It’s time for my midseason Orioles Top 50 Prospects update! This was delayed a bit by the Manny Machado and Zach Britton trades which added 8 more prospects to study, watch video on, and consider for this list. This list is considerably deeper and stronger than the offseason version due to the trade returns and a few players improving their profiles. That’s not to say there haven’t been set-backs. Austin Hays, Hunter Harvey, and Cody Sedlock have missed significant time with injury. The offseason list has also graduated a number of prospects. I give a brief synopsis on each at the end the list.
As always, I have linked the players’ baseball reference page if you want to study their statistics. Also, it is important to remember that the number grade (found after the player’s name and referring to his future value) is just as important as the ranking. Think of the number grades as the different tiers of prospects, for example, you could make a convincing argument for any of the three 55 future value players (Mountcastle, Diaz, and Hall) to be the top prospect in the system. This is especially true with the 40s and 35s at the end of this list. Some are near ready prospects who won’t be more than up and down players shuttled between Norfolk and Baltimore for depth. Others have above average regular or mid-rotation upside but are very risky and might flame out before AA. I ranked them the best I could according to my preference, but that doesn’t mean I think other permutations are wrong.
Orioles Top 50 Prospects
1. Ryan Mountcastle 55
A potential plus hit, plus power bat is what elevates Mountcastle to the top of this list. He has the quick hands, plus bat speed, and natural loft to handle elite stuff. He missed time with a hand injury but after returning and knocking off the rust, he’s proceeded to be one of the best and youngest hitters in the Eastern League. Every month has been better than the last and his bat is surely AAA ready if not MLB ready. The concern is his defense, but he has improved at 3B and his likelihood of sticking there is no longer a lottery ticket long-shot. If he does move off 3B, this isn’t a position-less player we are talking about, he’s athletic enough and would be a solid LF or an above average defensive 1B. His bat should be strong enough to play every day in either of those positions.
2. Yusniel Diaz 55
Diaz is the centerpiece of the Machado return, he’s a top 50 prospect in baseball according to some outlets. He’s a similar player to what Austin Hays looked like last year. He can handle CF defensively but is a better fit in RF where his above average speed and plus arm plays well. At the plate, he has an advanced approach and good hands. He stays inside the ball and hits it with authority all over the field. He doesn’t lack strength but doesn’t elevate the ball enough to project to anything more than average game power currently. If he can start putting the ball in the air more regularly, he has all-star upside, if not, he should still be an average to above average regular who contributes to all facets of the game.
3. DL Hall 55
The Orioles were aggressive with Hall and started him at full season Delmarva. He’s only 19 and he struggled early with command and control, especially of his offspeed pitches. As the season and he pitch limit has progressed, he’s improved. His velocity has ticked up and he’s now sitting around 95mph for the entirety of 80 pitch outings, touching 97 from the LH side. At times he has a plus hammer curve in the low 80s, but he sometimes drops his arm-slot slightly which causes it to get slurvy and play down. He’s also developing a changeup, there is some feel there, just no consistency yet, although it does flash average. Hall is a good athlete on the mound and a fierce competitor. He’ll likely find himself on a Top 100 list by the end of the season.
4. Austin Hays 50
What a lost season for Hays so far, how fortunes can change quickly in professional baseball. First a lat injury, then a slow start, then a ganglion cyst on his ankle injury that had him missing more time (he just began a rehab stint in Aberdeen). Before the ankle injury, Hays had a rough start repeating AA, falling behind in counts early and getting out sequenced, leading to more strikeouts and less consistent contact quality. The power was still there as was his glove, arm, and speed. I also don’t think he forgot how to hit, the excellent bat to ball skills he showed in 2017, 2016, and in college didn’t just disappear. It’s very possible Hays will get healthy and be an above average corner OF as soon as 2019. This ranking is hedging for the risk that the injuries sap his athleticism or that for whatever reason his bat to ball skills have permanently eroded.
