Building off Monday’s column in which I ranked the Top-11 prospects currently in the Baltimore Orioles minor league system, today I wanted to spotlight several players worthy of acknowledgement. While the organizations’ farm system is currently in the bottom third compared with the other 29 franchises, Baltimore has some prospect depth often ignored by the general public. These are five names outside of my current Top-11 that project as major leaguers and could breakout in 2016.
Parker Bridwell RHP
A part of Orioles’ prospect lists for several years now, Bridwell appears to be suffering a bit of prospect fatigue this winter. The 24-year-old Bridwell was selected by Baltimore in the 9th round in 2010 and the prototypically built 6-4 190lbs righty possesses a solid 3-pitch arsenal. Bridwell throws a heavy 91-94mph fastball, a 79-82mph slider with some tilt and a 78-82mph changeup with solid vertical movement. Bridwell made quality strides last season at Double-A, striking out 93 hitters over 97 innings. He might eventually move to the bullpen in an effort to help avoid the disabled list and could see Baltimore sometime in 2016.
Gray Fenter RHP
Baltimore’s 7th round selection in the 2015 Draft, Fenter received a $1 million bonus to spurn Mississippi State and turn professional. Listed at 6-0 210lbs Fenter features a 90-94mph fastball, touching 96mph, along with a devastating curveball and a poor changeup. The 20-year-old will be developed as a starting pitcher, but his height and lack of a cambrio could make him a future reliever. Fenter should begin this season at Low-A Delmarva and could explode up prospect rankings this year.
Joe Gunkel RHP
Gunkel was acquired this summer as part of the Alejandro De Aza trade with the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore did well to receive this 24-year-old righty. Using a low three-quarters release point, Gunkel features a 89-92mph fastball with excellent armside movement, an 80-82mph slider with average potential and a fringe-average low-80s changeup. He profiles as a groundball-inducing middle reliever who is devilish against righties because of the deception with his delivery.
Josh Hart CF
Baltimore’s 1st round pick, 37th overall in 2013, Hart was selected as a raw high school athlete with outstanding tools and unrefined baseball skills. Nearly three years later, Hart is still struggling to perform offensively, as evidenced by his .255/.282/.311 batting line in 2015 with 30 stolen bases in 45 attempts.
However, the 21-year-old Hart has been extremely young compared to his competition and he still profiles as a major league quality defender due to his pure speed, athleticism and reasonable throwing arm. Questions certainly still surround his ability to hit and he has done little to silence his critics, but considering his obvious skills, he is still young enough to develop into an elite centerfielder who creates chaos on the bases. Baltimore would be wise to let Hart repeat High-A in 2016 and if his offensive skills begin to catch up to his uber-athleticism, he could skyrocket up prospect rankings next winter.
Ryan McKenna OF
The almost 19-year-old Ryan McKenna was Baltimore’s 4th round pick last summer from a high school in New Hampshire, not exactly a hot-bed of high school baseball. A well-built 5-9 175lbs, McKenna is an obvious athlete with plus speed and the instincts to develop into a quality defensive centerfielder. McKenna is a raw right-handed hitter with solid bat speed and projects to hit for some power in the future. He should begin this season in extended spring training and lead the outfield in short season Aberdeen beginning in June.
After a string of poor draft results five to ten years ago, the Baltimore Orioles currently have an intriguing yet puzzling farm system on the whole. Several prospects, namely Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, struggled mightily with injuries in 2015 and the presence of Kevin Gausman, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop on the big league roster leaves the minor leagues feeling a bit more barren than perhaps it should.
Nonetheless, as the calendar now says February and the offseason is nearly over, I figured this to be an ideal time to analyze the Orioles’ farm system to rank their top prospects. My criterion for this list prioritizes, in order, the prospect’s possible ceiling, their likelihood to fulfill their potential, their positional value, and finally, how far they are from reaching the major leagues. With this in mind, here is my unofficial official 2016 Baltimore Orioles Top-11 prospects.
#11 D.J. Stewart OF
The Orioles 1st Round selection, 25th overall, last summer from Florida State University, Stewart is a polished collegiate left-handed hitter who swings from a pronounced crouch and has shown the ability to hit to all fields. He does not possess much speed and his fringe-average arm makes him a pure left field profile, putting significant pressure on his bat to eventually reach the majors.
