I don’t get to as many Minor League games for the Orioles’ affiliates as I should considering how close most of them are – Bowie, Frederick, and Aberdeen are all within an hours drive from Baltimore. We always mean to attend more but then the Orioles season gets underway and we find ourselves either wanting to go to Camden Yards or wanting to take a night off from attending a baseball with the O’s are out of town. This past season we only made it to one game – the first game of the Eastern League playoffs in Bowie to watch Dylan Bundy pitch. I have definitely not seen enough of any of the Orioles’ prospects (save for maybe Steve Johnson) to provide real in-depth scouting reports. However, from the little I have seen and from looking at their numbers, I’ve attempted to put together a modest Orioles Observer Top 10 Prospect list for the 2012/2013 off season. I tried to leave off players who only played a little (if at all) in 2012, with Kevin Gausman being the major exception. I actually saw Gausman pitch a little on television during LSU’s time in the College World Series and given his pedigree, I concluded that I had enough to go on to accurately rank him. Rankings are largely based on a prospect’s Minor League numbers as well as how those numbers and skills might project out in future seasons. Overall, the Orioles farm system certainly looks stronger than it has in recent years. The Orioles graduated their #2 prospect from a year ago (Manny Machado) and still have a top two that rivals most organizations in baseball. The group gets rather thin near the bottom of the top 10 but strong sophomore/debut seasons from 2012 signees could add reinforcements later in the 2013 season.
1. Dylan Bundy (SP) – The Orioles raised some eyebrows when they took away Bundy’s cutter – his best pitch – out of concern that a cutter can reduce a young pitcher’s four-seam fastball velocity. The loss of a pitch did little to deter the 2011 top draft pick, who put in a stellar debut season in Frederick and Bowie. Bundy ended the year pitching out of the Baltimore bullpen during the pennant race and hardly looked overmatched in limited Major League action. We watched Bundy make a start in the first game of the Eastern League playoffs and during his cup of coffee in Baltimore. The right-hander still has some progress to make with his command on all of his pitches but he already shows an above average fastball, curveball, and slider, with a developing change up. The O’s will no doubt want to see Bundy continue to improve his changeup and overall command for a half a season at Norfolk before seriously considering him for a rotation spot on the Big League roster. Look for Bundy to top many National prospect lists this winter.
2. Kevin Gausman (SP) – We saw little of the 2012 first round selection this summer – Gausman pitched only 15 innings between Aberdeen and Frederick – put he made a strong first impression nonetheless. The Orioles encouraged the right-hander to pocket his curveball – his best off speed offering – in order to work on his fastball and changeup. Even without his full arsenal, Guasman sported a .800 WHIP and 7.8 K/9 ratio during his abbreviated 2012 season. Gausman likely starts in Frederick – although I would not completely rule our Bowie – but should move quickly through the system in 2013. A late season call up, especially if the Birds are locked in another playoff run, could be in the cards for Gausman in 2013.
3. LJ Hoes (OF) – The knock against LJ continues to be his lack of power. He owns a meager .375 slugging percentage for his minor league career (.388 in 2012). However, Hoes has hit at every level he has played at and continues to show a knack for getting on base (.288 AVG/.358 OBP for career and .287/.382 in 2012). From the little I have seen of him, he goes the other way quite often and with great success. His ability to get on base is for real and I have little doubt that he can be a .275/.335 hitter in the Majors which certainly has some value. Hoes finished the season at AAA Norfolk where he will likely start the 2013 season. I think that this ship has sailed, but his value would jump up substantially if he ever made the move back to second base. Hoes’ one at bat this past September with the Orioles made him the first graduate of our alma mater (St. John’s College High School) to receive an at bat in the Major Leagues.
4. Jonathan Schoop (2B/SS/3B) – Baseball America’s 82nd best prospect prior to the 2012 season, Schoop had a solid if not entirely impressive 2012 season. The 20 year-old spent the entire season at AA Bowie, making him one of the youngest players in the Eastern League. His .710 OPS at AA his perfectly acceptable given his age. Schoop also showed decent power (14 HR’s) and very good plate discipline with a .324 OBP off of a .245 batting average. Those plate discipline numbers are especially important for a young player and a very positive sign for Schoop going forward. The Orioles continue to move the young man from Curacao around the diamond, switching him from second base to shortstop after Manny Machado’s August promotion to the big leagues. Schoop likely settles in at SS at Bowie to begin the 2013 season with the hope of making it to Norfolk before the All-Star break. His future his likely at second base but I wouldn’t expect the Orioles to make that move permanent until it is absolutely necessary.
5. Nick Delmonico (1B/2B) – Played most of the season as a 20 year old in A-ball. Put up a .351 OBP (47 walks & 7 HBP in 95 games) in addition to slugging .411 (11 HR and 22 2B). It would appear that he has a good approach at the plate in terms of waiting for his pitch and driving it when he gets it. Delmonico struck out 73 times in 338 at bats which is a bit high but reinforces the idea that he is making good contact when he does with a .317 BAPIP. Considering he was still on the young side for his league it was an encouraging first season. If he can keep up the plate discipline and power numbers while cutting down the strike outs in Frederick, that will be a good sign. He is also one of the more enjoyable young Orioles to follow on Twitter and seems to have taken to the Orioles’ organization right off the bat.
