Often, when a franchise is ending the rebuild phase and is ready to compete, you start to see the farm system’s talent level take a nosedive. It’s logical, teams are making trades for major league talent and that drains the farm. While the Orioles surprised many by winning 83 games last year, the drop in minor league talent has not yet followed. Many, including myself, do expect the O’s to trade from the incredible depth they’ve built up the middle, but General Manager Mike Elias has not pulled the trigger yet. Which leaves the Baltimore system filled with not only top-level talent, but depth all over the field at every level.
That top level talent will impact Baltimore again in 2023. It’s hard to say whether it’s possible to impact the MLB team remotely as much as last year, with the graduation of Adley Rutschman. However, if it’s possible, this Baltimore team will do it. With arguably 7 to 8 or more top 100 players, the MLB impact will likely be massive. It won’t take any “Hot takes,” to say the Orioles will likely have 2 MLB Rookie of the Year contenders and 5 or 6 additional players that could contribute to a Baltimore team likely to take the next step in 2023.
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above-average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have a high likelihood of making the majors, but provide minimal impact (e.g. middle reliever, low-ceiling UT guys)
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on who have an outside chance of making a team’s 40-man roster
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2022
1. Gunnar Henderson, 3B/SS, 21, MLB
One year ago, I listed Gunnar Henderson as the #4 prospect in the Orioles system, as he had dominated High-A Aberdeen. But then, he struggled in a cup of coffee at Double-A to conclude 2021, striking out 10 times in 15 AB. All Henderson did in the year that followed is absolutely crush Double and Triple-A, on his way to making his MLB debut two months after his 21st birthday. Henderson showed incredible control of the strike zone, walking in 15% of his plate appearances. He also demonstrated great power with 61 extra base hits, and solid speed with 23 stolen bases. He is a true 5 tool player, capable of playing 2B, 3B and SS.
2. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, 23, Triple-A
As we entered June, all signs pointed to Rodriguez making his MLB debut very soon. His last 5 starts had covered 34.1 innings, while allowing 16 hits, 3 earned runs and striking out 47. He had nothing left to prove in the minors. However, a lat strain shut Rodriguez down for 3 months. This year, Rodriguez will use his plus plus fastball, changeup, and a plus slider to compete for a rotation spot out of Spring Training.
3. Jackson Holliday, SS, 19, Single-A
The son of 7-time All Star Matt Holliday and the #1 overall pick, Jackson profiles similarly to Henderson. A 5-tool shortstop, Holliday might be slightly more hit than power, but there is considerable raw power that will come as he matures. The Orioles were aggressive with the prep star in 2022 and I would expect the same in 2023 as Holliday could easily start the year in High-A Aberdeen and move to Double-A Bowie by the end of the year.
4. Colton Cowser, OF, 22, Triple-A
Another potential 5 tool bat up the middle that we should see in Baltimore in the very near future. Cowser can play centerfield and could be a gold glove corner outfielder. With the bat, he just missed a 20/20 season across 3 levels in 2022. Finishing the year with 57 extra base hits, 18 stolen bases and a 15% walk rate, Cowser just needs to reduce his strikeouts. Striking out nearly 30% of the time in 2022, Cowser had never posted a K rate above 15% in the minors or college, so I would expect him to work this down to a more palatable area in 2023 before we see him in Baltimore.
5. DL Hall, LHP, 24, MLB
Called up to Baltimore at the beginning of September, the career starter got his feet wet with 11 appearances out of the bullpen in 2022. At a quick glance, his debut looks like it may have been a little rough, but that is misleading. Hall gave up 0 or 1 run in 9 of his 11 appearances, only walking 2 and striking out 13 over those 9 innings. He will be given a chance to start this year, but at this point his floor is a high leverage Josh Hader-type lefty out of the pen and that’s not a bad place to be.
6. Coby Mayo, 3B, 21, Double-A
A big over-slot signing from the COVID draft of 2020, Mayo has the potential to be an impact middle of the order bat in Baltimore for years. Mayo showed off that power potential in 2022, hitting 19 home runs between Aberdeen and Bowie, while one of the youngest players in both leagues. His only at bats against younger pitchers in all of 2022 came in his 5 at bat rehab assignment in July. He posted a 25% K rate, but his youth and power potential make that number pretty reasonable whether he ends up sticking at 3B or moving to 1B in the future.
