In past years, Baseball America’s release of its top 10 Orioles prospects has been a time to look ahead to the players Baltimore might someday promote in hopes of improving its major league roster.
This year’s edition, which was released Tuesday, doubles in giving a look at which players the Orioles might have to part with to do the same. In all likelihood, executive vice president and general Mike Elias will have to include at least one of the players in the back half of the list to make legitimate improvements to the team’s lineup or rotation.
For the first time since 2018, the preseason list is topped by someone other than Adley Rutschman, but the system’s depth remains on display. Here are three takeaways from Baseball America’s list of the Orioles’ top 10 prospects.
The 2019 preseason list — the first with Elias leading Baltimore’s baseball operations department — included one infielder in the top 10: Ryan Mountcastle, caught at third base amid his fall down the defensive spectrum.
Six of the latest top 10 are infielders, with all but one playing at least one of the middle positions. Top overall prospect Gunnar Henderson (No. 1), Jackson Holliday (No. 3), Jordan Westburg (No. 6), Connor Norby (No. 7), Joey Ortiz (No. 8) and Coby Mayo (No. 10) show the work that’s been done to improve that area of the organization, particularly in terms of investment of draft capital. Holliday was the first overall pick last year; Henderson, Westburg and Norby were Baltimore’s second selections in Elias’ first three drafts; and Ortiz and Mayo were fourth-round picks in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
Given the depth here, it’s a logical area for the Orioles to pull from for trade packages, with arguments to be made for and against each of the four who isn’t the sport’s No. 1 overall prospect or a former No. 1 overall draft pick. A third baseman who might wind up elsewhere, Mayo is the lowest on the defensive spectrum, but as a player who reached Double-A at 20 years old, he might have the highest upside. With varying skill sets, Westburg, Norby and Ortiz each reached Triple-A in 2022, and that proximity to the majors increases their value not only to the Orioles but also as potential trade centerpieces.
In each edition of Baseball America’s list since 2019, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall have been the Orioles’ top two pitching prospects. This year, they’re also the only ones in the top 10, coming in at No. 2 and No. 5, respectively.
Many talented position players have entered the system under Elias, but there haven’t been nearly as many premier pitching prospects. In Elias’ four drafts, the organization has used one pick earlier than the fifth round on a pitcher, then it failed to sign that player. With Rodriguez and Hall being the final first-round picks of the previous front office, the only pitcher Elias acquired who has appeared in a top 10 list was Kyle Bradish, part of the trade return from the Los Angeles Angels for Dylan Bundy. Ranked ninth entering last season, Bradish struggled with his initial taste of the majors, but adjustments after a stint on the injured list allowed him to take off.
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There’s more pitching depth to the Orioles’ system than this list would imply. Mike Baumann, Seth Johnson, Drew Rom and Noah Denoyer will appear in the full top 30 and are already on Baltimore’s 40-man roster, and the lack of another pitcher in the top 10 beyond Rodriguez and Hall is also a product of the number of high-level hitters.
But with Rodriguez and Hall expected to graduate from prospect status this upcoming season, it’s not immediately clear who will replace them as the leading representatives of the Orioles’ pitching program.
There were arguably four left-handed-hitting outfielders who had a case to be in Baltimore’s top 10, with only one of them — 2021 fifth-overall pick Colton Cowser (No. 4) — assured a spot. For now, only one other made the cut.
After making his major league debut in 2022, Kyle Stowers landed at No. 9. Even with the Orioles’ primary outfield group positioned to return in 2023, Stowers is situated for increased major league time after strong performances down the stretch.
His expected graduation, as well as those of Henderson, Rodriguez and Hall, in the early part of the season figures to open space in the top 10 for Heston Kjerstad and Dylan Beavers, if a trade of some members of the list doesn’t prompt that first.
Unexpectedly selected second overall in 2020, Kjerstad was the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect entering the 2021 season, but he missed all of that campaign because of a heart condition and moved down to No. 8 on the 2022 preseason list. An up-and-down year — a left hamstring strain suffered in spring training, success in Low-A Delmarva, struggles in High-A Aberdeen, winning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League — resulted in him being outside the top 10, but he certainly has the potential to play his way back into its top half.
The same could prove true of Beavers, who the Orioles took 33rd overall in the 2022 draft. Rises from Stowers, Norby and Ortiz — who is 20 spots higher than he was in Baseball America’s midseason list — bumped Beavers down, but he showed his tools across the low minors and could spend next season at three levels, just as many of the hitters who made the top 10 have in recent years.