Minors : : General
Sunday, January 08, 2012

Top Prospects: Baltimore Orioles

David Rawnsley        
Photo: Perfect game
General Manager:  Dan Duquette
Minor League Director:  John Stockstill
Scouting Director:  Gary Rajsich

AAA:  Norfolk Tides (International League) 56-87
AA:  Bowie Baysox (Eastern League) 75-66
Hi A:  Frederick Keys (Carolina League) 80-59
Low A:  Delmarva Shorebirds (South Atlantic League) 55-85
Rookie Adv.:  Aberdeen IronBirds (New York-Penn League) 24-51
Rookie:  Orioles (Gulf Coast League) 38-22
Dominican:  DSL Orioles (Dominican Summer League) 46-24

System Overview

The Orioles are stuck in a ditch only the Pittsburgh Pirates could truly appreciate. The organization that was once one of the crown jewels of Major League Baseball has run up a string of 14 consecutive losing seasons dating back to their 98-64 playoff team of 1997. And it’s not getting any better, as Baltimore hasn’t even topped 70 wins since 2005 after going 69-93 in 2011 and finishing last in the American League East for the fourth straight year.

There was actually a healthy dose of optimism going into this past season. Manager Buck Showalter had lead the team to a 34-23 record after taking over in the second half of the 2010 season, the team appeared to have a strong core of young starting pitchers and the front office moved aggressively to prop up a sagging offense with some power hitting veterans.

The offense upgrades took hold, as the Orioles scored almost 100 runs more than they had the previous year, finishing seventh in the league in runs scored and fourth in home runs, including a combined 67 from new acquisitions SS J.J. Hardy and 1B/3B Mark Reynolds, both of whom should be in their primes. Young stars such as C Matt Weiters and CF Adam Jones also had strong seasons and haven’t reached their peaks, although Jones is currently being marketed for prospects according to media reports.

Unfortunately, what happened was that the pitching staff completely imploded, finishing dead last in the big leagues in ERA by a significant margin. Most of the young pitchers counted on to improve, including Jake Arrieta, Brad Bergesen, Chris Tillman and especially Brian Matusz, took medium to huge steps backwards. Only rookie Zach Britton (11-11, 4.60) really stepped up among the young pitching.

Faced with more of the same, owner Peter Angelos has responded by completely blowing up the front office, hiring former Expos and Red Sox GM Dan Duquette as his VP of Baseball Operations. Duquette has been out of mainstream professional baseball since leaving Boston in 2002, making the hire a definite attention getter. Interestingly, Duquette’s first major hire was a new scouting director in former ML outfielder Gary Rajsich. The 57 year old Rajsich last scouted amateur baseball in 2002, not coincidently with the Red Sox, and has been working as a professional scout since 2003. In turn, Rajsich has reassigned most of the Orioles professional scouting staff to amateur responsibilities.

The Orioles minor league system has some stellar young talents in RHP Dylan Bundy and young shortstops Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop but lack overall depth, especially in pitching and at the upper levels. Part of that lack of pitching depth can be accounted for by looking at the number of young pitchers the team has called up to the big leagues the past few years, but that pipeline will not be tapped again soon. The hope for the future is that those young pitchers start to mature while players such as Machado and Schoop mature into big league talents ahead of schedule.

2011 Draft

The Orioles under former scouting director Joe Jordan leaned slightly to college level talent, but Jordan wasn’t hamstrung by limited budgets or imagination and consistently identified high school prospects outside the top couple of rounds and made aggressive runs at them. There has been persistent talk in baseball circles for years that the Orioles draft decisions have been impacted/influenced from the ownership level, but any problems they’ve had in signing and developing talent hasn’t been because of funds or aggressiveness.

In that way the 2011 draft was very typical for the team. There was plenty of pre-draft controversy about the Orioles first round pick (fourth overall), Oklahoma HS right hander Dylan Bundy, but the Orioles waded through all the outrageous bonus talk, picked the right player and got him signed for a very reasonable deal, although it was a big league contract. If he throws like a pro the same way he threw in high school, Bundy should rocket through the Orioles system.

Second round pick 3B Jason Esposito from Vanderbilt will have to develop more as a hitter to be an impact big league regular down the road but he’s a plus athlete for the position and a polished, mature player who could have been a first round pick with a bit better junior season.

Baltimore’s next three picks are also 'typical' Orioles picks, college pitchers RHP Mike Wright, RHP Kyle Simon and LHP Matt Taylor. Unfortunately, the Orioles have not been successful in developing this type of college pick in the past few years and have an unusual pattern of putting pitchers in the bullpen in the lower minor leagues. Both Simon and Taylor pitched out of the bullpen in the New York Penn League after signing.

