MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis has been analyzing and covering baseball prospects for a long time. He said one of the most subjective things he takes part in each year is organizational rankings of farms system in Major League Baseball from No. 1 through No. 30.
Until recently, his outlet didn’t rank all 30, just the top 10 or 15. But now they include every big league club’s farm system and in that ranking of all 30, the Orioles moved up from No. 13 to No. 8 in ratings released Sept. 1.
It was a nice move up - and, yes O’s fans should be excited about that. Even in this unique season, where the analysts didn’t have any minor league games to consider. No games to see which prospects were improving their stock and which ones might be falling.
But for the O’s, movin’ on up is a good thing.
“The Orioles system is on the rise and moving up five spots is a lot because there was not a lot movement,” Callis said during a Zoom interview yesterday. “But teams that moved up we found were teams that had premium draft picks and didn’t graduate top 100 prospects to the big leagues. ... The system is stronger than its been in a while. ... I thought they had one of the deeper drafts. Every one of their picks was a legitimate top 200 caliber pick and I think they were all pretty close to our top 100.
“They saved some money on (top pick Heston) Kjerstad. And even though some fans were up in arms over that a bit, Kjerstad is a very good player with a long track record of success in the SEC. Taking him allowed them to go big (overslot) at the end. So they added six legitimate prospects out of this draft, which not many teams can say this year.”
The Tampa Bay Rays not only have the current best record in the American League, but their farm system is ranked No. 1 as well. They are followed by Detroit, San Diego, Seattle, Miami, the Chicago White Sox, Toronto and the Orioles. In the rest of the AL East, New York is No. 19 and Boston is No. 25.
The Orioles added three players via trades Sunday and Monday that moved into their top 30 prospects, according to MLBPipeline.com.
Callis said he likes both lefty pitcher Kevin Smith and infielder Terrin Vavra ahead of infielder Tyler Nevin. He said he might rank Smith as the best pickup of those three acquisitions and give him a slight lean over Varva because he is a starting pitcher and also a southpaw.
The O’s acquired Smith from the New York Mets along with a player to be named later or cash for Miguel Castro. They added Vavra and Nevin along with a player to be named later from Colorado for pitcher Mychal Givens.
Smith has been rated the O’s No. 12 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. In 2019 between high Single-A and Double-A he went 8-7 with a 3.15 ERA over 23 starts. He was drafted in round seven out of the University of Georgia in 2018.
Callis on Smith: “I think we could see him in the Orioles rotation in the near future. Maybe sometime next year. Thought that was a great return for Castro. David Peterson in the Mets system has been more hyped because he just made his big league debut and is a first-rounder. I like Kevin Smith, who was a seventh-rounder, as much as I like David Peterson.
“Smith, he’s not a radar gun guy - low 90s, but he’s got great extension on his delivery, high spin rates, it’s a lot of swings and misses on the fastball. He’s got a slider with late bite, that gets swings and misses, too. He can mix in a changeup and throws a lot of strikes. I like Kevin Smith and I can see him being a No. 4 starter in a good rotation. The fastball velocity, it’s kind of ordinary, fringy to average, but his fastball plays as a solid pitch because of the extension, spin rates and his ability to command it.
“I think he’ll get a chance in Baltimore. I would easily say 2021 if this had been a normal 2020. But I don’t think it will be too long before we see him in Baltimore.”
Vavra, 23, a second baseman and shortstop, is rated as the club’s No. 13 prospect. He was selected in round three (No. 96 overall) by Colorado in 2018 out of the University of Minnesota. In 146 career games, not yet above Single-A level, he has hit .313/.405/.483. He was the 2019 South Atlantic League MVP when he hit .318/.409/.489 at Single-A Asheville.
Callis on Vavra: “Vavra was one of my favorite kind of sleeper prospects in the 2018 draft. He comes from a baseball family and his dad, Joe, has been a longtime minor league manager and coach and is the Tigers hitting coach. Terrin was a third-round pick. He was a guy the area scouts loved. He could really, really hit. Got a little stronger, was hitting the ball with more power and has some sneaky pop. The speed and arm strength are kind of average-ish.
“But he’s been around the game his whole life and has a high baseball IQ. He gets the most out of his tools. I think he’s probably, as an everyday guy, more of a second baseman than a shortstop. But I think this is a guy that can be an offensive second baseman. Maybe a .280 hitter, 30 doubles and 15 homers playing as a sure-handed second baseman.
“I don’t know, maybe I’m talking myself more into Vavra over Smith. I go back and forth on those guys. I liked both those guys a lot heading into the draft. I think those were astute pickups in both cases.”
Nevin, a first and third baseman, who has played a few games in the outfield, was the No. 38 overall pick in the 2015 draft by the Rockies. The son of Phil Nevin, a former big leaguer and the current Yankees third base coach, he has played 366 career games, reaching Double-A last year. For his career, he has hit .286/.362/.441.
Callis on Nevin: “I liked him more after the 2018 season than I did after the 2019 season. He looked very good in the Arizona Fall League and won the batting title there. He was a very impressive hitter in the AFL. He is just OK at third base and better suited for first base, which puts more pressure on the bat. He’s kind of a hit (tool) over power guy, so there is something there. The Rockies hitting prospects can be tough to judge. Outside of Double-A, almost all their parks really favor hitters.
“He got to Double-A, the one park that really plays fair, and was kind of ordinary there. I was curious to see how he would do this year and what kind of adjustments he would make. I probably like him the third-most of the prospects they got in these trades. But he was barreling balls in 2018.”
You can watch the entire interview with Callis below.