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Five takeaways from the Baseball America Orioles’ midseason prospect rankings

Five takeaways from the Baseball America Orioles’ midseason prospect rankings
DL Hall #21 of the American League pitches during the third inning against the National League during the All-Stars Futures Game at Progressive Field on July 07, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. The American and National League teams tied 2-2. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

A lot has changed with the Orioles since last year’s Baseball America top prospects list was assembled — a new front office, new coaches, and now, a new top prospect.

With Adley Rutschman selected first overall in the 2019 MLB draft and viewed as one of the best amateur prospects in a generation, it was natural that he’d vault to the top of a farm system that has never been considered one of baseball’s best.

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That part was obvious, and requires little explanation. As for the rest, there was plenty of movement. Check out the entire set of rankings, but here are five takeaways from that list as the Orioles’ farm system continues to be remade by executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and company.

1. It’s a big drop after DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, but they’ve distinguished themselves

At this stage in their promising careers, it’s hard to parse out which of Hall and Rodriguez — the Orioles’ first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 who slot in at No. 2 and No. 3 behind Rutschman, in that order — will have the better career. Rodriguez has dominated at Low-A Delmarva this year, not unlike Hall did a season ago. This year, Hall has struggled with walks this year at High-A Frederick, albeit with 13.5 strikeouts per nine and a 3.57 ERA.

The distinguishing factor here is that Rodriguez, while precocious and seemingly the perfect pitcher to be the face the new data-driven pitching development program the Orioles have, is one of many well-regarded young right-handed pitching prospects around the game. The left-handed Hall has premium stuff, and it’s just hard to find that from a left-handed pitching prospect.

2. No one has done more for himself in the second tier of pitching than Michael Baumann

After Hall and Rodriguez, the pitching splits itself into a second tier, with Hunter Harvey (No. 8) as the grocery stick of sorts. That tier of pitching pretty much encompasses every arm on the list after him, with back-end starter potential seeming to be the best-case scenario.

That doesn’t apply to Michael Baumann, the 23-year-old right-hander who took a step forward at Frederick then took Double-A Bowie by storm after his promotion, highlighted by Tuesday’s no-hitter against Harrisburg. He made a big jump before the no-hitter that really only vindicated that decision, and the reason was simple: He’s got legitimate stuff, which doesn’t really apply to everyone in that tier.

Every pitcher I've seen this year on this list has improved at least one of their off-speed pitches to give them a way to get hitters from both sides of the plate out with something besides the fastball. None of them sit 95-96 mph with electric fastballs the way he does, and at the end of the day, stuff plays.

3. Don’t forget about the Triple-A guys

Harvey is one of four players at Triple-A Norfolk in the Top 10, along with first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (No. 4), outfielder Austin Hays (No. 6), and left-hander Keegan Akin (No. 11). Because they aren’t driving-distance away from Baltimore, and because especially for the likes of Mountcastle and Akin, there’s no expectation that the Orioles will start their service clocks and add them to the roster this year, this group can sometimes be overlooked.

There's still a lot of value here, though. Even if power comes cheap these days, Mountcastle is a hitter with power, not the other way around, with 17 home runs in his first year at Triple-A. Akin has the tough position of just biding his time until he can be a factor next year, but is holding his own as he tries out Triple-A as well.

Harvey moved his live arm to the bullpen and is learning that role at Norfolk, with a look in Baltimore a possibility considering he's on the roster and will only have one option remaining next year. And Hays, who is back from a hamstring injury, has the offensive profile to make a true impact if he's able to make the transition the organization hopes takes hold in center field.

4. It’s pretty clear why they drafted so many hitters this year

This was a pitching-heavy list in the offseason and continues to be so, with only Yusniel Diaz, Hays, Mountcastle, and Ryan McKenna making the top half of the rankings as hitters. Below them, the likes of Adam Hall, DJ Stewart, Cadyn Grenier, Mason McCoy, and Rylan Bannon, and Robert Neustrom round out a thin group of players above rookie-ball.

That’s why the Orioles followed up the Rutschman pick with position players like shortstop Gunnar Henderson (No. 7), center fielders Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson (Nos. 19 and 20), and 10 of their first 12 picks were ultimately hitters.

That kind of injection of position-player talent has already changed the complexion of these rankings some, and have the potential to do more going forward.

5. Look, an international signee

Outfielder Stiven Acevedo, who the Orioles signed for $275,000 late in last year’s international signing period, is still just 16 and holding his own in the Dominican Summer League. The Orioles feel they got a steal, as Acevedo was just old enough to sign in last year’s period but could have gotten a seven-figure bonus if he signed this year.

As the organization goes deeper into the international market and tries to mine talent there, this list will be populated more and more by players like Acevedo. Other international players on the list include Australian left-hander Alex Wells and Dominican right-hander Ofelky Peralta, who is having a bounce-back year and is now at High-A Frederick.

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