#10 Jonah Heim Catcher
The 20-year-old Heim struggled through a difficult year in 2015, as he only played 45 games due to injuries. The Orioles’ 4th round pick in 2013, Heim was drafted as an advanced defensive catcher who was raw offensively as a switch-hitter. Heim is clearly above-average behind the dish, with quality blocking and receiving skills plus a strong throwing arm with a quick release. At the plate Heim shows impressively in batting practice but has yet to turn this potential into production on the field. Heim needs copious repetitions and game experience to reach his potential, but his impressive defensive skills give him a chance to develop into a major league catcher.
#9 Tanner Scott LHP
A 6th round selection last summer, the Orioles appear to have stumbled onto a draft day gem in Scott, a left-handed reliever armed with 94-98mph fastball and a hard low-80s slider. Scott, 21-years-old, profiles purely as a reliever but projects to have a plus-plus fastball and an average or slightly better slider, giving him potential to pitch in the back of a bullpen. He should begin this season in A-Ball and could reach Baltimore late in 2017 or 2018.
#8 David Hess RHP
Another quality Day 2 draft pick by Baltimore, the Orioles selected David Hess in the 5th round in 2014 out of Tennessee Tech. The 22-year-old Hess features a solid 4-pitch mix including a 90-94mph fastball with life, along with an 82-84mph slider with sweeping action. Additionally Hess shows a low-70s curveball he can locate in the strike zone, along with the occasional firm, mid-80s changeup.
Although he has four pitches, his future might reside in the bullpen, where his fastball and slider could both become above-average offerings. Hess made a cameo at Double-A Bowie last summer and could reach Baltimore sometime in 2017. Hess is a major league quality arm and looks like a steal for the Orioles.
#7 Chris Lee LHP
Lee was acquired from the Houston Astros for two international bonus slots worth $655,000, and this appears to have been a solid gamble for Baltimore as he blossomed after the trade. The 23-year-old Lee possesses a solid 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a mid-90s fastball, a low-80s slider with bite and a reasonable changeup. Although many scouts believe his future resides in the bullpen, his potential for three fringe-average or better pitches gives him a chance to be a back-end starter in the future.
#6 Ryan Mountcastle 3B
One of my favorite high school prospects in this past draft, Baltimore selected Mountcastle 36th overall from a Florida high school based off his impressive track record in amateur showcases. Mountcastle was a shortstop in high school, but his present 6-3 185lbs frame portends a future shift to third base or the outfield. He possesses noticeable, lightning-fast bat speed from the right-side, which gives him the potential to hit for both average and power. There is risk in his profile, but there is the potential he develops into a league-average third baseman in several years.
#5 Mychal Givens RHP
Originally drafted by the Orioles as a shortstop in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft, Givens made the fulltime conversion to pitching in 2013 and has flourished on the mound. Although a pure relief profile, the 25-year-old Givens overwhelms hitters with a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a plus slider from a unique arm-slot. Givens dominated at Double-A Bowie last season before earning a 30 inning audition with the Orioles, posting a 1.80 ERA and 38 strikeouts in the majors. He should begin next season pitching for Baltimore in middle relief and be a major cog in their bullpen the rest of the decade.
#4 Chance Sisco Catcher
Drafted by Baltimore in the 2nd round in 2013, the Orioles immediately transitioned the high school shortstop to behind the plate. His natural athleticism is evident defensively, but the shift has not gone as smoothly as the organization had hoped, as he struggles blocking errant throws in the dirt and receiving pitches. His footwork needs work but Sisco does show a strong arm throwing out runners and works extremely hard to refine his skills. Baltimore still believes the almost 21-year-old will develop into a major league caliber catcher, though most scouts do not agree with their assessment.
At the plate, Sisco can flat out hit, as he possesses a compact left-handed swing with some raw pull power, although he generally prefers to hit line drives all over the field. He has tremendous hand-eye coordination and shows an aptitude to put the barrel on the baseball. There is little question Sisco will hit his way to the major leagues, but his eventual defensive position remains a mystery like who shot JFK.
#3 Hunter Harvey RHP
The son of former major league pitcher Bryan Harvey, Hunter was the Orioles 1st round choice, 22nd overall, in the 2013 MLB Draft. After some minor adjustments to his pitching motion that summer, Harvey blossomed, featuring a 91-95mph fastball, a true hammer curveball with plus potential and the makings of a solid-average changeup. Harvey was shut down late in 2014 and did not take the mound last season, making his health a major concern clouding his potential development. If he can put these injuries behind him, Harvey has #2 starter potential with experience on the mound and the maturation of his arsenal.
