Which O's prospects will get the call in '21?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers fans' questions

February 12th, 2021

By this time next week, Orioles pitchers and catchers will have descended upon Sarasota, Fla., once again. That’s how near spring is. The wait is almost over.

We figured the best way to pass the remaining time would be to dig into a few more of your most pressing Orioles questions, so let’s get after it. Without further ado:

Which prospects do you think could get the call up in 2021?
-- @NewEraAdam

We covered the pitching side of this equation in last week’s Inbox, and the short answer was: Quite a few. I think we can expect to see at least four Top 30 pitching prospects -- Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Kevin Smith and Alexander Wells -- and possibly a few others (the safest bet here being reliever Isaac Mattson) arrive at some point this season.

Things are about as busy on the position player side: Ryan Mountcastle still qualifies as a prospect; Jahmai Jones and Rylan Bannon will get chances to make the club out of Spring Training; and the time is coming for Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna.

Throw in Dean Kremer, Keegan Akin and Bruce Zimmermann, who debuted in 2020, and that’s a lot of fresh faces. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Adley Rutschman debuts in '21, but stranger things have happened.

Do you see DJ Stewart as a possibility for the everyday designated hitter role?
-- @karks88

He’ll have to earn it, but Stewart has a chance to hit his way into regular at-bats in that role. As it stands now, the plan is for Trey Mancini to play every day at first base, with Anthony Santander having carved out a starting role in right, and Mountcastle getting the chance to play every day in left. That could change if either Mancini or Santander is moved via trade, which remains a possibility. But the way it is, the DH slot should give the Orioles needed flexibility. I see them using it to provide at-bats for Austin Hays, Chance Sisco and, yes, Chris Davis, as well as Stewart, at least in the early going. Others could be in the mix too on any given day depending on matchups, as could prospects like Diaz by midseason.

Who do you think has a better chance to make the Orioles rotation: Wade LeBlanc or Felix Hernandez?
-- @_TyYoung

Hernandez, but I think both make the team. Baltimore's need for innings and the depth are just too great.

Just how close is Diaz to making the jump to the Majors? Can we expect to see him this season? Feel like he's a forgotten prospect from the old regime.
-- @AjMcnemar

I think Diaz debuts in 2021. Had there been a Minor League season in '20, it's a fair bet that Diaz would have spent most of it at Triple-A. And had that happened, he could have been in the Majors by September or perhaps earlier. As it was, Diaz was limited to work at the Orioles' alternate training site, where he stayed healthy while gaining reps at all three outfield positions. The healthy part is key, after Diaz missed chunks of both '18 and '19 to leg injuries.

The O's still have high hopes for Diaz, who is still just 24, even if he is no longer the organization’s top-rated prospect. They’d be thrilled if he could get some early seasoning at Triple-A and debut by the end of year.

What is going on with Blaine Knight? I don't hear his name anymore.
-- @o_c_ranger

The Orioles' third-round Draft pick in 2018, Knight’s stock has fallen since arriving from the University of Arkansas (where he was teammates with Heston Kjerstad). The main culprit was a disastrous 2019 season at Class A Advanced Frederick, where Knight went 1-12 with a 6.13 ERA. He participated in O’s instructional camp last fall and probably begins '21 at Double-A. But he’ll turn 25 this year and is no longer considered one of the top arms in the O’s now pitching-rich system.