The 2020 Draft was another opportunity for the rebuilding Orioles to add talent. Despite some significant speculation, the team did not take Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin with the second overall pick and instead selected Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad. Immediately I thought of the outfield depth chart and where this left handed slugger would fit in.
With their next pick, the O’s took a hitter from college again, this time opting for Miss St infielder Jordan Westburg who profiles as a 20 home run/20 steal performer. Nine picks later they selected Hudson Haskin from Tulane who has similar offensive potential but plays outfield. If everything clicks right, it’s been suggested that Haskin can bring 5 tools to the table.
You may think that the Orioles have faith in their pitching group assembled from the last few drafts, but they went out and confirmed that in a major way by going offense with their first 5 picks in 2020. Haskin was followed up by another SEC infielder, Anthony Servideo from Ole Miss. Things picked up for the gloom and doomers who were upset about not selecting Martin earlier when the team took 18-year old Coby Mayo from
Stoneman Douglas High. Mayo’s ceiling is considerably high and he’s shown exceptional ability to both hit and throw the ball with force.
Finally the team took a pitcher and this pick intrigued me when he was announced as a kicker/punter in addition to his skills on the mound. TCU commit Carter Baumler was the first arm of the O’s draft in 2020 and he came in round number 6….relatively late.
So I thought about where the organization stands post-draft as far as potential prospects on the mound and at the plate. Was the strategy to wait on arms which seems similar to the 2019 draft, a wise one and how can we know? More importantly, after the free agent period that starts this Sunday will the position groups/depth charts look drastically different?
Several weeks ago the system released almost 40 players and the sting of that purge is still fresh. Rosters are far from final, maybe they’ll become clearer after more amateur players are signed.
This ‘in-between’ phase seems like a good time to throw out a list of prospect ranks and see where fans agree/disagree and what others think. My lists are guys I see upside in. There seemed to be lots of debate as far as the draft being a letdown. Maybe you’re in the middle.
I don’t include pitchers/players who were at major league camp so names like Mountcastle, Hays, Lowther, Kremer, Zimmermann, Yusniel, Akin, Tate, Carroll won’t pop up here. Those guys are nearer to the bigs than the lower minors/recent draftees so I can’t call them prospects. Of this ‘close’ class, the one I have the most faith in would be Alexander Wells. The O’s lineup is better with Mountcastle in it so I don’t consider him a minor leaguer even though he could start at Norfolk. Adley Rutschman is the exception.
So I divided them up into 2 lists, offense and pitching. Remember, Upside.
Here are the hitters
- Adley Rutschman-the consensus top player in last year’s draft and someone blessed with elite skills in every baseball movement. Leadership, switch hitting, intellect and maturity. Any organization would love to have him atop their list.
- Gunnar Henderson-the team’s second pick in 2019 was Alabama’s b-ball player of the year and is athletic enough to stick at SS. In his debut year he impressed scouts and team officials with his upbeat attitude and rapid development. He also gained some weight and it didn’t affect his quickness one bit.
- Heston Kjerstad-with his swing you can get a souvenir waiting in line at Boog’s in Eutaw Street as he makes it look so easy to hit a ball 400 feet. Huge power addition to the system and slots right in as a necessary and usable piece for the near future. Exciting!
- Adam Hall-I expect his development to continue in a positive direction and it’s time to give the guy his due. He’s fast as can be on the bases, has gained some good weight as he’s been in the system and yea you’d want a few more walks but he hits .290 and scores runs at a premium position so I’ll continue to rank him high until he stops hitting/scoring.
- Joey Ortiz-somebody I have lots of faith in relative to most rankers. This list is about upside and I like his game a lot. Picked high in 2019 and possessing a lightning quick set of hands propelling his bat and also his laser relays (defense matters to me), he’s a player who has great baseball in front of him. Little faster than people think and with a natural uppercut, I’m very excited about this 2019 4th rounder.
- Toby Welk-if I have to listen to one more industry expert say that the Orioles DONT have a third baseman in their system I may explode! Welk had a great debut for any player, much less one from a D-3 program like Penn St Berks. Toby already showed development in the field and got both bigger and stronger. Expect extra base hits.
- Darell Hernaiz-drafted in the 5th round in 2019 one round behind Ortiz, Darell had a strong debut and had already started gaining weight when I saw him last in March. Months later he’s still working out and adding lbs (up around 180+) and looking to drive the ball to the power alleys and over the fence. His quick bat lets him wait out pitches until he sees his best offering and attack it. That’s his special skill, hopefully fans get to see more of his game soon.
- Hudson Haskin-it’s hard to write like I know anything about him. I read that he ranks high on translating speed to baseball skill and that if everything’s going well he can show a great arm too. A 5-tool package and a high draft pick makes me think that there’s considerable upside but I can’t say I’ve watched him play. Still, the O’s are picking a certain type of player and I’m excited to see him start his organizational climb.
