It was good news for a rebuilding Orioles organization last month when Baltimore was ranked No. 8 in Baseball America’s midseason Major League Baseball organizational rankings, which came out last month.
This marks the first time that the Orioles have ranked in the publication’s Top 10 since entering the 2010 season, when they also ranked No. 8. The O’s also ranked No. 8 when entering the 1994 and 1989 seasons. Baseball America began publishing organization talent rankings in 1983.
At the same time, the Orioles now have five players listed in the midseason updated top 100 list that includes 2019 draft picks. They are catcher Adley Rutschman at No. 5, pitcher DL Hall No. 39, pitcher Grayson Rodriguez No. 51, outfielder Yusniel Diaz No. 84 and infielder Ryan Mountcastle No. 99.
So when Baseball America publishes its well regarded winter rankings before next season starts, the Orioles could have their highest ranking ever.
Baseball America executive editor J.J. Cooper was a recent guest on my “Extra Innings” radio show on 105.7 The Fan.
I asked Cooper, how did the O’s move so quickly to No. 8?
“Obviously, Adley Rutschman plays a very significant role in that,” he said. “He immediately became one of the best prospects in baseball and is a truly special prospect. But it’s not just him. You know, this is an organization that is starting to develop some interesting pitching depth. You need that because pitching prospects are pretty volatile.
“But Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, Michael Baumann and a cast of characters and other guys are doing well. If you told me would it be Zac Lowther - you know, you can pick guys and say I don’t know if it’s going to be that guy but there are enough different arms that I say, ‘OK, there are going to be several starters that come out of this group they have in the minors right now.’
“On top of that, throw in Ryan Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz and there are enough position-player prospects. I would say the pitching is stronger than the hitting. But I do think this is an organization that has taken some strides.
“Its pitching development is better now. We’ve seen multiple pitchers get better this year. But it is going to be a long-term process for this club. But drafting 1/1 does wonders for your system. And the reality is this team will draft one, two or maybe three next year, and that will add more significant talent.
“You get around to 2022 or 2023 and things can get interesting here. It’s been a while since the Orioles have had a farm system to depend on like that.”
But Cooper added that, seeing that we’re talking about prospects - and especially pitching prospects - something can always go wrong.
“I can’t say that this group is astronomically better than the group of Dylan Bundy and those guys at the start of this decade,” he said. “But there were injuries with that group, and guys that stagnated and didn’t develop. That will be the key with this.
“Can the Mike Elias front office and player development side help these guys take positive steps? Early returns for Chris Holt (minor league pitching coordinator) and player development is very promising. Michael Baumann, I think, is a significantly better prospect than he was this time a year ago. I think Grayson Rodriguez has taken steps forward. I think DL Hall is about the same level of prospect he was last year.
“But I think you can say their pitching has gotten legitimately better. It will require patience, though. In terms of pitching, there may not be a ton of it ready to make an impact in 2020. You are probably more 2021, 2022 and even into 2023.
“When we talk about high school players, as much as you want them to move quickly, the reality is there are a lot that six or seven years is as long as it takes. Maybe Grayson or DL Hall are fast movers. But if they are being successful in 2024, 2025, that still is a very good result. They need these guys to be productive.”
I asked Cooper how Holt is regarded in the industry, and about Houston’s success in recent years with young pitchers and strikeout rates and so forth.
“I think, pretty positively,” he said. “But one absolutely fair criticism of the Astros, and this is not just Chris Holt: They’ve had a lot of interesting pitching prospects, but so far they’ve had Lance McCullers Jr., but for the most part the Houston pitching staff has been about acquiring veterans and making them better.
“And actually, in many cases, using some of that pitching talent they had on the farm in trades. That was true as they acquired Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. That is a great thing to do.
“But if you said, ‘Give me the durable, consistent Astro starter they developed in the last four or five years,’ I can’t give you one. Now, again, Brent Strom is one of the best big league pitching coaches in the business. They’ve done a really good job with vet pitchers.
“But we are going to have to see with the Orioles, can Elias, Sig Mejdal and Chris Holt take pitching prospects and turn them into successful big league pitchers? That’s going to be the big step. This can get derailed, and they are going to need this group to do better than the last one.”
Note: The Orioles were definitely No. 8 when the midseason rankings came out. But Baseball America did another ranking after some prospects were swapped at the trade deadline. Arizona moved ahead of the Orioles. So this latest list, dated Aug. 14 has the Orioles at No. 9.