WASHINGTON — When the Orioles were discussing trades last month with various teams, they fielded requests targeting their top four pitching prospects: right-handers Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Hunter Harvey and left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who they ultimately dealt Thursday to the Boston Red Sox for reliever Andrew Miller.
But there was another wave of inquiries this summer, too.
According to multiple sources, teams asked about the availability of several Orioles position prospects, including Triple-A Norfolk outfielder Dariel Alvarez and first baseman Christian Walker, Double-A Bowie outfielder Mike Yastrzemski and Low-A Delmarva catcher Chance Sisco.
Among full-season clubs, Orioles hitters rank fifth among the sport's 30 organizations in hits and batting average, seventh in doubles and 15th in runs. That's a departure for an organization that, over the years, has had a dearth of hitters, with the exception of top-ceiling No. 1 picks such as Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado.
"We have some position player prospects that other teams like, that are valuable to the team, if we wanted to trade them," Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "That's what we came here to do. That's the job. And for us to have a good team year in and year out, this is a good step in that direction."
Duquette believes the strengthening of the system is a combination of an improved international presence, led by international recruiting executive director Fred Ferreira, quality drafts administered by scouting director Gary Rajsich and a cohesive minor league plan overseen by development director Brian Graham.
In Duquette's first year in 2012, the Orioles system was ranked by Baseball America as 20th of 30 major league organizations. It moved to 17th in last season and 12th this year. Even with that marked improvement, the publication wrote this year: "The Orioles are always a system built around a few star prospects" — again indicating a lack of depth in the organization.
That's what the Orioles hope they have fixed — or are fixing, anyway.
"We are getting stronger," Duquette said. "We've had the benefit of a couple years of signing players on the international market and also through the draft."
The 2014 Orioles have received contributions from a trio of homegrown players that spent most, if not all, of last season in the minor leagues: Closer Zach Britton, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and catcher Caleb Joseph.
To be fair, all three were in the Orioles' system before the current regime took over. But, overall, the Orioles have had little help from the minors in the past few years with the exception of their can't-miss guys.
"They were weak, and it is getting better, much better," said one scout from another organization who has surveyed the Orioles' system for years. "There are some hitters I really like now, Sisco, Alvarez."
Alvarez, a 25-year-old outfielder from Cuba who signed for $800,000 in 2013, hit .309 with 14 homers at Bowie and is holding his own (.275 average in his first 17 games) at Norfolk. He played for the World team in the All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis last month.
Sisco, 19, may have made the biggest leap. The catcher was taken in the second round last year and, in his first full professional season, leads the South Atlantic League in hitting heading into Monday with a .348 average.
Walker, a 23-year-old first baseman selected in the fourth round in 2012, batted .301 with 20 homers at Bowie before he was promoted to Norfolk. He's one of the few power prospects in the organization, which ranks 28th of 30 in homers this year.
Overall, the Orioles believe their talent pool is deepening, as evidenced by 16 players being named to league All-Star teams this year, including seven from Delmarva.
"We've got some guys coming. We've got some guys coming that can help our ballclub," Duquette said. "Gausman's helping the ballclub this year. There will be some more next year."
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