The 2018 season for the Orioles is mercifully getting close to being over, and with the rebuild in process, there is not much hope in Birdland for a drastically improved 2019. With that being said, the rebuild puts added focus on the prospects, and today I am going to highlight three O’s prospects that saw their stock rise the most in 2018.
Before I present the players, I want to make something clear: This isn’t a list of three prospects who had the best seasons, or the three best prospects in the O’s system, it’s three guys who performed well and raised their prospect stock the most.
There were a lot prospects to choose from for this list, which is a good thing. Some of the notables I left off, for various reasons such as their stock was already pretty high or I felt someone else edged them out, were pitchers DL Hall, Zac Lowther and Luis Gonzalez, and position players such as Adam Hall and Cedric Mullins. I did not include the prospects acquired via the trades the Orioles made simply because they were not Orioles prospects to begin the year.
First up is probably the guy who saw his stock rise the most, and that’s outfielder Ryan McKenna. The 21-year old right-handed hitting McKenna was a fourth-round selection in the 2015 draft and was not even in the MLB Pipeline Top 30 Prospects List at the end of 2017. MLB Pipeline now has him ranked 13th, and that is with the new additions via draft and trade.
McKenna made high Single-A Carolina League pitching look silly to begin the year, hitting .377 with 28 extra-base hits, 37 RBIs, 60 runs scored and a .467 OBP over 67 games with the Frederick Keys. He was then promoted to the Double-A Bowie Baysox, where he took some time to adjust, but still posted a .341 OBP with eight doubles, two triples and three home runs over 60 games.
Next up is a guy that may confuse you a bit for being on the list since he was MLB Pipeline’s 10th-best O’s prospect at the beginning of the season and is now 19th. Between the draft and trades, there are 10 prospects ranked ahead in the top 17 that were not here at the beginning of the year. Secondly, Brenan Hanifee leapfrogged several prospects that were in the system thanks to another impressive season.
Hanifee, who was the O’s fourth-round pick in 2016, was ranked behind three pitchers at the end of 2017 that he is now ahead of. The 20-year- old right-hander proved his 2017 season was no fluke and is now ranked ahead of Michael Baumann, Cameron Bishop and Cody Sedlock. This year, Hanifee made his full-season affiliate debut with Single-A Delmarva and proved he could handle it by going 8-6 with a 2.86 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP over 132 innings. He struck out 85 batters this season while walking just 22 and holding opponents to a .244 batting average. Another encouraging stat is that he used his sinking fastball to induce 1.68 groundouts per air out recorded.
I include Hanifee on this list because of the players in the organization he jumped past and the fact that he backed up a good year with another good year while going up a level and making the adjustment from short-season to full-season. His prospect stock rose significantly in my opinion.
Last but certainly not least is one of the best storylines of the entire year in my eyes, and that’s right-hander Branden Kline. Once considered one of the top prospects in the system, Kline was able to finally get healthy, remain healthy and stay on the mound to prove he can still pitch.
Having not pitched since the 2015 season, Kline adjusted to a full-time bullpen role and was pretty dominant all season. After starting the year with the Keys, Kline got promoted to Bowie, where he turned into a terrific closer (15 saves) and struck out 48 over 45 innings in 32 appearances. Kline had pretty much been written off, but now has been a guy who some thought would get a September call-up and will most certainly have a shot at a bullpen role in 2019.
Josh Michael blogs about the Orioles for Baby Birdland. Follow him on Twitter: @BabyBirdland. His opinions on the Orioles will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s longstanding initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.