The Baltimore Orioles could see a number of top prospects make their MLB debuts in 2020.
Not even a condensed schedule and expanded rosters will help the Baltimore Orioles rise up up the American League East standings in 2020, but that doesn’t mean Orioles fans will be left without a few highly entertaining storylines.
As the franchise enters year two of a massive rebuild under general manager Mike Elias, a slew of top prospects are knocking on the gates of Camden Yards to make their major league debut in the near future. Without a minor league baseball season to continue their development, the rebuilding Orioles should go ahead and plan on finding ways to get as many of these prospects playing time, should the 2020 season begin in the coming weeks.
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Entering this season, three Top 30 Orioles prospects are already likely to have prominent roles, including outfielder Austin Hays. Hays is primed to take over starting center field duties in Baltimore and find himself at or near the top of the Oriole lineup. He’s currently the top-ranked outfielder in the system and ranks fifth overall, per MLB Pipeline.
A first-round pick all the way back in 2013, right-handed pitcher Hunter Harvey overcame six years of injuries and setbacks to make his major league debut in 2019, striking out 11 hitters in 6.1 innings of work and showcasing his 100 mph fastball out of the bullpen. Considered the 12th-ranked prospect in Baltimore, Harvey will look to stabilize the back end of the Orioles bullpen, one that was shaky last season, to say the least.
There’s also right-handed pitcher Dillon Tate. Tate began 2019 as a starter in Double-A but transitioned to a reliever after missing some time due to injury and found himself quickly working his way up to the majors. Tate enters 2020 as the 27th-ranked prospect and likely to end up on an expanded active roster this season. Despite his early struggles, Tate kept the ball on the ground nearly 60% of the time in his debut MLB stint and averaged just about a strikeout per inning.
Here are the Baltimore Orioles top prospects that are likely to debut in 2020.
With minor league at-bats and innings not an option in 2020, major league rosters are expected to be expanded and taxi squads created to ensure players are prepared and ready to relieve the major league roster (pending an agreement to play 2020).
The Baltimore Orioles have a large group of prospects who are ready or just about ready to take the next step in their development. Could as many as 12 of their Top 30 prospects see major league playing time? That’s a large number, but it’s possible. A few of these players seem like locks.
Ryan Mountcastle (#4 prospect) has proven about as much as he can in the minors, from an offensive standpoint. An International League MVP last season, Mountcastle hit .312 with a .344 OBP, 25 home runs, 35 doubles, and a 117 wRC+ with the Norfolk Tides, showcasing quality at-bats against many of the top pitching prospects in the International League.
He appeared at first base for the first time last season and played there until late in the year when he was moved to left field. With a logjam at first base/DH in Baltimore, Mountcastle may see the majority of his playing time in the outfield, a position he showed decent promise at. With Trey Mancini sidelined as he fights colon cancer, an opening in the Baltimore Orioles outfield is now available.
Left-handed pitchers Keegan Akin (#11 prospect) and Bruce Zimmermann (#28 prospect) are ready to show whether or not they are major league quality pitchers. Akin has struggled with high walk totals (career-high 12% walk rate last season in AAA) but the former second-round pick out of Western Michigan is coming off a Triple-A season that saw him lead the IL in strikeouts and put up the lowest HR/9 IP mark (0.80/9 IP) of his career, despite a juiced baseball in AAA.
Zimmermann made a fair bit of noise in spring training this season, striking out nine across six innings and flashing a fastball that reached 95 mph, a notable increase in velocity from the Baltimore native.
Both pitchers are back of the rotation/long relief candidates in the big leagues and will, hopefully, be able to get their first tastes of the big leagues with a few short outings or bullpen stints this season.
Orioles fans shouldn’t count out seeing at least a glimpse of a few more pitching prospects. Right-handers Michael Baumann (#8), Dean Kremer (#9) and Cody Sedlock (#19) all had impressive seasons in Double-A last year, as did lefties Zac Lowther (#10) and Alex Wells (#15).
Perhaps no Baltimore Orioles prospect progressed as much as Baumann did last season, going 6-2 with a 2.31 ERA, 65 strikeouts, and a .185 average against in 70 innings with Double-A Bowie. He can hold 94-95 mph deep into outings and went from a likely future bullpen role to a serious starting rotation candidate in Baltimore.
Kremer is also a notable rotation candidate with his impressive strikeout numbers and ability to keep runners off the basepaths throughout his minor league journey with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles.
Diaz has been plagued with injuries since coming over to Baltimore but has flashed major league tools when healthy. From an impressive arm out in right field to the ability to pile up the extra-base hits and post impressive on-base totals (career .355 OBP in the minors), Diaz could use a little more seasoning just to make sure he’s fully healthy, but it won’t be long before he’s fighting for the starting right field job.
That’s not all, though. There are questions surrounding the bat of Ryan McKenna (#16), but his elite speed and defensive abilities could be an asset to the Orioles. He was added to the 40-man roster over the winter to avoid the Rule 5 draft.
Lastly, infielders Rylan Bannon (#18) and Mason McCoy (#24) are potential utility options after big seasons in the minor leagues last year. Bannon hit .286 with 47 extra-base hits and a few highlight-reel defensive plays between Triple-A and Double-A, while McCoy hit .379 in High-A Frederick before finishing the season in Double-A with a .266 average and double-digit stolen bases. His glove has been major league ready for a while now.
The Baltimore Orioles may not win very many games over the next two years, but the roster will continue to fill out with more interesting talent. We’ll see how many of these Top 30 guys break into the majors in 2020.