Years of ignoring the international market left the Orioles behind the rest of baseball in the absolutely critical world of talent procurement and development. Ownership, beloved by all Baltimore fans, finally decided to amend this practice last year, hiring General Manager Mike Elias away from Houston. As his first move, Elias hired Houston colleague and former NASA engineer Sig Mejdal to be his “General Manager for Analytics,” a new job title in the baseball world.
Elias and Mejdal were central in the process that brought Houston so far into the future they decided scouts were outdated. The baseball world will watch their work in Baltimore with bated breath. Was what happened in Houston a magical confluence of hyper-competitive individuals that can’t be replicated outside that moment in time and space? Or can the secret sauce be imported and applied even in the most barren landscapes?
As with pretty much everything, truth is somewhere in the middle, but I’m leaning toward the latter—that yes this duo will be successful in Baltimore, and yes this would be an ominous outcome for the future employment of scouts on the ground.
1. C Adley Rutschman | 22 | A | 2022
Rutschman will be a key pivot point in the early moments of this year’s first-year-player drafts in dynasty leagues. He and Jason Dominguez exist in opposite ends of the prospect spectrum—Rutschman a 60 bat college graduate who’s just about ready to push for the big leagues, Dominguez a high school junior in age but a D1 running back in build and perhaps the most hyped J2 signing since Kevin Maitan.
If you’re a topside-hungry gambler like myself, you’ll be relieved to see Adley drafted early, leaving any number of enticing dice rolls on the table. If you’re in a league where catchers are scarce, Rutschman might actually be underrated, paying a penalty for the wait time on Joey Bart and the overhype on Matt Wieters. I only use those names because I’m worried I’m subconsciously anchoring Adley to these totally different players. I think Rutschman is the best of the three, and his path to playing time couldn’t be clearer, so I’m trying to separate them in my mind. That said, he is anchored to his position, and I struggle to see how his market value can keep up with his contemporaries in this year’s crop.
2. OF Austin Hays | 24 | MLB | Early 2020
3. 1B Ryan Mountcastle | 23 | AAA | Early 2020
4. RHP Grayson Rodriguez | 20 | A | 2022
5. LHP DL Hall | 21 | A+ | Mid 2021
I’ve never been big into Austin Hays, but time is real and killing us all a little bit every second, so ironically enough, realism dictates a starting big league outfielder with power and some speed should rank highly on a fantasy list.
Similar story for Ryan Mountcastle, who’s looking a gift-wrapped first base job this year and a chance to pop 20-plus juicy-ball home runs. Baltimore might sign some veterans they’ll hope to sell at the deadline, but I still expect Mountcastle to get his fair share of opportunities in 2020.
Rodriguez fans might see this ranking as me throwing shade at Grayson, but that’s not my intent. Plenty of scenarios exist wherein I’d want Rodriguez over the two in front of him, but in a standard 15-team dynasty, the need for outfielders and first basemen is constant, while solid prospect arms bubble up at such a continuous rate that it’s tough to make room for them as they keep hitting the radar.
Command has been elusive for DL Hall. He’d probably settle for control at this point. While he’s got premium stuff from the left side, striking out 33.5 percent of the A+ batters he faced, he also walked 15.6 percent. 6.02 walks per nine innings will not work, and if Hall’s feel backslides at all, he’ll start looking like a relief prospect.
6. RHP Michael Baumann | 24 | AA | Mid 2020
7. OF Yusniel Diaz | 23 | AA | Mid 2021
8. SS Gunnar Henderson | 18 | R | 2024
9. OF Elio Prado | 18 | R | 2024
10. LHP Drew Rom | 20 | A | 2022
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.
The primary piece Baltimore got back for Manny Machado, Yusniel Diaz has been a disappointment to fantasy owners who thought the trade put him on a fast track to the big leagues. And it might have if Diaz’s bat had cooperated, but he slumped after the move and wasn’t a whole lot better repeating the level this year. He’s still got some upside but is closer to a fringe fantasy asset than a must-have 5×5 outfielder in waiting.
The favorite son of Bomber and Knifer Henderson, Gunnar Henderson achieved the family dream when Baltimore made him the first pick in the second round. His profile is all about balance—just enough of everything to be slightly above average across the board. Hit tool development will determine his fate.
The return from Boston for Andrew Cashner, Elio Prado looks like a great find. Houston showed a knack for buying low on teenage fliers during Elias and Mejdal’s time there, and the smart money here is on Prado’s plus plate skills carrying toward the top of this list.
Split-finger pitches are exceptionally effective and increasingly rare, especially ones thrown with command. Drew Rom throws a good splitter he commands pretty well. His velocity is not eye-popping, but he’s coming off a great full season as a 19-year-old in A ball, and I’m betting he’ll see continued success as climbs the ladder. Lefties with command and solid off-speed stuff tend to slice right through the low and middle minors.