A look at an O’s top 30 list and some minor league pitchers

MLBPipeline.com released its new list of top 30 Orioles prospects yesterday, featuring outfielder Yusniel Díaz ranked No. 1 and six pitchers among their top 10. There are 16 pitchers listed in the top 30.

Click here for that list.

The top 10 features Díaz followed in order by infielder Ryan Mountcastle, pitcher DL Hall, outfielder Austin Hays, pitchers Grayson Rodriguez and Keegan Akin, outfielder Ryan McKenna, and pitchers Zac Lowther, Dean Kremer and Blaine Knight. Let’s take a look at each of those pitchers and why this season will be important for them.

DL-Hall-Throws-Shorebirds-Orange-Sidebar.jpgRanked No. 3, Hall could be, in my opinion, No. 1 on this list. The 20-year-old lefty went 2-7 with a 2.10 ERA in 22 games for Single-A Delmarva. He walked 42, fanned 100 and held opponents to a .203 batting average over 94 1/3 innings. He allowed no more than one earned run in each of his last 13 starts after June 10, pitching to an 0.89 ERA. Among all O’s prospects, Hall was the only one to be ranked among the national top 100 lists of these five outlets: Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com, ESPN, FanGraphs.com and Baseball Prospectus. He should start at Single-A Frederick this year and we’ll see how he does pitching in that hitter-friendly ballpark.

Ranked No. 5, the 19-year-old Rodriguez made a solid pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last summer. The Orioles drafted him No. 11 overall last June and signed him to a $4.3 million bonus. He pitched to a 1.40 ERA with 20 strikeouts over 19 1/3 innings in the GCL, showing a fastball that could touch the high 90s. He is considered very mature for kid just one year out of high school. He’s no longer employed by the Orioles, but I could tell in many conversations with former scouting director Gary Rajsich that he liked Rodriguez as much as any O’s pick he ever made, and that is high praise.

Lefty Akin comes in at No. 6, a very fair ranking for me after his strong 2018 season for Double-A Bowie. Akin went 14-7 with an ERA of 3.27 in 25 starts. Over 137 2/3 innings, he fanned 142 and was named co-Minor League Pitcher of the Year by the Orioles, winning the Jim Palmer Award along with Lowther. Akin, in a surprise to me, was not given a spring training non-roster invite. With a new regime in place, he’ll have to prove that his 2018 season was legit this year when he likely starts at Triple-A Norfolk.

Lowther is rated No. 8. He went a combined 8-4 with a 2.18 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 23 games between Delmarva and Single-A Frederick. He led all Orioles minor leaguers in ERA and strikeouts. He might be rated higher but for a fastball that often sits 89 to 91 mph. That means there will always be doubters, but his fastball features some delivery deception and late life that makes it a solid pitch. Lowther will have to prove that can continue at higher levels and he should have a great chance to break north in the Bowie rotation.

At No. 9, Kremer is in big league camp as a non-roster invitee. But he’s currently out with a strained left oblique. When he gets back on the mound, he’ll try to prove that his success last year getting hitters to swing and miss often can continue. The 23-year-old right-hander fanned 178 batters over 131 1/3 innings and that led all of the minor leagues. By the way, that didn’t lead the Orioles because he got some of those strikeouts with the Dodgers. But can that breaking ball that was huge for him last year be as effective as he moves up and possibly pushes for a big league spot this year?

Knight comes in at No. 10. The right-hander last summer led Arkansas to the College World Series, where the Razorbacks lost in the final to Oregon State. But Knight had an amazing junior year before the Orioles made him the No. 87 overall pick in round three of the draft. He went 14-0 with a 2.80 ERA and was 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in the College World Series. Knight can touch 97 mph with his fastball and a high spin rate slider is sure to get the attention of the O’s new front office leadership. Does the club skip Delmarva and start him at Frederick? He should have a chance to get at least as far as the Carolina League this season.

By the way, the Orioles farm system was ranked 22nd in ratings recently released at Baseball America. San Diego is No. 1 in these organizational rankings with Tampa Bay second and Toronto third. The New York Yankees are No. 20 and Boston is last at No. 30.

One thing this new top 30 does reinforce is how much work the club has to do in international amateur signings. The club has every intention of making big strides here under Mike Elias and it’s needed. On this list of 30 players, not one was originally signed by the Orioles as an international amateur.

Here’s a tweet from the Bowie Baysox yesterday with some comments from Buck Britton. He moves from Delmarva to manage at Bowie this season. And one from the Orioles showing a ball that Díaz launched in Florida yesterday.

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