As the major league baseball season starts so does the minor league season soon after. With four full season minor league clubs and two more short season ones it isn’t always easy to follow. Outside of the obvious names it can be hard to tell which players are guys worth keeping track of. Its also tricky when a player’s stat line looks like hes struggling when hes really doing well for his age and/or position for the league hes in and vice versa.
For the past three and a half seasons I’ve been tracking the Orioles minor league system with daily reports based on the box scores on my blog, TheOrioleReport.com.
As I’ve familiarized myself with the organization and with the help of scouting opinions I feel like I have a good sense of who is worth taking a look at each time you look at a minor league box score for the O’s. There are always guys who come out of nowhere and improve their prospect stock as well as guys who lose some luster as the season goes on but for the time being, here are the guys on each team that are worth following.
Dan Duquette has made a distinct change in the organization’s philosophy for AAA already heading into his second season as GM. Instead of a bunch of AAAA players that have yet to prove themselves at the major league level, hes filled the team with guys that have big league experience (22 out of the 26 on the roster) with a lot of them being veterans that other teams have given up on.
I like this strategy because if you’re a competitive team its always better to have guys that you know can step up and fill a role if you need it in case of injury or under performance. Hopefully you don’t need to rely on these guys for long stretches but its nice depth to have. This worked out well last season with players like Nate McLouth and Lew Ford as well as some others. Your real prospects are fine at AA where it seems like more and more make the jump to the majors from.
On the mound Norfolk has starting pitchers that very likely could see time in the major league rotation with Zach Britton, Jair Jurrjens, Freddy Garcia, and Zach Clark. Garcia can opt out after five starts if hes not on the major league roster but I favored Britton to get the 5th starters spot heading into the spring and Jurrjens also challenged for that role.
If Britton can prove to be fully healthy and get back to first half 2011 form he could quickly rise to the Orioles. Jurrjens is only a year removed from an outstanding campaign with the Braves in 2011. There were rumors of some kind of Adam Jones for Jurrjens trade package last offseason before Jair suffered struggles all year. It doesn’t seem too far fetched that he could get closer to 2011 form with the help of Rick Peterson.
In the bullpen its an experienced group with some possible stand outs like Mike Belfiore, Daniel Schlereth, and Manny Delcarmen. Belfiore was acquired from the Diamondbacks last year in return for Josh Bell and put up a 2.85 ERA with AA Bowie over 47.1 innings. At only 24 he could eventually be a big part of the O’s bullpen. Schlereth and Delcarmen were signed to minor league deals in the off season and have both had a lot of experience in major league bullpens. Schlereth is the son of NFL analyst Mark and was once considered the Detroit Tigers future closer at one point.
In the lineup there aren’t many guys that stand out but there are a bunch of guys that wouldn’t look out of place on a major league bench. The biggest prospect is Jonathon Schoop fresh off his WBC performance. He’ll split time at second base and shortstop. He only had a .710 OPS with Bowie last year but at 20 years old that wasn’t necessarily as bad as it seems. He has work to do but has good power potential as a middle infielder and shows an ability to get on base.
LJ Hoes hit .300 after being promoted to Norfolk last year and had a very nice .374 OBP. The one time second base prospect is now in the outfield and should definitely have a major league future there even if its only as a fourth outfielder.
Conor Jackson just barely lost out on the 25th spot on the major league roster to Steve Pearce and him along with Chris Dickerson, Trayvon Robinson, Danny Valencia, Travis Ishikawa, and Yamaico Navarro are guys with ML experience that have a good chance of showing up in Baltimore at some point during the season.
Bowie is a team that will be worth checking the box scores for each night for the starting pitching alone. Dylan Bundy is dealing with some minor elbow tendinitis but (fingers crossed) given its nothing serious he joins a stacked rotation with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Jacob Petit, Tim Bascom, and new knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa. Those first three especially.
Everyone knows who Bundy is, one of the best prospects in baseball. His meteoric rise from A Delmarva to the majors last year at age 19 was fun to follow and as long as he can get healthy I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be back in Baltimore for good at some point this year. Gausman was the Orioles first round pick out of LSU last year and has impressed ever since. He was in major league camp this spring until close to the end before being sent to the minor league portion. At 22 hes two years older than Bundy and could therefore conceivably reach the majors before Dylan. They could be the start of something special at the top of the Orioles rotation for years to come.
Wright was a third round pick in 2011 and quickly reached Bowie after 8 starts in A+ Frederick where he went 5-2 with a 2.92 ERA. He struggled a bit at first in AA but got a little better as the season went on ending up at a 4.91 ERA. His long term destination in the majors might be in the bullpen but the Orioles are going to give him every chance to succeed as a starter, as they should.
Petit and Bascom are more organizational guys but they should succeed against this level of competition. Not much to love in the Bowie bullpen but Clayton Schrader is a guy with great stuff that if he could learn to command his pitches could quickly reach the majors. He walked 51 batters over 58 innings last year but also struck out 68.
