Yesterday was a big day in prospect land, as Baseball America released its top 100 prospects list and ESPN’s Keith Law released his second 50 (subscription required). His top 50 will be released today.
For the first time since 2014, the Orioles have three on the Baseball America top 100. Austin Hays was ranked No. 21, with Chance Sisco at No. 68 and Ryan Mountcastle at No. 71. The last three years, the Orioles had three combined, with two in 2015, none in 2016 and one last year with Sisco at No. 57.
In the ESPN back-50 ranking, Sisco was No. 53 and Hays No. 79. We’ll see if any O’s make his top 50 later. Last year, ESPN rated Sisco No. 69 on the list.
With Hays reaching No. 21, that is a pretty nice ranking for the outfielder who turned 22 in July. He was drafted in the third round, No. 91 overall out of Jacksonville, and was the first player from his 2016 draft class to reach the major leagues. Now Baseball America has him as the 21st-best prospect in the sport. Not many O’s hitters have been ranked higher in recent years. Manny Machado was No. 14 at the end of the 2010 season and No. 11 a year later.
Between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie last season, Hays hit .329/.365/.593 with 32 doubles, five triples, 32 homers, 95 RBIs and an OPS of .958.
This quote from Baseball America’s Ben Badler bodes well for Hays: “The historical track record on hitters who rank in the top 10-25 prospects in baseball is outstanding. You’re usually looking at players with a great combination of relatively lower risk and high reward. I don’t think we’re that smart, it’s just that their talent is so obvious.”
Atlanta outfielder Ronald Acuna was ranked as the No. 1 player. He was also named Baseball America’s Player of the Year for 2017 and Hays was one of five finalists for that award. When I interviewed John Manuel in September, he favorably compared Hays and Acuna. By the way, Manuel was then with Baseball America and has since taken a scouting position with the Minnesota Twins.
“Everyone we talked to thinks of him as an impact player in the major leagues,” Manuel said. “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 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.”
Speaking of Baseball America reporters and analysts, during this chat on the top 100, they were asked a couple of questions about Orioles prospects.
One reader asked: Did Hunter Harvey get any votes, and was his injury history the only factor which led to his omission?
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper said: “He was in consideration. When you ask if the injury history was the only factor, it depends on how broad you want to make ‘injury history.’ Even before he was shut down years ago, we had concerns (which we had heard from scouts) about his build and how durable he could be. He’s thrown 144 innings in five pro seasons, so that will remain a concern.
“The stuff is really impressive, but the combination of a) durability questions b) no time above low Class A yet and c) the fact the stuff truly came together for him again for only a short stint at the end of the 2017 season leaves him off this Top 100. If he has a healthy, impressive season in 2018 I could see him easily cracking next year’s list.”
Another reader asked this: I’ve heard some people question whether Sisco will stick behind the plate, what’s your take?
Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser said: “Sisco made a lot of strides in his receiving, blocking and game-calling this year. He’s better back there than he gets credit for. However, his throwing went backwards, and if you can’t control the run game, you’re a liability back there. So ... I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, and say he can stick, but he’s got to improve his throwing (or at least get it back to where it was).”
By the way, the last time the Orioles had three players on this list in 2014, they were Dylan Bundy at No. 15, Kevin Gausman at No. 20 and Eduardo Rodriguez at No. 65.
While getting three players on the list was an improvement for the Orioles, had they added Harvey this year or possibly young lefty DL Hall, they would have been closer to the top of the majors. Atlanta led all organizations with eight top 100 players. Four teams had six: Milwaukee, San Diego, Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees. Four teams had five and five teams (including Toronto) had four players. So the Orioles are in a group of teams tied for 15th in the majors with three players on the list. Boston had two.
There were 12 players from the 2017 draft that made Baseball America’s top 100. Hall was drafted No. 21 overall last June and pitched just 10 1/3 innings in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season, allowing nine runs and 10 hits. Don’t worry, he is still very well regarded, had a strong instructional league and could be on this list next year.
Meanwhile, MLBPipeline.com has been rolling out its lists of the top 10 prospects at each position, so far releasing lists of the top left- and right-handed starters, along with catchers, first basemen and second basemen.
Sisco was rated as the seventh-best at catcher right here. He was the fourth catcher ranked on the Baseball America top 100. We could see Mountcastle among the top 10 third baseman when the list comes out today and the outfielders will be published Thursday. MLBPipeline.com will publish its top 100 on Saturday.