How good is the Orioles minor league system?


The surest way to get Dan Duquette angry is to disparage the Orioles’ farm system. At December’s FanFest, he told season ticket holders not to believe any “crap” they heard about the team’s minor leagues.

Just this week, Baseball America ranked the Orioles 27th in organizational talent rankings. Only Seattle, Miami and the Los Angeles Angels trail the Orioles.

A year ago, the Orioles were ranked 28th. When Duquette took over baseball operations in Nov. 2011, he inherited a team with the 21st best farm system and vowed to improve it. A year later, it was 20th, and moved up to 17th in 2013 and 12th in 2014 before falling back to 28th a year ago.

When Duquette took over, the top rated farm system in baseball was Kansas City’s and four years later, they were the World Series champ.

Last year’s top team was the Chicago Cubs, which surprised many with their run to the National League Championship Series.

This year’s top three are the Dodgers, Astros and Braves. Atlanta, in full rebuilding mode, jumped from 29th to third.

But, what does this really tell you about the system?

A year ago, Mychal Givens wasn’t really a prospect—except in the minds of some in the Orioles organization. Unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, Givens wasn’t invited to major league camp, but by June, the converted infielder was in the majors, a full six years after he was drafted.

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Caleb Joseph wasn’t protected in Dec. 2013’s Rule 5, and when Matt Wieters was injured in May 2014, he came up to the majors and played creditably—a full six years after he was drafted.

Seventeen of the 40 players on the Orioles roster were originally signed by the Orioles. Three: Dariel Alvarez, Jonathan Schoop and Henry Urrutia were international free agents. The other 14: Givens, Joseph, Wieters, Parker Bridwell, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy, Oliver Drake, Kevin Gausman, Manny Machado, Brian Matusz, Nolan Reimold, Christian Walker, Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright.

Other players on the 40-man, Chris Lee and Andrew Triggs are considered good prospects, but weren’t originally drafted by the Orioles and haven’t played with another major league team. Add in Rule 5 draft choices Ryan Flaherty, Jason Garcia, T.J. McFarland and Joey Rickard, and you’ll see that more than half the 40-man didn’t play for anyone else.

While the Orioles would have liked to have held onto their first round pick in this year’s draft, and perhaps the compensatory selection they received when Wei-Yin Chen signed elsewhere, as Buck Showalter likes to say, the best way to judge a team’s draft is by rounds 5 through 15.

Joseph was a seventh-rounder, Drake was picked in the 43rd round and Wilson a 10th rounder.

Many fans judge a draft by the first rounders. Machado was the third overall pick in 2010, but no other player taken in that draft has yet to play for the Orioles. Bridwell, who is on the 40-man for the first time this year, was taken in the ninth round.

Givens is the only player from the 2009 draft in the majors though Ashur Tolliver, a fifth-round pick, will be in major league camp for the first time when it opens on Thursday.

The team’s best draft in recent years could have been 2008 when Matusz, Xavier Avery, L.J. Hoes, Kyle Hudson and Joseph were five of the first seven picks. Avery and Hoes are non-roster invitees to this year’s camp.

If Bundy, Wilson and Wright develop, 2011 could be one of the best in recent history, and for the more recent drafts, we’ll just have to wait. Gausman and Walker are the only players drafted in 2012 or later to reach the majors.

Trey Mancini, who led the Eastern League in hitting, and was the team’s eight-round selection in 2013, surprisingly wasn’t included on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list. The Orioles will get a look at him in camp.

While the Orioles would prefer to hang to their draft picks, they believe they have the opportunity to challenge again in the AL East if they sign Yovani Gallardo and perhaps add another hitter.

If they’re celebrating eight months from now, they’ll not care where their minor leaguers were ranked.

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