The Orioles organization is “on the move.”
That was the conclusion of MLBPipeline.com when the outlet recently published an article about the state of the O’s farm system. Jonathan Mayo wrote that article and joined me recently for a Zoom interview to talk about the Orioles minor leagues.
The O’s are now No. 8, up from No. 13, in the latest MLBPipeline.com organizational rankings. That bodes well as the Orioles look to turn their rebuilding efforts into more wins on the field.
“There is a very strong correlation between having a highly thought of farm system and eventually winning,” said Mayo. “Not necessarily winning the whole thing - that’s a whole different conversation. But getting to the point where you’re competing and making the playoffs. Teams that have been in the upper part of rankings tend to do well.
“Houston, where Mike Elias came from. The Atlanta Braves recently. The Kansas City Royals several years ago turned the best farm system from around 2011 into a World Series team that won it all.”
The building process that basically started with the Manny Machado trade of July 2018 through now has seen the Orioles moving on up on the farm.
“It’s been a kind of steady climb,” said Mayo. “The whole idea of picking early in the draft is you do well there and add players. I think they’ve done a good job in their drafts and also in some of the trades they’ve made, while also getting guys that were already there taking some nice steps forward in 2019. That is why they were on the cusp of the top 10 then in the preseason at No. 13. And the 2020 draft class they had is looking pretty good right now.
“We don’t know if Grayson Rodriguez, say, as one example, we got good reports with how he threw at the alternate site. But had it been a normal season, and he and DL Hall made large steps forward, so we were now looking at them as two of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball, which could happen. They might even then be higher with more elite level talent. But they are moving very much in the right direction. Sort of across the board in all ways of player procurement.
“There was a time not long ago when trying to find 30 players for our list with the Orioles was a challenge. And there are a number of clubs we can say that about. Now when you get to the point when all 30 guys are interesting, and there are guys that are not on the list that are also intriguing, that is a sign that the overall health of the organization is getting better. That’s what we look for, not just the high-end guys.”
Of their O’s top 30, there were 20 players that are original O’s draft picks, including their top seven rated players. There are two acquired through the international market in pitchers Alexander Wells and Luis Ortiz. There are eight players acquired via trades.
“Their trades haven’t brought in the marquee, huge prospect kind of players. They did start to get benefit from the Manny Machado trade this year with Dean Kremer,” Mayo said. “But even in trades recently, when you in bring in someone like Terrin Vavra from the Rockies - a player I really, really like - he’s the kind of player a winning team always seems to have on its big league roster. Tyler Nevin at No. 22, he could reach the big leagues and have a chance. They brought in depth via the trades and they continue to try and take advantage of where they pick in the draft.”
The early returns on pitching development since Elias took over have been good. We have just one season of games on the farm to look at, from 2019, but four O’s farm clubs led their leagues in team ERA. And the organization-wide strikeout rate for all minor league clubs improved from 8.18 strikeouts/nine innings in 2018 to 9.26 in 2019.
“You have to give some credit to the previous regime, because Mike Elias did not draft Grayson Rodriguez or DL Hall,” he said. “But those guys took steps forward under the new regime and I think they will continue to do so. Whenever you are going to draft young pitching, how they are developed is key. Not only were Orioles pitchers missing more bats but I feel like, and this is without looking at any numbers, they were more efficient, more strikes thrown. That allowed them to get into counts where they can use the plus stuff they’ve developed to put away hitters that led to that improved strikeout rate.”
Of course, catcher Adley Rutschman is the headliner on the O’s farm, ranked as their No. 1 and listed as No. 2 in the national top 100.
“There are certain players that just their singular presence moves you up some and Adley Rutschman is one of the those kind of players,” Mayo said. “I would be surprised if he’s not in the big leagues in 2021. And I don’t think I’m going way out on a limb here. I think he got valuable experience at the alternate site catching high-level pitchers that ended up in the big leagues, guys like Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer. And I don’t think there is a whole lot he needs to do to contribute at the big league level. It’s not going to take very long, just time to get some more reps and at-bats in competition. But if you told me he could be in Baltimore by the All-Star break, I would have no problem believing that.”
Joining Rutschman in the MLB.com top 100 are Rodriguez (No. 31), Heston Kjerstad (No. 55), Hall (No. 64) and Ryan Mountcastle (No. 90). While Mountcastle will likely lose his prospect eligibility during the 2021 season, Gunnar Henderson, the current O’s No. 6, could move into the top 100, according to Mayo.
If you break down the MLBPipeline.com current O’s top 30 you find that 15 of the players were acquired when Dan Duquette was general manager and 15 have been added since Elias took over. In fact, of the top 14, there are seven from each regime. Elias’ top draft picks from 2019 and 2020, Rutschman and Kjerstand, are ranked No. 1 and No. 3. On Duquette’s watch, the O’s added No. 2 (Rodriguez), No. 4 (Hall) and No. 5 (Mountcastle).
You can watch my entire interview with Mayo here. And click here for Mayo’s article.