The Orioles’ 2019 season went just about as expected, as the club recorded its second straight 100-loss season to finish with Major League Baseball’s second-worst record (54-108). But in the first full season of a rebuilding effort under general manager Mike Elias, the O’s system also took a major step forward.
A number of Baltimore’s top prospects turned in performances reflective of their potential, as former first-round picks DL Hall (2017) and Grayson Rodriguez (2018) emerged as two of baseball’s better young pitching prospects, and Ryan Mountcastle (2015) continued to slug his way toward the Major Leagues and headlines a growing list of O’s prospects poised to contribute in 2020.
The Orioles also landed one of the better Draft prospects in recent history when they took Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick. It was the second time in franchise history that the Orioles picked first in the Draft after the club used the top pick on Ben McDonald in 1989. The addition of Rutschman to a system which already housed young, high-ceiling arms as part of an overall deep group of high-probability future big leaguers helped boost the Orioles’ system from a bottom-third-ranked system to No. 13 in MLB Pipeline’s midseason rankings, and there’s reason to believe that the O’s will continue to trend in the right direction in the coming years.
Elias resuscitated the Orioles’ presence on the international market after years of neglect under his predecessor, Dan Duquette, and it’s a safe bet that the organization will be a major player in future sweepstakes for top international talents. The Orioles will also have the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 Draft and should net solid returns if they decide to trade Trey Mancini, Jonathan Villar and Mychal Givens.
TOP 5 PROSPECTS
HITTING & PITCHING PROSPECTS OF THE YEAR
Ryan Mountcastle, 1B: The 2015 first-rounder was the International League MVP in his first Triple-A campaign, slashing .312/.344/.527 with 25 homers and 83 RBIs, while also leading the circuit with 162 hits and 274 total bases. The performance netted the 22-year-old slugger honors as the Orioles' Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP: The 2018 Draft’s No. 11 overall pick was named the Orioles' Jim Palmer Minor League Co-Pitcher of the Year as well as the South Atlantic League’s Most Outstanding Major League Prospect in his first full season after posting a 2.68 ERA, .171 BAA and 129/36 K/BB over 94 innings (20 starts) at Class A Delmarva in his first full season.
Michael Baumann, RHP: Baumann, 24, flashed impressive stuff in his first full season and then began to put it all together during a breakout ’19 campaign. The 2017 third-rounder pitched to a 2.98 ERA with 142 strikeouts and a .194 BAA over 124 innings across two levels including Double-A Bowie, where he fired a nine-inning, 10-strikeout no-hitter in his third start.
JC Encarnacion, 3B: Acquired from Atlanta in the July 2018 Kevin Gausman trade, Encarnacion regressed during his second straight campaign in the Class A South Atlantic League, finishing with a .240/.293/.356 line (.648 OPS) and 145 strikeouts in 120 games at Delmarva. The 21-year-old still has loud tools, including big right-handed raw power, though questions remain about his overall hitting ability.
Draft: Adley Rutschman, C, 1st round (No. 1 on Orioles Top 30); Gunnar Henderson, SS, 2nd round (No. 7); Kyle Stowers, OF, Competitive Balance Round B (No. 12); Zach Watson, OF, 3rd round (No. 22); Joseph Ortiz, SS, 4th round (No. 27)
International: Luis Gonzalez, OF; Leonel Sanchez, IF; Luis Ortiz, LHP
Trade: Noelberth Romero, SS (from Red Sox); Elio Prado, OF (from Red Sox)
Rutschman gives the Orioles a true blue-chip prospect -- the type a team a usually only dreams of having during the early stages of a rebuild -- and Henderson has the ceiling of an impact player with his blend of athleticism and tools. Gonzalez ($475,000), Sanchez ($400K) and Ortiz ($400K) headline a group of 16 international prospects that the Orioles signed for $100,000 or more since the beginning of the 2018-19 July 2 period. Romero and Prado, both 17, were acquired from the Red Sox in the Andrew Cashner trade a little more than a year after signing with the organization.
2020 IMPACT PROSPECT
Ryan Mountcastle, 1B: The 22-year-old has done nothing but hit as pro, producing a career line of .295/.328/.471 line with 70 homers, 137 doubles and 274 RBIs in 524 games spanning five seasons. Mountcastle will never offer much defensive value at first base or in left field, but his ability to hit for both average and power should help to mitigate any concerns about his glove.
Hit: Adley Rutschman
Run: Mason Janvrin
Field: Cadyn Grenier
Best athlete: Ryan McKenna
Fastball: Hunter Harvey
Curveball: Dean Kremer
Slider: DL Hall
Changeup: Grayson Rodriguez
Control: Alex Wells
HOW THE TOP 30 WAS BUILT
Six of the Orioles’ top seven prospects entered the system via the Draft, and within that group there are four former first-round picks, a second-round pick and a third-rounder. This past year the club drafted position players with their first seven picks, targeting high-ceiling talents (Rutschman, Henderson) with its first two picks, followed by cost-effective, well-rounded college players. And while none of the 16 players Baltimore signed for $100,000 or more during the 2018-19 international period are currently ranked on the club’s Top 30 list, the mere fact that Elias has made international spending a priority is an enormously positive development for an organization that previously had zero international presence.
TOP 30 BY POSITION
Baltimore’s 5.59 staff ERA was the worst in the Majors last season. The good news is that pitchers comprise half of the organization’s Top 30 Prospects list, including nine hurlers that already have experience at or above the Double-A level, and others who have the potential to move quickly. Developing potential everyday position players beyond Rutschman and Mountcastle will be key in accelerating the turnaround of an organization whose most valuable hitter (Mancini) is ticketed for free agency in 2023.