Last week I dug deep in the Baltimore Orioles farm system to discuss five prospects who I think have a legitimate chance of breaking out in 2022. It was a fun exercise to pass the time as we sit back and wait for this ongoing lockout to end.
Did I also spend about two hours researching RHP Matt Vogel after the Orioles signed him to a minor league deal last week? Yes, and I’m not ashamed, but I need this lockout to end already!
In the meantime, let’s continue to think ahead to the 2022 minor league season, which will happen regardless of what happens at the major league level.
One of the bigger downsides of 2021 down on the farm was the significant injuries that happened to a number of key prospects. LHP DL Hall made just seven starts before going down for the season, SS Joey Ortiz appeared poised to break out in a major way until a torn labrum ended his year prematurely, RHP Brenan Hanifee underwent Tommy John surgery as soon as the season started and never threw a pitch, and SS Anthony Servideo had the look of a fast-rising on-base machine until a few different injuries ultimately ended his year after just a handful of games.
OF Yusniel Diaz technically falls into this category of players that I want to highlight today, but I’m just not a believer anymore after defending his skillset and ability for a few years now. Once again, injuries derailed his season, a season that saw him play in just 54 games with Triple-A Norfolk, finishing with a wRC+ of 27 (100 being league average), a .157 batting average, and a 33 percent strikeout rate. He had an opportunity to hit the reset button in the Arizona Fall League and after coming out of the gates hot, you guessed it, an injury ended his season very quickly. He’s also 25 now and while there’s a chance he can still become a productive major leaguer, Diaz has now reached the point in the aging curve where development tapers off significantly. Sigh. Oh well.
DL Hall is the biggest name here and the prospect who can make the biggest impact when he’s healthy. Hall worked extensively on bettering his command at the Alt Site in 2020 and that work appeared to be paying off as Hall saw his walk rate drop from 15.6 percent to 12.5 percent. That’s still a very high number that you want to see improved, but it’s a notable improvement and when you factor in the rest of his performance, Hall flashed what makes him one of the top left-handed pitching prospects in all of baseball.
Through 31.2 IP, Hall struck out 43.8 percent of hitters, produced a 60.4 percent groundball rate, and owned a 3.13 ERA/2.33 xFIP. Hall had the look of a much more complete, confident pitcher during his short time on the mound in 2021 and his injury was a major blow to what could have been a real breakout party.
However, Hall is now back to throwing and preparing for the 2022 season. I don’t think his timeline has been altered by much with his injury. Pending a normal start to the year (since Hall is now on the 40-man roster), I could see a very Michael Baumann-like year for Hall. He gets a late start to the season, followed by some work in Delmarva, but then settles in for a month or two in Bowie to fully work his way back. With an impressive showing in Norfolk late in the season, an end of year call-up to Baltimore isn’t out of the question, especially if the Orioles decide to have him work out of the bullpen at first with his electric repertoire and what is sure to be a very strict innings limit.
I’ve said for a long time that DL Hall has a higher ceiling than Grayson Rodriguez, but he’s a much more volatile prospect with a floor nothing close to that of Rodriguez. Not many lefties in the game throw as hard as Hall and it takes just a few seconds of talking with him to understand the type of competitor he is. If he can work his way back and avoid any setbacks, Hall can still be on track for a 2023 Opening Day roster spot with the Orioles, a rotation that could potentially feature both Hall and Rodriguez if a lot goes right.
Joey Ortiz didn’t see much time in Bowie before a torn labrum cut his breakout party short, but he lived up to every bit of hype Orioles Director of Player Development Matt Blood was selling before the season started.
While he didn’t homer in 19 High-A games, Ortiz posted an .816 OPS with a 123 wRC+ and an 11 percent walk rate. He showed a big spike in his line-drive rate and exit velos after using 2020 to craft his game and body. After a quick jump to Double-A, Ortiz hit just .233 in 16 games with the Baysox, but he hit four home runs while keeping his walk rate at a respectable 9 percent and maintaining a 20 percent strikeout rate.
Ortiz showed in a small sample that he’s no longer a light-hitting shortstop, but it was the defense that was most impressive. His defense has drawn rave reviews from outside the organization and it’s not crazy to think that if Ortiz had not gotten hurt, we would be discussing Joey Ortiz as the likely starting shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles come next May or June.
If Ortiz can pick up from where he left off in 2022, he becomes a very important piece to the roster puzzle as someone who could be a sought after piece in a future trade package. He’s one of the prospects in this system I would hate to see go, but I’d like to think that we’re very close to the point where Mike Elias begins using his loaded war chest of prospects to help put together a playoff roster at the major league level and the more up the middle standouts who pan out, the better.
