The O's run of No. 1-ranked prospects is both amazing and unprecedented

Analysts have used words like "astounding" and "amazing" while noting that the Orioles have had three straight players move to the No. 1 spot on the national top-100 prospects lists. Adley Rutschman went to No. 1, and then so did Gunnar Henderson. And during the 2023 season, Jackson Holliday ended the year at No. 1.

Rutschman, Henderson and Holliday, all going to No. 1. The first two are already productive major leaguers. The third could join them on Opening Day 2024.

Talk about building an elite talent pipeline. You can’t get more elite then No. 1.

During the Winter Meetings, I interviewed Jonathan Mayo, prospects analyst. He talked about this remarkable run of No. 1 prospects by the Orioles.

“It is really astounding,” said Mayo. “Adley and Jackson being No. 1, that is sort of how it’s supposed to be when you have the No. 1 pick. But they have not missed on the No. 1 pick. At least not yet. Jackson Holliday has not played an inning of big league ball, so we don’t put the cart ahead of the horse. I think we all expect him to be a good big leaguer. They didn’t miss on those, and people miss on No. 1 picks often. Even if they end up being OK big leaguers, they don’t wind up becoming that No. 1 prospect.

“Gunnar Henderson (taken No. 42 overall in the 2019 draft) was just really good scouting. He was a highly regarded prospect that year but it’s kind of crazy they got him the same year they got Adley. That draft – people are going to look back at that draft, assuming Baltimore continues to compete and win, as cornerstones, That may be the best draft in the history of the franchise, which is saying a lot for just two guys. They got other guys in that draft too.

“But to have three No. 1 prospects like that is amazing. And there is more. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a No. 1 prospect, but Samuel Basallo is really, really, really good. He keeps getting better as a catcher and he can get into top-10, top-five consideration. Coby Mayo’s power is ridiculous. They just keep rolling guys out.”

And yep, some in baseball think the O’s could make a run at four straight years of No. 1 prospects with Basallo flying up the rankings. He is now No. 2 on the new Baseball America O’s team top-30 list. He is currently No. 5 on the O’s team list, but they have not yet updated their list, as Baseball America did recently. 

Just how far could Basallo move up on the new top 100 that MLBPipeline should release in January? And during the upcoming season?

“I could see him by the end of next season being in our top 10, easily. Maybe top five. Especially if the catching comes along. He is going to hit enough to be a well regarded first baseman (if he can’t stay as catcher),” said's Mayo.

He adds that the Orioles should remain No. 1 when his outlet produces updated organizational ratings.

“We haven’t yet stacked them up, but I think so. They’ve had guys graduate, but this was their plan. To create this logjam, this pool at the upper levels, and much of it is still there. Even though, when we officially do our farm system rankings we don’t count the Gunnar Hendersons of the world, I still sort of have a hard time separating that entirely. It just speaks to how much young talent the team has. Just because a guy had one year in the big leagues doesn’t mean he is not part of the pipeline. I haven’t really dug in yet into next year’s rankings, but I would be inclined to have them as the top farm system.”

And when those new top-100 lists come out early next year, Holliday is likely to hold onto his No. 1 ranking.

“We did a re-ranking in August after the trade deadline. I can’t imagine anything has happened since then to put any of the other guys ahead of him," Mayo added. "There is not that much separating him and, say, Jackson Chourio (the No. 2 prospect who recently signed a reported eight-year, $82 million deal with the Brewers). But I would imagine he would still be No. 1.”

When Baseball America unveils its first top-100 ranking of 2024 in January, the O’s, presumably, will officially have the No. 1 prospect player for three straight years. Rutschman got the No. 1 ranking to begin 2022, as Henderson did in 2023. And now Holliday should take it a three-peat. Baseball America has been publishing a top-100 list since 1990 (when Steve Avery was No. 1 and Ben McDonald No. 2) and never has one club produced the No. 1 player three years in a row. That should change, officially, in a few weeks.

That is a remarkable run for the Orioles. On the Baseball America list, the only time previously that the Orioles had the No. 1 player to start the year was in 2009, with catcher Matt Wieters.

Before Rutschman and Henderson, the only organization that produced two straight different No. 1 players in back-to-back years was the St. Louis Cardinals, with J.D. Drew in 1999 and Rick Ankiel in 2000. But the O’s became the first team to have two straight back-to-back No. 1 players from the same draft.

Over the years, four clubs produced two straight years of No. 1 players, but each time it was the same player. Atlanta’s Andruw Jones was No. 1 in 1996-97, Minnesota’s Joe Mauer was on top in 2004-05, with Washington’s Bryce Harper atop the charts in 2011-12 and Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco in 2020-21.

Now Baltimore is about to officially get to No. 1 with three different players in three straight years. And that will be an all-time first in prospect rankings.

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