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Inbox: How will O's top prospects fare in 2020?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers fans' questions
@JoeTrezz
January 20, 2020

BALTIMORE -- Happy new year, and welcome to the first Orioles Inbox of 2020. Thank you for all the questions and for following along during my first full season on the beat. Without your engagement, these wouldn’t be possible. So know that you are appreciated, and let’s do it bigger

BALTIMORE -- Happy new year, and welcome to the first Orioles Inbox of 2020. Thank you for all the questions and for following along during my first full season on the beat. Without your engagement, these wouldn’t be possible. So know that you are appreciated, and let’s do it bigger and better in the new year.

Indeed. The Orioles have yet to officially announce their list of non-roster invitees to big league camp, but No. 1 club prospect Adley Rutschman will headline that group, according to multiple sources. He isn’t there to make the team -- more so for a taste of what Major League camp is all about. I imagine he’ll see some minor game action during the first week or so to help generate some buzz around Ed Smith Stadium.

The club’s No. 4 prospect, Ryan Mountcastle, is bound to see time in the Majors if healthy in 2020. He probably won’t be thrust into a starting role right away; it’s more likely that he’ll be eased into a rotation with Chris Davis, Renato Núñez and others for at-bats at first base or designated hitter.

How will Mountcastle fare? Hard to say. But this is why the fine people at Fangraphs do projections. The recently released ZiPS numbers peg him as a below-average offensive player as a rookie, projecting a .261/.291/.434 line with 20 homers and 70 RBIs. That translates to a 93 OPS+, mostly weighed down by a problematic 121/20 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Personally, I expect Mountcastle to exceed those projections at least somewhat.

Keegan Akin has a chance to win a rotation spot out of Spring Training, and Dean Kremer will probably be in Baltimore by year’s end. The real answer to this is probably Hunter Harvey, who still qualifies as a prospect and might be the Opening Day closer. Brandon Bailey and Michael Rucker have obvious opportunity as Rule 5 Draft picks.

I’d also keep an eye on reliever Isaac Mattson, the most advanced of the four pitchers acquired from the Angels for Dylan Bundy. Mattson reached Triple-A last season and puts up huge strikeout numbers. He could impact the Orioles’ bullpen early in 2020.

Cedric Mullins is still on the 40-man roster, so he’ll be in Major League camp after an offseason spent with a private hitting instructor at the Orioles’ behest. He’s going to have to prove his nightmare 2019 season was a fluke in order to avoid being ticketed for Triple-A Norfolk, and probably outplay the likes of Dwight Smith Jr., Ryan McKenna and others to do so. DJ Stewart’s ankle injury does open up some space in the competition for the club’s fourth outfielder job.

Yusniel Díaz is going to begin the year at Norfolk, and the Orioles want to see him do two things: Stay healthy and hit. He did both only in spurts at Double-A Bowie last season, when he batted .262/.335/.472 and was limited to 76 games due to leg injuries. He is also coming off an unremarkable stint in winter ball.

Overall, it’s been 1 1/2 lukewarm seasons from Díaz since he came over as the headliner in the Manny Machado trade. But he’s still just 23 years old, with five tools that project as at least average at the Major League level. I think the Orioles will give him a full year in Triple-A to develop further.

Anything is possible, but I don’t see it. The Orioles had a chance to protect Cody Sedlock from the Rule 5 Draft in November and left him exposed. He’s made just six starts in Double-A, and is a year removed from struggling mightily at Class A Advanced Frederick. The list of pitching prospects in the system that have passed him is long: Akin, Kremer, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells. At this point, it looks like they’d all get a shot before Sedlock does.

Best case for Sedlock in 2020? Probably building on the nice stretch he ended 2019 with at Bowie, and reaching Triple-A maybe by midsummer.

It’s a good question, and this is a good forum to address it. While both general manager Mike Elias and assistant GM Sig Mejdal held leadership positions in the Astros’ front office at the time, neither was named in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s report detailing Houston’s sign-stealing scheme. No current Orioles employees were mentioned in the report, ostensibly clearing any members of their organization of any involvement. Four current O’s executives worked for Houston at the time: Elias, Mejdal, director of pitching Chris Holt and director of baseball development Eve Rosenbaum.

The Orioles cooperated with MLB’s investigation, which led to the suspension (and subsequent dismissal by the Astros) of Jeff Luhnow and AJ Hinch. Managers Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, both named in the report, also were relieved of their posts in Boston and New York, respectively. Both Elias and Mejdal declined comment on the issue earlier in the week, and the Orioles, at the direction of the Commissioner’s Office, have not issued any public statements regarding it.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.