When Baseball America recently ranked its top prospects, the Orioles placed three players in the top 100, with Dylan Bundy at No. 10, Manny Machado at No. 11 and Jonathan Schoop at No. 82.
No other Orioles minor league players came close to cracking that top 100 and most analysts consider the O’s farm system somewhat top heavy with the elite top two prospects heading up the farm and no one after that - save for Schoop - rated very highly. It’s a system lacking in high-end prospects.
But the O’s farm is not lacking in talent. It does feature some promising players that have to prove to the experts that they deserve national recognition.
Here are five players worth watching this year on the O’s farm. They are not necessarily the best prospects, but five that all had solid 2011 seasons making me wonder what they have in store for us.
These are not five players I would rate the highest on the farm, just five that deserve some note. Some of them have a chance to crack that top 100 list in the seasons ahead. Three are very young with, as they say, upside. Two are older, but could still work their way closer to Baltimore if they follow up 2011’s success this summer.
I would certainly add to this list over the next few weeks and months. But for now, here are five to watch this year:
* Outfielder Glynn Davis out of Baltimore played in 69 games last summer, mostly at short-season Single-A Aberdeen and hit .284 with 16 doubles, two homers and 16 RBIs. Just 20, Davis was ranked by Baseball America as the 15th-best prospect in the New York-Penn League after last season.
He may be the fastest player in the Orioles minor leagues, but would get a challenge for that honor from Xavier Avery and Antoan Richardson. But while Davis has excellent raw speed, his base-stealing skills need work and he stole 24 of 34 last summer.
He is still a rather raw prospect but could grow more into his 6-foot-3, 170-lb. frame and has the potential to add much more pop in his bat. He could be the starting center fielder this season at Single-A Delmarva.
* Eduardo Rodriguez is a left-handed pitcher that will turn 19 on April 7. Last year in the Gulf Coast League, he was 1-1 with an ERA of 1.81. In 44 2/3 innings, he allowed 28 hits with 17 walks and 46 strikeouts. Rodriguez, who was signed out of Venezuela by Calvin Maduro, was rated after last year as the GCL’s 18th-best prospect by Baseball America.
Reports say Rodriguez throws his fastball between 87 and 92 mph and also throws a curve, changeup and cutter. The Orioles are trying to decide this month if he is ready to make the jump to Delmarva. I hear he had a rough outing in a spring game yesterday in Fort Myers, so he didn’t get off to a good start in that regard.
* Left-handed pitcher Jake Pettit was tremendous for Single-A Frederick late last year and in the playoff, as well. Pettit pitched to an ERA of 4.42 with Delmarva but then, after bumping up to Frederick, went 7-0 with an ERA of 1.62 with the Keys and went 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in the playoffs as Frederick won the Carolina League title.
Overall, the 25-year-old southpaw went 12-4 with a 3.38 ERA over 149 1/3 innings with 45 walks and 106 strikeouts. He throws in the high 80s with his fastball but his above-average changeup was very solid late last season.
A 42nd-round draft pick in 2010 out of Western Oregon State College, his lack of big velocity and his age will likely keep him from making any of those top prospects lists. But Pettit really knows how to pitch and has some polish to his game. I’ll be very curious to see how his stuff plays at the Double-A level, but it’s no sure thing that he will start with Bowie in April.
* Another player not ranking high on any top prospects lists, but one that still should get credit for a very solid 2011 season, is Buck Britton, Zach’s older brother. Buck hit .297 with 28 doubles, three triples, six homers and 63 RBIs last year between Frederick (25 games) and Bowie (87 games). He had a .354 OBP and a .799 OPS.
A 35th-round pick in 2008, the 25-year-old Britton is lefty batter that has versatility in the field, playing at second and third base and left and right field. He could wind up in a utility role again this year with Bowie, where he was a valuable player late last season for the Baysox as they were making a playoff run.
* Right-handed pitcher Jaime Esquivel pitched in 12 games last year, with all but one coming in the Gulf Coast League. The O’s 28th-round pick out of a Texas high school in 2010 went 5-2 with a 1.03 ERA. Over 52 1/3 innings, he allowed 27 hits with 19 walks and 47 strikeouts. Esquivel will turn 20 on May 25. In the GCL, opponent batters went 0-for-20 against him when hitting with runners in scoring position.
His fastball sits between 88 and 92 mph and he is a young hurler worth tracking. The Orioles want him to improve some balance issues with his windup and improve his control and command. He may stay in Florida at extended spring training come April to work on those and other things, a strategy that worked well last year for another young right-hander, Parker Bridwell, who didn’t leave camp to join an affiliate last season until early June.
Time to vote: The Aberdeen IronBirds want your vote. They have begun the process to select their All Decade Team through a fan vote at their Facebook page. The voting began this week and runs until their annual IronFest on May 5. Right now fans are asked to vote for first and third baseman.
The All Decade Team will be announced at IronFest and will be commemorated all season, as well as with new merchandise like t-shirts, cards sets, etc. For all the details on the voting and links to the Facebook page visit the IronBirds’ Web site.
What is your take?: Who are some players you are interested to watch in the O’s minors this year. Who are some unheralded players that have impressed you? Which affiliates’ games have you attended and how was the experience?