Friday, December 24, 2010

TEAM #28 – Baltimore Orioles

Machado has the potential to be the best high school shortstop drafted in more than 15 years

Orioles fans can take some solace in the number of prospects that they have graduated to the Majors over the last couple of seasons, including Josh Bell, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta who all were top four prospects from last year’s rankings (TEAM #21 – Baltimore Orioles). Unfortunately, that has left this year’s list a bit thin. The top two players match up well with most any organization, but the gap to #3 is substantial; and the best of the lot appear to be quite a distance away in the lower levels. And the Orioles haven’t been helped by injuries either, as four of their top sixteen prospects from last year’s list missed significant 2010 time due to injury—something that was particularly hard on the 2009 draft class. Couple that with Matt Hobgood’s extreme over draft in 2009, and you have a pretty big hole to fill—as only Givens at #7, from that class, makes the top ten.

Perhaps more important, is the question of long-term strategy. The Orioles have a very good nucleus of young players, as three of their starting eight and four of their top five starting pitchers are all 25yo or younger. But the Yankees and Red Sox aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon, and the Rays have an even better young nucleus. It is difficult to imagine a path for the Orioles to overcome, at least, two of the three teams that are ahead of them anytime in the next few years. With their best prospects now at the major league level, they are going to need to be able to maximize their value by determining which of the young players are future stars—and need to be locked up to long term deals, and which of the players need to be dealt for key additions that might enable them to compete with the other teams in the AL East. One such decision appears to be in the offing in 2011, as Zach Britton looks ready to join the rotation by June. If the Orioles are to succeed anytime soon, they remain a quality outfielder, middle infielder, first baseman and closer away—none of which appears to be coming from the farm system soon. There is substantial promise here, but a clear path seems to be lacking.

Best Pick from 2010 – The top four slots were relatively no brainers in 2010, so we have to go down the list a bit further. We cautioned against Hobgood, but still overrated him at #6. The best pick was likely Xavier Aver at #10, who came into the season with a .655 OPS, but played as a 20yo at Hi-A and AA and still managed to post a .723 OPS in 2010.

Worst Pick from 2010 – You have to dig deep to find a bad one, but with Erbe’s injury placing his career in jeopardy his #6 ranking is likely to take the biggest fall.

Grade A

1) Manny Machado, SS -

We don’t want to draw the obvious Alex Rodriguez comparisons—nearly identical builds, prep shortstops out of South Florida, etc—but Machado is likely the best high school ‘pure’ shortstop drafted since the Mariners drafted Rodriguez in 1993. Granted the list of high school shortstop prospects selected in the top five picks since then is not a lengthy one (essentially see Tim Beckham and the Uptons), but that doesn’t diminish Machado’s skill set, nor the fact that he played the entire 2010 season under the spotlight of carrying the label of the best prep position player available in the upcoming draft. Contact is Machado’s best skill, but he also projects to have plus-power for the shortstop position. Defensively he has good range, solid footwork, soft hands and a strong arm. If he has any weakness, it is that he likely possesses below average speed for a shortstop. Nonetheless, the ceiling for Machado is sky high and he’ll likely open 2011 in full-season ball, playing most of the season as an 18yo. If we have not made ourselves clear, this is a special talent that could move through the Minors very quickly and could fill one of those Orioles’ weaknesses as early as 2013.

2) Zach Britton, LHP (2010 Performance Scores – Dominance 50; Control 56; HRrate 74; Stamina 72)

It is unusual to find a prep pitching prospect, without a dominating fastball, that has as high a floor as Britton has carried for the last couple of seasons. That isn’t a knock against his fastball—as it is a low-90s offering with excellent movement—just a recognition that this is the complete pitching package. Nearly all of his pitches come in ‘heavy’, with his sinker being among the best in all of the minors. His refined, four-pitch arsenal has generated ground out to air out ratios of a nearly unheard of 2.81, 3.38 and 2.80 over the last three seasons. If Britton has a weakness, it is occasional struggles with command of his secondary offerings, but he still managed to take his BB/9 IP down to 3.0 in 2010 from 3.54 in 2009.

The obvious comparison for Britton, who is unlikely to ever post huge strikeout numbers, is a left-handed version of Brandon Webb. Despite a loaded, young, Oriole rotation, we would prefer him to any of their current Major League starters—excepting possibly Matusz. After posting the #7 Performance Score in the International League (IL) in 2010, there is little left for Britton to prove in the Minors. That doesn’t mean that service time considerations won’t keep him in AAA until June, but he should become a mainstay in the Oriole rotation by sometime in early 2011 and looks like a solid bet for a productive career.

