O's add lefty starter, plus another top 100 prospects haul on Thursday

The Orioles have the best farm system right now in Major League Baseball. This according to several outlets ranking them that way. And if one big standard in determining that is most prospects on a top 100 list, the Orioles last night matched their Baseball America performance by getting eight ranked on the latest MLBPipeline.com list.

Gunnar Henderson, still prospect-eligible and eligible for the American League Rookie of the Year award this season, was ranked No. 1 by both outlets, and by Baseball Prospectus as well recently.

MLBPipeline.com places three O’s in the top 12, four in the top 40 and eight among the top 99.

Pitcher Grayson Rodriguez is No. 7, Jackson Holliday No. 12 and Colton Cowser No. 40. Jordan Westburg comes in at No. 74, Heston Kjerstad at No. 80, DL Hall at No. 97 and Joey Ortiz at No. 99.

The list doesn’t even include Kyle Stowers, Coby Mayo or Connor Norby, who might well have merited consideration. The Orioles ended the 2022 season with six on the MLBPipeline.com top 100, and Henderson was No. 2 to end the season.

“Obviously, they’ve been going through a rebuilding process for a while, but the Orioles have the best farm system in baseball,” said Jim Callis, senior writer for MLB.com and MLBPipeline.com. “Pretty remarkable that you have eight guys on our top 100 and realize they graduated Adley Rutschman. If Adley was still part of this list, you be talking about nine, which I believe would tie the most ever on this list since I’ve been at MLB.com.

“Also, pretty amazing you have Gunnar Henderson, who is now the best prospect in baseball, and Jackson Holliday is my pick to be the No. 1 prospect in baseball by the end of the year. It’s not just that they have a lot of guys, but they have difference-making superstars on the top 100. And I just mentioned three names and didn’t even mention Grayson Rodriguez, who is right there in the discussion for best pitching prospect in baseball too.

“It’s not just depth – and the system is deeper than it’s been in years – they have guys who are going to be superstars. Pretty exciting to think about, maybe a couple of years away, but the 3-4-5 in the batting order could be some combination of Rutschman, Henderson and Jackson Holliday. And then you have Grayson Rodriguez, who has Cy Young Award capability. And all the other young players they have, it’s really, really, exciting.”

Callis said the O’s move to the No. 1 farm with a player development operation among the best in the sport is a result of a combination of several things. Very good drafting, to start, strong player development when they do add those players and keeping up with the latest in data and tech to enhance player development. Plus sound coaching throughout the organization.

“That is exactly right,” said Callis. “It’s very rare you are going to have an elite-level farm system without clicking on all cylinders. You could have the best drafters in the world, but you need to develop the players. And you could have the best development in the world, but they need talent to work with.

“But yeah, they are hitting on all cylinders. Mike (Elias, the Orioles' general manager) has done the job he was brought in to do. Matt Blood has done a wonderful job as farm director. Brad Ciolek, who heads up scouting efforts. They’ve obviously made some good No. 1 overall picks, but also good picks lower in the draft. Exciting to see.”

Kjerstad’s placement on this list shows his comeback from myocarditis is complete. He may have gone about 27 months between his last college and first minor league game, but he made up for lost time this year, producing an .851 OPS in 65 games between Single-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen. Then he tore it up and was named MVP of the Arizona Fall League, batting .357/.385/.622/1.007 with five homers and 17 RBIs in 22 games. He led the AFL in hits (35), doubles (nine), extra-base hits (15) and total bases (61).

Holliday, who was ranked No. 15 by Baseball America, cracks the top 12 on this list and people around the sport are raving about the O’s now 19-year-old prospect. In 20 games between the rookie-level Florida Complex League and Delmarva, he batted .297 with a .911 OPS. He walked 25 times and struck out just 12.

The tools and the talent were loud.

"I don’t want to Mr. Hyperbole here, but Jackson Holliday could go down as one of the better No. 1 (overall) picks,” said Callis. “With Adley Rutschman, he is the best catching prospect to come out of the draft since I’ve been covering this stuff. I’m not going to say Jackson Holliday is going to be A-Rod, who was the best shortstop prospect I’ve seen come out of the draft. But you are talking about a guy that can do it all and got better in every aspect last year.

“This has not happened very often, but we put (scouting) grades on players at MLB.com in conjunction with talking to scouts. And Holliday is one of the few that got better (his senior year) in just about every category, and he was already a good player to begin with.

“And even though there is a small sample size from the first pro season and you can only read so much into the stats, but he came into pro ball and controlled the strike zone like a five-year pro. And if you want to look at only one stat early on – how do they control the strike zone?

“I know I’m gushing a lot here, but I think he will be the best prospect on our list by the end of the season. A bunch of guys will graduate and this guy is going to be special.”

The 2019 MLB Draft is turning into one that could prove to be special for the Orioles. 

“And pretty amazing the Orioles got two guys from the same (2019) draft that ranked as the top prospect in Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson," Callis added. And Gunnar is great. But if you made me pick right now long-term who will be the better player, I’d take Jackson Holliday.

“I mean the Orioles are probably going to have three players that will be No. 1 on our list at some point in Rutschman, Henderson and Holliday, and that’s unheard of. I can’t think of a parallel for that. Especially in that short of time period."

In addition to being the No. 1 prospect via Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com, Henderson was No. 1 also for Baseball Prospectus, which ranked Rodriguez No. 8 and Holliday No. 9. There have been 10 Orioles cracking the various top 100 lists with Kjerstad now ranked by MLB Pipeline, and Coby Mayo was No. 69 via Baseball Prospectus.

And they added a starting pitcher too: Before we found out about the list of eight, we learned the O’s acquired lefty starting pitcher Cole Irvin from Oakland yesterday. They traded for Irvin and Single-A right-handed pitcher Kyle Virbitsky in exchange for O’s minor league infielder Darrell Hernaiz.

Irvin is coming off a year when he posted a 9-13 record with a 3.98 ERA and 1.160 WHIP. His strengths included pitching nearly 360 innings the last two years and showing a walk rate of 1.8 in 2022, which was sixth-best in the AL. He threw 181 innings, 12th-most in the AL last season.

Irvin gives the O’s a lefty in a right-handed-heavy rotation. The O’s now have six pitchers that made at least 20 big league starts last year in Kyle Gibson (31), Irvin (30), Kyle Bradish (23), Tyler Wells (23), Dean Kremer (21) and Spenser Watkins (20). They also have Rodriguez ready to join the rotation and make his major league debut.

What is your take on a day where the O’s added a lefty starter plus saw eight of their prospects make a prominent prospect top 100 list. Click here for yesterday’s story with more notes and stats on Irvin.

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