Baseball America released a new top 10 Orioles prospects list this week, and it’s a strong list. There are more hitters than pitchers, with seven batters and three hurlers. The list is solid and further proof that the Orioles organization being ranked No. 1 by MLBPipeline.com and No. 2 by Baseball America seems legit.
The club can and has gotten some deserved criticism for all the losses at the major league level, but the quest to build that elite talent pipeline seems very much on track. The progress is obvious.
Here is the Baseball America top 10 (subscription may be required) and my take on each player.
No. 1 - Catcher Adley Rutschman: Yep, No. 1 for the Orioles and No. 1 among all 30 teams. He so far has lived up to the immense hype. What question marks can anyone find on this guy? I’ve got nothing. He’s got an uppercut swing, but he makes it work for him and his plate discipline is strong. So is his bat from both sides. So is his defense. So is his arm. So is his leadership. You get the point. The 2021 season, by the way, was his first full professional season. A lot was expected and a lot was delivered. Next stop: Baltimore.
No. 2 - Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez: We could say some of same things we said about Rutschman. Rodriguez met high expectations during a sensational 2021 season. He showed several quality pitches and his velocity exceeded 2019 levels as he touched 100 mph often. The secondaries are quality and his changeup made more strides this year. As part of his effort to build himself into a complete pitcher, Rodriguez said he learned this year how to better scout opponents. This included the organization showing him video of opponents facing other high-velocity pitchers. Why scout your opponent facing someone throwing 92 when you are throwing 98?
No. 3 - Lefty DL Hall: Rodriguez gets 70 grades for his high 90s fastball that now touches 100, and so does Hall. Just because his season ended early due to an elbow issue, don’t forget some of his stats. I preface these by saying Hall threw 31 2/3 innings this year and Rodriguez pitched 103. But Hall had an edge in strikeouts per nine at 15.92 to 14.07. His K percentage was 43.8 to 40.5 for Rodriguez. In batting average against, Rodriguez was at .159 and Hall was at .145. Strong stuff. Don’t forget this kid who will be added to the 40-man roster next month as he is Rule 5-eligible for the first time.
No. 4 - Infielder Gunnar Henderson: He rose three levels, ending the season at Double-A Bowie. He should begin next year there at age 21. The lefty bat is potent and the defense is above average. He tore up low Single-A Delmarva and then went 1-for-31 at the start with high-A Aberdeen. But that just provided a learning experience the club could not have scripted. He passed the test. My takeaway after several interviews with Henderson during last season: This kid has maturity beyond his years and baseball smarts to rival his immense talent. He is now a top 100-ranked player, and that is very, very legit.
No. 5 - Outfielder Colton Cowser: What is not to like about this 2021 draft pick who produced a .982 OPS and more walks (25) than strikeouts (23) in his first pro season? As a player drafted out of college, Cowser, 21, is older than Henderson. He sprayed line drives throughout the field and showed some leadership skills as well.
Said O’s director of player development Matt Blood: “This guy is the complete package, and honestly, the fact that we got him at No. 5, to me, feels like a steal. This guy was our favorite guy in the draft, and he’s already shown kind of what he is and I have a lot of faith in this guy.”
No. 6 - Infielder Jordan Westburg: Like Henderson, he started at Low-A and ended the season at Double-A. He was solid at all three levels, on offense and defense. Another high draft pick (No. 30 overall in 2020) from a power-conference school (Mississippi State). He was another player who showed some leadership skills, and he took Henderson under his wing as the older player. One of those two could be the future O’s shortstop while the other could play next to him at second base or third.
No. 7 - Outfielder Kyle Stowers: This outfielder had a breakout season and led the Orioles affiliates in homers (27) and RBIs (85). He attacked baseballs and produced, along with Rutschman, the best exit velocities found this year on the O’s farm. The draft class of 2019 is well represented on this list, as Rutschman, Henderson and Stowers were the Orioles’ first three picks in that year.
Said Stowers’ Double-A Bowie manager Buck Britton: “When this guy barrels the baseball, it is loud. Every time he touches the baseball, I feel like it comes off his bat at 100 mph. When he hits it, he hits like a big boy. It is big-boy pop. The next step is to try and get him to make contact a little more consistently.”
No. 8 - Outfielder Heston Kjerstad: The Orioles had hoped that by now Kjerstad would be doing some of the things that other outfield draftees, such as Stowers and Cowser, are doing. They hope they get to see his talents on display next year after his pro career has been sidelined due to the effects of myocarditis. The plus power and arm are still there as Kjerstad is taking part in the O’s fall instructional camp right now in Sarasota, Fla.
No. 9 - Right-hander Kyle Bradish: One of four pitchers the Orioles got in the Dylan Bundy trade with the Angels in December 2019, Bradish has now emerged as their third-highest-rated pitcher, after Rodriguez and Hall. He pitched to a 3.68 ERA this year - mostly at Triple-A - and gave up just two earned runs in 20 innings in his last four starts for the Tides. He throws from an unusual, over-the-top arm slot, and his fastball, which now sits in the mid-90s, has natural cut. His slider gets solid grades also.
No. 10 - Infielder Coby Mayo: A high school draft pick in 2020, Mayo was one of the top hitters at low Single-A Delmarva late this year when he joined a large number of 2021 O’s draft picks to help put up big offense for the Shorebirds. He posted a .981 OPS this year at age 19 and was younger than most of those ‘21 picks. He’s got plus power and a plus arm that some scouts give a grade of 65 to 70. This is a strong No. 10 prospect further cementing this as a strong farm system.
The last five O’s top draft picks are on this list and you hope you hit with your highest picks at the top. Maybe the O’s are on a good run of drafting.