10 Bats to watch that just missed the Top 50
The evolution of the Baltimore system has been slow to say the least. With very few home grown players and even fewer home grown international players, the Orioles had a massive amount of work to do when everything came crashing down a few years ago. At the end of Duquette’s tenure as General Manager, the front office made a bit of a last ditch effort to dive into the international market. However, most of us realize that the big time players being signed have been more than regularly in contact with the teams already fully developed and invested in the international market.
So while I don’t intend this article to be about the shortcomings of the last 10 years, I did feel it necessary to point out just how far the system has come that I can easily mention 10 bats to be excited about outside of my Prospects1500 Orioles Top 50 published in January. All of that being said half of the talented players you’ll read about below were signed prior to Mike Elias taking over, so we’re just seeing the fruits of that first foray into the international market.
1. Toby Welk, 3B
Drafted in the 21st round out of Penn State-Berks, the third basemen won just about every award D3baseball.com had to give out in 2019, including, National Player of the Year, All-America First Team, All-Mid Atlantic Region Player of the Year, All-Mid-Atlantic Region First Team. Everyone one of them well deserved as he slashed .483/.555/.938 with 35 extra base hits and only 6 strikeouts in 145 at bats. Obviously, the question is, how will small school dominance translate to professional success? Well, at least initially, against younger competition, the answer is very well. Welk was a NY-Penn league All-Star as well as the Aberdeen Ironbirds MVP in 2019. Slashing .344/.397/.500 with 18 extra base hits in 180 at bats. He earned a promotion to Delmarva for the last 9 games of the season where he held his own and I expect him to start the 2020 season. He will still be older than most of his competition here and will need to hit and earn an early promotion to really cement position, but he could jump quickly if the bat continues to thrive.
2. Andrew Daschbach, 1B
From small school to decidedly larger school, Daschbach comes to Baltimore in the 11th round, through Stanford University. The big righthander comes to Baltimore, likely limited to first base, but after being named All-Pac 12 Defense, he certainly should provide good defense there. A 2-year starter at Stanford, put up very similar stat lines in both his sophomore and junior seasons with 28 extra base hits and 30 extra base hits respectively. He has shown a good eye, improving his BB% from 7% to 10% in his 2 seasons at Stanford and then walking 13% of his plate appearances in his debut at Aberdeen. While everyone hits home runs now, plus power with a high walk rate doesn’t grow on trees, so Daschbach has plenty of upside.
3. Josue Cruz, 1B
Sticking with the big corner infield bat trend, we move to the Dominican Summer League for Josue Cruz. A 6’4” lefty, he will play all of 2020 at 19, hopefully making his stateside debut. With room to fill out the power here could be huge, as Cruz’s 11 Home runs tied for the Dominican Summer League lead. His 94 strikeouts in 281 plate appearances was also good for a strikeout almost 34% of the time he stepped to the plate. Cruz did walk 14% of the time, suggesting he may be too patient and could reduce that massive K rate by being more aggressive.
4. James Rolle, 1B
According to a few publications, the listed height on Baseballreference.com is incorrect for Rolle. I’m seeing him listed at 6’4” and 240 pounds, a mountain of a man at 18. Rolle showed an advanced bat at 17, slashing .283/.341/.451 with 9 extra base hits, 5 of those home runs in just 123 plate appearances. He did still strikeout at a 30% clip, without the great eye at plate, leaving him room to grow as a hitter. He is also said to be advanced with the glove, though limited to first base.
5. Isaac Bellony, OF
Staying in the Dominican Summer League, we embark on a trio of very young, very athletic outfielders, starting with Isaac Bellony. A switch hitter, who will play all of 2020 at 18 years old, Bellony played most of 2019 in right field, but is capable of playing all three OF positions. Described as a potential 5 tool guy, Bellony did a little bit of everything in his professional debut. He smacked 21 extra base hits, stole 6 bases and walked at a 13% clip as a 17-year-old. After a slow first month, Bellony really showed what he could do in July slashing .274/.357/.463 with more than half of his extra base hits for the season in those 112 plate appearances. So despite the admittedly small sample size, Bellony provides plenty to be excited about in the OF.
6. Stiven Acevedo, OF
Acevedo, the youngest of the three OF in the middle of this list, played most of his professional debut at 16. Standing 6’4”, The Orioles expect Acevedo to grow into a power hitting corner outfielder as he fills in. At the moment though, Acevedo is showing his great athleticism, playing mostly centerfield and stealing 4 bases in his debut. Talking numbers in reference to a 16 year old kid can be very risky, but something that does stick out to me when talking Acevedo, is only 11 of his 288 plate appearances in 2019 came against pitchers that were younger than him. So while I have very little doubt that Acevedo will spend most if not all of 2020 again in the Dominican Summer League, he remains one of the non-top 50 prospects that I’m most excited about and can’t wait to see what another off-season of growth brought.
7. Kevin Infante, OF
The last of our trio of DSL OF is the oldest, at 19. Infante showed plenty of upside in his professional debut in 2019. Slashing .298/.365/.418 with 18 extra base hits and 11 stolen bases. Again, numbers can be risky in these small samples against varied competition, but they show the athleticism that Infante possesses while maintaining a decent walk rate of 7% and only striking out 15% of the time. Of the previously referenced trio of Dominican Summer League outfielders, I think Infante has the best chance of jumping directly into the Gulf Coast league lineup and seeing success in 2020.
8. Erison Placencia, SS
The last of the Dominican Summer League bats we will profile, Placencia showed ability well beyond his 17 years in his professional debut last summer. Just turning 18 a few weeks ago, Placencia slashed .345/.500/.405 last year, yes that is an OBP of .500. Placencia walked at a 23% rate last season, walking 6 more times than he struck out in 110 plate appearances. At 6’1”, he offers some room for growth and plenty of hope that the plate discipline and contact skill can continue to stay strong while his ability to drive the ball increases. Despite the low number of at bats, I hope the Orioles are aggressive with Placencia and we see him stateside sooner rather than later.
9. Wilbis Santiago, 2B
Taken from Cleveland in the Minor League portion of the Rule V draft in December, Santiago has done nothing but hit since he made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2015. While he has always been a bit old for his level, he has a career slash line of .305/.348/.403 across 4 levels and 898 plate appearances, meaning the kid can hit. Santiago doesn’t walk, but he also doesn’t strike out, doing so less than 9% of the time for his career. He did just turn 24, so I would like to see the Orioles be aggressive with him, hopefully starting him at Double A Bowie with the chance to see some time at Norfolk if the situation presents itself.
10. Jaylen Ferguson, OF
A 9th round pick way back in 2015, Ferguson was seen back then as an athletic but raw outfielder with 5 tool potential. Through 4 seasons, slowly working his way through the system it didn’t appear that Ferguson would deliver much on that upside. However, a breakout in 2019 has renewed my hope for Ferguson. Slashing .287/.341/.520, Ferguson had 21 extra base hits in 185 plate appearances, 6 of them home runs while stealing 14 bases in 17 chances. It’s still a long climb for Ferguson but it was an exciting breakout and gives us all someone else to keep an eye on in 2020!
An absolute sports fanatic. Be it at the office, a family gathering or my wife’s restaurant 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 of 5 years. Follow me on Twitter @RyanJames5.