A lot of the baseball media (and many fans) project that the Orioles’ window for success will expire after the 2015 season when first baseman Chris Davis and catcher Matt Wieters become eligible for free agency. As they are both Scott Boras clients, they are likely to test the market and therefore extending the proverbial contention window hinges on the strength of the Orioles’ minor league system. With that said, it is very welcoming news to hear that three Orioles players made Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list.
RHP Dylan Bundy was ranked No. 15, RHP Kevin Gausman was ranked No. 20, and LHP Eduardo Rodriguez was ranked No. 65. The Orioles’ first-round pick in last year’s draft, RHP Hunter Harvey, barely missed the list at No. 108. Can you tell the Baltimore frontoffice likes to stockpile pitching? As for offense, infielder Jonathan Schoop also just missed the list at No. 110.
We have already seen glimpses of Gausman, and very minor glimpses of Bundy and Schoop at the Major League level, but it may not be long before the title “prospect” is removed from some of these players. The addition of Ubaldo Jimenez likely will push Gausman out of contention for an Opening Day roster spot, but manager Buck Showalter has already demonstrated that he is not opposed to letting Gausman pitch out of the bullpen (however, it is more likely that he starts the season in the minors to continue to mold into a durable SP). The 23-year-old struggled in the rotation last season, and was later demoted to the minors, only to be recalled later for a RP role, which he flourished in. It will be interesting to see if Miguel Gonzalez or Bud Norris are prioritized over Gausman in the event that he performs at a high level in spring training or the minors and either Gonzalez or Norris struggle.
Whereas Gausman improved from No. 26 last season, to No. 20 this season, Bundy slipped from being the No. 2 prospect in baseball, to No. 15. Though most of that has to do with him missing the entire 2013 season with an arm injury, and eventually Tommy John surgery, it will be interesting to see how he progresses when he is scheduled to come back in late June or early July. Prior to the surgery, Bundy threw into the mid-to-high 90 MPH range and already had developed an advanced repertoire of pitches (four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, curve, and changeup). How the 21 year-old’s arm responds to the surgery remains to be seen, but the Orioles still see him as a potential rotation ace.
Rodriguez is a bit of an unknown to many Orioles fans. New to BA’s Top 100, Rodriguez split the 2013 season with A+ Fredrick and AA Bowie, compiling 10-7 record with 145 IP (25 games) and 125 SOs. The 20 year-old surprisingly has been with the Orioles for a few years now, as he signed with them as an non-drafted free agent all the way back in 2010. At 6’2”, 200 lbs, this LHP is highly valued by the Orioles, as they reportedly passed on multiple trade offers for Major League talent this offseason.
Oddly enough, one of the Orioles’ top prospects that didn’t even make the top 100 has the best chance at being the first to reach the Majors in 2014. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop saw his chances at Major League playing time skyrocket when Brian Roberts signed with the New York Yankees. Though Ryan Flaherty is most likely to take the job to start the season, Showalter and General Manager Dan Duquette, aren’t likely to give too much slack at the position. If Flaherty underperforms, and Schoop appears moderately ready for the Majors, it is possible that we see Schoop playing for the Orioles early in the 2014 season. Schoop bats right handed and has flashed moderate power in his time in Minor Leagues, which is a rare feature at the position. In 81 games between rookie-level, A-, and AAA, Schoop hit .278/.330/.460 with 14 HRs, 14 2Bs, and 52 RBIs. Schoop missed playing time in 2013 with a stress fracture in his lower back suffered in May and it would have been interesting to see how his numbers accumulated by the season’s end had the injury not occurred.
Like all prospects, the Orioles’ young talent have question marks attached to them. How they continue to develop, and how some adjust to various setbacks going forward, will be very important subplots to the Orioles 2014 season. It is an exciting time for Orioles fans to see their young talent begin to bloom, and if just a couple of them live up to their hype, the Orioles’ window for success may not be ready to close anytime soon.