6. Eduardo Rodriguez (SP) – As a 19 year-old, Rodriguez pitched to a 3.70 ERA for single-A Delmarva in 2012. While the ERA is certainly impressive, there are some causes for concern in Rodriguez’s 2012 numbers. His K /9 IP ratio dropped from the 9.0+ level it was at in his prior stops with the Dominican and GCL Orioles to 6.1. Perhaps Rodriguez simply went through an adjustment period in Delmarva or maybe his K rate will settle in the 6.0 range which is still an adequate ratio for a starting pitcher prospect. It is something to keep an eye on, however, as a continued decrease in strikeouts as Rodriguez moves up the Birds’ system would not be a positive sign. Everything else looked good for the left-hander in 2012. His BB rate stayed consistent with prior seasons and he put up a stellar 1.53 GO/AO ratio in A-ball. Rodriguez will only be twenty years old for all of the 2013 season so there is a good chance he spends the entire season with Frederick. A good season in the Carolina League might position Rodriquez to make an impact in the Majors as early as 2015 when he will still be just 22 years old.
7. Ty Kelly (2B/3B/OF) – Ty had what the Orioles hope will prove to be a breakout season in 2012 when he hit a combined .327/.425/.467 over stops at Frederick, Bowie, and Norfolk. Kelly is a switch hitter who performed well from both sides of the plate last season. Drafted out of University of California, Davis in 2009, Kelly will turn 25 during the 2013 season so this next season is a very critical one for him. A solid start at Norfolk could place him in the running for a mid-season call up if the Orioles need middle or corner infield help with a utility infielder or even fulltime 2B job not out of the cards for 2014.
8. Clay Schrader (RP) – While it is always best to temper enthusiasm when it comes to 22 year-old relievers pitching in the Carolina and Eastern League, Clay Schrader’s performance in 2012 should excite Oriole fans. The right-hander from Humble, Texas pitched 42 innings this past season to the tune of a 1.86 ERA. More impressive are some of his peripheral numbers, including an eye popping 10.6 K/9 IP ratio during 2012 (12.2 for his minor league career) and a miniscule 4.8 H/9 IP during his minor league ratio. The one cause of concern for Clay is his command. As great as that K/9 ratio looks, his BB/9 ratio of 7.9 (6.9 career) is just as ugly. Based on the numbers, Schrader clearly has swing and miss stuff, but he will need to be able to control his pitches much better before contributing to the O’s bullpen. Look for Schrader to start in either Bowie and Norfolk with a target of helping out in Baltimore in 2014.
9. Mike Wright (SP) – Wright is a 2011 third-round pick who made quite the impression for himself this spring in an outing against the New York Yankees. Wright looked advanced beyond his age in retiring the Yankee hitters with minimal trouble, including striking out Mark Teixiera. Wright sits in the low to mid 90’s with his fastball and compliments it with an above average slider and low-80’s change up. Wright pitched well in 2012 for both Frederick and Bowie compiling a combined 4.06 ERA, 6.6 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9. Wright struggled a bit at Bowie (4.91 ERA) where he will likely begin the 2103 season. Some still project Wright as a future big league reliever where he should be able to throw in the mid to upper 90’s, but for now it seems likely the Orioles will continue working him as a starter.
10. Xaiver Avery (OF) – Avery made his Oriole debut in 2012 after injuries to Nolan Reimold, Nick Markakis, and Endy Chavez severely tested the Orioles’ outfield depth. X hit respectively his first go around in the Majors, virtually matching the numbers he put up at Norfolk. The problem was that his Norfolk numbers were not too great to begin with. An encouraging sign was Avery’s .330 OBP at Norfolk, which was more than 100 points higher than his batting average. Once a raw player with a lot of upside, Avery is starting to look more polished as his plate discipline continues to improve. If 2012 was any indication, Avery could very well see some time in Baltimore this summer. Avery will need to improve his pitch recognition – it became all too easy for Major League pitchers to beat him on inside off speed pitches after word got out – if he wants to make his promotion stick this time.
Next Five (in no order):
Steve Johnson (SP/RP) – Surpassed all expectations after being called up mid-season to fill in as a starter and in the bullpen. The only question is whether he can keep it up, but either way Steve looks like a valuable arm one way or another for the Birds. Likely starts the season in Norfolk and is the first starter up when needed.
Glynn Davis (OF) – local kid that has speed and shown the ability to get on base (.347 minor league OBP). Davis will be 21 years old next year and will most likely start in Frederick with his eyes on a mid-season promotion to AA. Davis looks like a 4th outfielder with an outside shot at becoming an everyday player somewhere.
Stu Pomeranz (RP) – The former Cardinals prospect reinvented himself as a big time power reliever in 2011 and saw some action in the Orioles’ bullpen in 2012 before being sidelined the rest of the season with an oblique strain. Stu will look to rebound from his injury and continue his comeback story by contributing to the Orioles’ bullpen sometime during the 2013 season.
Josh Hader (SP/RP) – An Old Mill High School product, Hader put up an amazing 15.1 K/9 ratio during his professional debut season with the GCL Orioles and Iron Birds. Perhaps more impressive was the 2.8 BB/9 ratio that accompanied the strikeout numbers. If Hader can repeat his success out of the bullpen at Delmarva, the 18 year-old just might find himself on the fast track to the Majors and the Orioles bullpen.
Adrian Marin (SS) – Marin is an 18 year-old short stop who showed the ability to hit for average and good plate discipline during his professional debut in 2012. Look for the 2012 3rd rounder to start the 2013 season at Delmarva, where he finished up last year.