THE Baltimore Orioles 2017 Sleeper Prospects

Earlier this week I ranked the Top-11 prospects currently in the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.  During my analysis of the Orioles’ minor leagues, I was struck by the depth in the organization, as by reputation Baltimore has one of the weaker systems in baseball.  In fact, there are several prospects, perhaps described as a “sleepers” that are worthy of acknowledgement.  These are four names outside Baltimore’s top-15 prospects that could breakout this season.

Garrett Cleavinger  LHP

Drafted by the Orioles in the 3rd round in 2015, Cleavinger is someone who does not receive enough attention within Baltimore’s system.  Cleavinger features a 90-93mph fastball with some late movement, along with an upper-70s curveball with hard 12-6 downward break.  The almost 23-year-old lefty is a stocky 6-1 210lbs with little physical projection remaining.  His lack of a third pitch limits his ceiling, but he does have the potential for two above-average offerings.  Cleavinger should begin 2017 in Double-A Bowie and profiles as a future 7th inning lefty reliever.

Grey Fenter  RHP

Baltimore’s 7th round pick in 2015, Fenter received a $1 million bonus to spurn pitching for Mississippi State and turn professional.  Fenter missed the entire 2016 season after injuring his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring.  Prior to the injury, Fenter featured a 90-94mph fastball that touched 96mph, along with a powerful curveball and nascent changeup.  The 21-year-old will likely be handled carefully this season in his first year post-surgery, but if his stuff re-emerges, he should skyrocket up the Orioles’ rankings this summer.

Cedric Mullins OF

Quietly drafted in the 13th round from Campbell, the switch-hitting Mullins punished Low-A pitching last summer with a .273/.321/.464 with 61 extra base hits and 30 stolen bases.  The 22-year-old possesses plus speed and a solid throwing arm, making him a solid defender in center field.  Mullins has quality bat speed from both sides of the plate, and shows more power than one might expect from a 5-8 175lbs. athlete.  He does have some swing-and-miss in his game and does not walk at a high rate, so he will need to continue to barrel the baseball as he climbs through the farm system.  His size and draft pedigree will keep his prospect profile low, but another season of quality production at High-A this summer will force his reputation to soar.

Alex Wells  LHP

Signed as an international free agent in August 2015 from Australia, Wells was extremely impressive in his first professional season, throwing 62.2 innings at Short Season Aberdeen.  Wells posted a 2.15 ERA for the Ironbirds, allowing 48 hits and only 9 walks against 50 strikeouts.  Wells possesses a raw but interesting 3-pitch arsenal, featuring an 88-90mph fastball he can locate for strikes, an inconsistent curveball and a devastating changeup.  He has some deception in his delivery which helps his stuff play up, but his mediocre breaking ball hurts his ability to generate strikeouts.   If he can improve his curveball and/or add some fastball velocity, he profiles as a potential back-end major league starter.

THE Unofficial Official 2017 Baltimore Orioles Top Prospect List

The Baltimore Orioles presently do not have a strong farm system.  This is true for several reasons, specifically mediocre drafting for many years, a lack of international signings and the fact that Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop occupy major roles for the big league club.  This leaves the organization without the depth or high-ceiling prospects found in stronger farm systems.

Nonetheless, as pitchers and catchers report any day, this figures to be an ideal time to analyze the Orioles’ farm system and rank their top prospects. This list prioritizes, in order, the prospect’s ceiling, their likelihood to fulfill their potential, how far they are from the major leagues and finally, their positional value. With this in mind, here is THE Unofficial Official 2017 Baltimore Orioles Top Prospect List.

Honorable Mention -> Brian Gonzalez LHP, David Hess RHP, Trey Mancini 1B, Anthony Santander OF, D.J. Stewart OF, Christian Walker 1B/OF, Gabriel Ynoa RHP

#11   Matthias Dietz  RHP

Perhaps the top junior college prospect in the 2016 draft, Dietz was plucked by Baltimore in the 2nd round due to his impressive pitcher’s frame at 6-5 220lbs. and his ability to touch the mid-90s with his fastball.  The 21-year-old Dietz has three pitches in his arsenal, a mid-90s fastball with some sinking movement, along with a slider and a changeup.  His offspeed pitches are unrefined, but have shown promise.  Dietz will need significant time in the minors, but he could develop into a future #4 starter or impact late-inning reliever.  There is significant bust potential, but the raw package of tools is quite intriguing.

