Baseball America sizes up the O’s top prospects

Baseball America released its new Orioles top 10 prospects list this week. The list shows that the Orioles continue to improve their farm system. Seven of these players were acquired on former general manager Dan Duquette’s watch, and three came since current executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias took over.

It’s a list with some balance: There are five pitchers and five position players. Five Orioles are currently ranked in the top 100 of both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com. The Orioles are rated No. 8 in the MLBPipeline.com organization rankings. The Orioles are - as the song goes - movin’ on up.

This bodes well, as the farm will be critical to the club’s rebuilding efforts. If over the next couple of years the Orioles’ international efforts can produce some 100 talent, they will really be cooking on the farm.

Let’s take a look at the current top 10:

1) Adley Rutschman: He remains the O’s top-rated prospect and is close to being ranked No. 1 in the sport. He is rated No. 2 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 3 via Baseball America. He has just 37 games of minor league ball under his belt, but the experience of being at the Bowie camp this year had to be invaluable. He caught and hit off some of the organization’s better pitchers. He got to develop relationships with pitchers he might be catching for years.

The true value of Rutschman may be the hope that he will bring plus play to the team on both offense and defense - something not many players truly bring. A good hitting catcher, who doesn’t hurt a club behind the plate, would put the Orioles ahead of most clubs at a premium position. The sky may be the limit here, but hopefully he never carries the burden that Matt Wieters did when he was called “Mauer with power.”

2) Grayson Rodriguez: O’s fans can dream of producing two future aces, and here is the first. That is a high bar, but when a kid has talent, size, smarts and is so coachable, well, you think big. He would have pitched at Single-A Frederick in a normal 2020 season. Maybe he gets a few High-A starts to begin 2021 (should everything return to normal there) and then moves to Double-A. He could be showing major league readiness or close to it as fast as late in 2021. But there is no rush. Rodriguez is No. 31 in the top 100 for both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.com.

3) DL Hall: If both Rodriguez and Hall eventually hit it big for the Orioles, things could really get fun in Birdland. Producing aces is hard, and this is why so few clubs can do it. It’s also why pitching, at the highest level, remains incredibly expensive. So getting Rodriguez and Hall to hit their ceilings is about the most important thing to track around these parts over the next few years. Hall is ranked No. 42 by Baseball America and No. 64 by MLBPipeline.com.

4) Heston Kjerstad: It surprised plenty of O’s fans when the team selected Kjerstad No. 2 overall in the draft last June. But the Orioles felt they took the best lefty power hitter in the draft. His potential was on display during the shortened 2020 season when the 21-year-old hit .448/.513/.791 in 16 games for Arkansas. Kjerstad was the 2018 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and helped the Razorbacks get to the College World Series in 2018 and 2019.

Said his area scout, Ken Guthrie: “The most important thing is what is this player going to do in the prime years of his career? I think with the collection of data and the background we have with Heston, that is what ultimately led Mike to make the pick. We know we’re getting a good player and we know he is not just what he is today, but is even going to be better. One thing that makes him special is he is not just a power hitter. He has natural abilities to square up the ball routinely. Because he is so strong, he’s able to maximize that power. Personally, I think you’re going to see a successful hitter and a successful power hitter at the same time.”

5) Ryan Mountcastle: What a debut he made with the Orioles. He hit for average and power. He drew a few walks, hit to all fields and hit breaking balls effectively. He played solidly in left field. It was great to see a prospect who got so much attention as he came up arrive and play so well. The future looks bright. He might be a middle-of-the-order hitter for the Orioles for years and years. When I did these rankings it was hard to compare players with some major league games under their belts to those who have not yet made it to the big leagues. But if the O’s have four better prospects than Mountcastle, that should work out just fine for the club.

Gunnar-Henderson-Waves-To-OPACY-Sidebar.jpg6) Gunnar Henderson: Henderson was the youngest player at the Bowie alternate camp this summer, and by the end of it he was holding his own against much more experienced pitchers, several with major league time. We’ll find out if he can stay at shortstop or winds up at third base in the majors. The O’s certainly have added many shortstop candidates in the last two years of the draft. Henderson was also part of a leadership group of O’s minor league players, showing that he’s impressed the brass in his short time with the club.

7) Yusniel Diaz: Elias kept praising Diaz this year whenever he was asked about the outfielder. He should arrive in the bigs during the 2021 season, which will add even more depth in the Baltimore outfield. This is a player that once hit two homers in the Futures Game. Not long after that he was traded to the Orioles. Baseball America had Diaz as the club’s No. 1 prospect at the end of the 2019 season, when the publication ranked him at No. 37 in its top 100.

8) Michael Baumann: It probably tells us how well regarded this right-hander is that he is ranked just ahead of two pitchers who have already had some major league success. He might be the best of that group. Big and strong and someone who seems to be yet another farm pitcher that benefits from the data-and-analytics approach. After his first five games at Double-A in 2019, Baumann had an ERA of 0.33 and a no-hitter under his belt.

9) Dean Kremer: He made a strong O’s debut, allowing one run over six innings against the Yankees, and pitched to a 1.69 ERA in his first three big league starts. His cut fastball became a real weapon last season, and he used the pitch almost as much as his plus curveball. He showed poise and smarts in a strong September coming-out session. With Kremer ranked here, this gives the O’s two top nine players from the Manny Machado trade.

10) Keegan Akin: He also made a strong big league debut. He recorded a 4.03 ERA in his six starts, and if you take away a first-inning knockout against the Yankees, he posted a 2.49 ERA as a starter. The secondary pitches showed that the work he did in 2019 at Triple-A paid off. A good spin rate on his fastball provided some nice late life. He threw well, and Birdland can’t wait to see more.

Click here to see the Baseball America list.

Ng makes history: On Friday the Miami Marlins hired Kim Ng as their new general manager. She made Major League Baseball and sports history. Ng is the first Asian-American GM in MLB history and first woman to serve as GM for a men’s team in any of the major North American sports. It was a barrier-breaking day.

You can read more on her hiring here.

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