Where the Orioles swung for the fences was in signing sixth round pick C-3B Nicky Delmonico for a $1,525,000 signing bonus. Delmonico was somewhat of a polarizing figure in the scouting industry last spring as some loved his bat and power potential and others saw it completely the other way. If he can make a successful full-time move to catching that would certainly add value to his future potential.

The team also opened their wallet for 26th round pick, RHP Zach Davies, a high school right hander from Arizona, who signed for $575,000.

One of the major factors impacting the Orioles talent base at the moment is, simply put, the failure of the 2009 draft. Baltimore spent over $9M to sign 29 players and not one of them appears on what is a thin Top 10 Prospect list below. First round pick RHP Matt Hobgood (fifth overall) could go down as one of the most ill-advised first rounders ever after going 0-6, 8.46 in rookie ball in 2011, especially considering that pitchers such as Mike Minor, Mike Leake, Drew Storen, Jacob Turner and Aaron Crow were picked almost immediately after him. Second round pick SS Mychal Givens is on the fast track to be converted to a pitcher, and big ticket signees LHP Cameron Coffey and C Michael Ohlman (both signed for close to $1M) have yet to start developing.

The other major factor impacting the Orioles minor league talent base is that the organization has made little impact in the foreign talent market, with only SS Jonathan Schoop, a native of Curacao, and 18 year old LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (Venezuela) standing out as legit prospects.

Top 10 Prospects

1. RHP Dylan Bundy
Baseball-reference player profile

I will usually go to great lengths to keep a high school player who hasn’t played a game of pro ball from being the top prospect in an organization, especially when there is a worthy alternative in SS Manny Machado, but Bundy is far from a typical high school prospect. In fact, he might have the best combination of filthy stuff and pitchability on a high school pitcher to ever come through the draft, something many veteran scouts brought up last spring. The only obvious comparison was Josh Beckett in 1999.

Bundy’s resume is flawless. His mid to upper 90’s fastball has touched 100 mph and he has uncanny command of the pitch. He’ll throw a low 88-91 mph cutter off his fastball that has slider depth at times (repeat that phrase, “throws a 91 mph cutter with depth” when talking about a teenage pitcher….might not get another chance for a long time), a power curveball and a surprisingly polished change up. His delivery is very sound mechanically and his mature 6-1/200 build is the only thing that scouts, who prefer the lanky projectable types, really have to nitpick about.

The Orioles would be well advised to concentrate their development efforts on Bundy to the mental side of pitching and threaten to fire any pitching coach who wants to tweek his pitches or mechanics.

2. SS Manny MachadoBaseball-reference player profile

Machado was the third overall pick in 2010, complete with the inevitable Alex Rodriguez comparisons given to a 6-3/185 teenager from Miami. And while Machado didn’t reach the ML’s as an 18 year old first year pro like Rodriguez did, his first season, splitting the year between low and high A, he did nothing to disappoint. Despite a nagging knee injury, Machado hit .257-11-50/.756 OPS in 101 games while showing offensive and defensive skills well beyond his years.

There will be two big questions whose answers will determine what type of big league future Machado will enjoy and whether he will be able to become the face of the Orioles franchise. The first is what type of power Machado will develop. He has the realistic potential to develop into a 30-40 home run a year player, which could put him into the superstar category. Don’t underestimate the 11 home runs in 101 games as an 18 year old in A ball, especially when combined with impressive strike zone control.

The second is whether Machado will outgrow shortstop and move over to third base or whether he’ll maintain the athleticism and agility to stay in the middle of the field. Those 30-40 home run shortstops are pretty rare….pretty much just Alex Rodriguez and Troy Tulowitzki in that club.

3. SS Jonathan SchoopBaseball-reference player profile

Schoop’s performance between low and high A in 2011as a 19 year old virtually mirrored Machado’s (.290-13-71/.790 OPS in 128 games) and he has the same type of high ceiling, albeit without the extreme power potential, as Machado. After playing exclusively at shortstop his first two seasons as a professional, Schoop and the Orioles have started making the adjustments to a continuing future as Machado’s running mate. Schoop did play 43 games at shortstop in 2011, mostly when Machado was out with an injury, but also played 64 games at second base and 23 games at third base. A future with Machado at shortstop and Schoop at second base is something that all 30 organizations in baseball would look forward to at this point.

4. RHP Parker BridwellBaseball-reference player profile

The 6-4/190 Bridwell was more renowned as a very athletic spread formation quarterback in high school but the Orioles signed him for a $625,000 bonus as a ninth round pick in 2010 and they may have hit gold. While he is still the raw side and has thrown far fewer innings than most pitching prospects his age, Bridwell has a second/third starter’s ceiling. His fastball has already moved up 3-5 mph since high school and is now regularly in the 92-95 mph range and his downer curveball is a potential plus second pitch. One comparison that really resonates is with RHP A.J. Burnett, a similarly sized right hander who entered pro ball as an obscure 8th round pick out of Arkansas in 1995.