#10   Austin Hays  OF

One of my favorite prospects in the 2016 draft, Hays shockingly slid to the 3rd round due to concerns with his competition level in college, as he starred for Jacksonville University.  Hays has the potential to have five average or better tools, as his above-average bat speed allows him to hit for both average and power.  Defensively he has good speed and a solid throwing arm, allowing him to profile as an above-average right fielder or passable in center.  Hays does not possess a monster ceiling, but his high floor allows him to project as a fringe-average starter in right field or excellent 4th outfielder.

#9   Tanner Scott  LHP

Drafted in the 6th round back in 2014, Scott possesses one of the truly elite left-handed arms in the minor leagues, with a fastball that routinely sits 96mph+ and touches triple digits.  In addition the 22-year-old has a hard-biting upper-80s slider with swing-and-miss potential.  Unfortunately Scott owns “20” grade command and control, walking nearly 7 batters per 9 innings in his professional career.

Scott has recently altered his delivery, apparently pitching exclusively from the stretch now in an effort to improve his command.  Scott profiles exclusively as a 2-pitch reliever at the major league level.  Scott is extremely risky, but Baltimore has done well in the past several years developing relief pitchers.

#8   Ryan Mountcastle  3B/LF

One of my favorite high school prospects from 2015, Baltimore selected Mountcastle 36th overall as a lanky 6-3 185lbs shortstop with impressive right-handed bat speed.  Mountcastle shows natural barrel skills and a mature approach at the plate, allowing him to hold his own last year at 19-years-old in Low-A.  He projects to hit for average and a reasonable on-base percentage, while scouts believe he will develop more power as he matures physically.

The major question in his profile is his eventual defensive position, as his fringe-average arm and mediocre athleticism leave him little chance of staying at shortstop.  Most scouts (and myself) believe he could play a passable third base, but his eventual position will be left field.  Unfortunately this puts significant risk in his prospect profile, as his bat will have to carry him to the majors.

#7   Keegan Akin  LHP

Baltimore’s 2nd round pick last June, Akin skyrocketed up draft boards after an impressive performance against Kent State and 1st round pick Eric Lauer.  Akin is a bit undersized at 6-0 225lbs, but possesses a lightning-fast left-handed arm and an impressive 3-pitch arsenal.  He features a 92-96mph fastball that he can command for strikes, along with a hard slider and an inconsistent but promising changeup.

Akin struggled with injuries in college, which when coupled with his below-average height, has many scouts pegging him as a reliever.  However, Baltimore will begin his development as a starter with his ceiling being a #3/#4 starter and the most likely outcome being an impact reliever.

#6   Hunter Harvey  RHP

Son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey, Hunter was Baltimore’s 1st round pick in 2013.  Once he entered professional baseball, he showed a smooth delivery and a solid 3-pitch repertoire, including a mid-90s fastball, punishing curveball and a developing changeup.  Along with his wiry 6-3 175lbs frame, Harvey profiled as a future mid-rotation starter with the ceiling of a #2.  Unfortunately, Harvey has battled injuries his entire career, throwing only 12 innings the past two years and 125.2 as a professional.

Harvey is nearly impossible to rank, as he also underwent Tommy John surgery last July and is unlikely to appear in game action again until 2018.  If the 22-year-old can return to the mound, he might be the most talented prospect in Baltimore’s system, but his overwhelming injury risk places him here at #6.

#5   Chris Lee  LHP

Acquired from Houston for two international bonus slots, Lee quickly went from a relatively unknown lefty into a promising potential mid-rotation starter.  2016 was a difficult year for the southpaw, as he started quickly at Double-A but injured himself and did not pitch after May.

When healthy, the 24-year-old Lee utilizes an impressive 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a 92-94mph fastball with excellent sink, a quality slider he can locate for strikes and a reasonable changeup.  Due to his age, injury history and success against lefties, many scouts profile him as a reliever.  However, if Baltimore is willing to be patient with him this season, I still believe he can develop into a solid back-of-the-rotation starter.  This is a big league arm and does not get enough attention from the prospect community.

