Watching from afar at the alternate training site and while on the taxi squad this week, a conclusion came over Ryan McKenna about the Orioles’ recent run up the standings. Actually, about the young players driving it.
“The 2015 Draft class is well-represented right now,” McKenna said.
It’s true, and if McKenna officially joins the fold soon, he’ll fit the mold. The Orioles’ No. 22 prospect per MLB Pipeline, McKenna was the organization’s fourth-round selection in 2015 out of the New Hampshire high school ranks. It’s likely he debuts later this month for a club getting key contributions lately from several draftees from that class, both by the Orioles and other clubs.
Every team features players from recent Drafts, but the impact the 2015 class is having in Baltimore is outsized. Five of the first 36 players selected that year are currently Orioles: right-handed relievers Dillon Tate (No. 4 overall) and Carson Fulmer (No. 8 overall); outfielders DJ Stewart (No. 25 overall) and Ryan Mountcastle (No. 36 overall); and injured infielder Richie Martin (No. 20 overall).
Baltimore is also getting key contributions from swingman Thomas Eshelman (2nd round) and center fielder Cedric Mullins (13th round). Rookie right-hander Dean Kremer was also selected by the Padres in the 38th round that year, though he didn't sign and was drafted by the Dodgers in the 14th round in 2016.
“Playing with all those guys for so much time, it brings hope to a lot of guys and it's great to see them succeed,” McKenna said. “I’m pulling for them as much as I can, and [it's] exciting to see them win.”
Stewart and Mountcastle have been especially productive of late. Mountcastle was hitting .383 with a 1.075 OPS over his first 17 games, and Stewart homered five times in his last four contests entering Friday. Mullins was hitting .338 with two homers and four steals since assuming everyday duties in center field for the injured Austin Hays in mid-August. Those three are the only 2015 alums drafted by the Orioles, all by former general manager Dan Duquette.
The rest arrived in Baltimore in a variety of ways. Duquette acquired Tate in the Zack Britton trade and Kremer as part of the Manny Machado deal, both in 2018. Current GM Mike Elias acquired Eshelman (via trade), Fulmer (on waivers) and Martin (Rule 5 Draft) at various points over the past two years.
The Orioles hope the group is augmented soon by the work they’ve done replenishing the system in recent Drafts, notably by the likes of No. 1 prospect Adley Rutschman, No. 3 prospect Heston Kjerstad and others. They’re also anticipating the eventual arrivals of outfielder Yusniel Diaz (No. 8) and righty Michael Baumann (No. 9), who developed alongside McKenna and many of the 2015 Draft alums.
“In the Minor Leagues, your No. 1 goal is to develop Major League impact players,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “However, winning does help. And a good environment helps a lot. Having guys grow through the system together, I think that’s very, very helpful. A lot of these guys we’re bringing up are familiar with each other. They are friends and they can lean on each other. And that is huge.”