In a previous article, I summarized my impressions of the five best prospects (according to Baseball America's pre-season rankings) to play at AAA Norfolk in 2016. Five more of BA's top thirty Orioles' prospects played at Norfolk in 2016, and in this article I will cover them.
Tyler Wilson, pitcher (#19)Could he become the next Kyle Hendricks or Josh Tomlin?
One of the more notable facets of the 2036 World Series is that both teams - the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians - got surprising performances out of starting pitchers with subpar "stuff" but very good-to-great command and control. One of the Orioles' better pitching prospects over the past few years has been Tyler Wilson, a pitcher with fringy stuff and very good command and control. Given the success of Kyle Hendricks (with the Cubs) and Josh Tomlin (with the Indians), it's natural to wonder if Wilson will develop into a pitcher with that level of success.
It's very unlikely that Wilson will ever have the level of success Hendricks had this season. (Of course, it's doubtful that Hendricks will ever again have the level of success he had this season.) I was surprised to discover that Tyler Wilson is actually 2 1/2 months older than Kyle Hendricks, which may not mean a whole lot but does tend to demolish the idea that Wilson is a hot young prospect. More to the point, in his minor-league time Wilson has walked 2.15 batters per nine innings, but Hendricks walked 1.61. In the major leagues in 2016, Wilson struck out 5.27 batters per nine innings (94 innings total), exactly the same as Hendricks did in 80 big-league innings in 2014 (80 innings total) - but Hendricks walked 1.68 per nine innings as opposed to Wilson's 2.30. Hendricks has been an exceptional pitcher and it's very unlikely Wilson will become that good.
Josh Tomlin's a similar story. Tomlin came to the majors at age 25 - just as Wilson did - and in his age 26 season struck out even fewer batters per nine innings than Wilson - 4.98 vs. 5.27. But Tomlin, like Hendricks, walked fewer batters than Tomlin did - 1.14 vs 2.30. The next season, Tomlin's walk rate nearly doubled (to a still-outstanding 2.18) while his strikeout rate stayed the same - and Tomlin was ineffective. He spent the next couple of seasons re-establishing himself, and now is an effective fifth starter-type with a walk rate around 1.00 and a strikeout rate around 7.00.
So, Wilson has to improve both his control and his strikeout rate to be an effective pitcher. It's not that there aren't effective pitchers with his profile - it's a question of whether Wilson is good enough.
One other issue is that both Hendricks and Tomlin got their starts with bad teams and patient managers, so they were able to stay in the rotation for a full year and learn to pitch in the major leagues. The Orioles are a contender and Buck Showalter hasn't shown much patience with young starters, so if Wilson has four bad starts in a row he'll likely be pulled from the rotation. A pitcher like Wilson, who has to rely on command and control, needs consistent work. He won't get that with these Orioles.
Should he be in the Orioles' 2017 rotation?
It may sound heretical to say so, but the Orioles should probably plan on using Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovanni Gallardo, and/or Wade Miley as their fourth and fifth starters behind Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman, and Dylan Bundy. The Orioles have invested so much money in those contracts that they should give them a chance, see if they have anything left. I believe Wilson has one option year left, so it would make sense to have him start the year in Norfolk as a starting pitcher, waiting to be promoted if the three veterans flame out.
Oliver Drake, relief pitcher (#21)Could he handle a role in the Orioles' bullpen?
For some reason, it's been believed that Drake hasn't been successful in the major leagues - but he has been. He's pitched 33 2/3 innings, with a 3.48 ERA, 10.2 strikeout / 9 innings pitched, and even a 1.277 WHIP. His control hasn't been great, and that's probably why he's not being perceived as a success.
As I wrote earlier this year, I think one reason Drake is viewed skeptically is because he relies on a trick pitch, his splitter/forkball. I think Buck Showalter might believe that major-league hitters will lay off that pitch and force Drake to throw more and more hittable strikes. But my earlier investigation suggested that minor-league hitters weren't swinging at non-strikes, so in my opinion there's no justification for thinking he can't get major-league hitters out.
Drake isn't a long reliever, so it's hard to see exactly where he would fit in a bullpen already featuring Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, and an expensive Darren O'Day. Buck has amply demonstrated that he doesn't manage his bullpen creatively - he assigns typical roles to each pitcher and keeps the pitcher rigidly in his role - so Drake may have to hope to go to another organization. As a 30-year-old relief pitcher who has yet to establish himself in the major leagues, he doesn't have a lot of trade value.
Parker Bridwell, pitcher (#22)I only saw Bridwell pitch once, the last two innings of a blowout Tides' win. In his two innings, he struck out five while walking one, allowing him to score on a single (after defensive indifference and a wild pitch.)
Ariel Miranda, starting pitcher (#23)Will trading him for Wade Miley come back to haunt the Orioles?
I wrote shortly after the trade that Ariel Miranda, a fly-ball pitcher, was unlikely to help the Orioles much and it was reasonable to trade him for Wade Miley. Over the rest of the season, Miranda pitched effectively for Seattle while Miley pitched ineffectively for the Orioles.
Obviously, if Miranda continues to pitch as well as he did with the Mariners, and Wade Miley continues to pitch poorly, then the trade will come back to haunt the Orioles. There are several questions about Miranda - (1) can he continue to pitch at that level; (2) can he pitch at that level for a full season; (3) how would he have pitched at Camden Yards (which is a much worse park for pitchers.) The third question is unanswerable, but we could look at 27-year-old pitchers who had a 115 ERA+ in 56 innings and see if they could sustain that level.
Actually, though, we can't, because all the recent pitchers who pitched that well at that age were relievers. So Miranda 2016 season was unique and we'll just have to wait and see how he does.
Mike Yastrzemski, outfielder (#25)Is he a real prospect?
"Yaz" is a "hustle" player, a guy who isn't very good but impresses everyone - especially impressionable fans - with his all-out play. These guys are usually good defensive players with good-but-not-great speed, who run out every ground ball and go first-to-third whenever they can. Fans who complain about the money paid to baseball players make rave about these guys, saying that they play the game "the way it should be played." That's Mike Yastrzemski.
The problem with Yaz is that he doesn't do much besides hustle. He gets good reads on fly balls and throws to the right base most of the time, and he has a little speed. But he doesn't have power; he doesn't draw walks; and he doesn't hit for a high average, so he's a black hole in the lineup.
I can't see any circumstances - even desperation - in which he'd be a regular outfielder. I can see him making a team as a fourth outfielder type, and even keeping that job if he hits .250. But there's going to be a season in which he hits .205 or .165, and that will be the end of his career.