SARASOTA, Fla. — Throughout spring training, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has remarked how fun it’s been to put together a lineup for each exhibition, with the names of Baltimore’s top prospects littering each starting nine.
That fun could continue for years to come. For the first time since Baseball America began ranking organizations’ minor league systems in 1984, the Orioles top the list. Through 2021, Baltimore had never been higher than seventh but now sits at No. 1 after ranking fourth a year ago.
The Orioles farm system boasts not only top-tier talent, but also depth. In infielder Gunnar Henderson, they have a player regarded throughout the sport as baseball’s top prospect who is also a front-runner for American League Rookie of the Year. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is one of the game’s top minor league pitchers and could be part of Baltimore’s rotation to start the season. Shortstop Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft, has held his own as a 19-year-old in his first major league camp.
Eleven Orioles prospects appeared in at least one publication’s top 100 list this offseason, and all of them are part of Baltimore’s spring training roster. Only Holliday and 2020 second-overall pick Heston Kjerstad, who had his professional debut delayed two years by heart and hamstring ailments, ended last year below Double-A, showing how close Baltimore’s wave of talent is to reaching the majors.
In turn, the Orioles are expected to be more competitive at the major league level, meaning their first draft pick will be later in the first round; after four straight top-five selections, they’ll pick 17th this summer. But with their current group of top 100 prospects, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and his staff have already shown a knack for capitalizing outside the first round, as well as further developing players once they’re in the system.
Henderson was the 42nd overall pick out of an Alabama high school in 2019 and made his major league debut as baseball’s top prospect a little more than three years later. Outfielder Kyle Stowers and infielder Joey Ortiz, who Baseball America ranks ninth and eighth in the Orioles system, respectively, were Baltimore’s third and fifth picks in that same draft.
Like Henderson, infielders Jordan Westburg and Connor Norby were the Orioles’ second selections in their respective drafts and are ranked Baltimore’s Nos. 6 and 7 prospects, respectively. Infielder Coby Mayo, the Orioles’ No. 10 prospect, went in the fourth round out of high school in 2020.
The system has also benefited from the Orioles trading away many of their established talents in recent years. Baseball America has pitchers Cade Povich, Seth Johnson and Chayce McDermott among the organization’s top 25 prospects; all three were acquired at least season’s trade deadline in deals for slugger Trey Mancini and closer Jorge López.
But the budding depth shows what’s possible should the Orioles begin to approach trades from the other side. They sent infielder Darell Hernaiz, one of the top 20 or so prospects in the system but expendable given their infield depth, to the Oakland Athletics to add left-handed starter Cole Irvin to their rotation and another pitching prospect. The swap marked the first time Elias parted with a well-regarded minor leaguer to boost the major league team.
Similar deals could be required in the years to come. Top-ranked farm systems do not equate to World Series championships, but having one can certainly help the Orioles get there.