7. Jordan Westburg, SS/3B/2B, 23, Triple-A
A big athletic infielder, Westburg doesn’t have any one tool that jumps out at you, but that’s because he does just about everything well. In 2022, Westburg played 20 or more games at 2B, 3B and SS, playing well enough to be a full time regular at any of them. Beyond that, Westburg has just hit, at every single stop. With 69 extra base hits and an 11% walk rate, mostly all at Triple-A Norfolk, Westburg too has very little left to prove in the minors.
8. Connor Norby, 2B, 22, Triple-A
The 4th middle infielder in the first 8 prospects, Norby profiles as a potential 1st division regular at 2B. Norby was solid across his first few assignments starting 2022 in High-A Aberdeen with mixed results. Before a June 28 promotion to Double-A, Norby set the league on fire. All he did over his next 296 at bats is slash .298/.389/.571 with 33 extra base hits and 10 stolen bases. While his profile didn’t suggest significant power, Norby hit 29 home runs across 3 levels in 2022 while only striking out 21% of the time. Expect him to start 2023 in Triple-A.
9. Kyle Stowers, OF, 25, MLB
The big lefty, Stowers showed plenty of upside with the bat prior to his MLB promotion in 2022. Stowers was limited to platoon duty, almost exclusively facing right-handed pitching, despite strong production against left-handed pitching in the minors. The Orioles outfield is crowded, but Stowers has 30 home run potential and cut his K rate from 32% to 25% from 2021 to 2022.
10. Dylan Beavers, OF, 21, High-A
A toolsy first round pick, Beavers has been compared to Christian Yelich, which isn’t a bad place to start. That comparison would make Beavers a 5 tool player, but the hit tool remains a potential question mark. In a very small sample in 2022, Beavers slashed .322/.438/.460 and only struck out 17% of the time, ending his season in High-A. So I’d expect to see him start in Aberdeen in 2023, with hopes that the organization can iron out the potential hit tool questions.
11. Heston Kjerstad, OF, 23, High-A
The rough three years for Kjerstad are well documented amongst Orioles fans, but his healthy performance in the Arizona Fall League was indication he was deserving of his lofty draft slot. The K rate (30%) and BB rate (5%) will need to improve, but for a guy that has 341 at bats since 2020, 14 extra base hits with 5 of those being home runs, in 98 at bats is very encouraging. (Side note, his K rate was 22% and BB rate 10% across Single and High-A in 2022).
12. Seth Johnson, RHP, 24, High-A
Acquired in the Trey Mancini deal, Johnson has huge upside, but we likely won’t see that until the end of 2023 at the earliest as he underwent Tommy John surgery in August. Johnson has only 204 innings total in college and the minors, but he’s shown a dominant fastball slider combination that carries him to a high floor, but very high upside pitcher as he learns to pitch. He will be Rule 5 eligible when he returns from his injury, so he will have to remain on the 40-man roster, which makes him a bit of a project, but the upside is immense.
13. Joey Ortiz, 2B/SS, 24, Triple-A
While I won’t go as far as to say, “defense first,” Ortiz was so highly regarded because of his defensive work in college. He also did lead the nation in hits and runs as a Junior at New Mexico State. Ortiz has erased any questions that may have existed when it comes to his bat. Starting 2022 in Double-A, before finishing the year in Triple-A, all Ortiz did was accumulate 60 extra base hits while slashing .284/.349/.477 and only striking out 16% of the time.
14. Samuel Basallo, C, 18, Rookie (FCL)
In his stateside debut, Basallo did not see one pitch from a pitcher younger than he is. The big 6’3” catcher more than held his own, throwing out 31% of would be base stealers while limiting strikeouts and hitting 6 home runs. He’s one to keep an eye on, as trades happen and players graduate, he could easily join Holliday and Mayo in the top 5 next year.
15. Darell Hernaiz, 2B/3B/SS, 21, Double-A
When Hernaiz was drafted in the 5th round out of Puerto Rico in 2019, the reports were all about projection and upside. Hernaiz delivered on that upside in his 60 games at High-A Aberdeen, slashing .305/.377/.456, while stealing 22 bases in 25 attempts and collecting 21 extra base hits, look for him to continue to shoot up the rankings.
16. Jud Fabian, OF, 22, High-A
A second round pick, Fabian’s calling card is his power potential. He hit 44 home runs in 459 at bats between his junior and senior seasons at Florida. If he can keep the K’s down, the power/OBP potential here is huge.
