Baltimore Orioles: A History Of O’s Prospects In MLB Futures Game
The Baltimore Orioles will send two representatives to the 2019 MLB Futures Game in Cleveland. Let’s look back at former O’s prospects who have made an appearance in what has become one of the more exciting baseball games of the year.
Prospects, prospects, prospects! More and more fans seem to be falling in love with the world of minor of league baseball and the annual MLB Futures game provides fanatics with an opportunity to watch many of the game’s top prospects all take the same field, while more casual fans are introduced to some of the top stars of tomorrow. For fans of the Baltimore Orioles, interest in the minor leagues is at an all-time high, thanks to a growing talent pool and a second-straight season of dismal baseball at the major league level.
The Orioles will send two highly-touted pitchers to the 2019 Futures Game- RHP Grayson Rodriguez and LHP DL Hall. Going into the All-Star break, Rodriguez is the top-ranked prospect in the O’s system (53rd overall), while Hall (66th overall) comes in at number three, per MLB Pipeline. Those rankings will likely change once Adley Rutschman officially joins the rankings, but for now, Gray-Rod and Hall represent an exciting wave of pitching talent building up in the lower minors of the Baltimore Orioles system.
Baltimore has sent a number of prospects to this exciting contest since the exhibition game began in 1999. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and look at those prospects who have appeared in the Futures game and where their careers took them after the game. One common theme we’re hoping Rodriguez and Hall can break- few of these Futures Game participants from Baltimore had much, if any, success at the major league level.
1999- 1B Calvin Pickering and LHP Matt Riley
A former 35th-round selection of the Orioles in the 1995 MLB Draft, Pickering represented the U.S. Virgin Islands in the first-ever Futures Game, a game won by the World Squad by a score of 7-0. He logged 73 home runs from 1996-1998, becoming a Top 100 prospect and earning a trip to the Futures Game. Unfortunately, his regular OBP of .400 or higher and massive home run totals never panned out in the major leagues. He played in just 95 major league games with four different franchises, hanging around the independent circuit until 2008.
A third-round pick in the 1999 draft, Riley was the O’s Minor League Player of the Year in 1999, a Futures Game participant, and made his MLB debut in early September. After making three starts and posting a 7.36 ERA, Riley did not return to the majors until 2003. He would make 15 more starts before being traded to Texas and ending his career in the independent leagues. His career K/BB ratio with the Orioles was 78/72 in 85 innings.
2000- OF Ntema Ndungidi
The story of Ntema Ndungidi is an unfortunate story that goes well beyond baseball. Originally born in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and raised in Canada, Ndungidi was the 36th overall pick of the Baltimore Orioles in the 19997 draft as a highly-touted outfielder with speed and pop. In his first full season as a professional (1998), Ndungidi slashed .292/.395/.486 with 22 extra-base hits, but struggled to find base hits in 1999 (still had a .370 OBP).
He maintained a near .400 OBP with Bowie in 2000 and earned a trip to the Futures Game, but challenges with mental health and criminal charges soon led to the end of his playing days. He never reached the major leagues.
2001- LHP Erik Bedard and LHP Richard Stahl
Erik Bedard may have had a few productive seasons with the Orioles in the early 2000’s, but his biggest contribution to this franchise may have been the return he garnered when traded to the Seattle Mariners. I’m sure you also have fond memories of the deal that brought the beloved Adam Jones to Birdland (along with Chris Tillman). Before that deal, Bedard was a top pitching prospect in the O’s system, dominating his way through the Carolina League with the Frederick Keys (team-leading eight wins and 90 strikeouts) before earning a spot on the 2001 Futures Game World roster.
In his final season with the Orioles, Bedard finished 5th in Cy Young voting after going 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA and 221 strikeouts in 186 innings. He was not able to replicate that success bounced around the major leagues until 2014.
Stahl finds himself among a long list of disappointing first-round draft picks of the Orioles, as the 1999 first-round pick failed to reach the major leagues during his career, posing a career 4.23 ERA and 409/340 K/BB ratio across seven seasons of minor league ball. He logged just two innings above the Double-A level.
2002- RHP John Stephens
A native of Sydney, Australia, Stephens found more success in international competition (silver medal in 2004 Olympics) than he did in Major League Baseball, but is still a tremendous story of an athlete overcoming a devastating injury (nerve damage in shoulder). He was considered one of the top international prospects when he signed with the Orioles and had a tremendous minor league career, but saw just 12 appearances at the major league level.
Despite possessing a fastball that topped out in the mid-80’s, due to his nerve damage, Stephens recorded 1,115 career strikeouts across 10 minor league seasons, retiring with a 68-55 record and 3.46 ERA. His 2002 season was highlighted with a trip to the Futures Game, his second Jim Palmer Award (top minor league pitcher in the Orioles system), and his MLB debut (2-5, 6.09 ERA).