With baseball still in the midst of a lockout and the Orioles coming off their third 100-plus-loss season of the last four years, the future is all that matters as one publication offers a promising glimpse this week.
Releasing its annual preseason top 100 list on Wednesday, Baseball America ranked 2019 first overall pick Adley Rutschman as the game’s top overall prospect, adding to the anticipation of the soon-to-be 24-year-old catcher making his major league debut this coming season. Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, Baltimore’s first-round pick in the 2018 draft, came in at sixth overall and is the top pitching prospect on Baseball America’s list.
The three other Orioles prospects landing in the top 100 were left-handed pitcher DL Hall (No. 52), infielder Gunnar Henderson (No. 57), and outfielder Colton Cowser (No. 98). This marks the second straight year that Baltimore has five prospects on Baseball America’s top 100 list after not enjoying that many since 2008.
While the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season and disrupted his development timeline, Rutschman seemingly has nothing left to prove in the minors after reaching Triple-A Norfolk and thriving there last season. The switch-hitting Rutschman batted a combined .285 with 23 home runs, 75 runs batted in, a .397 on-base percentage, and an .899 on-base plus slugging percentage in 543 plate appearances split between the Tides and Double-A Bowie last season. Despite the bulk of that action coming with the Baysox, Rutschman performing even better at the Triple-A level made it clear that the Orioles can’t keep him in the minors any longer without making it appear obvious that they’re manipulating his service time.
Rodriguez, 22, dominated at High-A Aberdeen early in 2021 before being promoted to Bowie in early June and pitching to a 2.60 ERA in 18 starts covering 79 2/3 innings. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 13.7 batters and walked just 2.5 per nine innings to earn the organization’s Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year honor for the second straight year. General manager Mike Elias hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Rodriguez skipping the Triple-A level and making the major league club out of spring training, but his potential debut is more likely to come later in 2022.
A stress reaction in his left elbow limited the 23-year-old Hall to just seven starts in 2021, but the 2017 first-round pick pitched to a 3.13 ERA in 31 2/3 innings and averaged 15.9 strikeouts per nine frames. The Orioles would like to see Hall cut down on his walks — he’s averaged 5.1 per nine innings in his minor-league career — but he’s still easily regarded as the organization’s second-best pitching prospect. Hall is the only one of the five prospects currently on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.
Henderson, 20, finished his 2021 season at Bowie and batted a combined .258 with 17 homers, 28 doubles, 74 RBIs, and an .826 OPS. It remains to be seen whether Henderson will stick at shortstop or eventually settle in at third base — but the organization loves the upside his left-handed bat brings.
The fifth overall pick in last year’s draft out of Sam Houston State, Cowser had an excellent 25-game run at Low-A Delmarva with a .347 average, one homer, three doubles, 26 RBIs, and a .476 on-base percentage. Turning 22 in March, Cowser appears to have a good shot to begin the 2022 season at Aberdeen.
The trio of Rutschman, Rodriguez, and Hall landed in Baseball America’s top 60 for the third straight year while Orioles slugger Ryan Mountcastle “graduated” from the 2021 preseason list and 2020 second overall pick Heston Kjerstad fell off. Of course, Kjerstad has yet to play a professional game after dealing with a concerning bout of myocarditis, but the good news is that the soon-to-be 23-year-old outfielder out of the University of Arkansas is healthy and resumed baseball activities last fall.
Other Orioles prospects jockeying for top 100 consideration include infielder Jordan Westburg and outfielder Kyle Stowers. The latter shared the organization’s Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year honor with Rutschman last season.
Below are the Orioles who have appeared on Baseball America’s preseason top 100 prospects list since 2008:
2022: C Adley Rutschman (1st), RHP Grayson Rodriguez (6th), LHP DL Hall (52nd), SS/3B Gunnar Henderson (57th), OF Colton Cowser (98th)
2021: C Adley Rutschman (2nd), RHP Grayson Rodriguez (22nd), LHP DL Hall (59th), OF Heston Kjerstad (62nd), OF/1B Ryan Mountcastle (63rd)
2020: C Adley Rutschman (5th), RHP Grayson Rodriguez (35th), LHP DL Hall (47th)
2019: OF Yusniel Diaz (37th), LHP DL Hall (54th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (90th)
2018: OF Austin Hays (21st), C Chance Sisco (68th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (71st)
2017: C Chance Sisco (57th)
2015: RHP Dylan Bundy (48th), RHP Hunter Harvey (68th)
2014: RHP Dylan Bundy (15th), RHP Kevin Gausman (20th), LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (65th)
2013: RHP Dylan Bundy (2nd), RHP Kevin Gausman (26th)
2012: RHP Dylan Bundy (10th), SS Manny Machado (11th), 2B Jonathan Schoop (82nd)
2011: SS Manny Machado (14th), LHP Zach Britton (28th)
2010: LHP Brian Matusz (5th), 3B Josh Bell (37th), LHP Zach Britton (63rd), RHP Jake Arrieta (99th)
2009: C Matt Wieters (1st), RHP Chris Tillman (22nd), LHP Brian Matusz (25th), RHP Jake Arrieta (67th)
2008: C Matt Wieters (12th), RHP Chris Tillman (67th), RHP Radhames Liz (69th), LHP Troy Patton (78th), OF Nolan Reimold (91st)