Here are 5 O's prospects to watch as camp NRIs

January 31st, 2020

BALTIMORE -- In less than two weeks, a snapshot of the Orioles’ future will be plain to see in Sarasota, Fla. Fourteen of the Orioles’ Top 30 Prospects, per MLB Pipeline, are set to be with the club when Spring Training opens at its Ed Smith Stadium complex, six as non-roster invitees.

It’s a crop that fans no longer have to look too far ahead to bear fruit. Of the 14 top prospects set to be in camp (15 if you count lefty Bruce Zimmermann, who will be in MLB Pipeline’s upcoming 2020 rankings), almost all have a chance to reach the Majors at some point this summer.

That doesn’t mean they all have a chance to break camp with the club. The reality is, the Orioles will probably lean toward prioritizing development with every non-roster invitee, given where they are on the competitive spectrum. But their moment is coming, sooner rather than later. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some new faces who’ll be with the team under the sunshine in Sarasota.

Adley Rutschman, C
MLB ETA: 2022

Where else to start? All eyes will be on Rutschman, the 2019 No. 1 overall Draft pick, this spring. Rutschman isn’t a candidate to make the team; if all goes well, he’s probably pushing for a big league promotion by late 2021, at the earliest. But he will be an attraction, especially if he gets into some big league exhibition games, as expected. The biggest question will be where Rutschman begins the year, and how quickly he rises. The Orioles’ No. 1 prospect finished ‘19 at Class A Delmarva, though he only appeared in 12 games down the stretch at that level. He could return there or hop up to Class A Advanced Frederick for the start of ‘20.

Yusniel Díaz, OF
MLB ETA: 2020

This will be the second consecutive spring invite for Díaz, the prize of the Manny Machado trade package return. The Orioles’ No. 5 prospect impressed the club with a strong camp last spring, excelling in Grapefruit League play before being sent to Double-A Bowie to begin the year. He probably would’ve reached Triple-A Norfolk had injuries not cut in. He ended up hitting .262/.335/.472 in his third crack at the Double-A level, though he was limited to 76 games due to hamstring and quad ailments. The prospect shine has dimmed a bit, but Díaz is still just 23 and shows average to above-average tools across the board. He’s seen as a corner outfielder and potential No. 5 or No. 6 hitter at the big league level, which he could reach at some point in ‘20.

Zac Lowther, LHP
MLB ETA: 2020

Remember, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin are part of the 40-man roster now, meaning they get automatic invitations to Spring Training. That makes the most intriguing non-roster invitee on the pitching side Lowther, who simply continues to whiff his way closer to the Majors. The secret to this 6-foot-2, 235-pound lefty’s success is his four-seam fastball, which clocks in at only 87-91 mph but plays up thanks to its high spin. That helps give it an “invisiball” element the O’s No. 10 prospect takes advantage of at the top and above the strike zone; Lowther also features an above-average spike curve, a serviceable changeup and a developing slider.

The walks ticked up last season at Bowie, but Lowther faced little other adversity at the Double-A level, going 13-7 with a 2.55 ERA and a 26% strikeout rate. Lowther isn’t going to break camp with the club, but he can position himself to potentially be called up later in the year. The 23-year-old’s frame, stuff and results suggest a durable back-end starter at the highest level, though he has a chance to surpass those projections as well.

Alex Wells, LHP
MLB ETA: 2021

Another southpaw who excelled at Bowie last season, Wells’ calling card is pinpoint command, which he uses to spot three distinct pitches with precision. The stuff isn’t big, but Wells has largely succeeded despite that due to advanced pitchability and a feel for his entire arsenal to both sides of the plate. Thus far, his professional resume includes Orioles organizational Pitcher of the Year accolades (2017), a SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game selection (2018) and an invitation to the Arizona Fall League (2019), where he turned heads by posting a 0.57 ERA.

Now to the stuff, which is what makes Wells unique. His fastball lives in the upper 80s, though he did consistently reach 90-91 mph last fall. An above-average changeup is his best weapon, and the Orioles’ No. 20 prospect also features a developing 12-6 curveball and passable slider he uses mostly against right-handed hitters. Neutralizing them in the high-offense environment of Triple-A will be a challenge, but at this point, it’s looking more likely than not that Wells reaches the Majors eventually. When/if he does, he’ll be the third player in Orioles history to hail from Australia.

Rylan Bannon, INF
MLB ETA: 2020

The upper levels of the O’s system are still light on infield prospects, but of those there, Bannon has the best shot to reach the Majors in 2020. Also part of the July 2018 trade package for Machado, Bannon is a former eighth-round Draft pick out of Xavier who moved quickly through the Dodgers’ system. The reason was power: Bannon cracked 22 homers in his first full season of pro ball, though the large majority came before he was traded midseason to Baltimore. He homered eight times in 110 games during his return to Bowie last summer and then raked after earning a late-season promotion to Norfolk.

Bannon isn’t big, and there is some swing-and-miss to his sometimes-unorthodox swing. But he controls the strike zone well and brings defensive versatility, having played full seasons at both second base and third base. The Orioles are going to give him reps at shortstop this summer as well. Bannon could be in Baltimore should someone like Rio Ruiz or Hanser Alberto struggle, assuming he gets off to a hot start with the Tides.