Without much to look forward to this year in terms of the major league club, which is on its way to one of the worst seasons in baseball history, the Orioles' focus will shift toward the next generation of players they hope will help reverse that before long.
The twice-weekly "One for the Future," which began earlier this month, will highlight an Orioles minor leaguer who is on the radar for either prospect status, performance or pedigree.
Next, a look at former first-round pick DL Hall, a 19-year-old left-hander who has settled in and dominated at Low-A Delmarva this summer.
A touted Georgia prep left-hander in the 2017 draft class, Hall broke on the scene at the East Coast Pro Showcase in the summer of 2016, where he struck out seven in three innings, coincidentally wearing an Orioles uniform for the tournament.
It was that form and his easy, projectable delivery that made the Orioles skeptical that he’d be there when they picked 21st overall in the first round in 2017. For whatever reason, Hall, thought of as the best high school lefty in that draft, fell to them as their top pick.
He signed for an above-slot $3 million and pitched sparingly in the Gulf Coast League, battling his command and his delivery as he adjusted to life in pro ball, ending that Rookie-level campaign with a 6.97 ERA, 10 walks and 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings over five starts.
Something clicked, however, at the instructional league in the fall, and Orioles officials believed Hall found the form that made him one of the draft’s most promising arms. He was ranked No. 5 in the Baseball America offseason organizational rankings, the second-highest pitcher behind fellow top pick Hunter Harvey.
Hall had his tonsils out shortly before spring training and got a bit of a late start because of it, causing him to be limited innings-wise early in the season. He didn’t finish the fourth inning until May 6, but whatever limitations he had didn’t seem to set him back on the mound. He’s never been anything but good this year, and as he’s built up his innings, Hall has gotten even better.
On June 2 at Charleston, the resumption of a suspended game, he allowed a career-high five runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings to bring his ERA up to 4.28. In eight appearances (seven starts) since, Hall has allowed three earned runs on 19 hits with 15 walks against 47 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings. He earned South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week honors twice in that span, and left Hagerstown on Thursday with a 2.40 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
A projectable 6 feet 2, Hall generates easy velocity on a fastball that was 92-96 mph in his most recent start Thursday at Hagerstown. His breaking ball, a curveball, was among the best of any high school pitcher in his draft class and remains his best off-speed pitch as a professional, with plus potential at least. He’s still developing a changeup, but scouts believe that can be an above-average pitch as well.
Considering Hall’s recent dominance at Delmarva, it’s fair to wonder whether he’s outgrown the benefits of building a consistent routine in the South Atlantic League. One evaluator who watched him this month said the level isn’t a challenge for him anymore — not with three potential plus pitches and the consistency Hall has shown. That makes the short-term future question one of whether he should be moved to High-A Frederick for a taste of what his 2019 will be like. That’s essentially a matter of whether it’s worth shaking a young player’s confidence for five or six starts at a higher level, or whether the bump up to join fellow former Shorebirds Zac Lowther, Michael Baumann and Matthias Dietz wouldn’t be too drastic a change given they all opened the season together.
What both Hall and fellow young Shorebirds standout Brenan Hanifee will have to deal with going forward is their success at this level is relatively uncharted for the Orioles in recent years. There’s really no blueprint for the Orioles to follow with high school draftees, especially top picks like Hall.
There are two predecessors as first-round picks out of high school: Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey. Bundy shot from Delmarva to Frederick to Bowie in his first full year, and spent September in the major league bullpen before elbow soreness cropped up and knocked him off a linear development path. Harvey pitched similarly well and, like Hall, brought himself into the national prospect conversation by shining at Delmarva before his own elbow injury cropped up.
There really aren’t any high school pitchers the Orioles have drafted who have blazed a station-to-station trail like Hall will have to. But knowing how aggressive the Orioles have been with some assignments recently, is jumping by level even in the plans for Hall?
Considering they have a full major league rotation, no real window to win anytime soon, and plenty of pitching to sift through from their recent trades and drafts before they get to Hall, there’s no point rushing him.
Still, it’s easy to see why they’d want to. He’s easily the top pitching prospect in their system, with No. 3 starter potential and a late-inning relief floor. He’s also not turning 20 until September, so even if it’s a few years before he makes it to Camden Yards, the Orioles will still have plenty of Hall’s prime to enjoy.
That the Orioles rebuild is underway in full force might end up being Hall’s greatest blessing. He was selected as almost a bonus to a front office that has used an outsized amount of draft capital in the past three years on college pitching in hopes that they could move quickly through the system and overcome the fact that free-agent pitchers aren’t exactly jumping to sign with the Orioles. Considering the transition in organizational focus, and possibly organizational leadership in 2018, Hall might be given ample time to grow into that ideal, mid-rotation version of himself simply because the Orioles will be in no hurry for it to happen.