Pic: Richard Passwater
Pic: Richard Passwater

by Eric Garfield

As the 2020 season is about to start and slowly the Orioles begin to have heightened expectations, there should be two main objectives in the minors; players exceeding their expectations and the organization rewarding them with opportunities and promotions.  With more talent overall it’s reasonable to think that there are some guys who don’t necessarily become stars but they change people’s perception over a period of plate appearances or innings and have a slightly different profile than their original one.  

I’m going to review a couple guys in the Orioles system and their current profiles with the thought that maybe, one calendar year from now things could be different.  Nothing make or break here. Today they are not the biggest, best or brightest names in the system. But perhaps after a strong 2020 they’ll move towards our radar.

Ricardo Castro-Castro was a late-season call up to the league champion Gulf Coast Orioles and when I watched his few GCL plate appearances I was less than impressed.  He wasn’t close and has 3 times as many K’s than walks for his brief career. Offensively he seems to be behind. When he ran out to the outfield he looked like a totally different player however. Confident, fast and with his head up.  His routes to the ball are above average and his footwork as a defender is natural. There is barely a place for outfield defense in today’s game, especially the AL East, so I see the developing of glove first guys as less than necessary…..if that’s even what he is.  

Hector Lucero-Lucero is an 18 year old Venezuelan and has one year of experience at catcher in the Dominican League.  It did not go well as he batted .158. Lucero is built like an NFL tight end at about 6-4, 230 and growing. The size of Lucero compared to most players in his league is significant.  As I try to gain info about these lower leagues I’ve communicated with him a few times. I can say he is very confident and says he brings passion and defense behind the plate. I’m thinking a Mark Parent sized target for pitchers to aim at.  Just an aside, but he believes he’ll be making several level jumps in the future. He knows where Sarasota is and wants to be playing there. A great and hungry mentality for a player so young.

Jomar Reyes-this is not a new name to O’s fans as Jomar has been in the system for a while.  He started off strong in 2014-2015 before a steady decline in performance but that was a few talent classes ago and he’s in danger of getting passed.  Reyes is a 3B who has a low error percentage and a huge frame. If that’s something to work from, perhaps he’ll have some standing a year from now as he’ll be an old 23 with 7+ years of pro experience all as an O’s farmhand.  There are hills and valleys in some players’ development so maybe Reyes has another push or two to show what he can do between the lines. He’s shown elements of power and run production so perhaps this year he can combine his skills and become an answer instead of a question. 

Reed Hayes-there have been other OH writers who have brought to my attention a few bullpen type arms being developed on track with the higher ranked starters and Reed is one name that seems to not be mentioned.  He’s 24 and has pitched in a high profile college program at Vanderbilt. He’s a fastball, slider, change up reliever and none stand out as too significantly spinny or plane changing. I urge you to read Reed’s story as he was a three sport athlete with serious skills in basketball and at quarterback earning a scholarship to Tennessee.  Things didn’t work out and he moved on to an even bigger program so maybe a late developer. Incrementally increasing his strikeout totals and bringing down his average against could be signs of improvement or peak. Let’s see in a year.  

Martin Cervenka-most guys who wear a high numbered jersey in spring are afterthoughts and have a low chance but this former #74 isn’t gone and in fact will be at MLB camp as a non-roster invitee again in 2020.  He’s from the Czech Republic, not a baseball talent hotbed to say the least and has only been in the O’s system since 2018 without a standout stat or performance in his pro career. 15 HR that year could be a determinant depending on your view.  However, the team has showed faith in his game calling and defense and the fact that he could be the first from his nation to be a big leaguer since the 50’s may provide some internal motivation that can’t be measured.  

*Looking at Cervenka, Lucero and other guys that I’ve scouted and tracked the O’s system has a good bit of catcher depth from top to bottom.  Adley is the headliner but there are other guys with good behind-the-plate skills all over. *

Mason McCoy-this is a name that most O’s fans would at least recognize as he has a few good seasons under his belt in the system.  He’s hit at every level and his career game log is the definition of consistency, batting .282 at 4 levels combined. His profile is as a hit producer who doesn’t experience prolonged slumps.  Last season McCoy hit 2 home runs in April, and one each in May and June. With a little bit more launch angle and strength, these are hit totals that could use a power boost. McCoy has the pedigree and experience to improve here so let’s see if his age 25 season (birthday is 3/31) is where it comes together.  As an organization, there has been discussion over the lack of middle infield players coming up so this shortstop could be a name with more caché a season from now due to his own improvements as much as need.  

