With escapism impossible on the football side, we turn to the baseball team in Baltimore. After a surprising season that saw the Orioles playing meaningful games in October, 2021 looks like the opening of a window.
Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2021 | Highest level played | ETA
1. C Adley Rutschman | 23 | A | 2022
Not a comfortable feeling, starting a top ten list with a catcher. Rutschman is an exception to most standard feelings about young catchers. He’s plus everything but run. The defense comes easily to him, as do the plate skills. This dude walked 76 times and struck out 38 in 57 games as a college junior. That’s borderline Bondsian. He also hit 17 home runs and slashed .411/.575/.751. He then tallied a 12/16 B/K ratio in 20 games in the New York Penn League at the end of his draft year, getting himself promoted to a third level in 2019 (four if you count college). He’d only played one year in the Cape Cod League, so 2019 was his first extended run with wooden bats, and he adapted well until 12 games in the South Atlantic League flummoxed him at the end of the long year. There’s always a risk that a young catcher will flounder at the plate while they learn to be a big league catcher, and that might be the ultimate buy window for Rutshman in dynasty (kind of like the Bart buy window that’s cracked open now), but this is not Joey Bart, who’s always battled a tendency to strike out. Rutschman hit .400+ with a .500+ OBP across two seasons in major college baseball. My guess is he hits well at the highest levels.
2. 1B Ryan Mountcastle | 24 | MLB | 2020
Checking in at 126 at bats in 2020, Mountcastle barely qualifies for the list by that metric and just slips under the wonk-tastic guidelines MLB has set for 2021 rookie eligibility, having been promoted one week after the August 14 cut-off date. In a world of Wanders and Kelenics and J-Rods, the Count of Mountcastle makes a smart bet for the next AL Rookie of the Year award. I ranked him third on this list last year but was skeptical of his ability to succeed against top-end spin given his propensity to swing at everything. That tendency changed this year, and Mountcastle started hunting pitches he could damage and laying off those he couldn’t. It’s a small sample size, but it’s the only one we’ve got, and his final line of .333/.386/.492 with a 139 wRC+ was much better than anyone would’ve projected. This Baltimore front office has good coaches and strategies in place, and going forward, I think we’re more likely to see a player closer to the 2020 version with a 7.9 percent walk rate than the 4.3 percent we saw in 2019.
3. OF Heston Kjerstad | 21 | NCAA | 2022
I have never met a Heston, but I did have a friend named Kjerstie in college. People called her Ka-Jer-Stee, but it was meant to be pronounced the way a normal person pronounced Kirstie like Kirstie Alley that weirdy who never locked it in with Sam Malone. The Kjerstie I knew was much cooler than the one in Cheers, as is the Kjerstad (Ker-stad) selected second overall by Baltimore in the 2020 draft, who was having an epic campaign when covid concerns cancelled the college baseball season, slashing .448/.513/.791 with six home runs in 16 games after posting a .327/.400/.575 as a sophomore and .332/.419/.553 as a freshman. I wish he’d played in a wooden bat league at some point, but everything he’s put on paper so far is elite. He’s even running at 100 percent efficiency, having never been caught in nine stolen base attempts across three seasons. The Orioles figure to be light on steals under the current regime, but I won’t be shocked if Kjerstad finds a way to chip in a handful year over year. He’s 6’3” and 220 pounds, so there’s no physical projection left in the frame, but that doesn’t matter when you’re already as big and strong as he is. Kind of a perfect fit in this ballpark with this organization.
4. RHP Grayson Rodriguez | 21 | A | 2022
You might find several shades of Grayson across the various prospect platforms, which is partly a function of the various approaches to pitching. Fourth in the system represents an aggressive ranking for a low-minors arm, especially coming off a lost pandemic season, but Rodriguez demands the attention. Last we saw him in 2019, he was mastering the South Atlantic League as a 19-year-old, striking out 34.2 percent of the hitters he saw and posting a 0.99 WHIP. The 11th overall pick in 2018 stands 6’5” and weighs in at 220 pounds. Considering that he’s wielding five potentially plus pitches and coming up under the former Houston brain trust of Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal, he gives me Whitley vibes in the best way. I’d love to know if the front office has a similar feel and will try to avoid putting Rodriguez into a two-pitch, cookie-cutter box the way Houston dealt with Whitley’s diverse arsenal.
5. SS Terrin Vavra | 23 | A | 2022
Vavra managed a 1/1 K/BB ratio at 13.7/13.7 percent in A ball while slashing .313/.406/.489. Because Colorado plays in such offense-friendly environments, K/BB rates carry even more relevance than usual. Vavra’s not an overwhelming athlete but gets the most from what he’s got, which is one reason Baltimore targeted him (along with Tyler Nevin) in return for RHP Mychal Givens. A plate skills expert with a sharp mind for the game and just enough power and speed to be dangerous when paired with his plus hit tool, Vavra is a great fit for this front office and an impressive return for the final 13-ish months for Givens’ contract.
