While new Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said upon his introduction last week that he was coming to an organization with good players already in place, he's certainly leaving behind a talented system in Houston.
The Astros’ top prospect list came out Monday from Baseball America, and the cross-section of players ranked in their top 10 should provide plenty of optimism for Orioles fans hoping Elias' role as the amateur scouting director and later, their international scouting director, carries over to Baltimore.
Unlike the Orioles' system, whose top 10 is a mix of trade acquisitions, top picks, and productive minor league bats, there's really only two archetypes in Houston's system — their top picks and international signings.
Most teams can hit on their high picks, and indeed, Houston having half of their top 10 come from either the first or second round isn't unlike the Orioles' ranking. The Orioles have DL Hall (first round, 2017), Ryan Mountcastle (first round, 2015), Grayson Rodriguez (first round, 2018), Keegan Akin (second round, 2016) and Hunter Harvey (first round, 2013) in their top 10.
For Houston, that half of their list includes Forrest Whitley (first round, 2016), Kyle Tucker (first round, 2015), Corbin Martin (second round, 2017), J.B. Bukauskas (first round, 2017) and Seth Beer (first round, 2018). Similar to Baltimore, they target high-ceiling pitchers and standout bats.
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It's natural for top picks to be significant parts of the front end of these lists, and the other main commonality between the Orioles and Astros top 10 is the presence of a high-priced Cuban import acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers —top prospect Yusniel Díaz for the Orioles and No. 3 prospect Yordan Alvarez for the Astros.
But the area the Orioles will hope Elias brings improvement in will be the international front, where the Astros' three homegrown international prospects in the top 10 weren't all bonus babies but have developed into major league pieces.
According to BA, No. 7 prospect Framber Valdez signed for $10,000 at age 21 in 2015. He used a fastball-curveball mix from the left side to make it to the majors this year. Freudis Nova, the 18-year-old shortstop who came in at No. 8, signed for $1.2 million (a total that could have been more were it not for a failed drug test and elbow problem) and hit .308 in the Gulf Coast League while playing a good shortstop.
Right-hander Bryan Abreu, their No. 10 prospect, was added to the 40-man roster last week after signing for $40,000 and filling out to grow into a mid-90s fastball with a plus curveball.
While Elias took on international roles only in the past few years, two of the three main archettypes that come out of Latin America — the bargain, the low six-figure signing, and the million-plus bonus — are represented here. The Orioles haven't been part of the most expensive caste of free agents in years, and got into the six-figure mix this year to the tune of nearly $1 million in bonuses.
But a general lack of success in all three phases for the Orioles means they don't have a single international player they signed in their top-30 prospect list on Baseball America. The same can't be said for the Astros, and given Elias' assurances that he'd bring the Orioles up to speed quickly on that front last week, perhaps the Orioles' list will be populated with such players before long.
This story has been updated to reflect an accurate signing bonus for Bryan Abreu.