Based on draft status, expectations and various prospect lists, Orioles fans are likely to get most excited about the anticipated 2022 debuts of catcher Adley Rutschman and pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall.
MLBPipeline.com, Baseball America, Prospects 1500 and I’m assuming everyone else with a list ranks them in that order as the top three prospects in the system. Rutschman is going to arrive in Baltimore first. Rodriguez and Hall haven’t pitched above Double-A, but are primed to join the major league roster later in the summer if healthy.
Who else among the elite?
Shortstop Gunnar Henderson is the popular choice as the No. 4 prospect, and with good reason, and he was an enthusiastic climber in 2021 by playing at three levels. He’s only 20, with one full season of professional baseball, and his Double-A experience lasted only five games and 17 plate appearances.
The Orioles could place Henderson’s 2022 ceiling at Triple-A, as they did with Rutschman, and give him a shot to make the club in 2023. Performance can be a huge influencer, but it didn’t get Rutschman to Baltimore last summer.
Outfielder Colton Cowser, the fifth-ranked prospect by MLBPipeline.com and Baseball America, has zero chance of playing for the Orioles this year. The 2021 first-rounder out of Sam Houston State isn’t making that jump after playing seven games in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and 25 with low Single-A Delmarva.
A return to Delmarva is anticipated, with promotions to high Single-A Aberdeen and Bowie in the discussion, depending on his numbers. So, maybe 2023, certainly by 2024.
No. 6 prospect Jordan Westburg made it to Bowie ahead of Henderson and appeared in 30 games. He’s probably ticketed again for Double-A, but could arrive in the majors later in the summer - which also would require space on the 40-man roster and a willingness to start his clock.
Maybe 2022, certainly by 2023.
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, ranked seventh by MLBPipeline.com and eighth by Baseball America, hasn’t played a single game since the 2020 draft. Where he’s assigned and how quickly he moves through the system remain mysteries.
Right now, we only know that he was fine in the fall instructional league and expects to be full-go in spring training. And obviously won’t make his debut in 2022, which might have happened if not for his myocarditis diagnosis.
Outfielder Kyle Stowers, ranked seventh by Baseball America and 11th by MLBPipeline.com - the latter much too low in my opinion - is expected in Baltimore this year. Pipeline’s 2023 ETA also seems low and could be adjusted if there’s an updated version.
How the Orioles fit him into their outfield is a task for a later date, but he’s coming.
Right-hander Kyle Bradish, a top 10 prospect by both outlets, is likely to debut this summer after landing on the 40-man roster. It would be a surprise if he breaks camp with the team, but he’s expected to pitch in the majors in 2022.
Pipeline has second baseman Connor Norby ranked ninth, and the second-rounder in 2021 is a few years away after finishing last season at Delmarva. Third baseman Coby Mayo, 10th in Baseball America, certainly has a chance to power his way to Double-A.
Pitcher Mike Baumann, MLBPipeline’s 10th, already made it to the Orioles.
Beyond the top 10 prospects is pitcher Kevin Smith, who’s on the 40-man and likely to join the Orioles later in the summer. Second baseman Terrin Vavra also made the 40-man after the season and could play in the majors this year.
The annual debut prediction for outfielder Yusniel Diaz will surface again. Stay healthy, hit like he’s capable and get the call.
Maybe in 2022. Otherwise, Diaz will fall farther down the outfield depth chart, risk losing his spot on the 40-man and perhaps disappear from the organization.