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Orioles’ best-ever farm system rating, nonexistent playoff odds present stark contrast for 2021 season | ANALYSIS

Supporting a rebuilding baseball team like the Orioles requires some compromises, and a pair of nuggets released this week laid out the circumstances pretty clearly.

One day after Baseball America’s organizational talent rankings had the Orioles seventh — their highest-ever placement on that list — FanGraphs’ playoff odds gave the Orioles a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs with a projected 64-98 record.

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There will be far more excitement about the former than the latter, naturally. The Orioles have tried to point fans to the future and what executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has done to create his promised “elite talent pipeline” through the draft, international signings and trades. All of those players new and old have benefited from an upgrade in the player development practices as well.

As a result, the Orioles have five consensus Top 100 prospects in catcher Adley Rutschman, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, left-hander DL Hall, first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle and outfielder Heston Kjerstad. How high in the Top 100 they are, and how the players behind them stack up, seems to be in the eye of the beholder. Another organizational rankings list released Wednesday at The Athletic had the Orioles’ farm system ranked 18th, though it’s likely that will be the Orioles’ lowest placement in an organization ranking this winter.

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(Disclosure: I do the Orioles’ top 30 prospect rankings for Baseball America, but am not involved in the organizational rankings process.)

As time goes on, the Orioles’ organizational rankings should climb. They’re going to have the fifth pick in this year’s draft, will likely graduate only Mountcastle out of their top prospects and are expecting big showings in 2021 on the farm from high picks such as infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, among others.

But all that will run counter to most of what fans will see on the field at the major league level. The Orioles will have more exciting facets than years past, with Mountcastle and pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer representing a strong crop of rookies that could be joined by former top prospect Yusniel Diaz and recent trade acquisition Jahmai Jones.

John Means is still a legitimate major league starter who could be primed for a leap in 2021, Trey Mancini and Anthony Santander will be back healthy at the heart of their lineup, and the quest to see which of the promising, post-prospect outfielders in Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart can solidify himself with a consistent season instead of just flashes will be an interesting one. Another well-regarded wave of pitching might arrive by the end of the season.

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That doesn’t mean expectations for the team are very high. Owing both to the Orioles’ inexperienced and inexpensive roster and the fact that they play in a division featuring four teams that all have claims to be chasing a playoff spot, FanGraphs has the Orioles projected at a league-worst 64-98 record. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA forecasts were similarly ominous, with a 66-96 record — though the Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies are projected to be 100-game losers or worse.

What’s most sobering though, is FanGraphs’ playoff odds projections. To calculate those, they run 10,000 simulations of the season and average the outcomes. The Orioles are the only team with a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs, and because of rounding, that means they made the playoffs in fewer than five of the 10,000 simulations run. Anything else would have rounded up to 0.1%.

As 2020 showed, just because the preseason forecasts are grim doesn’t mean a team won’t be fun to watch. At times, the Orioles certainly were, and they were competitive more often than they were the previous two seasons by any measure.

Prospect rankings are similarly not gospel. Teams can have waves of prospect make the major leagues and never contend. Playing the probabilities, however, means the votes of confidence in the future are likely what will win out perception-wise versus what could be another unpleasant major league season.

SPRING TRAINING

Key dates for the Orioles’ preseason preparations in Sarasota, Florida:

Feb. 16: Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 21: Position players report

Feb. 27: First exhibition game vs. Atlanta Braves

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