Which O’s prospects took steps forward in 19?

September 6th, 2019

At the big league level, this season for the Orioles was always about evaluation and transition rather than wins and losses. While at the Minor League levels, the Orioles' new regime viewed this campaign as critical: their first chance to infuse a system with talent and revitalize it by implementing player development principles and philosophies to sustain it for years to come.

A full summer in, the Orioles feel they’ve achieved those goals. From their heralded draft class, playoff appearances by three different affiliates and breakout performances from several blue-chippers, progress has been plain to see. Simply put, it was a banner year up and down the system.

Let’s take a look at some individuals who took steps forward in 2019:

Ryan Mountcastle
Prospect ranking: No. 4 per MLB Pipeline
Began 2019: Triple-A Norfolk
Finished 2019: Triple-A Norfolk
One big number: .312/.344/.527 slash line, 162 hits, 274 total bases at Norfolk

There were plenty of numbers to choose from for Mountcastle, who led the International League in hits and total bases, ranked third in doubles, fifth in runs, fifth in hitting, 11th in homers and OPS, and took home league Most Valuable Player honors.

Simply put, it was a banner year for the Orioles' No. 4 prospect, who proved his bat can not only handle Triple-A pitching, but dominate it.

Now the question is: Can he swing himself onto the big league roster next spring? At the very least, Mountcastle seems poised to debut at some point in 2020. But the Orioles would still like to see him settle into a defensive home and improve some plate discipline issues (24-to-130 walk-to-strikeout rate this season) before that happens.

Adley Rutschman
Prospect ranking: No. 1
Began 2019: NCAA
Finished 2019: Class A Delmarva
One big number: 7/10 caught stealing across both Low-A Aberdeen and Delmarva

This first year was always going to be more about adapting to professional baseball than it was numbers for Rutschman, and the sample size is still so small (155 plate appearances) it’s hard to glean much from anyway at this point. A better indicator is how he’s done nothing to force the Orioles to deviate from their plan to promote him steadily throughout the summer, from a cameo in the Gulf Coast League, to Aberdeen, then to Delmarva. Rutschman has handled each with aplomb, particularly behind the plate, where the Orioles feel his skills are nearly big league ready already.

Dean Kremer
Prospect ranking: No. 8
Began 2019: Class A Advanced Fredrick
Finished 2019: Triple-A Norfolk, now Arizona Fall League
One big number: 2.98 ERA with Double-A Bowie

By pitching to a 2.98 ERA in 15 starts at Bowie, Kremer proved the flashes he showed at that level after coming over in last summer’s Manny Machado trade were no fluke. It also earned him a late-season promotion to Triple-A Norfolk, an invitation to ultra-competitive AFL, and in short, on the cusp of the Majors. While his numbers plateaued a bit at Norfolk in a very small sample, the Orioles are still likely to add Kremer to the 40-man roster this winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Michael Baumann
Prospect ranking: No. 9
Began 2019: Class A Advanced Fredrick**
Finished 2019: Double-A Bowie
One big number: 0.3 HR/9

No Orioles prospect can top the astronomical rise Baumann enjoyed in 2019. He started the Eastern League All-Star Game, threw a no-hitter and posted a 2.31 ERA over his first 13 games (11 starts) at Double-A. In doing so, he headlined a stellar Bowie rotation that also saw major development from Alex Wells, Zac Lowther and Bruce Zimmerman. Baumann may have the highest ceiling of all of them, thanks to a four-pitch mix, durable frame and big-angle fastball that helps keep the ball in the yard. From the organization’s No. 21 prospect in ’18 to No. 9 in ’19, Baumann’s rise is only expected to continue.

Gray Fenter
Began 2019: Single-A Delmarva
Finished 2019: Single-A Delmarva
One big number: 1.81 ERA with Delmarva

While Fenter may not yet have the same fanfare as some other Orioles prospects, he’s thrust himself into the picture by dominating in his second crack at the South Atlantic League. The former seventh-round pick, though, again did not hit the 100-innings mark this year. That should make his 2020 campaign vitally important, to show the organization this season was not a fluke but rather a jumping off point.

Rylan Bannon
Began 2019: Double-A Bowie
Finished 2019: Triple-A Norfolk, then Arizona Fall League
One big number: .549 SLG with Norfolk

Bannon may be the only one who can hold a candle to Baumann in regard to rising stock. After slashing .255/.345/.394 in 338 at-bats with Bowie, Bannon took it to another level in a short late-season stint with Norfolk, batting .317/.344/.549 in 82 at-bats. So it’s admittedly a small sample size, but Bannon, who is also part of the return from the Machado trade, will have the chance to show his second half was no flash in the pan when he heads to the AFL.

Worth mentioning: Keegin Akin, DL Hall, Hunter Harvey, Lowther, Mason McCoy, Grayson Rodriguez, Cody Sedlock, Wells, Zimmerman.