battled cancer. Hall is also a fast runner and is competent defensively. As Law put it, “Hall is a 70 runner who plays hard all the time and has continued to progress at the plate in his approach and in making harder contact.” Like Rom, his combination of youth and early success is intriguing, and it should be interesting to see what he’s able to do in High-A ball.
At 24 years old, Fenter is the oldest player on this list. Thanks to elbow pain and Tommy John surgery in 2016, he’s yet to pitch above Low-A Delmarva. But he’s healthy now and there’s still time to salvage things, and his 2019 season showed why. In 94.1 innings, he posted a 1.81 ERA and 2.96 FIP while striking out 32.3% of opposing batters. His curveball is a tremendous weapon when paired with his fastball, even if he’s no longer able to ramp things up to the upper 90s again.
Fenter had such a strong season that despite never having pitched in High-A ball, some beat reporters were mentioning his name among possibilities for the O’s to add to the 40-man roster to protect from the Rule 5 draft. The O’s didn’t do that, of course, but it was intriguing nonetheless considering where Fenter had been. If he does move to the bullpen soon, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Fenter make his way to Bowie sometime in 2020 and continue to move quickly, but for now, it’s nice to see him healthy and succeeding.
Drafted in the 21st round last June out of Division III Penn State-Berks, Welk made his presence felt immediately. The third baseman dominated for short-season Aberdeen, posting an excellent .344/.397/.500 (165 wRC+) batting line in 204 plate appearances.
Welk jelled with Aberdeen hitting coach Tom Eller and also benefited from the Orioles’ shift to using new technology and more advanced approaches. It didn’t take long for him to adjust to some issues with higher velocity, though his career is only just beginning. High draft picks and expensive international draft picks are great, but prospects come in all shapes and sizes. Welk turning into something would be a lot of fun.
Weighted runs created plus (wRC+) is an offensive metric in which 100 is the league average and every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average.
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