- Brett Cumberland-having watched some practices and several camp days this is a guy who is so much better than people realize. He doesn’t mess around and just executes. Drill after drill. Walks straight into the lefty box and drives it to right swing after swing after swing. He’ll be 25 in two weeks so perhaps my ranking is way off. There are lots of good backstops in the system. His skill set brings the group even higher.
- Kyle Stowers-other rankers place him higher and I certainly understand why. He’s big and in control of a very athletic frame. He weighs 200 lbs and I could see him getting to 215-220 and still be bouncy not bulky. I haven’t seen much of that youthful athleticism contribute to baseball movements yet, I also only got to see him in person for about a week plus watching his videos. He was drafted high in 2019 and he did have 20 XBH in 55 games so he’s got plenty to build on.
- Jordan Westburg-just picked from Miss St, he’s a player who has gradually improved and brings more speed than someone his size may appear to have. An SEC pedigree hitter with 20/20 potential slots in nicely to the quickly improving middle infield mix that’s starting to spread to each level. There are only 2 MIs (Hall, Z Watson) who steal on the farm right now so the wheels are a welcome addition.
- Mason Janvrin-Uber athletic long strider who gets to top speed like a sports car. His accelerationis an absolute weapon and his legs help him get behind throws from the power alley that can reach the infield easily. Janvrin was a mid-round (14th)pick but is from an athletic family and is very much in control of his body/skill set. On the field the best could be yet to come as he grows across his shoulders and lower back. He’s the fastest guy in the system.
- Elio Prado-another name I’ve yet to watch except for some cage video. He’s not big but the sound of his bat is. Prado takes pitches and takes walks, is 18 and cost the organization Andrew Cashner to acquire. He’s a bit of a lottery ticket currently rostered in the Dominican Summer League but has shown scouts plenty. One of the guys I was most excited to see progress in 2020 was Elio.
- Robert Neustrom-Neus is a pretty well built outfielder who moves with some speed. Watching him up close he has a strong and accurate arm and seems very close to being a consistent contact maker. BB/K ratio improvement could mean an entirely different slugger profile. I’m optimistic.
- Coby Mayo-it seems like he should be higher. He’s 18 so that holds back his ridiculous combo of size/skill back a bit. The Orioles saved money elsewhere and did so to get this hulking teen who played the same 1st base as Anthony Rizzo at Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.
- Jean Carlos Encarnacion-along with Cumberland (and Zimmerman), JCE represents the O’s return from the Braves in the Kevin Gausman deal. I see him as a powerful athlete who is both coming into his own and nearing his peak. It’s a gamble placing him on this list at all but the team seems invested in his success and I’ve watched him dominate in the cage so there’s some shreds of evidence.
- Shayne Fontana-drafted in 2019 from Lynn University. Destroyed the GCL and started moving up. When he’s at his best he looks unchallenged and game comes easy to him.
- Anthony Servideo-just drafted defensive SS from Ole Miss. Will fit in MI drills and compete right away. Looks gritty and like a guy who loves getting dirty. That fits.
- Lamar Sparks-long striding athlete who hasn’t shown much due to injury. He missed about an entire season and looked not only healthy but about 15-20 lbs larger in early March. A full season could show a deep skill set and a lead off hitter profile.
- Maverick Handley-hard to exactly quantify Handley or any player from 16 on really. He’s a catcher but he can really run and shows his catcher acumen when batting too as he won’t force the issue. He is oozing with potential. Defense he’s no slouch and has thrown out runners who had the pitcher smoked in sim games. Catcher=a deep deep group.
Just missed:Johnny Rizer/Chris Burgess/Jaylen Ferguson/Zach Watson/Zach Jarrett
As far as pitchers, that’s a group I’ve seen less of overall but I have watched the 2019 minor league seasons in pieces and also attended both early camp and the few weeks of minor league spring training back in February/March.
- DL Hall-looks like a total ace in stuff and attitude. I’m thinking he’s so close to being in control of a stuff package that could rival any left handed starter in the sport. His legs just absolutely explode into max effort and his hands create and control spin so easily. I can’t wait to see his next couple seasons
- Grayson Rodriguez-could easily be no 1. Has already made strides in development and dominated his opposition. He’s getting better with arsenal, and getting stronger physically. He’s an ace.
- Michael Baumann-developmental curve maxer who just has stuff on top of stuff. Frame to support an innings load increase and hands large enough put on junk and take off mph. Also an ace. Closer than many think.
- Cody Sedlock-body looks to be much bigger than pre-arm injury. He’s flat out huge and his stuff was free and easy. He changed speeds more/better than he moved the ball within the zone but he’s coming back from an injury and it was early camp. Healthy=positive sign.
- Drew Rom-I’m going to call Rom a starter and he’s got some good lefty stuff to work with. I saw LHBs get rattled during ABs as they thought they had Rom squared up but they either missed or made weak contact. He has a very smooth buildup in his delivery and a picturesque release where the ball stays hidden a second longer. He also seems to be a sneaky competitor and a focused performer. The more I saw the more I want to see.
