Baltimore Orioles: Don’t Forget About This Pitching Prospect
By Nick Stevens
The top pitching prospects down on the farm are pitching well for the Baltimore Orioles, but let’s look at an arm outside of the top 30 list.
While the major league rotation for the Baltimore Orioles serves up batting practice, the top pitching prospects down on the farm are dominating, executing, and impressing. DL Hall, Keegan Akin, Grayson Rodriguez, Blaine Knight, and Zac Lowther have all been racking up the strikeouts and it’s been quite the sight to see, when we are able to watch on MiLB TV.
Even former first-round pick and top pitching prospect Cody Sedlock made his presence known, again, in his first start with the Frederick Keys, striking out nine hitters in 5.2 innings of work. I’m supposed to be in Salem, Virginia to watch Sedlock pitch on Sunday, but Mother Nature is going to have other plans for me.
While watching the top prospects start off hot is exciting, my favorite prospects to watch are those guys outside of the top 30 mainstream prospect lists. Why? I love a good underdog story. One of those guys who caught my eye recently was RHP Gray Fenter.
Fenter was a seventh-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles back in 2015, selected out of West Memphis High School in Arkansas. The Orioles offered the teenage-draftee a $1 million signing bonus to convince him to go pro over honoring his commitment to Mississippi State University. At about $800,000 over-slot, Fenter signed with the O’s.
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Major outlets such as Fangraphs and MLB Pipeline have both ranked Fenter as a Top 15 Baltimore Orioles prospect at different points since he was drafted, but missing all of 2016 recovering from Tommy John surgery and a slow return since have dropped him from these lists. The addition of pitching prospects, such as those mentioned at the top of this article, have pushed Fenter further down the organizational pecking order and further out of the minds of minor league fans.
Now 23 years old, Fenter is back with the Delmarva Shorebirds and showed flashes of why the Orioles were so high on him as a teenage prospect.
In his first start with the Shorebirds, back on April 6th, Fenter took on the Lexington Legends (Kansas City Royals affiliate) and looked sharper than I have seen him before. He threw five innings, giving up three runs (only one was earned) on four hits, striking out six and walking three.
There’s one big reason why I’m excited about Fenter’s 2019 season. You can see a great example of this reason at the very end of this video, courtesy of Prospects Live.
That curveball is something else. His big 12-6 curve that works well with a low-90s fastball coupled to produce an effective outing to kick off his 2019 campaign. He needed 63 pitches to get through his first outing, throwing 35 strikes. Of those 35 strikes, 12 were swings and misses (34%). Left-handed hitters went just 2-12 against the right-handed Fenter.
We didn’t see this type of swing and miss action last season in the South Atlantic League. Fenter eclipsed that 34% mark just once in his 14 appearances with the Shorebirds last season. In late June, he was demoted to the short-season Aberdeen Ironbirds where he finished out the season.
Fenter wasn’t overpowering in his first appearance, sitting around 90 mph. The fastest pitch seen on the stadium radar gun or pointed out by the Lexington broadcast was 92 mph. That’s down from early scouting reports on Fenter that pointed out his 95 mph fastball.
The curveball was enough to pique my interest in Fenter, again. You won’t make it as a major league starter with a low-90s fastball and curveball, but maybe becoming a full-time reliever will add a little value to his prospect status.
While Grayson Rodriguez, Drew Rom, and Blaine Knight are the reasons for taking in a Delmarva Shorebirds game, don’t overlook Gray Fenter. Maybe there’s still something there, maybe he hangs around the minor leagues his entire career. That’s part of the fun in following the minor leagues.