5. RHP Robert BundyBaseball-reference player profile

Dylan Bundy’s older brother has a legitimate spot on the Orioles Top Prospect list, especially after a strong 2011 season that saw him go 11-5, 2.75 in 121 innings in High A before a late season promotion to AA as a 21 year old. Bundy has a solid fourth starter’s profile, with a low 90’s heavy sinking fastball that he commands well to go along with a curveball, slider and change up that are all workable pitches he throws for strikes.

An eighth round pick of the Orioles in 2008, it would be unfair to say that Robert was the same type of prospect as Dylan but he was far better than an eighth rounder, with a fastball that touched 94-95 mph and the same type of mature, athletic strength. But Bundy blew out his ACL in a basketball game prior to the start of his senior baseball season and only made it back onto the mound at the end of the season and that only a few months after reconstructive surgery. Without that injury, Robert could have well developed into a top two round pick, although he did receive a bonus comparable to a second rounder.

6. 2B L.J. HoesBaseball-reference player profile

Hoes was a strong armed outfielder in high school and the Orioles third round pick in 2008 but was switched almost immediately to second base as a professional. He has also played some third base as well. However, his breakout during the second half of 2011 (.305-6-54/.792 OPS in 96 games in AA as a 21 year old) also came, perhaps not coincidently, when the Maryland product went back to playing left field.

Hoes best tool when he was drafted and still his best tool is his hitting ability. He has a quick line drive swing and a mature ability to manage the strike zone and hitting over .300 as a 21 year old at the AA level is what you’d expect him to do as a top prospect. His eventual position and how he develops his power will be the keys to what kind of big leaguer he could become. A right handed hitting left fielder without burning speed (Hoes is an average type runner) and below average power is a backup, while a second baseman who hits .280-.300 and can line the ball up a gap and steal a base every once in a while is a starter. The best bet for Hoes is somewhere in between, a valuable utility player who can play all over the field and contribute with his bat.

7. 3B Jason EspositoBaseball-reference player profile

Esposito signed for $900K after being selected with the Orioles second round pick in 2011. Most analysts considered it a very sound pick for Baltimore, as Esposito had the tools and baseball instincts to be a low first round pick if he weren’t held back by questions about his power potential as a third baseman.

There seems to be little question that Esposito will be a top level defensive third baseman, as he is very athletic with plus arm strength and there has been speculation that he could even move over to second base or shortstop for short periods defensively. He’s a very good baserunner (46 stolen bases his last 2 years at Vanderbilt despite just average big league speed) and has a firm grasp on the strike zone and will maximize his offensive potential in those areas.

With his experience and polish, the Orioles will probably not hesitate to challenge Esposito immediately at the start of the 2012 season. It would be nice for the organization if he could quickly catch up to the Machado/Schoop middle infield duo.

8. C-3B Nick DelmonicoBaseball-reference player profile

As mentioned above, opinions on Delmonico as a prospect leading up to the 2011 draft were all over the map after a disappointing spring season that might have been impacted by a wrist injury. At best the Orioles will have a left handed hitting catcher with a potential impact bat. At worst, they will have a below average defensive third baseman with below average power. He has shown both phases during the past year.

One thing they will have is someone with a very strong baseball background, as Delmonico’s father, Rod, was the head coach at Tennessee from 1990 to 2007 and his brother, Tony, was a sixth round pick of the Dodgers in 2008 and played in High-A in 2011. Interestingly, Tony spent three years trying to convert to catcher before being moved back to third base in 2011.

9. RHP Clayton SchraderBaseball-reference player profile

Schrader originally went to UT-San Antonio as a two-way player but transferred to San Jacinto JC in 2010 and was converted to a full-time reliever before the Orioles selected him in the 10th round that year. He has a typical relief prospects resume, a fastball that touches the mid-90s, a nasty slider that is a big-time strikeout pitch when he can throw it for strikes and a max effort delivery that makes throwing consistent strikes a challenge.

What makes Schrader standout was his abusive performance in 2011 between Low-A and High-A: 2-2, 1.57 in 46 innings, with only 19 hits allowed and 73 (!) Ks. Of course, there were the 32 walks to consider.

10. LHP Eduardo RodriguezBaseball-reference player profile

The best way to think about a prospect like Rodriguez, a Venezuelan native, is to consider that he’s an 18 year old southpaw with a fastball that touches 93 mph and advanced pitchability for his age. He enjoyed an excellent season in the Gulf Coast League in his stateside debut, going 1-1, 1.81 in 44 innings. That type of talent probably gets drafted in the second or third round had he been eligible for the 2011 draft and gets paid $500K.

Others in the Conversation:  2B Ryan Adams, CF Xavier Avery, CF Glynn Davis, RHP Oliver Drake, SS/RHP Mychal Givens, RHP Dan Klein, 1B Tyler Townsend

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