Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in
Every Spring Training, prospects get a chance to show what they can do as they prepare for the upcoming season. Some compete for jobs in big league camp, while others vie for spots on Minor League affiliates. MLB Pipeline will visit all 30 camps this spring, and today we check in on the Orioles.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- As big league camp winds down, action on the Minor League side -- which for the Orioles happens about 20 minutes away from Ed Smith Stadium -- is kicking into high gear. Minor League Opening Day is on April 5, but the O's are just about ready to go, if they could just get their players back from manager Buck Showalter on the Major League side.
• Orioles Top 30 Prospects | Q&A with Cedric Mullins
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"We're ready, it's exciting," Orioles farm director Brian Graham said. "I like where we are as an organization, especially with our pitching at the lower levels. A lot of our decisions are based on their final cuts over there. Whoever ends up coming down to begin the season makes a difference on our Minor League rosters."
Graham isn't complaining. The experience for guys like Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays, even if they begin the year in the Triple-A outfield, has been nothing but a positive. Plus, it's not caused a problem thanks to the back and forth between the big league and player development staffs.
"It's not really more challenging because Buck is such a good communicator and he tells us what his thoughts are and what direction he's going in," Graham said. "We have a pretty good idea of who is coming down unless some changes happen in the last couple of days of Spring Training."
The strength Graham pointed out, lower level pitching, obviously isn't too impacted by decisions from the highest level. But that doesn't mean there aren't decisions to be made. There are eight arms to consider for Delmarva's rotation in the Class A South Atlantic League, starting with 2017 first-round pick D.L Hall, the lefty who is currently the organization's No. 5 prospect. The list also includes No. 10 prospect Brenan Hanifee, No. 16 Cameron Bishop, No. 17 Zac Lowther and No. 23 Gray Fenter.
"They all need and deserve to start and they are all pitching prospects," Graham said. "We have eight guys for five spots, so we're potentially going to have three piggybacks. Any time you have eight legitimate starters at one level, that's pretty good depth."
Graham and his staff are honest in their appraisal of their system, acknowledging that it's not considered among those in the top tier. But it's improved and has managed to help usher players who may have started out as unknown prospects up the ladder and to Baltimore.
"We know what we have and what we don't have," Graham said. "Our player development system has done a tremendous job, our coaches and managers, of getting players ready to play and compete in the big leagues. That's Chance Sisco and that's Trey Mancini, guys nobody expected to be what they are. They're pretty good players."
Sisco and Mancini are just two of a core of homegrown players who will break camp with the team. Sisco joins Caleb Joseph as a farm-system-produced catching tandem. The infield has Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop, with Mancini in the outfield. Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are all homegrown arms. And that's not even counting Hays, Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle, bats who could contribute soon.
"I say to myself, 'Wow, we had some pretty good players who came out of our farm system,'" Graham said. "I would say we're in the high end of Minor League players playing on our big league team.
"We have some really good prospects. We might have 8-9 good players while other organizations believe they have 20 of the same caliber player. At the same time, we have really good players in the big leagues, so there's no place for them to go right now."
Harvey gearing up for full season, as a starter
Hunter Harvey, the Orioles' first-round pick in 2013 who has missed most of the last three seasons because of an elbow injury and eventual Tommy John surgery, impressed the big league staff during his time in big league camp. Now the right-hander, who did return late in 2017 and pitch very well, is getting himself ready to pitch in Double-A Bowie's rotation.
"He's starting to live up to the guy we always thought he'd be," Graham said. "When you match that up with his work ethic and makeup and his aptitude, you get a pretty good looking pitcher.
"He's never been over 90 innings in a season and it's been a couple of years since he had a full workload consistently, so we don't know how many innings he'll be limited to. I'm going to guess around 90-100 innings this season. The pitcher is going to tell you where he is; his performance and velocity will tell you where he is."
Comparisons have been made between Harvey and Dylan Bundy, who was recently named Opening Day starter. Bundy had trouble staying healthy, then was moved to the bullpen in the big leagues, before developing back into a starter. Could the Orioles do the same with Harvey? It's been discussed, but it's not happening any time soon.
"There's been a lot of talk about it, especially with the comparison to Dylan," Graham said. "Buck would love to have Harvey in the big leagues. But Hunter's not out of options; Dylan was out of options. We have the luxury of putting Hunter down in a different situation where he can start and have his bullpen days and have days off and get him into a consistent five-day rotation."
If you've never heard of Branden Becker, don't feel bad. But you might want to learn the name.
The 17th-round pick of the Orioles in the 2015 Draft, Becker spent two summers in the Gulf Coast League to start his career and doesn't have much in the way of offensive numbers to show for it. He was supposed to make a step up to short-season Aberdeen in 2017, but played in just six games after tearing the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder diving for a ground ball. He can play second, short and third and looks poised to make a big step forward as a 21-year-old heading to Delmarva.
"He's a left-handed hitter who's really been good offensively," Graham said. "It seems like every at-bat, he hits the ball hard somewhere. And he's played all three defensive positions well. He's a guy we didn't know what to expect from. Every day he plays, he does something special. It's fun to see a player you didn't expect do so well."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.