- Gray Fenter-Fenter has probably the best breaking stuff control that I saw in early camp and he plays off of that instead of his heat. He’s got more than one curve and uses them to both start and finish counts. Like Rom, working through some adjustments could mean a big jump as far as prospect status. I have a feeling that pitching to his defense could work for a guy like Fenter.
- Kyle Bradish-I loved what I saw from him and his breaking ball is very Chris Tillman-ish. A big 12-to-6 that starts spinning hard and down right off his fingertips. At his best he’s going to use that hook to keep batters off balance and finish them off. Also ‘knows how to pitch’ and gets K’s in rising heat to righties. *Can throw a football with a picture perfect spiral about 45-50 yards with outstanding accuracy*
- Jake Lyons-big righty who uses his legs for power but has plenty of skill in his hands and wrists. Jake has different wind-ups and different deliveries but from what I see pronates and uses his fingers on the ball to influence movement very well. The run and tail on his heat doesn’t get away from him and he’s another athlete who I was expecting a breakthrough season from in 2020. Also showed damn good feet with pivots/pickoffs. Watch him pitch!
- Brenan Hanifee-this big righty would have been using the early part of 2020 to get back on track. Hanifee is a long, tall former b-ball and football star who uses control and strike zone location to get hitters to mash grounders out to his infielders. More reps and more innings is what he needs but I’m optimistic. He is a nice and friendly guy but pitches with a mean streak that I was looking forward to seeing…
- Blaine Knight-I’m not in the group that thinks he can’t pitch in the pros. Does he need to continue to adjust? Absolutely yes. Were his numbers bad? Absolutely yes. I haven’t seen him much but he prepares and plays like a leader and it rubs off on his fellow pitchers. The O’s need MORE of his seriousness, not less. His stuff sat low-90’s on scouts’ guns at early camp and didn’t have much dip on breaking stuff. I’m thinking that moving teams/parks and staffs may have shook him up. If Chris Holt can salvage this guy’s skills and have him on a better track I see a very confident performer.
- Houston Roth-big arm, big legs, big hands. Roth looks like a hoss out there on the mound. I noted excellent horizontal run more than once, especially to RHBs. He can turn a bad count into a K and finish guys off with heat or movement. I liked what I saw and expect improvement. This is pretty far down to still have highly skilled starting pitchers…
- Ryan Conroy-Smooth, silky delivery with effective sinker and change of speed package. He moves like a golf swing on the mound and can make low 90’s heat seem like 98 and rising by setting it up with off-speed and tumbling low-zone pitches. The more I watch, the smoother I think he is.
- Kyle Brnovich-My Comp:Kevin Brown. This guy wants to strike everybody out, not waste one pitch and do it with pizzazz! I can’t wait to see him unfurl his stuff with confidence. Nobody has seen him pitch in the pros so I had to get a scouting report from his grandad, ‘the original Brno’. Gramps named his curveball The Executioner. Brnovich is slender but strong and releases with a high torque load.
- Jake Zebron-big, burly, bearded redhead who has enough arm and leg strength to maintain heat late in games. I saw this dude grind out starts in the GCL where the field temps are over 110 and he was lovin it! Jake throws heat and doesn’t have an extensive pitch mix but uses smarts and better than average control to hit spots. He’s going to argue with any manager that comes to take him out no matter what. More attitude.
- Jensen Elliott-very tall, long legged righty who can hold the ball late and release from different points. He has great motion but I’ve ID’d him wrong in videos due to his variance in deliveries. Uses height well to stay on top of the ball and has big hands/long fingers to finish off spin. He also seems highly athletic and quick off the mound in fielding drills, especially for someone with his height.
- Dallas Litscher-similar to Jensen, but Litscher is taller and has shown less propensity to control post-release. Some delivery clean-up would work wonders for his stuff. There is good snap on his stuff and he’s shown the ability to maintain control. Needs consistency.
- Griffin McLarty-looks to be a great teammate and have a greater arm. Always positive and upbeat and usually outgoing. Athleticism seems to come very easy.
- Kade Strowd-showed elements of being a super control type. Short, brief buildup and not a lot of legs in his windup process but he doesn’t miss by much and knows how to hit spots. I look forward to that skill showing even better and see if he can build a full profile from it.
- Zach Peek-has barely pitched. Windup is so fluid. Looks athletic and bouncy but strong.
- Morgan McSweeney-shows extreme spin ability and downward plane upon release. Went to college and is an intelligent, data-driven performer who brings some attitude to his starts.
I noticed this whole list was starters. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some extremely exciting bullpen types in the Orioles system because THERE ARE A TON OF THEM!!!!
The 2020 season was going to be (maybe still will be)a chance for lots of names on this list to be as familiar to you as they are to me and other fans who follow the minors closely. Until there is a season, go ahead and watch some development as all the 2019 minor league games are available on the MILB app. You’ll see some excellent players coming into their own and performing at a high level. The minor league system is finally becoming one where talent goes in and comes out closer to fully maximized. The new additions will only help.