17. Max Wagner, 3B, 21, High-A
Also a second round pick last year, Wagner is also possesses big time power potential with a high OBP. Bursting onto the scene as a sophomore at Clemson, Wagner tied the school record with 27 home runs and won ACC POY.
18. Cade Povich, LHP, 22, Double-A
Acquired in the Jorge Lopez deal, the big lefty can punch out hitters with the best. Posting a 12.1 K/9 in his 90.2 High-A innings, while only walking 2.8 batters per 9. His upside has continued to grow with his fastball velocity, giving him mid-rotation upside.
19. Frederic Bencosme, SS/2B, 20, High-A
With potentially elite bat to ball skills, Bencosme dominated his stateside debut in 2022. Promoted to Single-A Delmarva after just 2 games in the complex league, he walked 27 times, while only striking out 31 in 250 plate appearances. If he can add some pop as he matures, watch out.
20. Drew Rom, LHP, 23, Triple-A
A strong pitchability lefty, Rom sits in the high 80’s/low 90’s typically, with a changeup that is more like a splitter. His potentially plus slider has helped him continue to post very strong strikeout numbers, giving him a solid shot to reach his mid-rotation potential.
21. Hudson Haskin, OF, 24, Double-A
22. Carter Baumler, RHP, 20, Single-A
23. Cesar Prieto, 3B/2B/SS, 23, Double-A
24. Terrin Vavra, 2B/OF, 25, MLB
25. John Rhodes, OF, 22, Double-A
26. Carter Young, SS/2B, 21, Single-A
27. Noah Denoyer, RHP, 24, Double-A
28. Chayce McDermott, RHP, 24, Double-A
29. Aron Estrada, 2B, 17, Rookie (DSL)
30. Braylin Tavera, OF, 17, Rookie (DSL)
31. Zach Peek, RHP, 24, Double-A
32. Silas Ardoin, C, 22, Single-A
33. Leandro Arias, SS, 17, Rookie (DSL)
34. Justin Armbruester, RHP, 24, Double-A
35. Chris Vallimont, RHP, 25, Triple-A
36. Andrew Politi, RHP, 26, Triple-A
37. Yennier Cano, RHP, MLB
38. Reed Trimble, OF, 22 Single-A
Baumler is a very exciting young arm struggling to stay healthy, but still, plenty of time to develop. Prieto is a Cuban import who made his stateside debut in 2022 and more than held his own across High-A and Double-A. Vavra, Politi (Rule 5 from Boston), and Cano are all on the 40-man roster and should contribute in Baltimore in 2023. Estrada, listed at 5’8” 143 pounds, dominated the DSL, slashing .368/.483/.566, with some obvious room to grow. Keep an eye on Carter Young, drafted in the 17th round, but signed for $1.3 million, is a defensive wiz that seemed to regress with the bat while at Vanderbilt, but offensive growth, could make him a huge steal.
39. Edwin Amparo, SS, 18, Rookie (DSL)
40. Maikol Hernandez, SS, 19, Rookie (FCL)
41. Brandon Young, RHP, 24, Double-A
42. Stiven Acevedo, OF, 20, Single-A
43. Collin Burns, SS, 22, High-A
44. Juan De Los Santos, RHP, 20, Single-A
45. Jean Pinto, RHP, 22, High-A
46. Carlos Tavera, RHP, 24, High-A
47. Trace Bright, RHP, 22, Single-A
48. Elio Prado, OF, 21, Single-A
49. Cristian Benavides, SS/2B/3B, 17, Rookie(DSL)
50. Xavier Moore, RHP, 24, High-A
Benavides and Amparo had solid debuts in the DSL, both athletic middle infielders with upside for days. I’m just not ready to give up on Hernandez, Acevedo or Prado. All three struggled in 2022, which may lead to all three dropping from the top 50. Tavera needs to harness the potentially very strong arsenal, absolutely dominating High-A with a 12.7 K/9. While Bright only threw nine innings in 2022, I couldn’t help but be excited about the possibilities, having surrendered only 2 hits in 9.2 innings in his professional debut.
An absolute sports fanatic. Be it at the office or a family gathering, you can usually find me talking sports, especially baseball. When I am not at the office working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at a small bureau in the Dept. of Human Services, I love to golf, go to Baltimore to catch the O’s or Ravens and spend time with my amazing wife. Follow me on Twitter @RyanJames5.