Every year, Baseball America (BA) publishes its Prospect Handbook, in which they profile their top 30 prospects for each team. Because I get to see so many Norfolk Tides’ games, I read the Handbook to learn about the players I’ll be seeing. It’s also interesting to see how more expert evaluators regard players I may have already seen. This article will review Baseball America’s assessment of the Orioles farm system in general terms. While I don’t claim to be as expert as Baseball America, I see more Norfolk games and focus on different things as a milb.com datacaster and BIS scorer. I’ve also seen many players exceed their projections and many more fail to meet theirs.
Baseball America rates Baltimore’s farm system, overall, at #17. I think that’s too high; I would rate them #21 or #22. Baseball America’s rating is driven by one player – Dylan Bundy. BA rates Bundy as the best pitching and #2 overall prospect in baseball; I’ve never seen Dylan Bundy pitch so I am not going to disagree. But I believe that BA gives Bundy too much weight in evaluating the Orioles’ farm system. BA argues that having one outstanding prospect – who, in the best case, projects to being historically great – is better than having several prospects projected to be solid players or occasional all-stars. Looking back, when Albert Pujols was in the Cardinals’ farm system, he was so valuable that even though the St. Louis Cardinals had very little depth in their farm system behind him, it would be foolish to claim that the Cardinals had a substandard farm system. BA editor Jim Callis puts their philosophy best as “You win with stars.”
I have two issues with their approach. The lesser point is the safety-in-numbers point, which is that a farm system with a very small number of prospects is vulnerable if something goes wrong. I do agree that an Albert Pujols is worth more than ten middle relievers or utility infielders; I merely think that one Albert Pujols-type prospect isn’t enough to say that a team has a good farm system. The bigger point is that having a star, or even two or three stars, isn’t enough to guarantee that your team will be successful. The 1967-1973 Cubs with Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins, the 1979-1984 Expos with Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, and Tim Raines, the turn-of-the-century Mariners with Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, and Ken Griffey – won one division title among the four of them. Stars aren’t enough; you need solid regulars around them.
And the Orioles farm system doesn’t have the prospects that will produce those solid regulars. #1 prospect Dylan Bundy looks like the new Greg Maddux. And #2 Kevin Gausman looks like a solid #2 starting pitcher. But after that, there isn’t much there. #3 Jonathan Schoop is starting to remind me of Luis Rivas; he’s been very young for the levels he’s played at, but he also hasn’t really done much at those levels. He’s highly rated because of his youth and projection, and as a farm system’s number three prospect, he’s okay. But #4 Nick Delmonico is a corner infielder with a history of back problems who slugged .413 in low-A ball. #5 Ed Rodriguez is a one-year wonder who struck out 6.1 batters per nine innings at Low-A. Again, these are two players who have to develop but about whom there are large question marks. I’ll discuss #6 L.J. Hoes below. #7 Xavier Avery and #14 Glynn Davis are raw outfielders with athletic talents and undeveloped their baseball skills. #8 Mike Wright and #11 Tim Berry
are college pitchers who might become innings-eating starters, but with have current career ERAs over 4.50. #9 Branden Kline, #10 Adrian Marin, and #12 Christian Walker are the second-, third-, and fourth-round draft picks from 2012; they aren’t any better than other second, third, and fourth-round picks. #13 Henry Urrutia is a Cuban defector who hasn’t even been cleared to play. These players can still develop. But when you compares those prospects to the equivalent prospects in Kansas City, Colorado, or Atlanta – the systems BA ranks immediately below the Orioles –they fall far enough short that Dylan Bundy isn’t enough to lift the Orioles over those teams.
I also believe Baseball America has underrated L.J. Hoes. He’s listed as their #6 prospect, and I believe he should clearly be at least #4 and I might be persuaded that he should rank at #3, ahead of Jonathan Schoop. I’ve written before about L.J. Hoes, and why I think he can become a legitimate starting left fielder in the major leagues. Baseball America doesn’t think so. They believe his ceiling is as a “platoon / utility player,” although they do think he’s likely to reach that level and almost certain to have a major-league career beyond his 2012 cup of coffee. Their #4 and #5 rated prospects – Nick Delmonico and Eduardo Rodriguez -- have ceilings of “second-division regular … #4 starter on [a] good team”. BA acknowledges that they are much riskier prospects, since they’ve just played low-A ball and didn’t dominate.
Even by BA’s own standards and scale, L.J. Hoes should rate above Delmonico and Rodriguez. If you think that Hoes’ ceiling is at least equal to Delmonico’s and Rodriguez’ – if you think that Hoes could become at least a second-division regular – it’s no contest. L.J. Hoes is the Orioles’ number-4 prospect.