Grade B

3) Jonathon Schoop, SS (2010 – Power 58; Discipline 78; First Base Rate 72; Speed 33)

The drop to Schoop at #3 is a precipitous one, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t high on him. If there is one area where the Orioles are loaded, it is at the shortstop position in the lower levels. Machado is the star, but Schoop would easily assume that position in many organizations. Schoop possesses plus contact skills, but his 5 HRs and 18 doubles in 214 ABs is an indicator of eventual plus power for a middle infielder. It is the middle infield designation that may be his biggest negative. Schoop covers plenty of ground, sets up well, and has a powerful arm at shortstop, but barely 19yo, there is concern that his already below average speed will eventually force a move to third base as he matures. After watching Schoop post the #4 Performance Score in the Appalachian League (APY) in 2010—as an 18yo, we have little doubt that he can eventually hit enough to succeed at that position, but the difference is between being a league average third baseman vs. an above average offensive shortstop. Because Machado is likely to open up 2011 as the Delmarva shortstop, the Orioles will likely be forced into some decision on this as early as the upcoming season. We likely rank Schoop higher than most, but we have little doubt that there is no other prospect that follows on this list that has Schoop’s offensive upside at a premium position.

4) Xavier Avery, CF (2010 – Power 42; Discipline 39; First Base Rate 48; Speed 78)

Easily the most athletic prospect in the system, Avery was likely rushed a bit in 2010, as he finished the year with 107 ABs in AA—as a 20yo. Still, he posted a top ten Performance score in the Carolina League (CAR) prior to that and showed tremendous promise. All of Avery’s skills are raw, and he could use a solid year at AA to refine them, but he profiles as the classic leadoff hitter with plus-plus speed. Both offensively and defensively he is still more athlete than baseball player, but we are not sure that that doesn’t make the success he has had all that more impressive. Do not misunderstand, Avery is still extremely raw, but his ceiling is that of a significant top of the order center field threat. In a perfect world, the Orioles will leave Avery in AA all season and not expect to see him in Baltimore until late 2012.

5) L.J. Hoes, 2B (2010 – Power 35; Discipline 60; First Base Rate 76; Speed 53)

Hoes actually produced a better Performance Score (#7) in the CAR than did Avery—primarily on the basis of excellent plate discipline and plus contact skills. While there are fewer questions with Hoes as to whether or not he will continue to hit as he progresses, he doesn’t profile well defensively. Predominantly an outfielder in high school, Hoes has worked diligently at becoming a second baseman but has yet to assuage concerns about his ability to stay there. If not, he likely ends up in left field—where he doesn’t project to hit for enough power. While he could be a league average offensive second basemen on the upside, a position switch likely results in a fourth outfielder scenario. Look for Hoes to join Avery in the Eastern League to begin 2011.

6) Dan Klein, RHP

Klein, who we had rated at #95 entering the draft, was selected by the Orioles with the 85th overall pick this past June. Klein commands four average or better pitches extremely well, and with his athletic build it is not difficult to project Klein as a mid-rotation workhorse. However, Klein had shoulder surgery his sophomore year at UCLA, and has only really worked out of the bullpen since then. While his ceiling is solid, the limited workload and injury history are a concern. The Orioles will likely be cautious with Klein in 2011, starting him at Frederick on a strict pitch count. If he is unable to successfully stretch out as a starter, his ranking will take a significant hit.

7) Mychael Givens, SS (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 64; First Base Rate 67; Speed 51)

The Orioles second round pick in 2009 missed most of the 2010 season with a thumb injury. When he did get on the diamond, he demonstrated better offensive skills—especially discipline and contact--than we had expected prior to his being drafted. Defensively, there is little reason to not believe that his range, soft hands and strong arm (97mph as a pitcher in high school) can profile well at shortstop. However, by losing the 2010 season, Givens could use more time at Delmarva—which is likely to be home to Manny Machado. The Orioles have two choices, they could push Givens up to Frederick—which could be a struggle; or they could move him to second base at Delmarva—forming an impressive infield of Schoop, Machado and Givens. In either case, it is likely to be at least 2013 before Givens reaches Baltimore, and not before many more questions are answered.