Carlos Baez-another GCL guy I had my eye (and ear)on early.  He’s a combination 2B/catcher according to the team’s site but he only played in the infield and doesn’t seem to have the build to play behind the plate.  He’s played 5 years pro, 3 in Sarasota and never had a standout season. Baez was the vocal captain of the team and never once stopped cheering from his dugout.  His attitude and volume was contagious and the team fed off his energy. He is tall and can use his better than average speed but what he brought to the table was positivity and a great deal of volume.  Most players I love to watch them work-think Manny Machado doing fielding drills. This is the rare player who I can be satisfied just hearing him. Optimism may be required.  

Harris Yett-another catcher and another name not recognized in the system.  Yett was a 32nd round pick so going 34-100 (.340 avg)in his rookie league debut was almost a necessity.  He also had a pair of HR and one of them was the longest of the Gulf Coast season clearing the left field snack stand (415-450 ft).  So he’s got some pop to draw from. Only 2 errors in 186 chances isn’t anything to sneeze at either. One was a tough call on a bouncing throw home from Gunnar and he bobbled it. He’s 220 lbs so he can provide a wide target for pitchers too.  We’ll see if Yett can start moving and making the most of his plate appearances at another level in 2020. More answers than questions but where does he max out?

Yorkislandy Alvarez-Alvarez is a slight and somewhat tall infielder who I barely saw play in the GCL save for some defense late in games and a plate appearance where he appeared overmatched and without a plan of attack.  His time in Sarasota was a reward for a decent start in 2019 in the Dominican Republic. He has a Cuban background and seems to be a guy who the team has faith in and has tried out at several positions, yet t find a spot.  Youth is on his side, he’s 20, and he has a slightly higher propensity to walk than to strikeout. Could he find a somewhat permanent spot and begin to show as a pro? 2020 could provide some proof

Jesus Chavez-a young Dominican League pitcher who won’t turn 19 until Christmas.  His first season was a success as he made 14 starts and finished with 6 decisions.  A few too many walks and baserunners but a good start at age 18. The O’s need talented young arms and if Chavez builds on his start perhaps he will start to show as one.  Years away but maybe worth the attention 2021-2024 or so.  

Cesar Angomas-the bet here again is youth and I’d rather look at the guys who showed something in their early career.  He’ll turn 20 during the season’s first month so not as young as his level but he’s done pretty well and improved each year going forward from 2017.  Innings have increased and his control has slightly improved as well. He’s a big guy with a thick bottom half and I’ll pay attention to his stuff. There are some positive factors and I’m hoping that the O’s see them too and send him to Sarasota so I can get a look myself.  

Wilkin Grullon-another catcher and he played for the Dominican Orioles team 2 in both 2018 and 2019.  There is not much that I’ve been able to gather online or in conversations about Grullon but here is what I saw and would be locked into if I saw once more.  His first season was pretty empty but his second campaign was improved all the way around. Grullon batted .206 in 2018 and .287 last season and brought his k rate down from 28% to slightly over 20% with a significant jump in at PAs.  Also went from .57 total bases per contest to 1.3. Another jump and we’ll want to know more about this 20 year old.  

In summary, these players have significant work to do but in a strong, talent producing system that’s the expectation.  We want guys to have reasons to move up. No matter what level of fan you are there are guys you’re paying attention to throughout.  The possibilities are low but maybe if we revisit this list in a year, some of these players will have made an impression on you or improved their standing in the organization. 

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Michael Williams has been an Orioles fan since the sixties when his family moved from Reading Pa to York Pa. Also, the Phillies and 1964. His Grandfather got the Chef Boyardee box seats and Mike was hooked. Brooks Robinson calls him not a fan, but a friend. He has been a member of the Orioles Hangout since early in the New Millennium and Managing Editor since 2011. Or so it seems. He lives in Harrisburg PA, down by the river. Not currently in a van.