Ready to see more Orioles prospects? You’re not alone. Last season, O’s fans got a taste of what the organization’s up-and-coming farm system can provide with the intriguing debuts of Ryan Mountcastle, Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann. If the O’s are ever going to rebound and consistently compete, they’ll need a lot more where that came from.
Cue the next wave of prospects. Those who debuted last season are far from sure things, and the same goes for this next crop of youngsters. There aren’t any current top-100 prospects here. (Adley Rutschman is in an entirely different category considering his lofty status and his lack of minor-league experience, and it’ll be fascinating to see how aggressive the Orioles are with him this season.) But fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of prospects who round out the O’s top-10 list.
Additionally, don’t be surprised if these guys debut as well: Isaac Mattson, Tyler Nevin, Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells.
OF Yusniel Díaz
The top prospect acquired in the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers in 2018, Díaz has dropped in prospect rankings while he’s also failed to debut above Double-A ball. Some of that isn’t his fault, as 2020 was a lost minor-league year and forced prospects to develop in unique ways, but nagging injuries and occasional struggles have clouded his potential. In 2018, he was ranked as the No. 52 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline and was the O’s top prospect. Now, he’s far outside of the top 100 and has also slipped to No. 8 on the O’s list.
There’s still a lot to like about Díaz even though there’s less hope of him becoming a star. He’s only 24, has some impressive minor-league numbers (though mostly with the Dodgers before the trade) and his tools rate from average to above-average across the board. He’s talented, if not spectacular, and it helps that he can play all three outfield positions. He’s all but assured of getting a chance to make his major-league debut in 2021, and once he arrives, he should play often.
OF Ryan McKenna
McKenna is next in line after Díaz among O’s outfield prospects. McKenna, 24, hasn’t played above Double-A, but his skill set differs from Díaz’s. Outside of an outstanding half-season with then-High-A Frederick in 2018 (192 wRC+ in 301 plate appearances), his offensive numbers have not been impressive (101 wRC+ in 817 plate appearances with Bowie). But he also brings other skills to the table, with lots of speed and the ability to play strong defense at all three outfield positions.
He’s never been a top-100 prospect and currently rates as the No. 21 prospect in the O’s system, per MLB Pipeline. Still, the speed-defense combination is something many teams can use. There’s no place for him on the roster right now, but injuries and trades could change that quickly.
RHP Michael Baumann
Of the O’s starting pitching prospects who are knocking on the door, the 25-year-old Baumann is often mentioned as the one with the highest ceiling. He is ranked No. 9 by MLB Pipeline among O’s prospects, which makes him the highest-ranked pitcher in the organization behind Grayson Rodriguez (No. 2) and DL Hall (No. 4). At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, “Big Mike” has the look of a solid workhorse, mid-rotation option.
Baumann was superb in 2019, graduating from High-A Frederick (3.83 ERA, 2.34 FIP in 54 innings) to Double-A Bowie and continuing to produce (2.31 ERA, 2.63 FIP in 70 innings). It helped that in his fifth start with Bowie, he threw a nine-inning no-hitter, with 10 strikeouts and two walks. It’s no surprise that director of pitching Chris Holt (who has since become the major-league pitching coach) told MASN after the 2019 season that Baumann “really began to put his game together” after joining the Baysox.
One concern: Last August at the Orioles’ alternate training site, Baumann was shut down with a right flexor strain in his elbow. The injury didn’t require surgery, but it did end his season. He has told reporters he’s fine, though, so barring a setback or another pandemic-shortened season, he should find himself in Baltimore at some point in 2021.
LHPs Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells
Let’s group these two together for a few reasons. Both bespectacled southpaws, they’re friends who roomed together during their time with the Baysox. They also rank among the O’s top 20 prospects; per MLB Pipeline, Lowther is No. 11 and Wells is No. 19. Additionally, their fastballs max out somewhere in the high-80s to low-90s, forcing them to get by with some combination of deception and finesse. You know, the whole crafty lefty thing.
In the case of the 24-year-old Lowther, his sneaky delivery and long extension pair well with his high-spin fastball. He has succeeded at every level of the minors besides Triple-A, where he hasn’t appeared yet, and has never posted an ERA higher than 2.55 or a FIP above 3.17. Wells, who turns 24 in late February, relies even more on pinpoint command and effective pitch-mixing, as he doesn’t have the advantage of Lowther’s fastball. As always, a pitcher without high strikeout totals attracts plenty of skepticism, which leads to Wells being the bigger question mark.
INF Rylan Bannon
Arguably more than anyone else on this list, Bannon was hurt by the truncated 2020 season; he was forced to wait a year to make his big-league debut. He is the only one of the six highlighted prospects in this piece with Triple-A experience. Plus, as someone with some pop in his bat and who has the versatility to play both second base and third base, he could have been an alternative for the big-league team at either spot, where the O’s didn’t see much production last season.
Bannon, 24, is still on the cusp of the majors but some new faces have joined the infield mix. Rio Ruiz is still around as an option at third base, and now Yolmer Sánchez and Jahmai Jones have entered the second base competition. Like Bannon, Sánchez can also play third.
The O’s high minors are not yet stocked with promising infield prospects, but things are improving. Bannon and now Jones should infuse some youth into an O’s infield that could really use it.
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. Fielding independent pitching (FIP) estimates what a pitcher’s ERA would be with average results on balls in play.
Photo Credit: Bill Vaughan/Bowie Baysox