The past couple of years, I’ve written about the Orioles prospects who are inching their way to the major leagues and could soon debut. While there’s no crystal ball to detect future success and sometimes fringe prospects can surprise, it has been a stretch lately to select five or six legitimate prospects who are close to making their big-league debuts and could make a real impact in the immediate future.
That is not the case in 2022. With one of the top farm systems in baseball, the Orioles boast a number of intriguing prospects who could find themselves playing in Baltimore very soon.
Leading the pack is Adley Rutschman, who should be in an Orioles uniform whenever the season begins. Most likely, he will find himself promoted after he has been in Triple-A long enough for the Orioles to secure an extra year of service time (a maneuver that doesn’t seem like it’ll be going away in the next collective bargaining agreement).
Besides Rutschman, the Orioles could see two other top-100 prospects debut in 2022, along with a handful of players from their top 15 or 20. It’s about time, right?
Here’s a look at the most intriguing of the Orioles’ near-ready prospects besides Rutschman:
RHP Grayson Rodriguez
Rodriguez’s ascent is a nice reminder to not write off a young player, even if he seems like a reach in the draft. The Orioles selected Rodriguez 11th overall out of high school in 2018 — a pick that many outlets criticized as another Orioles misfire. In the time since, he has done everything he can to justify the selection.
Factoring in his production and pitch repertoire, the 6-foot-5 right-hander was recently named by both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus as the top-ranked pitching prospect in baseball. Because of the lost 2020 season, Rodriguez understandably doesn’t have a large number of innings under his belt. Altogether, he has thrown 216.1 minor-league innings while posting a 2.41 ERA and striking out a ridiculous 310 batters (12.9 K/9). He has never finished with an ERA above 2.68 or a FIP above 2.72 at any stop along the way.
He stands as the Orioles’ best chance in many years at featuring a true ace, though even just having a young and reliable mid-rotation starter would suffice. Rodriguez is aiming higher, though, as he should. It will be interesting to see how much the Orioles loosen the reins in 2022. Last year, he didn’t exceed six innings or 89 pitches in any single start.
LHP D.L. Hall
It can be easy to take Hall’s presence among the top 100 prospects for granted. He was drafted the year before Rodriguez, but Rodriguez has leapfrogged him due to his overall excellence and Hall’s arm injuries. Still, there’s a lot to like about him.
While pitching about the same number of innings as Rodriguez, Hall has posted numbers that are very good but not as impressive (217 innings, 2.99 ERA, 11.8 K/9). Walks are also a concern (5.1 BB/9). But Hall does have the benefit of being left-handed, and scouts absolutely love his filthy offerings. There are worse things than not shining as bright as the game’s top pitching prospect.
Like many hurlers, Hall’s health is a concern. Can he handle a full starter’s workload without breaking down, or will he eventually shift to a bullpen role? It’ll eventually work itself out. In the meantime, it’s exciting to think about the possibility of two young and talented pitchers in Rodriguez and Hall throwing to an outstanding backstop in Adley Rutschman. Maybe they won’t all pan out, but they could — how fun would that be?
RHP Kyle Bradish
What you think of Bradish may depend on what you think of the Orioles organization’s ability to develop starting pitching outside of their elite talents. The Orioles’ brain trust strongly believes it is able to better project quality hitters in the draft, which means the team will need to assemble useful pitching in other ways.
So far, that has led to some trades to bring more pitching into the system. Acquired in a package of Angels pitchers in exchange for Dylan Bundy, Bradish has an over-the-top delivery and an effective four-seam fastball that enables him to pitch at the top of the zone.
These are some of the traits the Orioles are looking for. Still, when it comes to unearthing overlooked pitching talent at the major-league level, their efforts haven’t panned out. They’re hoping the tide shifts soon, along with producing successful results with younger pitchers.
Bradish’s first taste of minor-league action with the Orioles came with Double-A Bowie in 2021. He dominated in his only three starts — 13.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 17.12 K/9, 3.29 BB/9 — before being promoted to Triple-A. There’s no way he could have pitched any better there, and he didn’t (86.2 IP, 4.26 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 4.05 BB/9). It was an encouraging showing and something to build off of, propelling him to be mentioned as a back-end starter candidate at some point in 2022.
OF Kyle Stowers
Anytime you share an award with Adley Rutschman, it’s a good thing. After an eye-opening 2021 that saw him excel in stops at High-A (139 wRC+ in 161 PA) and Double-A (152 wRC+ in 276 PA), Stowers finished the year in Triple-A (113 wRC+ in 93 PA) and was named co-winner, alongside Rutschman, of the Orioles Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year Award. The left-handed outfielder is now on a fast track to the Orioles’ roster, assuming he doesn’t have a disastrous start to 2022.
It should also be noted: Anyone else tired of hearing about the potential Orioles outfield logjam? You can’t create an elite talent pipeline without having multiple talented players who may arrive to the majors around the same time. Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander are the probable starters in the outfield on Opening Day, but they all have question marks. With Hays and Santander, it’s their health and wondering if they can take steps forward at the plate. With Mullins, it’s wondering if he can replicate his wonderful 2021 season. The hope is that he’s a star, but we don’t know yet.
None of the other options seem realistic in a full-time role. Ryan McKenna offers speed and defense, but his bat is questionable. DJ Stewart walks and has occasional pop; he’s also a walking blooper waiting to happen. The Yusniel Díaz hype train has gone off the rails. Robert Neustrom is interesting but could be selected in the Rule 5 Draft. And Jorge Mateo, Tyler Nevin, Jahmai Jones or anyone else the Orioles are considering using in the outfield seem like nothing more than experiments or stopgap solutions.
Stowers is more interesting than any Orioles outfield prospect not named Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, and those guys are years away. Stowers could get a real shot at playing time soon, and if so, he’ll deserve it.
INF Terrin Vavra
There are a few things you should know about Vavra. The first is that he was acquired from the Rockies at the 2020 trade deadline in a deal for Mychal Givens. Getting Vavra would have been a reward enough, but the Rockies also included first baseman/outfielder Tyler Nevin and outfielder Mishael Deson (who’s still only 19). I can’t imagine how quickly Mike Elias accepted that offer.
The second is that Vavra can really hit. He has produced at every level of the minors at which he’s played, posting on-base percentages near or above .400 and making solid contact. He doesn’t possess the raw power of some of the Orioles’ younger bats, but he has a great approach, sprays the ball around the diamond and can take a walk. Combined with a useful glove, his talents would be welcomed in the majors.
And third, he could use an injury-free 2022. Vavra only played 45 combined games at High-A and Double-A last season while battling back and hip ailments. Missing more time and failing to debut with the Orioles this summer would be a disappointment.
Other prospects of note: Kevin Smith, Yusniel Díaz, Félix Bautista, Logan Gillaspie, Adam Hall and Robert Neustrom
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: William Vaughan/Bowie Baysox
Originally published Feb. 16, 2022