An Orioles prospect or two have raised their stock recently.
The minor league season is over for all Orioles affiliates, but there are still prospect updates to get excited about. FanGraphs’ lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen chatted with readers Friday after a well-deserved vacation, meaning many people were eager to ask questions. Two of the prompts related to the Orioles, and fans will be happy with what Eric had to say.
I tuned in to ask about Connor Norby, but someone beat me to it. Another user asked whether Norby, Jordan Westburg, and Joey Ortiz will move into the Top 100 after great seasons. Here is what Longenhagen had to say in response:
"Ortiz will be in the top 100 update, Westburg is part of a group of upper-level infielders who defense needs to be re-evaluated in light of the banned shift. What are his realistic defensive homes now that he doesn’t get a lift from the shift? How does he fit there. Guys who shift to 1B/3B, it’s a much higher bar than the MIF"
He did not address Norby, and I will get back to Westburg later, but first of all, it is truly amazing to think that Joey Ortiz will be a Top 100 prospect, with FanGraphs posting an updated list this week. Ortiz was a fourth-round pick out of New Mexico State in 2019, and it is rare that mid- or late-round college picks become top prospects. It is especially surprising with Ortiz since his improvements are out of nowhere.
Ortiz only played 35 games last year, finishing with 16 at Bowie, showing decent power but a low average. He went back to AA and played 111 games with the Baysox this year with a small bump to his slash line. He then played 26 games with the Tides and looked like a totally different hitter. He slashed .346/.400/.567 in a month of games at a higher level. Combined with excellent defense at shortstop since his amateur days, and Ortiz suddenly has an appealing skill set.
Moving into the Top 100 means Ortiz’s future value jumps from 40 to 50, which is a huge difference. You can read this primer if you are unfamiliar with future value, but in short, a 40 is your standard bench player. Ortiz was previously viewed as a nice defensive replacement with a little pop. A 50, meanwhile, is an everyday player, meaning Longenhagen now believes Ortiz can hit well enough to play that often. Of course, the Orioles have plenty of middle infield prospects, and Ortiz is now another one on the list.
Speaking of middle infielders, fans should be moderately concerned about the analysis of Westburg. He has long been a bit-first position player with below-average defense. Without the shift next season, he would need better range to play second base or shortstop. As Eric says, he would need to hit even better to play first or third. Other outlets already have Westburg in the Top 100, but it looks like Longenhagen is keeping him in the 45 tier (role player on a good team/starter on a weaker team). Westburg already looked like an offseason trade candidate, and this evaluation makes it more likely he is part of a package.
For those of you who care more about prospects at the big league level, someone else asked if Kyle Stowers looks more like a fourth outfielder compared to a starter. Longenhagen responded more positively:
"He does not, but that 4th OF/platoon guy is a hugely important role player. Still think he’ll mash righties enough to have a long, important big league career."
Some people in Birdland have wondered whether Stowers has a long-term future with the Orioles since he hasn’t hit a whole lot since being called up, but Eric thinks it is too soon to worry. As he points out, lefty power bats are important guys on the roster since the vast majority of their at-bats come against righties.
It’s not like Stowers has been overmatched so far. He has negative WAR due to defense, but his .730 OPS is slightly above average. Adley Rutschman had an ugly slash line over his first couple weeks, so Stowers has adjusted better in his first look with the Orioles. The team will give him a real chance to start out of Spring Training. If he doesn’t claim the job, then he will be the first guy off the bench.
The main thing for fans to remember is that a prospect is very unlikely to be a star. Only a few achieve All-Star quality, let alone MVP or Hall of Fame status. There are so many busts that teams must be happy when someone becomes a role player.