#2 Dylan Bundy RHP
Baltimore’s 1st Round selection in 2011, 4th overall, Bundy dominated Low-A Delmarva in early 2012 in route to becoming the near-consensus top pitching prospect in the minor leagues. Unfortunately Bundy has lost much of the past three seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Prior to surgery, Bundy possessed a 94-97mph fastball, a devilish plus-plus cutter, an above-average curveball and above-average changeup, along with excellent command of the strike zone. Bundy enters 2016 out of minor league options, meaning he must make the Opening Day roster or be exposed to waivers. While complications in his development exist, Bundy still has top-of-the-rotation potential if he can ever return to full health.
#1 Jomar Reyes 3B/1B
Reyes began 2015 like an unknown penny-stock and ended the year like the next Twitter, as the 18-year-old punished Low-A pitching to the tune of a .278/.334/.440 batting line with 5 home runs and 27 doubles in 309 at-bats. Reyes is already a physical monster, looking significantly bigger than his listed 6-3 220lbs. Reyes shows above-average or better bat speed, excellent mechanics and balance throughout his simple right-handed swing. He generates loft and back spin off the bat, and the ball sounds different off the bat than others at this level, as if he is swinging a sledgehammer on a “Strength-Tester” carnival game. Like most young power hitters, his swing can get a touch long and he will need to shorten it as he moves through the minors, but he has quick wrists and the raw bat speed to hit professional velocity.
Defensively questions exist about his future defensive position, primarily due to his massive frame at such a precocious age. Reyes flashes a strong arm and reasonable agility for a big man, but his current below-average speed means a position shift is most likely across the diamond at the cold corner.
Regardless of his eventual defensive position, it is rare to find a young hitter with such a good approach and sound swing mechanics at such a young age. If everything develops, Reyes has the potential to be a .280-.300 type hitter with 25-35 home run power in the future. Orioles’ fans must remain patient with this teenager, but Reyes has the chance to be a legitimate middle-of-the-order impact major league hitter at his peak.
Late Tuesday evening, after several days of rumor and speculation, the Washington Nationals agreed to terms on a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with veteran right-handed starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo. According to reports, Arroyo will earn a $2 million base salary if he makes the Nationals’ roster, with an additional $6 million in performance-based incentives. Arroyo played for new Nationals’ manager Dusty Baker in Cincinnati for six years and this reunion allows him the opportunity to compete for a spot on a playoff contender this season.
The almost 39-year-old Arroyo has not pitched since June 2014 after falling victim to Tommy John surgery. Before this injury Arroyo had established himself as one of the most durable pitchers in baseball, throwing 199+ innings annually from 2005-2013. He does not possess elite stuff, as his fastball barely touches 87mph, but rather survives by limiting his walks (2.4 BB/9 career) and home runs allowed (1.2 HR/9). During his 15-year major league career Arroyo owns a 4.19 ERA, 4.37 xFIP, and a 5.81 K/9 ratio over his 2,364.2 innings pitched. In summary, if you look up “veteran innings-eating starting pitcher” in a baseball dictionary, Arroyo’s picture will be prominently displayed.
Arroyo’s signing gives the Washington rotation veteran depth it was previous lacking on their roster. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez comprise a formitable top-3, with Tanner Roark and Joe Ross projected as the #4 and #5 starters. However, questions surround Roark’s return to the rotation, along with how Ross will respond in his first full major league season. And prior to this signing, only “The Phenomenal One” A.J. Cole appeared to be major league ready depth behind the projected top-5. Now Arroyo offers a nice safety net in case of poor performance or injuries to the rotation. Plus he provides a potential bridge to the arrival of prospects Lucas Giolito or Reynaldo Lopez later in 2016.
Much like most minor league contracts, there is a chance Arroyo never pitches an inning for Washington due to his injury or current place on the depth chart. Nonetheless Arroyo does provide the organization with something they previously lacked, namely experienced depth serving as their “#6” starting pitcher. Assuming he is healthy nearly 19 months post-surgery, I believe Arroyo will secure a spot on the 25-man Opening Day roster and head north with Washington. There is virtually no risk involved in this deal, and the potential Arroyo returns to form as a league-average starting pitcher, making this a shrewd, intriguing gamble by Washington’s front office.