A catching prospect emerges on the farm (plus Machado talk)

Chance Sisco is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the Orioles farm system and he has earned the right to be called the best catching prospect in the O’s organization. But another catching prospect has emerged.

Austin Wynns has flown under the radar for a few seasons. Known for years as a solid defender, Wynns’ offense has been trending up in recent seasons and he is having a very impressive year with Double-A Bowie.

The Orioles drafted 26-year-old Wynns in round 10 out of Fresno State in 2013. He is in his fifth season on the O’s farm.

His batting average has increased every year:
.235 in 2013
.251 in 2014
.280 in 2015
.287 in 2016
.316 in 2017

Wynns has put in some solid work this year with Baysox batting coach Butch Davis. He began the season hitting seventh in the lineup, and now he often bats third.

Wynns Hitting Bowie Vertical.jpg“He’s got a swing that really works,” Bowie manager Gary Kendall said. “It’s a short swing, a low-maintenance swing. It’s handsy. He hits the ball to all fields. He handles the breaking ball and he’s not afraid to hit with two strikes. He can be 0-2 and still has a really good presence in the box. He just has a knack of getting his barrel to the ball.

“He’s grown a lot as a hitter. This guy has often played second fiddle to a lot of guys, but to his credit, when he’s been given the opportunity to play, he has opened a lot of eyes.

“You know, he played some winter ball, and I think that helped that growth. Handling pitchers, running a pitching staff. Seeing pitching from all over, not just the Carolina League or Eastern League, but internationally. Seeing all kinds of pitches in different counts.”

After the 2016 regular season, Wynns hit .300 in 12 games in the Arizona Fall League, and he hit .259 in 17 games in the Dominican Republic.

This year he has solid splits as well. Wynns is batting .306 with a 1.020 OPS versus left-handed pitching, and is batting .320/.799 against right-handers. He is batting .444 when hitting with runners in scoring position. In the plate-discipline department, he has a quite respectable 21 walks to 23 strikeouts.

“When we started the season, he was hitting down in our order. But the more he walked and we started seeing him see pitches, our coaches talked about moving him up. The more he got on base and got deeper into counts, we realized he had to hit higher in the lineup,” Kendall said.

He’s never been ranked among the O’s top 30 prospects, but Wynns has always been regarded as solid with the glove. Scouts feel his arm is major league average and his pop times to second base (the time it takes him to throw the ball to second) are often between 1.90 and 1.98 seconds.

“He calls a good game and runs a good game,” Kendall said. “He has a strong ability to block pitches, and not just block, but shape it. Where, if there are runners on base, they don’t get extra bases. Use (hard-throwing lefty) Tanner Scott for example, where he can block an upper 80s slider, for instance. He’s got good hands. Plus, he is very open to suggestions from our staff and coordinators when they come in.

“He’s a guy that can be 0-for-4, but you will never notice it in how he defends. And the end result is important to him. All good catchers I’ve known, that is the most important thing: getting a win for that pitcher and the team,” Kendall added.

As the Orioles have now developed some catching depth in the upper levels of their farm with Sisco, Francisco Peña and Audry Perez, we now should include Wynns on that list.

Machado talk: As the Orioles look to begin to turn around a stretch in which they have lost 10 of 13 games, several players need to pick up the pace.

machado-home-run-swing-orange-side.jpgOne of many on this list is third baseman Manny Machado. Machado is 4-for-27 (.148) over his past seven games. In his last 14 games, he is batting .183 with two homers, four RBIs and 15 strikeouts.

From a power production standpoint, Machado is on a pace to hit 37 homers with 92 RBIs. Last year he hit 37 with 96 RBIs.

But many other numbers are well down for Machado, whose OPS+ was 130 last season and is 99 now, with 100 as league average. Machado is batting .218/.308/.431. Last season he hit .294/.343/.533.

If you believe that his batting average of balls in play of .222 tells us he has hit in tough luck and some hits are coming, you could be right. But I see more than bad luck at work here. Machado’s line drive percentage, according to Fangraphs, has dropped from 20.0 percent to 11.8, and his strikeout rate of 19.7 percent would be a career high if it stays this high.

We know this kid is a great talent and very likely is not going to hit as low as .222. Some hits are indeed coming. Now would be a great time for Machado to get hot and carry his team as a great player can.

* Austin Wynns photo by Patrick Cavey

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