For more on Lee, please see this in-person scouting report -> http://natsgm.com/2016/04/26/scouting-baltimore-orioles-prospect-chris-lee/

#4   Ofelky Peralta  RHP

Signed for $325,000 from the Dominican Republic in September 2013, the 19-year-old Peralta impressively held his own at Low-A Delmarva last season, posting 101 strikeouts against 60 walks over 103.1 innings pitched.  Peralta is a lean, wiry 6-5 195lbs with excellent arm strength and a developing 3-pitch repertoire.  He features a 91-95mph fastball, touching 96mph, with some natural life and movement.  In addition, Peralta has a solid slider and a quality changeup in which he replicates his arm speed particularly well.

As with most young pitchers, he struggles to repeat his mechanics, which elevates his walk rate and hinders his command.  Nevertheless, this is a talented, underappreciated prospect who should spend his age-20 season with High-A Frederick.  In an era where prospects receive plenty of attention, somehow Peralta does not secure much admiration from online scouts.  He profiles as a quality back-end starter, with the ceiling of a #3.

#3   Jomar Reyes  1B

Reyes ranked #1 on this list last year after punishing Low-A pitching as an 18-year-old to the tune of a .278/.334/.440 batting line.  Unfortunately the jump to High-A Frederick and the Carolina League in 2016 proved difficult at age-19, as he hit only .228/.271/.336 with 10 home runs.

From a scouting perspective, Reyes is already a physical monster, appearing significantly larger than his listed 6-3 220lbs. – he physically resembles an NFL linebacker rather than a maturing teenager playing baseball.  Reyes has impressive natural bat speed, a relatively quiet swing along with good balance throughout his right-handed swing.  Like most young hitters, his swing can get long and he believes he can hit any pitch, making him susceptible to swings-and-misses.  He naturally generates loft and back spin off the barrel and has a solid approach at the plate, giving me confidence he will hit for average and power in the future.

The biggest question in his prospect profile is his eventual defensive position, as his mammoth size and underwhelming speed should force him from the hot corner.  He does possess a strong arm and reasonable agility for such a large man, which should allow him to become a good defender at first base.  Unfortunately a shift to the cold corner will put additional pressure on his offensive numbers.  He should repeat High-A this season, and I fully expect a rebound offensively from this precocious teenager.

#2   Cody Sedlock  RHP

Baltimore’s 1st round selection, 27th overall, in 2016, Sedlock spent his first two years in college pitching out of the bullpen, before blossoming as a starter as a junior for the University of Illinois.  Sedlock certainly looks the part physically, standing an imposing 6-4 205lbs. with thick legs.  Furthermore, he owns an intriguing 4-pitch arsenal, featuring a 94-97mph fastball, along with a curveball, slider and changeup.  His offspeed pitches lag behind his monster fastball, as he did not need them pitching in relief.  That said each has shown the potential to be average or slightly better in the future.

The major knocks on Sedlock are his lack of experience as a starter and his lack of an above-average secondary offering.  His detractors believe he is destined for the bullpen, while his supporters envision a future workhorse #3 starter with low mileage on his arm.  Either way, he is a future major league arm and Baltimore did well to secure him at the end of Round 1.

#1   Chance Sisco  Catcher

A shortstop in high school, Baltimore drafted Sisco in the 2nd round in 2013 and immediately transitioned him behind the plate, where his decent arm and quality agility but below-average speed would profile especially well.  Sisco has been slow to develop defensively behind the plate, to the point where 12 months ago I was routinely mocked for thinking he was a future major league catcher.  Nonetheless, he has made significant strides in the past year and now most scouts concede he will be a below-average defensive catcher in the majors.

Improvements aside, Sisco will always be known as an offensive-first catcher, as his calling card is his incredible ability to put the barrel on the baseball.  Sisco possesses a compact left-handed swing with raw power to the pull side, although he prefers to consistently pepper line drives all over the outfield.  He has excellent hand-eye coordination and scouts believe he will develop more home run power as he matures physically.  He could be a “60+ hit / 40-45 power” hitter at the catcher spot, which would make him a potential top-5 batter at the position.