5. Cedric Mullins 50
Mullins has never been considered a “top” prospect, despite having strong tools and performance during his rise through the minors. You can chalk that up to his late round draft position, his average age for level, and lack of a real “WOW” season. He has consistently developed though and at the end of last year the only big question remaining was whether he’d be a platoon guy or an everyday player. Well this year Mullins has hit much better against LHP, improving his RH swing, using his lower half and torso more and staying more compact with his hands. He looks to be an above average defensive CF despite a fringy arm because of his plus speed and elite body control. He has a contact heavy approach at the plate with enough pop to keep his name in the line-up every day.
6. Hunter Harvey 50
Harvey impressed in MLB spring training this year, to the point that Buck hinted he might be tempted to put him on the opening day roster. Common sense prevailed, and Harvey started in AA Bowie, skipping one level in what everyone hoped would be his first healthy season in years. Despite a high ERA and the tendency to get into deep counts, Harvey was pretty good for a guy skipping a level. He had almost a 4 K/BB ratio, hit 98mph with his FB and flashed a plus curveball. Unfortunately, he dislocated his pitching shoulder dodging a foul ball in the dugout. So, it’s tough to rank him, not yet knowing the severity of the injury. If there is no structural damage, he could be back on track to be in the MLB rotation at some point in 2019. The Orioles may be better off shifting him to a bullpen role where he has the stuff and poise to be a late inning arm.
7. Grayson Rodriguez 50
The Orioles first round draft pick this year, GrayRod, as we’ll refer to him as from here on out is a big physical HS RHP. He has a heavy FB that sits in the mid-90s and has touched 98mph, he also flashes an above average slider, a solid curveball, and a developing changeup. He combines this with a repeatable delivery. While he doesn’t have the present out pitch that DL Hall did when drafted last year, the slider shows plus potential (he’s only been throwing it for months) and he has a better frame and pitch mix than the Orioles top pick in 2017.
8. Ryan McKenna 50
The breakout prospect of 2018 in the Orioles system. McKenna offers plus-plus speed that he makes good use of in CF. He’s at least an average defender there, pairing his quickness with an average arm. He could be better than that with some added polish to his routes and reads. At the plate McKenna has a quick bat, some sneaky pop, and an improved ability to fight off pitches and work the count. The biggest question with his profile going forward is whether he’ll continue to hit for enough power to profile as a regular. The floor is 4th OF though and there is significant upside as a top of the order table setter who provides above average defense up the middle.
9. Dillon Tate 50
Tate was the centerpiece of the Zach Britton trade, he’s a former 4th overall pick who has had some ups and downs in his pro career. The Rangers (who drafted him) had him change his delivery, this killed his velocity and the effectiveness of his offspeed pitches. The Yankees got him back on the right track after acquiring him in a trade and his fastball is back touching 98mph and sitting in the mid-90s. He adds a slider which is an inconsistent pitch that can be plus at times, but also gets hung from time to time. He’s developed a changeup which may be his best pitch, it offers tumble and fade with good arm speed. He’s working on a two seam fastball as well. He has significant upside now that his stuff is back, #2/#3 starter wouldn’t be out of the question. There is also significant risk, he’s had a series of injuries and his fastball command is lacking for a rotation piece.
10. Keegan Akin 50
Akin has battled a few bad starts where he walked everybody, but for the most part he’s living up to the potential I saw in his Arizona Fall League video last year. He offers three pitches that all miss bats at the AA level. None are wipeout pitches, but all are at least MLB average. His fastball is a high spin number that has seen a velocity spike touching 96mph, a number he hadn’t seen as a pro. He also offers a slurvy breaking ball and a deceptive changeup that is a weapon against RHB. He used to throw a 2-seam fastball, but I haven’t seen it much this year, it’s the weakest of the arsenal. Despite the issues throwing strikes that he encounters from time to time, he has average command with a chance for more thanks to a simple, compact delivery. He looks like a 4th/5th starter with a chance for mid-rotation upside and a strong floor as a reliever. The fact he’s lower in these ranking than in the offseason despite improving his profile, shows the growth of this system.