Staying up the middle, 2020 draft pick Anthony Servideo began his pro career with one of the more unique stat lines you will find. Servideo recorded at least one walk in each of his first 15 pro games, eight of those were multi-walk games, and a .239/.507/.304 slash line. Ultimately, he played in 20 games before a hip injury sidelined him for a big chunk of the season and then a sports hernia slammed the door shut on 2021.
One of the bigger questions surrounding Servideo coming out of the draft was whether or not his offensive surge during a COVID-shortened 2020 season at Ole Miss after a lackluster bat in his first two seasons and in a trip to the Cape Cod League was for real. Many evaluators believed the breakout was real and we started to see it come around in Delmarva before his injury, which made the situation that much more frustrating.
There were zero questions about the glove and Servideo not only showed great instinct in the field, but impressive range as well.
Ideally, Servideo begins 2022 in High-A and with his near major league ready glove and top-notch on-base ability, and the bat does show that it can play in the upper levels of the minor leagues. He may not be a shortstop prospect who sticks at short, like a Westburg/Henderson/Ortiz, but he handled second base well in a small sample size and some scouting reports noted his potential to find a home in the outfield. Even if his ceiling is that of a Jorge Mateo type utility player, the glove is for real and he has the speed to be a threat on the basepaths.
We should learn a lot more about Servideo in 2022, but despite all of the injuries to his small draft class, I always go back to a comment from FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen in his review of the 2020 draft- the Orioles were, in his opinion, the only organization to grab six legitimate MLB prospects. And they did so in a five round draft.
Last but not least, we have RHP Brenan Hanifee, hopefully. Hanifee was scheduled to throw on the second day of the season, but a last-second pitching change to Cody Sedlock raised some eyebrows. Turns out, Hanifee was en route to Texas to have Tommy John surgery, sidelining him until at least May/June of 2022.
I add in “hopefully” because Hanifee is Rule 5 eligible and this was a topic we touched on briefly during a recent episode of On The Verge here. The 23-year-old, 6’5” righty last pitched in High-A back in 2019, when the Frederick Keys were still the High-A Orioles affiliate and pitchers went to fight every day to find the will to continue. Look, I spent more time at Frederick than other affiliate ballparks the last five years or so after moving away from Norfolk, but I’m so glad Orioles prospects don’t have to pitch there anymore.
But Hanifee’s injury could give teams a prime opportunity to draft and stash the former Turner Ashby Knight (shoutout to my old employer). Between IL stints and minor league rehab appearances, it’s not out of the question that Hanifee could be a pick for a team with the roster space to be a bit creative, and very patient. It’s a VERY small chance, but just something to keep in the back of your mind, whenever the Rule 5 draft ultimately happens.
Hanifee spent the 2020 shutdown back in the lab at Next Level Athletic Development in Harrisonburg, VA, working extensively on his secondary offerings (with fellow O’s prospect Zach Peek also here in town working with Hanifee and Director of Pitch Development Spenser Davis), a piece of his game seen as a big hurdle to his potential. If the secondaries come around, Hanifee has a heavy-sink fastball that produces a large number of groundballs (56%, 55%, 49% GB rates in his career) and he’s historically produced very few walks.
Hanifee also doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his arm, having transitioned full-time to pitching during his senior year of high school and then not pitching in the pros during his draft year due to a slight back issue. If he can bounce back from Tommy John this season and finish with a few innings under his belt, Hanifee could be in line for a 2023 MLB debut where he has a floor of a groundball reliever and ceiling of a backend rotation arm. Reports were high on Hanifee’s potential to be a rotation piece early in his career when he was a Top 30 prospect.
There’s a big discussion about how deep the Orioles organization runs in terms of legitimate pitching prospects behind Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall. Partake in that if you wish, I’ll pass. The system is deep with sleepers and quality arms. But I will acknowledge that developing pitchers is hard and you want to be stockpiled with as many as possible in hopes a very small percentage pan out. A healthy Brenan Hanifee makes this pool in Baltimore only deeper. Oh yeah, and 2020 draft Carter Baumler will make his debut in 2022 after recovering from Tommy John.
We may not have had the opportunity to watch this group of prospects extensively in 2021 and their long-term injuries coming after a canceled 2020 season wasn’t ideal timing, but all four should be on your radar in 2022.
A former high school teacher and coach in the mountains of Virginia, Nick Stevens has been writing about the Baltimore Orioles and their minor league system for five years. When he isn’t at a minor league stadium, he’s enjoying a Wizards game or supporting his alma mater, James Madison University. Co-Host of The Verge.