Not too many real prospects on the positional side in Bowie but there are a couple of guys to keep an eye on. Xavier Avery spent last year between Baltimore and Norfolk and seemed to wear down as the year went on. He was probably rushed a bit so he goes down a level where he should excel and look to get back to AAA. At 23 he still has a chance to get back on the map.
Tyler Kelly came out of nowhere last season to hit .327/.425/.467 across three levels. He doesn’t have much power but if he can get on base anywhere near that level as he moves up his propensity to hit doubles will be plenty acceptable. Brian Ward excels with the glove behind the plate but with his bat I don’t ever see him being more than a backup catcher in the pros but that gloveis valuable.
I love the outfield at Frederick. Glynn Davis, Trent Mummey, Brenden Webb, and John Ruettiger are all guys that could take a step up the prospect ladder this year. Davis only hit .253/.345/.301 last year between Delmarva and Frederick but his speed and athleticism is great. That on base percentage is a good indicator too. He stole 37 bases but I can see that number and most others improving as he puts some more weight on his frame.
Mummey couldn’t really recover after a nasty collision with the fence in center field, hitting .228 between Delmarva and Frederick, but if you give him a normalized batting average his numbers would look great. Easier said than done of course but I wouldn’t count him out.
At 23, Brenden Webb doesn’t have much room for failure but he walked 98 times between Delmarva and Frederick last year to give him a .414 OBP. His power is developing as an athlete and he stole 19 bases as well. Hes a sleeper for me this year. Ruettiger isn’t as heralded as the other three but he has alot of speed and is fun to follow as the nephew of Notre Dame’s ‘Rudy’.
Nick Delmonico was on his way to a nice 19 year old debut season last year before a knee injury derailed his season. Hes switching to third base this season and hopefully he can continue where he left off progressing with the bat. As a guy payed over slot in the 2011 draft he comes with high expectations. Don’t be too let down if he doesn’t set the world on fire, hes still developing.
If Michael Ohlman can stay healthy he could be an interesting catcher with a good bat. Jason Esposito and Connor Narron are close to losing prospect status, moreso Esposito. If they struggle again this year it might be time to consider them organizational players.
As usual with the Orioles the real interest lies in the pitching staff. Eduardo Rodriguez is the O’s third best prospect in my opinion as hes consistently progressed up the system through the last few years. He was 5-7 with a 3.70 ERA for Delmarva last year and his velocity seemed to increase towards the end of the season. He turns 20 on April 7th. Remember his name.
Tyler Wilson and Devin Jones are guys that came on strong in the second half last year. Wilson went 7-7 with 3.49 ERA with Frederick after being promoted from Delmarva with more strikeouts than innings pitched. Jones had a 2.65 ERA pitching out of Delmarva’s bullpen then went 7-1 with a 2.80 ERA in Frederick’s rotation. I’m not sure that these guys are more than future bullpen arms but this season could go a long way towards determining that. Zach Davies and Tim Berry are also guys worth monitoring.
Yet more interesting pitchers at Delmarva. Parker Bridwell has been highly regarded but has yet to really show it on the field. This could be a make it or break it year for him. Branden Kline was our second round pick last year and is highly regarded.
Josh Hader was filthy out of the bullpen last year with the GCL team and Aberdeen, striking out 48 batters over 28.2 innings. He makes the transition to the rotation as an 18 year old local kid from Millersville. He turns 19 on April 7th.
Tom Winegardner was a no hitting infielder for Aberdeen before he was moved to the bullpen and struck out 21 batters over 20 innings with a 0.90 ERA. Mychal Givens looks to do something similar, converting from shortstop to relief pitcher. He threw in the mid 90’s in high school and was seen to be a possible pitching prospect in the draft that year.
Miguel Chalas and Juan Guzman are worth noting as long as they can put up good numbers. Of note to me on a personal level is the Orioles signing Kevin Jacob to a minor league contract. I played with him at Parkville high school. Hes a good kid and a hard worker. I’ll be rooting for him to make it as a reliever.
Adrian Marin is the hitter to watch here. As a 19 year old shortstop prospect that hit .286/.340/.352 over the last two months last year he could develop into something special. I’ve seen him described as a similar player to Dustin Pedroia and wouldn’t that be nice (minus the balding and bad attitude).
Christian Walker had a .796 OPS for short A Aberdeen at first base after a heralded college baseball campaign at South Carolina. He needs to hit as a first baseman to become a legit prospect but if he does he could move up the system relatively quickly. Torsten Boss and Joel Hutter are in similar positions as Walker. They need to continue to hit well to stay on the right side of the prospect radar.
Roderick Bernadina is a 20 year old toolsy outfielder whose brother Roger has played with the Washington Nationals. He has some breakout potential but needs to develop his power continue to hone his plate discipline.
Hopefully this was a good starting off point as we enter another beautiful baseball season. I look forward to keeping track of these guys and anyone else that pops up throughout the year. Play ball!