Sisco should begin 2017 at Triple-A Norfolk working on refining his defensive skills and learning to hit for more power.  One of the top catching prospects currently in the minors, Sisco should arrive in Baltimore around midseason and stabilize the catching spot the rest of the decade.

Scouting A Craft Beer – Old Oriole Park Beer From Peabody Heights Brewery

During a recent family event I surprisingly found myself imbibing on an unfamiliar craft beer with a baseball image on the can.  Upon further inspection, I discovered I was drinking a pint of Old Oriole Park Beer from Peabody Heights Brewery, based in downtown Baltimore, Maryland.

Old Oriole Park Beer was named Maryland’s top beer at the 2015 Maryland Craft Beer Competition.  Furthermore, the brewery location is located at the former home of the minor league Baltimore Orioles franchise from 1916-1944.  Peabody Heights produced their first beer in 2012 and now makes more than 24,000 barrels per year according to their website.

Due to the obvious baseball theme and the fact we proudly support local craft breweries, I thought we should revisit a recurring column and scout this craft beer.  Using an adjusted 20-80 scouting scale, this past weekend Mrs. NatsGM and I held a tasting in order to thoroughly evaluate this offering.  Below are our grades and some thoughts on this Bohemian Pilsner.

1)            Marketing and Presentation

NatsGM – 70 / Mrs. NatsGM – 75

The front of the can features a classic black-and-white picture of a tag play at home plate between a runner and the catcher, with the umpire staring intently at the two men.  The image is fantastic, as it leaves some interpretation as to what happened before and the eventual outcome.  In addition the side of the can features factoids about the brewery and their historic location in Baltimore.

The only negative is the picture and colors are somewhat subdued, so I fear people could overlook it while browsing the shelves.  That said the can should be pleasing to most individuals and particularly baseball fans.

2)            Appearance and Aroma

NatsGM – 55 / Mrs. NatsGM – 50

This lager looks fantastic poured into a pint glass, with a medium-sized white head.  It has a clear light-golden, almost straw color which is rather see-through.  Further, the mild aroma is pleasant, with some floral notes and a malty scent.

3)            Flavor and Taste

NatsGM – 60 / Mrs. NatsGM – 70

Both of us thoroughly enjoyed this, as it possesses a crisp flavor on the palate and a light aftertaste.  It is very smooth, well-balanced and enjoyable to drink.  In addition, it tastes like you are enjoying a quality beverage, something far superior to a comparable Miller Lite.  This beer is ideal for someone one looking for a lighter option on a warm day.  Finally, it does a nice job providing a bigger flavor than the mainstream beers, but is more subtle than the typical craft beer.

4)            Overall

NatsGM – 65 / Mrs. NatsGM – 70

Mrs. NatsGM and I were both extremely impressed by the quality of Peabody Heights Old Orioles Park Beer, especially since we generally prefer heavier beer options.  I would recommend this to anyone, but particularly to those who typically shy away from crafts.  This product tastes far superior to the more popular options and provides a nice first step to those new to craft beers.

It is on the lighter side in terms of alcohol with only 4.5% ABV and costs about $7-8 dollars per 6-pack, relatively inexpensive compared to their competitors.  In fact, considering the unique exterior, superior taste and reasonable price, there is no doubt Old Orioles Park Beer is a worthwhile purchase.  And if you are a baseball fan, consider making a day trip to the Peabody Heights Brewery, followed by a game at Orioles Park at Camden Yards.

http://www.peabodyheightsbrewery.com/co-op-brewers/old-oriole-park-beer/

http://www.oldoriolepark.com/about.html

THE NatsGM Show #74 – Special Guest Chris Cotillo

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THE NatsGM Show is back with episode #74 and we are proud to welcome back MLB reporter for SB Nation and MLBDailyDish, Chris Cotillo!

On this episode Chris breaks down the upcoming trade deadline on August 1 – we begin in Washington discussing the rumors of bullpen upgrades and the possibility of acquiring a hitter.  Then we shift to the Orioles, talking about their need for a starting pitcher and several arms that could fit for Baltimore.  Finally, Chris gives his thoughts on what the Yankees, Athletics and Red Sox plan to do, and a few names that should move before August.

Thanks to Chris for coming back on the show, and to our sponsor, No Halftime!  Please Rate, Review and Subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes, thanks for listening.