6. OF Hudson Haskin | 22 | NCAA | 2023
A speed-power blend who minimizes strikeouts, Haskin signed for slot value ($1,906,800) after being selected 39th overall in 2020. He’s 6’2” 200 lbs with present loft in his swing and quick enough hands to turn around elite heat. He didn’t run much while smashing baseballs at Tulane but stole 17 bags in 32 games for the Newport Gulls in 2019. I suspect my rankings will represent the “industry” high on Haskin because he’s exactly the kind of dude who pops in fantasy and people say he came from nowhere even though Tulane is in New Orleans and the Orioles, a very smart front office, clearly love him.
7. RHP Michael Baumann | 25 | AA | 2021? (elbow injury)
Here’s what I wrote in 2019:
“Nobody benefited more from the sea change in Baltimore than Michael Baumann. He employed his high 90’s fastball across the top of the strike zone to dominate High A hitters and then continued that success in AA where he threw a no-hitter after flirting with one earlier in the year. Considered a probable relief prospect at the beginning of the year, Baumann now seems likely to debut as a starter in 2020.”
I wrote about Baumann a few more times in my Stash List series, but he never got the call for Baltimore, and I couldn’t figure out why until news broke that he’d injured his elbow in August, and we just didn’t find out until mid September. I almost left him off this list entirely because he’s going the rest and rehab route rather than undergoing Tommy John surgery. Would be a major value drain if he sits from August to March only to discover he’ll be sitting another 18 months, give or take. Still, the upside here is intriguing, and if Baumann comes to camp healthy, he could find himself in the rotation sometime in April.
8. SS Gunnar Henderson | 19 | R | 2024
Look, he’s your kid so you name him whatever you want, but I feel bad for any little one born into the name “Gunnar.” That said, it’s working out pretty well for Henderson, who got invited to the MLB training site in early August despite having played just 29 games in the Gulf Coast League after being drafted 42nd overall in 2019. Hendo hits the ball with authority, having posted exit velocities above the 90th percentile in his draft class and generating good buzz for same at the training site, but he’s not a runner. Might swipe some bags on his way up the chain just by being a grinder, but his times suggest that won’t be part of his fantasy appeal. His best two tools are glove and arm, which isn’t ideal for our purposes as it will likely inflate the profile on non-fantasy lists and juice the fantasy value by osmosis. Still, it’s nice that he can stay on the left side of the infield, and he could become a plus hit, plus power bat in the end.
9. LHP DL Hall | 22 | A+ | 2021
Hall finished 2019 on the injured list for a left Lat strain but spent all of 2020 at the big league training site, so presumably, the shoulder is fine now. On the other hand, RHP Michael Baumann was at the site all year, too, and we didn’t hear about his elbow injury until he’d already been shut down a couple weeks. When he’s right, this 6’2” southpaw has tremendous stuff, as seen in his 12.94 K/9 rate at High A in 2019. He also walked 6.02 batters per nine at that level across 80.2 innings. Some of this comes from hitters being overwhelmed and made passive. Some comes from Hall having very little command and struggling to repeat his delivery. He was a first-round pick (21st overall) in 2017, and his topside is certainly enticing with a textbook plus fastball, plus curveball, plus changeup arsenal, but I think he’s always been overrated for dynasty purposes. A low-command lefty with health and delivery issues just isn’t my type of prospect. He could find a delivery that works and go on an utterly dominant run, but so could Robbie Ray. So could anyone at this level, really, but if I’ve got to roster minor league arms (and you do have to considering how many dynasty players like to buy them), I’d rather bet on pitchers throwing strikes now than on named guys with big stuff finding the plate for the first time in their lives.
10. LHP Keegan Akin | 26 | MLB | 2020
Could go a few ways with this spot: LHP Drew Rom, RHP Dean Kremer, OF Yusniel Diaz, SS Jordan Westburg or former Red Sox outfield prospect Elio Prado among others. I chose Akin because I think he’ll open 2021 in the starting rotation, but also because April 1st is his 26th birthday, and synergy is nice. I’m kidding, of course. His birthday has nothing to do with it. His strikeout rate does. As does the setting, specifically the Astro-esque pitching revolution fully underway in Baltimore. The stocky six-foot lefty brings his four-seamer from an angle that works atop the zone and pairs well with a plus changeup he can consistently bury for punchouts. Akin’s 1.44 WHIP from 2020 is not easy on the eyes, and he might always struggle in that area, but he’ll be a streaky source of strikeouts that can counter righty-heavy lineups with that plus changeup.
Thanks for reading!
I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.