A Thorough Review of The Orioles Farm System
We’re amid playoff baseball and the Orioles brass are watching from home for the 6th consecutive year. It’s been a frustrating stretch for the Baltimore faithful as the Orioles have just not been able to field a highly competitive team. In 2022, the organization began to show some signs of life, posting a very respectable 83-79 only to finish 4th among the ridiculously talented American League East. While they missed the playoffs by a slim margin, we might be approaching an Orioles dynasty that will completely change the rhetoric regarding the entire organization. The major league talent is starting to look up and the minor league talent is immense. We’re on the precipice of something really special in Baltimore.
I’m going to take a quick look at the Orioles' top 10 prospects to familiarize readers with some of the players that are going to be key to the Orioles' future success. Here are a few things to keep in mind…
Players are no longer considered prospects after 130 major league at-bats, 50 innings pitched, or 45 days on the active roster.
I use Fangraphs “Future Value” system which is fully explained here.
1. Gunnar Henderson, INF, 65 FV
Gunnar is already well known by all baseball fans and will likely open 2023 as the Vegas favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award. Henderson’s rapid ascent to the very top of national prospect rankings was not surprising in the least. Before the 2022 season, he had flashes of brilliance but wasn’t established enough to be considered among the game's elite prospects. After terrorizing both AA and AAA pitching, Gunnar got the call to the show in September. The major league level didn’t seem to pose too much of a challenge either, as Gunnar hit for a 125 wRC+ through his first 130 plate appearances. His glove is perfectly sufficient at third base and he has demonstrated a brilliant plate approach. The Orioles reaching the levels of success they desire is fully dependent on Gunnar’s ability to be the MVP-caliber player they expect him to be. Despite the lofty expectations, I fully expect him to live up to the hype.
2. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, 60 FV
Grayson is a beast. I wish there was a more elegant way to put that, but there simply isn’t. There are very few prospects in recent memory who could throw three plus-plus pitches. The fastball, changeup, and slider are all standout pitches that would already play quite well at the big league level. From a pure skill standpoint, I think Rodriguez is the most talented player in all of baseball. Unfortunately, pitchers are so volatile that it drops him not only out of first in the league, but out of first on his team. If GRod manages to stay healthy, he is going to be a bona fide ace and pace the Orioles' rotation for years to come. I’d expect to see him in the bigs fairly early next season.
3. Jackson Holliday, SS, 55+ FV
Holliday, the first pick of the 2022 draft, was a bit of a surprise pick but certainly not a bad one. He was relatively anonymous heading into the ‘22 draft cycle but quickly separated himself due to his excellent feel for his barrel, exceptional contact skills, and good swing decisions. In his first taste of pro ball, Holliday was as promised. The phenom tore up pitching in a league where the average player was about 3 years older than him. He’s still 4 or 5 years away from the MLB which drops him into the 55 FV tier, but if Jackson continues to play up to his competition, he’ll be scraping the top 10 overall prospects shortly. There’s still some debate over whether he’ll stick at shortstop, but in the worst-case scenario Holliday will end up an above-average fielder at third base.
4. Colton Cowser, OF, 55 FV
Cowser was the Orioles' first-round pick in the 2021 draft. Generally, college outfielders are the highest floor draft demographic and are viewed as an incredibly safe pick. While Cowser has shown that he is a high-floor player, he’s also shown that he might have an upside higher than anyone anticipated. In most farm systems Cowser would be either the best or second-best player, but the Orioles are just incredibly deep. Cowser’s a bit big for a center fielder, but moves well and can stick there. If the O’s have an elite defender in center, Cowser could easily be pushed to the right. The strikeout rate was a little higher than most scouts love to see, but the hitting ability makes up for the slight gap. Cowser got up to AAA in his first full year of pro ball and will be knocking on the door of Camden Yards with a hot streak next year.
5. Jordan Westburg, INF, 50 FV
Westburg is quite honestly a boring player to evaluate. He doesn’t have any tools that hit you over the head as elite, but there’s also nothing you can pick apart about his game. Jordan checks just about every box you look at while evaluating players. He’s a competent fielder, makes solid contact, doesn’t have an inflated strikeout rate, and he hits for decent power. He screams big league regular and kind of reminds me of Chris Taylor. Regardless, he’s a solid player that will see big-league playing time very soon.
6. Connor Norby, 2B, 50 Fv
Norby is one of the most underrated players in the Orioles' farm system. Norby is only 5’10”, but he posted a .247 ISO, which screams well above-average power. Similarly to Westburg, there isn’t much to pick apart. Defensively, he’s nothing special, but nothing to complain about. He’s a perfectly viable option to play second base at the next level. All the film I’ve watched has confirmed that the stats are accurate, Norby makes pitchers battle and hunts the fastball incredibly well. I view him much higher than the majority of the industry, but I think he’ll start to climb up lists this offseason.
7. Coby Mayo, 3B, 45+
Mayo is a big presence and leverages his height into above-average power both at the plate and with the arm. Consistency is going to be the biggest thing for Mayo to work out before the Orioles are ready to call him up to the show. The power is going to play at any level, I have absolutely no doubt about that. His ability to make contact is a fascinating debate. The strikeout rates have not been astronomical thus far, it’s mostly due to him obliterating hanging curveballs and flat fastballs. As the stuff gets better, he’ll likely struggle more. Defensively, the arm plays as well as Arenado’s, but his defensive actions are nothing to be excited about. If he reaches his 90th-percentile outcome, Mayo will be a force to be reckoned with.
8. Heston Kjerstad, OF, 45+
After being drafted second overall, Kjerstad has never been able to stay on the field consistently. This led to a pretty dramatic downfall in rankings. Whenever Kjerstad has played, he’s been really good. Currently, Heston is raking in the Arizona Fall League and is showing off the above-average player we all knew he could. For Kjerstad, the biggest thing for him to do is stay healthy. If he stays healthy and stays consistent, he could blossom into a full-time big-league player.
9. Jud Fabian, OF, 45+
Fabian was one of the most well-known college players and after being drafted in 2021 and returning to Florida, he fell right into the Orioles' lap in the most recent draft. In both college and the pros, he has shown an impressive ability to barrel the ball. There’s not too much to evaluate at this point, but I’m looking forward to getting more data on Fabian next year.
10. Dylan Beavers, OF, 45
Beavers, another 2022 draft pick, hit well. He’s a decent outfielder but the above-average power and contact boost his profile significantly. His swing is quite odd, but if he continues to produce at the level he has it isn’t a problem. He’s been a hot and cold player at every level so far and ironing out the strikeouts that happen during the cold streaks is key to his long-term development. Similarly to Fabian, as we get more data, I’ll be able to form a firmer opinion.