O’s farm has improved and six 40-man adds is latest example

The Orioles made a nice statement Friday about their improving farm system. A farm system that has risen to No. 8 in the game in the MLBPipeline.com organizational rankings. They protected six players from that farm from being taken in next month’s Rule 5 draft. They added all six last night to their 40-man roster.

They added pitchers Michael Baumann, Alexander Wells, Zac Lowther and Isaac Mattson, outfielder Yusniel Diaz and infielder Rylan Bannon.

Some in the game speculate that after not having a minor league season in 2020, we could see fewer than 10 players selected in the Rule 5. Despite that possibility, the O’s pick six showed how much they truly like their guys.

“It’s just an important step closer to these guys contributing to the major league team,” Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said. “A lot of these decisions are difficult. One thing that made it easier with this group is we feel that each of these six guys will be able to contribute in 2021 if called upon by the major league team. While they are not finished products, they are developed enough to be functional members of the roster this year. That makes these decisions easier.”

I had written here recently that if the club was going to protect Lowther, then Wells should get protected too. That turned out to be the case, although O’s media certainly had projected Lowther as much more certain to get a 40-man spot.

But Wells made it. He was the club’s 2017 minor league Pitcher of the Year when he walked just 10 in 140 innings at Single-A Delmarva and none over his last 68 innings. In August 2015, O’s scouts Mike Snyder and Brett Ward signed Wells out of Australia for $300,000.

“His minor league success has been crazy so far, he’s dominated,” said Elias. “He has elite command and he’s got a pretty good curveball and a nice cutter/slider he’s been working on. I think the reason we were determined to protect him is we view him as a potential starting pitcher. That’s a valuable asset. This is a guy that is knocking on the door right now. We didn’t want to risk losing him.”

Elias said the club went back and forth on one or two other players as well as the six that made it.

Elias made it clear in a Zoom call Friday how much the club likes Bannon. I asked him if Bannon will be pushing for a spot next April, maybe even a starting spot in the infield?

“Yeah, he’s going to be in the mix,” Elias said. “He’s on the roster and coming to major league spring training, and I imagine we’ll have competition for any number of jobs in the infield. He’s a guy that can move around. I think if you ask what his best position is, you might get some different opinions whether that is second or third base. That is a good thing, it’s interesting.

“But it’s also about the bat with him. He’s had a terrific minor league career and he’s got power. Our hitting coaches at the Bowie camp really liked him, same in instructional league. He’s just been a popular guy. He was a good get in the (Manny Machado) trade in 2018 and while he wasn’t the headliner in that trade, we value him highly. I have no doubt that had he been exposed in this draft, he would have been taken.”

Thumbnail image for Lowther 2568 1.jpgLowther went 13-7 with a 2.55 ERA for Double-A Bowie in 2019 and made his way to the alternate camp last year. He led all O’s minor league pitchers in strikeouts in 2018 and 2019 and was co-Pitcher of the Year on the farm in 2018 with Keegan Akin.

Lowther had a year that began with him at O’s big league spring training before the pandemic shut it down. He then was working out on his own before making his way to the Bowie camp. He was added there on Sept. 4.

“When I went into big league camp it was get ready for the season and do my best to impress at big league camp,” Lowther said. “Once that got shut down, I came home and ended up needing to build a mound since it was still freezing cold in Cleveland. A lot of the facilities were shut down, and one that was open didn’t have a mound for me to use. I was able to build that with my old pitching coach from high school. I used that for most of the offseason, or I should say second offseason. Just tried to keep that schedule as much as I could.

“Once I got to Bowie it was working on basically just getting some innings. A lot of stuff we wanted to develop this year during the season, it was at an accelerated pace. But going to Bowie and then to instructional camp was probably the most beneficial two months that I’ve had in baseball in a long time, in terms of development. Having these camps gave me a chance to work on stuff without having to worry about results, which was very beneficial to me. I made a lot of strides with that.”

Baumann, no doubt, has one of the best arms in system. His getting added seemed a near certainly. The guy they call “Big Mike” said the success of pitchers that got called up this year, including Akin and Dean Kremer, means a lot to those looking to follow them.

“It’s very exciting,” Baumann said. “We all kind of went through the system together, played together. Seeing them have success in Baltimore is great and very exciting, very encouraging. I think it shows the future is bright. There are a lot of good things coming.”

To drop their roster to 34 from 35 so that they could add six, the Orioles decided that Renato Núñez would be designated for assignment. Just recently in this space we discussed how, while he led the 2020 team in homers, he could be squeezed off the 2021 roster. The lack of a spot on defense hurt him. By being DFA he could still be traded, but if not, he’ll become a free agent.

He’s been in the organization since the previous regime claimed him off waivers from Texas on May 13, 2018. Núñez has played in 263 games as an Oriole, hitting 50 homers with 141 RBIs. In the last two seasons he has ranked among the top 24 in the American League in homers, and in the top 25 in RBIs each season.

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