The Orioles minor leagues had a good year in 2017. That is the opinion of several national analysts I have spoken to in the last week. Starting today we’ll roll out some of their opinions and comments on the O’s farm from those interviews.
It was a year where outfielder Austin Hays moved from Single-A Frederick to Double-A Bowie and then to the majors. He was a finalist for Baseball America’s Player of the Year award. The Orioles had four players ranked among the top 20 prospects in the Double-A Eastern League. They had two league MVPs with Bowie’s Garabez Rosa and Frederick’s Ademar Rifaela. Frederick and Bowie made the playoffs and multiple players made league top 20 lists and mid-season and postseason All-Star teams.
There were some things for the Orioles to brag about. But these interviews come from sources outside of the organization.
John Manuel is up first today as we get his take on the O’s farm from the editor of Baseball America.
Austin Hays was a finalist for BA’s national Player of the Year. How high will he move up in your next top 100 prospect ranking?: “It’s going to be in the top 25. Everyone we talked to thinks of him as an impact player in the major leagues. Nothing is for sure with that - you are still projecting.
“But to put it in perspective. I’ve talked to scouts who had seen both Ronald Acuna of Atlanta, our minor league Player of the Year and Hays. Acuna might be our No. 1 player in our next top 100 ranking and at least will be top five. And they are quite similar. Acuna is three years younger so you can project more on his tools. Hays’ tools are what they are. But they are really good.
“He is an aggressive hitter, but he’s an above-average hitter. He certainly has plus power. I haven’t talked to a scout that has gone double plus on his power, that would be a 70 on the 20-80 scale. But clearly power is not a question for him. I think he is more of a right fielder that can play center field. Adam Jones is probably a better defensive center fielder than Hays. He really profiles with some nice right field tools. Power, athleticism, arm strength and his speed is plus down the line. It is a pretty impressive package of tools.
“You put it all together - the age, tools, performance and his experience level - he’s a top 25 prospect and he could be top 15 before it’s all said and done. We were the first to have Hays in a top 100, but we were light on him and that has changed.”
Has Hays passed Chance Sisco as the Orioles’ No. 1 prospect?: “Yes, I think that is safe to say. Because it’s an offensive game right now. Chance is a good offensive player. I know he didn’t have a great year in Norfolk, but that is a tough place to hit and we make some allowances for that. Especially park factor compared to Frederick and Bowie. It is hard to see Sisco having as much offensive impact as Hays. But this is an organization that had a really good year in the minor leagues. Especially with top offensive players, the guys they were counting on producing, most of them did.”
So how many O’s players on the farm could make the next top 100?: “I think Sisco will threaten that list. We have a lot of guys in our office with mixed views on Chance. I know he was better defensively in the second-half, especially throwing guys out. I like the bat. He is a harder guy to evaluate.
“It will be interesting to see what we do with (pitcher and 2017 top pick) DL Hall. We had him pretty high on our predraft top 500. He was No. 16 on that list and it depends on the year, but very often we go 15 to 20 deep of guys in the draft that jump into the top 100. He’ll be in the mix and we have a lot of our folks that really like (pitcher) Hunter Harvey, when he has been healthy. And he’s been healthy this year. He will be a factor.
“You have a guy like (third baseman) Ryan Mountcastle that will be a consideration. He’s an infielder for now and he can hit. I know (pitcher) Tanner Scott has an amazing arm, but I don’t really see him as a top 100 guy. (Outfielder) DJ Stewart has an outside chance with the bounce-back year he had. For me, Hays, Sisco, Hall, Harvey and Mountcastle - those five are all in the mix.
“We are talking about a group of five guys and that is more than we’ve usually been talking about with Baltimore. I think it was a very productive year on the farm. I don’t think (pitcher) Alex Wells is a top 100 guy, but he had a good year. (Outfielder) Cedric Mullins is not a top 100 guy for me, but has a chance to be a regular.
“So, there were a lot of players that made a lot of progress in the organization. They had one of the better years of the farm systems in the minors.”
So what does this mean for the Orioles overall organization ranking?: “To me if you have three to five top 100 players and they could have three to five, usually that is a top 15 farm system. In my mind the Orioles are right in that middle, which to me that is anywhere from 12 to 18, that range. That is a much better place to be than the bottom five.
“The fact that Harvey came back and his stuff was what it was before. Wells had a good year. One of their guys I talked with felt this would be a make or break year for Stewart. Can they plan on him or have to move on from him? Now he is a guy that they are planning for. Kudos to him for making the adjustments and showing he is a better athlete than you think by looking at him. That football running back background shows he does run well. I think he is playable on defense in left field. But if you are just playable that puts more pressure on your bat. You can add Trey Mancini into this as it was a good year for the farm system, even though he cannot be ranked anymore.”
Are there some areas where the Orioles come up short?: “Probably in middle infielders and pitching at the upper level of the minors. If you are an Orioles fan you would love to see some pitchers at the upper levels that could help next year.
“With college pitchers like (Cody) Sedlock and (Keegan) Akin there was probably some hope that those guys would move quickly this year and maybe help in the second half of 2018. I don’t think you can count on that because neither of those guys had that kind of season. That is why the Orioles are not quite a top 10 farm system. These things are important - athletic middle infielders and starting pitchers at Double-A or above. Those are two families of players maybe you want the most in a farm system. But on the corners and with some lower level starting pitchers they do have some encouraging signs.”