As teams undergo long rebuilds that span several seasons, fans and analysts tend to measure their progress by how many top-100 prospects they’ve developed.
While there are certainly many other factors that go into a rebuild—such as the number of franchise players to build around already in the majors, remaining money owed on bad contracts and fanbase’s response to the length of the rebuild—the prospect rankings provide a reliable measuring stick for how far a team has come since the rebuild began.
The Orioles will enter the 2020 season with two consensus top-100 players (four total) listed on the prospect rankings of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline. Baltimore also had two consensus top-100 players last season (four total) and one (four total) the year before.
But for the first time since 2013, the Orioles have a consensus top-5 prospect headlining their farm system. Catcher Adley Rutschman (MLB: 4, BA: 5, BP: 4) is the most hyped player working his way to Baltimore since Dylan Bundy was considered one of the best up-and-coming pitchers in the minor leagues in 2013.
The Orioles drafted Rutschman first overall last June, making this his debut in the top 100. He’s the first No. 1 overall pick to earn a consensus top-5 selection in his first year of ranking eligibility since Bryce Harper (MLB: 2, BA: 1, BP: 1) in 2011. Baltimore has already announced Rutschman will be invited to major-league spring training, although the odds of him actually breaking camp with the team are slim-to-none.
Joining Rutschman on the rankings were right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (MLB: 36, BA: 35, BP: 45), left-hander DL Hall (MLB: 69, BA: 47, BP: unranked) and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (MLB: 94, BA: unranked, BP: 57).
Rodriguez, 20, is the Orioles’ top pitching prospect. He’s shown the potential to develop into a true No. 1 starter, with a fastball topping out at 97-98 mph and three secondary pitches. Rodriguez posted a ridiculous strikeout rate (12.4 K/9 in 20 starts) at A-Delmarva last season but likely needs at least another year before he reaches the majors.
Hall, 21, has shown flashes of similar potential to that of Rodriguez but has yet to show he can do it over the course of a full season. A left-hander with a power arm and high strikeout tendencies, Hall has struggled with control (5.1 career BB/9) and health (missed final month of 2019 with oblique injury). He’ll look to reach the 100-inning threshold for the first time in 2020.
Mountcastle, who turns 23 in February, has crushed opposing pitching at every level of the minor leagues. He put together a .312/.344/.527 slash line at AAA-Norfolk last season that earned him a spot on the Orioles’ 40-man roster this winter. The only factors holding him back from the majors are his service-time clock and his defensive issues that have forced the Orioles to move him from shortstop to third base and now over to first with some reps in the outfield.
Baltimore will enter 2020 projected to be among the worst teams in the league after assembling a roster with the second-lowest payroll (via Spotrac) and just one player coming off a four-win season or better (by bWAR) in starter John Means.
But if the top-100 rankings are any indication, then the future is bright at Camden Yards. Fans are just going to have to wait a couple more years before they start seeing that pay off in the win column.
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