The Arizona Fall League came to a close on Saturday afternoon; several Baltimore Orioles prospects played well enough during the AFL season to slightly improve the outlook of a weak Orioles farm system
Coming into the 2018 season, the Baltimore Orioles had one of the worst minor league systems in MLB. When then-executive VP Dan Duquette was allowed to sell every available asset on the major league team at the 2018 trade deadline, the farm got a bit better. But much of Duquette’s work helped bolster the organization’s depth without adding star power near the top.
While DL Hall could become a third top-100 prospect as we head into 2019, none of the players the Orioles sent to the AFL this year are likely to appear on any top-prospects list. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that several Orioles prospects played well in Arizona this year and helped boost their own prospect stock.
Outfielder Ryan McKenna was one of the best hitters in the AFL this year, posting a .344/.474/.590 slash line with 10 extra-base hits and 14 walks in 75 plate appearances. McKenna has below-average raw power but his ability to hit line-drives all over the field will translate to the majors.
On the defensive side, McKenna can play anywhere in the outfield, and his plus-speed should allow him to stay in center-field. McKenna won’t end up on MLB’s top-100 list heading into 2019, but there’s a chance he lands in the Orioles top-10 before next season gets underway.
Left-handed pitcher Chris Lee threw 20.2 innings in 6 appearances for Glendale and posted a 3.05 ERA with 13 strikeouts. Lee has never been a top prospect for the Orioles and he wasn’t particularly impressive in 2018 between Norfolk and Bowie. He pitched to a 6.75 ERA in 32 innings, and posted just 27 strikeouts with 19 walks.
But Lee does have above-average stuff, including a mid-90’s fastball and a wipeout slider. As a 26-year-old, Lee is reaching the point where it’s coming time for him to contribute in Baltimore. Though he isn’t on the 40-man and the need for lefty-relievers in the AL East isn’t dire, if Lee can refine his pitches and command the ball in the strike zone, he could compete for a spot in Baltimore’s weak bullpen in 2019.
Infielder Steve Wilkerson had a respectable showing in Arizona posting a .282/.372/.388 line, though he had just four extra-base hits. Wilkerson has never been known for his power, instead serving as a utility man who can play defensively all over the infield.
Wilkerson’s defensive maneuverability will be the main argument for playing him in Baltimore next year, though whether or not the new front office will be interested in calling him up is to be seen.
While Wilkerson doesn’t provide much on the offensive side, one focus for the 2019 Orioles will be to provide better defense behind their young pitchers. For that reason alone, Wilkerson could be a bench guy in Baltimore next year.
Right-handed pitcher Tanner Chleborad looked better in Arizona this year, finishing with a 1.46 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 12.1 innings. Chleborad has a low-to-mid 90’s fastball and a sweeping slider that, to this point, hasn’t generated enough swings and misses for him to be successful. He has a tendency to overthrow his pitches and he can be wild and inconsistent at times.
As a reliever, Chleborad has never shown up on an Orioles top-prospect list and now that he’s 26 and in Double-A, he won’t ever get there. If Chleborad wants to be successful in the majors, he needs to do a better job commanding his pitches in the strike zone. Without elite velocity or a third pitch, the margin for error with Chleborad is very small.
Cervenka posted a .587 OPS in 14 games and it’s looking less likely than ever that he’ll contribute in the majors.
Flaa doesn’t have electric stuff but his curveball can generate whiffs. Lack of a third pitch might hold him back but he;s been consistent in the minors and could pitch in Baltimore in 2020.
Erwin has below-average fastball velo and a slurvy-slider but he pitched well in short-season ball and again at high-A Frederick this year. Like Chleborad, the path to the majors is a very thin one.
Mike Elias has a lot of work to do this offseason, including rebuilding the scouting and player development departments. Once the Orioles get their new structure in place, they can start providing better information to the players and start to build a smarter, better organization.