Baltimore Orioles: The Highs And Lows Of Preston Palmeiro
By Nick Stevens
Baltimore Orioles second base prospect Preston Palmeiro is a curious case. Can he put it all together in 2019?
I wasn’t very high on Preston Palmeiro after the Baltimore Orioles used a seventh-round draft pick on the former North Carolina State star back in 2016. It seemed like a great move for the organization, bringing in a prospect with a familiar last name to provide a little more intrigue to whichever minor league affiliate he played for, but didn’t add a lot of excitement as far as future value prospect hype. As we prepare for the 2019 season, I’m a little higher on the second base prospect.
More than two seasons later, are things looking up for the second base prospect? Possibly. First, let’s go back and look at Palmeiro’s start to his career and a big change made that may prove to be a major turning point in his development.
Listed at 5’11” and 180 pounds, Palmeiro was assigned to the short-season Aberdeen Ironbirds after the 2016 draft, hitting .258 with a .301 OBP, six doubles, 18 runs driven in, and zero home runs in 34 games. The under-sized first baseman showed little gap-power at the plate, struck out more than 26% of the time, and kept the ball on the ground, recording a 52% groundball rate with the Ironbirds.
Not only was his path to the major leagues blocked by Chris Davis and potential position changes for Trey Mancini, Ryan Mountcastle, and other more high-profile prospects, but Palmeiro seemed to lack the size and power to make any noise as a first baseman.
He improved over the course of his first full season with the Orioles, playing in 127 games for the full-season Delmarva Shorebirds and showing a greater ability to drive the ball. Using data from Minor Graphs, now a part of the Prospects Live network, Palmeiro was able to gradually increase his average fly ball distance on batted balls from a low of 282 feet to 312 feet, before experiencing a dropoff over the final few weeks of the season.
As his flyball rate and average flyball distance drastically increased over May, June, and July of 2017, Palmeiro experienced his most productive outings at the plate. His ISO power, batting average, on-base percentage, and extra-base hits all climbed, resulting in his best season in the minors. After showing very little power at the plate in Aberdeen, Palmeiro sent six of his 13 home runs the opposite way (spray chart courtesy Baseball Savant), depositing balls over the left, center, and right field fences.
His overall stat line included a .253/.319/.399/.718 slash, 13 home runs, 27 doubles, and 77 runs driven in. Palmeiro ended the year with a 108 wRC+, a 7.9% BB rate (up 2%), 24% strikeout rate (down 2%), and a .147 ISO (up 84 points from his 2016 ISO).
A seemingly smooth transition for the Baltimore Orioles prospect.
The 2017 offseason was a big one for Preston Palmeiro as he made the switch from a first base prospect to a second baseman. The transition seemed pretty smooth, from my few looks in Frederick last season. Not only was Palmeiro adjusting to a new position, but he was also adjusting to Advanced-A pitching in the Carolina League.
At the plate, Palmeiro slashed .251/.309/.401 with a .709 OPS and a wRC+ of 100. He added 17 home runs, 19 doubles, two triples, and drove in 63 runs with Keys, an overall decent season. His walk rate remained steady at just over 7%, but his most notable improvement came in a 5% drop in his strikeout rate, finishing at just over 19% in 543 plate appearances. A .285 BABIP points to the possibility of being a little unlucky over the course of the year.
Watching Palmeiro was at the top of my list in my first trip to Frederick last season. He wasn’t required to make any tough plays in the field but he made all the routine plays with ease, like he had been playing the position for years. Then he surprised me even more at the plate, depositing doubles into the left-center field gap, driving balls off the left-field wall, and ripping groundballs between first and second base. My eyes were open.
Ignoring the 17 home runs, due to Harry Grove Stadium’s ineffectiveness at keeping balls in the ballpark, Palmeiro started using the entire field more and traded in a large percentage of groundballs for line drives.
He didn’t end the year on a high note, hitting just .223 with a .276 OBP after the All-Star break and posting a wRC+ below 50 for much of July, coordinating with a spike in his groundball rate. The goal for 2019, balance.
What does 2019 hold for Preston Palmeiro and his future role with the Baltimore Orioles?
This year will be a very critical year for Palmeiro in his development. Now 23 years old, he will need to show he can produce in Double-A ball. A three-year player out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Palmeiro hasn’t been moved aggressively through the system and will now have to take a leap forward in his development if he wants to crack the major league roster.
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The move to second base clears one major hurdle. Baltimore isn’t exactly home to a large pool of middle infield prospects, especially second basemen. If Palmeiro can continue to keep his strikeout rate low, show he can handle more advanced Double-A pitching, and use more of that line drive power to find the gaps, he could very well earn himself major league playing time in 2020.
What kind of major league player is Preston Palmeiro? If everything goes right, he can be a bat off the bench and someone to fill in for injuries and days off for starters. Based on his improvements, adjustments, and minor league production up to this point, he won’t be a player that hurts the team when he’s in the game.
You aren’t going to find Palmeiro on any Top 30 prospect list, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth watching. If you are close by in Bowie, where he is likely to play in 2019, get out to the park and catch a glimpse of him.