8) Tyler Townsend, 1B (2010 – Power 77; Discipline 61; First Base Rate 55; Speed 33)

Injuries played havoc with Townsend’s 2010 season, but we did see enough of him to learn a few things. First, he was clearly a ‘man among boys’ playing as a 22yo in the South Atlantic League. Second, although he hit only six home runs in 197 ABs, he blasted 21 doubles and nearly 50% of his hits went for extra bases. Finally, with a 16% strikeout rate, his plate discipline is better than expected and good enough to portend positive results as he moves up. While we would feel better about his chances if we felt he could stick in the outfield, Townsend looks to possess a strong enough bat to give him a chance to be no worse than a left-handed portion of a Major League first base or DH platoon. While he is likely to return to the Carolina League to begin 2011, Townsend appears ready to take on the challenges of AA and he could be ready for some At Bats in Baltimore in 2012.

9) Connor Narron, SS/2B -

The Orioles drafted Narron in the fifth round in June and inked him to second round money despite a disappointing senior prep season. Narron’s struggles continued in his brief pro debut, begging the question of why the lofty ranking? Partly due to the weakness of the Orioles’ system and partly due to what we can envision as his ceiling, Narron slots well here. Narron is a switch hitter that has demonstrated above average offensive skills prior to 2010. While there is little reason to believe that he will stay as a middle infielder—except perhaps in a utility role—his bat is solid enough to be successful at third base, where he would become a plus defender. There isn’t ‘sky high’ ceiling here, but it isn’t difficult to see Narron as a league average Major League third baseman. In a system with as many question marks as the Orioles have, that makes him noteworthy. The expectation is that the Orioles will keep Narron in extended Spring Training before sending him to the APY—but a good spring could see him in the SAL in May.

10) Ryan Adams, 2B (2010 – Power 62; Discipline 45; First Base Rate 52; Speed 35)

Others have always been higher on Adams than we have, as we have difficulty envision an everyday position for him at the Major League level. Improving power numbers in 2010, where he hit 15 HRs for the first time, give Adams an outside shot of sticking at third base—or at least as a utility player. Adams is a solid ball-striker who will take a few walks. The problem has always been that he hasn’t demonstrated the requisite power to accompany his 21% strikeout rate. Given the fact that he lacks both the speed and athleticism to imagine him as an everyday infielder at the Major League level, we have never been comfortable about where he will play. We still aren’t, but we can at least consider the possibility that he could make it at third base or in left field if some of those 43 doubles begin to turn into home runs. Adams will head to AAA to begin 2011. While we still see a utility role as his likely ceiling, the probability of attaining it is getting stronger.

Grade B -

11) Joe Mahoney, 1B (2010 – Power 70; Discipline 55; First Base Rate 56; Speed 63)

We have been slow to warm to the huge Oriole first base prospect. As he didn’t even make our Oriole top fifty last year. And while we still have tremendous doubts, his #13 Performance Score in the Eastern League (ESL) in 2010 has gotten our attention—as he took his strikeout rate down from 23% to 19%. With more mobility than you would expect from a 6’7”, 245lb first baseman, and the present dearth of first base talent at the upper levels of the Oriole system, it is possible that the Orioles will give him an opportunity in Baltimore at some point in 2011. His power game will be his calling card, and we could see him as a potential power left-handed bench bat in the Majors. Look for him to return to the ESL to begin 2011—but the expectation is that he won’t finish there.

12) Matt Hobgood, RHP (2010 – Dominance 27; Control 39; HRrate 48; Stamina 64)

We have written plenty over the last two years about how awful a pick we found it to be when the Orioles selected Hobgood at #5 in 2009. There was a ton of unquestionably better prep pitching talent on the board at this slot and we liked at least six of them better. Nonetheless, the Orioles envisioned a significant mid-rotation workhorse in Hobgood’s 6’4”, 245lb frame. If there is one thing that we have found even more disappointing than his draft position, it has been his velocity drop and inability to strike out opposing hitters (5.6 K/9IP). His conditioning is poor, and his ‘pitchability’ has been less than impressive. Only potential, and the likelihood that the Orioles will give him ample opportunities to prove critics like us wrong keep him rated even this highly. He is likely to begin 2011 at Frederick, but he has a ton left to improve upon.

Other Top 300 Considerations – We haven’t missed anyone.

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.

No comments:

Post a Comment