The ongoing tale of three once highly ranked O’s prospects

Non-roster outfielders Logan Schafer, David Washington and Chris Dickerson are still with the Orioles at major league spring training. So are Rule 5 pick outfielders Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavárez. But Dariel Álvarez is not. He was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk yesterday.

It appears that Álvarez has fallen well down the depth chart in the outfield. He was sent to minor league camp after going 0-for-11 in Grapefruit League games. The competition for the final outfield roster spots is intense, but for now, it does not include the 28-year-old native of Cuba.

In 44 games at Triple-A Norfolk after moving up from Double-A Bowie in 2014, Álvarez hit .301/.328/.439. His stock was on the rise. But his slugging percentage and OPS fell at Triple-A in a full season there in 2015 and fell further in 2016. Ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the organization by Baseball America after the 2014 season, Álvarez is now not in the top 30 for Baseball America or MLBPipeline.com.

While he has plenty of fans and everyone knows about his plus-plus outfield arm, the lack of progress on offense the last two years with a .729 OPS at Triple-A in 2015 and .708 in 2016 hurt his cause. There is much more to offense than homers, but Álvarez hit just four in 560 plate appearances last season, as his slugging percentage dropped from .424 with Norfolk in 2015 to .384. He did produce 38 doubles, but he had homered 31 times combined between Double-A and Triple-A in 2014-15.

Career minor league stats:
Dariel Álvarez - .293/.324/.434 with .758 OPS
Christian Walker - .276/.342/.449 with .791 OPS
Trey Mancini - .306/.357/.472 with .829 OPS

You might call this a tale of three Orioles prospects. One now gone (Walker), one that may be on the way out (Álvarez) and one looking solidly very much in the picture right now (Mancini), even if his opening day roster spot is not secure.

Trey-Mancini-swing-orange-sidebar.jpgWhile Mancini didn’t completely tear up Triple-A in 2016 (he fanned 123 times with an OPS of .776), he has hit .300 or better at four different minor league levels, and when he got a chance last September, he ran with it, hitting three homers in 14 at-bats. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of at-bats to show what you can do. Sometimes you have to show something right away, and Mancini surely made the most of a small opportunity then for a player that wasn’t called up at the start of September last year. He would end the year on the wild card game roster in Toronto.

If you look at those stats above, Mancini has simply outperformed the other two players. All three have been O’s top 10 prospects at one point. But the Notre Dame product just played better. Walker is gone now and Álvarez’s hold on a 40-man roster spot might be tenuous.

The Orioles want Álvarez to pitch and he has not taken to that role just yet, it appears. This might be coming to a head though. Perhaps another organization will give him a shot in the outfield or we’ll find out if he can make the majors on the pitcher’s mound.

He’s a Red now: Meanwhile, Walker joined his third team of the year this week when the Cincinnati Reds claimed him on waivers from the Atlanta Braves, who had gotten him the same way from the Orioles on Feb. 25. It looks like the Braves joined the Orioles in trying to pass Walker through waivers off their 40-man roster and didn’t make it.

Walker went 2-for-16 with a homer for Atlanta in spring training games. It sounds like the Braves were hoping to send Walker to Triple-A to play first base. Walker will arrive at Reds camp in Arizona today and maybe that team will give him a real shot to make their opening day roster.

“We like his bat,” manager Bryan Price told Cincinnati reporters. “We’ve got some good reports on him as a nice offensive player. We’ll kind of define where he’s best suited. I know he’s played a lot of first base, and he’s starting to get introduced to the outfield as well. I’ll probably move him around and we’ll get a look at him.”

The Orioles drafted Walker in the fourth round out of South Carolina in 2012. His best year was 2014, when he hit .288/.357/.489 with 26 homers and 96 RBIs. He was named the Orioles minor league Player of the Year. But his numbers fell off a bit at Triple-A since then and he’s with the Reds now.

Kelly helps show the way: As Israel has surprisingly won two games already in the World Baseball Classic, a former Oriole farmhand has been among those leading the way. Israel third baseman Ty Kelly went 0-for-4 in their opening 2-1 win over Korea, but went 3-for-5 in their 15-7 win over Chinese Taipei. In that victory, Kelly had a double, walked and scored twice.

The Orioles drafted Kelly in the 13th round of the 2009 draft out of UC-Davis. During the 2012 season, the player known for outstanding plate discipline played 76 games with Single-A Frederick, 46 for Bowie and 11 at Norfolk. He hit .327/.425/.467. Yep, a .425 on-base percentage and his career OBP in the minors is .381.

The Orioles traded Kelly to the Mariners on June 30, 2013 for outfielder Eric Thames. Now 28, Kelly finally made the majors last year with the New York Mets. In 58 at-bats, he hit .241/.352/.345 with a homer and seven RBIs.

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