Pipeline names Orioles Prospects of the Year

September 19th, 2019

BALIMORE -- For the Orioles, the 2019 season was all about building blocks, identifying the pieces that’ll factor heavily into their plans for 2020 and beyond. In that sense, they were thrilled about what developed down on the farm.

Armed with new tools and development philosophies brought in by Mike Elias’ new regime, Baltimore blue-chippers enjoyed a banner summer throughout the system, which was infused by a strong Draft class in June. No less than a dozen top prospects took significant strides, from familiar names like Austin Hays to former first-rounders DL Hall and breakouts like Michael Baumann. Even in that crowded field, Ryan Mountcastle and Grayson Rodriguez stood above the rest.

Mountcastle and Rodriguez were named Baltimore’s Minor League Hitter and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, because of how they exemplified the strides its system took as a whole. Poorly ranked when Elias took over in November, the Orioles now boast an above-average farm system -- ranked in the Top 13 by MLB Pipeline.

Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.

Mountcastle and Rodriguez were also bestowed honors by the Orioles, and were named the organization's Minor League Player and Co-pitcher of the Year on Thursday. Double-A Bowie right-hander Michael Baumann shared co-pitcher accolades with Rodriguez; Buck Britton, Kyle Moore and Alan Mills were named Managers of the Year, while Justin Ramsay, Thom Dreier and left-hander Cam Bishop were honored for their achievements in player development, scouting and service.

“The farm system’s progress, has been a big success for us this year,” Elias said. “Our work is far from done but it's one of the very positive developments that occurred in 2019.”

Offensively, nobody stood out more than Mountcastle, who earned International League Most Valuable Player honors by tearing through his first taste of Triple-A. Still just 22, the former first-round pick hit .312/.344/.527 with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs in 127 games in his initial season at Norfolk, pacing the IL in hits and total bases.

“Ryan has been one of the more impressive hitters in the International League this year and he has done it at such a young age,” Elias said. “He’s got a natural knack for hitting and a frame that promises huge power potential.”

If there is something to nitpick, it’s Mountcastle’s plate discipline (24-130 BB/SO rate) and lack of a natural position. But the truth is, he might be in the big leagues already under different organizational circumstances. Given where the Orioles are in the standings, and the fact that they sport upwards of half a dozen bat-first corner-types on the roster already, they’re in no position to rush Mountcastle. He probably arrives sometime in 2020, but not before he gets more reps in left field and first base, two positions he only started playing this season.

“The degree to which we can prioritize development over Major League need, we’re going to lean that way -- it’s part of the equation,” Elias said. “He’s not a big walker and he’s still striking out a little bit. But that’s not to put a damper on what he did at age 22 in Triple-A. He’s also still doing some work on his defensive home. Long story short, I think he’s still going to spend some time in the Minor Leagues as a result of those two things.”

Rodriguez, the organization’s first-round pick in 2018 and No. 2 prospect per Pipeline, was simply spectacular in his first full season of pro ball. The 19-year-old went 10-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 20 starts for Class A Delmarva, anchoring the rotation the Shorebirds rode toward their best record in affiliate history. Rodriguez stuck out 129 against 36 walks and allowed just four homers across 94 innings, holding opposing hitters to a .171 average against. He’s ranked baseball’s No. 44 overall prospect, per Pipeline.

“It’s a day off [when he pitches],” Shorebirds shortstop Adam Hall said earlier this summer. “Nothing is hit to me. Everything is a strikeout. He’s a pretty special talent out there. Being able to witness it and be a part of it is cool to watch.”

Though the team results are often secondary in the Minors, it wasn’t lost on the Orioles how Rodriguez helped Delmarva set an affiliate record for wins and reach the Sally League semifinals. He anchored a Shorebirds rotation that also featured risers Drew Rom and Gray Fenter, standing out as much for results as for the development steps he took. Rodriguez spent the summer working a changeup into his four-pitch mix; his fastball also reached 99 mph at times.

“What Grayson did this year as a 19-year-old in a full season league sets him apart from most pitchers drafted out of high school -- even the first rounders,” Elias said. “His poise, pitchability and power stuff all stood out this year. He’s definitely ready for the next challenge in 2020.”