Bats Carry Orioles Farm System Heading into 2018
As the season approaches, it is clear that the biggest strength of the Baltimore Orioles farm system is its hitting prospects. While some of the questions that have surrounded the system for years linger in 2018, the Orioles do have some hope on the horizon when it comes to position players.
For the coming year, the Orioles feature enough major league-ready or near major-league ready position players to give their farm system a slight boost. Outfielder Austin Hays appears poised to be the Orioles starting right fielder in 2018, while Chance Sisco should factor into the team’s catching options at some point during the season. In addition, Ryan Mountcastle has the chance to build on his strong production in 2017.
This is an encouraging development for the Orioles, even as they still deal with some of the same issues that have hampered the farm system for years. The consensus top two pitching prospects—Hunter Harvey and D.L. Hall—are both tantalizing players that come with numerous question marks. Harvey needs to log innings after dealing with injury problems over the last few years, and Hall is likely years away from making any impact in the majors.
In addition, the farm system is still hurt by the Orioles lack of attention to international prospects, particularly in Latin American counties. This is a topic that can be—and has been—discussed ad nauseum. Without going too far into this issue, I will say that the Orioles are limiting themselves with their current approach. While I do not know what it will take to change this, any adjustment—even if the Orioles do not spend at high levels—would represent an improvement over what the team is doing now.
With that said, the Orioles farm system is bit a more intriguing right now than it has been in recent years. Hays has the makings of an everyday right fielder, and has seen his prospect status surge since being selected in the third round of the 2016 draft. Unless the Orioles decide to add a veteran option through trade or free agency, Hays has a strong chance of being the team’s right fielder on Opening Day.
Potentially taking a similar path to Hays this year is Sisco, who saw some time with the Orioles in September. His bat has never been a question, and while his defense still has room for improvement, he should be to handle the job behind the plate at the major league level.
In the immediate future, it appears that the Orioles are left with a complicated decision about Sisco’s development. His track record in the minors shows that an extended time in the majors is warranted, but Caleb Joseph’s presence in Baltimore means that Sisco is not assured of regular at-bats. Therefore, the alternative for the Orioles—and one that does not involve acquiring a catcher from outside of the organization—is to have Joseph serve as the everyday catcher, with Austin Wynns as the backup, and Sisco taking the everyday job at Triple-A Norfolk. Wynns does not match Sisco’s offensive ceiling, but his defense would make him a capable backup if the Orioles make that choice.
After his solid 2017, Mountcastle should return to Double-A Bowie for more seasoning. His power potential tops all other hitters in the farm system, but his long-term position remains to be seen. Third base is likely where he will play for now, but he may profile better at another position, such as left field.
In essence, it is easy to foresee a scenario in which Hays, Sisco, and Mountcastle emerge as everyday contributors at the major league level. Still, if just two of them fulfill that potential, it makes the current farm system a little better than what it has been in past years.
When looking beyond the top-three prospects in the system, the Orioles still have room for improvement among their current slate of players. Cedric Mullins speed and defensive abilities give him the profile of an everyday centerfielder in the majors, and his bat could improve this season after injuries cut into his development in 2017. Anthony Santander will require more seasoning, but his offensive profile suggests that his power could make him a useful player in the majors at some point.
Given its current makeup, the Orioles farm system is still faced with glaring issues in addressing the pitching needs of the franchise at the major league level. That issue has to be resolved if the farm system is to take a major step forward, but their current slate of offensive players put the Orioles in a slightly better position than where they have been in more recent years.