Contributor Chuck Boemmel continues his series of looks into a position-by-position breakdown of the prospects in the Baltimore Orioles organization. Up next, a look at the first base options down on the farm.
Spring training is quickly approaching for the Baltimore Orioles (their first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 17th) and with that in mind, Birds Watcher felt this was an ideal time to take a look at the prospects in the talent pipeline on a position by position basis.
Any discussion about the future of first base in Baltimore begins and ends with the Orioles #4 ranked prospect, Ryan Mountcastle. There are questions, however, such as exactly when will he arrive in Baltimore and what position will he play before replacing Chris Davis at first base? Clarity will found as the 2020 season progresses. While the current first base discussion may end with Mountcastle, there are other prospects in the system.
You can view previous parts of our series here:
- Baltimore Orioles second base prospects to watch
- Baltimore Orioles third base prospects to watch
- Baltimore Orioles outfield prospects to watch
- Baltimore Orioles shortstop prospects to watch
Baltimore Orioles Top 1B Prospect
Without a doubt, the Orioles top first base prospect is Ryan Mountcastle. Drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB draft out of Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida, Mountcastle has a five-year minor league career slash line of .295/ .328/ .471 with 301 runs scored, 70 home runs and 274 RBI; he has nothing left to prove offensively.
Mountcastle enters spring training 2020 with a major league-ready bat as his 2019 season in Norfolk (AAA) illustrates. Over 127 games for the Tides, Mountcastle produced a .312/ .344/ .527 slash line with a .871 OPS (117 wRC+), 81 runs scored, 25 home runs and 83 RBI.
While leading the Tides in nearly every offensive category in 2019, Mountcastle also led the International League in at-bats (520), hits (162) and total bases (274) and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. The Orioles capped off his 2019 campaign by naming him the organization’s Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year.
The Orioles may delay Mountcastle’s ascension to Baltimore in order to gain an extra year of service time but is a foregone conclusion that he will be in Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 2020; the future is now. In fact, MLB.com lists Mountcastle third on the Baltimore 1B depth chart behind Davis and Trey Mancini.
One To Watch
Since the Orioles have no other first basemen among their top-30 prospects, one has to look deep into the minor league system for additional first base prospects. An intriguing possibility is Josue Herrera. The 22-year-old native of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, who was originally signed to a professional contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, was signed by the Orioles as a MiLB free agent in June of 2018.
After spending all of his career in the Dominican Summer League, Herrera moved stateside in 2019 as a member of the Gulf Coast Orioles. There he slashed .243/ .352/ .456 with 16 runs scored, four home runs and 25 RBI (129 wRC+). At 6′ 0″ and 165 lbs., he has room to fill out and with that, a chance at improved numbers. I expect we will see Herrera at Aberdeen (A-Short) in 2020 where his development and progress will be followed.
Delmarva’s Seamus Curran is beginning to show the pop needed for first base at the major league level; he hit 31 home runs over the past two seasons compared to just nine in his first three. He recently completed his second season with the Shorebirds with a .224/ .306/ .379 slash line and 60 RBI. The key to his future success will be not only raising his batting average but cutting down on his strikeout rate (125 over 119 games).
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Drafted in the 15th round of the 2017 MLB draft, Frederick’s J.C. Escarra is another player with pop. He finished the 2019 season by hitting .235/ .325/ .364 with 13 home runs and 57 RBI. Just like Curran, Escarra’s 2019 homerun total is more than his first two seasons combined (9). On the plus side, Escarra’a strikeout rate is low (15%) but he will need to start to drive the ball more (.255 BABIP).
Preston Palmeiro, the son of former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro, played first base for the Bowie Baysox in 2019 where he hit .237/ .289/ .346 with five home runs and 42 RBI. It is worth noting that Palmeiro returned to first base in Bowie after playing second base in Frederick in 2018, his only season not playing first base. Admittedly, Palmeiro’s numbers are low but his lineage cannot be discounted. At 25 years of age, he needs to put his ability on display and he needs to do it soon.
The roadblock at first base at the major league level in Baltimore combined with the practice of playing several players at the position at the minor league level has led to a small prospect pool. I don’t anticipate that changing much in the near future.