Welcome back to my annual off-season series that has a quick-and-dirty review of all 30 minor league systems around baseball. This feature began way back in 2008.
If you were perusing the series last year you would have read this:
The Riser: Ryan Mountcastle (SS): Selected 36th overall in the 2015 draft, Mountcastle has done nothing but hit in pro ball. He batted more than .300 in rookie ball during his debut and then followed that up with a respectable performance as a teenager in full-season ball this past season. The big question is around how much patience he’ll show at the plate after walking just 5.1% of the time (25-95 BB-K) as a sophomore. If he can continue to make adjustments then Mountcastle has a chance to be a better-than-average hitter — although his defensive home is also up in the air. He’s currently playing shortstop but could end up at a slightly less demanding position due to modest range. He has a chance to reach double-A at some point in 2017.
And now on to the new stuff:
First Taste of The Show: Cedric Mullins, OF: Mullins wasn’t a heralded prospect early on in his career but he took some big steps forward in late 2017 and into 2018, which earned him a big league promotion. He reminds me a bit of Rajai Davis, as a player who has speed and athleticism to spare but is a little behind the eight ball in terms of baseball instinct. His ceiling is limited not only by that (which could improve) but he has issues with same-handed pitching. Mullins also isn’t the biggest guy and really struggled to drive the ball with authority against big league pitching. He’s probably a solid-but-unspectacular platoon player who has a small chance to bust that projection and be an everyday guy.
The Draft Pick: Grayson Rodriguez RHP: One of my favorite picks in the 2018 draft, the Orioles got a good one here. His value was really skyrocketing prior to the draft and has a great fastball-slider combo. He just needs to polish either his curveball or changeup for a reliable third change-of-pace offering. Rodriguez, 19, has a big, strong frame and could develop into an innings-eater. He has some effort in his delivery but it looks like the Orioles have smoothed things out a bit since he’s turned pro. There’s not more fluidity to his delivery and less strain on the shoulder which should bode well for his future health.
The Riser: D.L. Hall, LHP: Hall is a smallish lefty who has some athleticism and moves off the mound well. He can touch the mid-90s with his fastball and has a chance to have three above-average offerings. His delivery ends up a leg kick in the back which might be distracting to hitters and give him a slight advantage. Hall’s command/control is still inconsistent but it made strides in 2018 and the athleticism gives him a shot at getting better in that area. He’s on pace for a mid-rotation future in Baltimore but has a chance to be better than that if everything clicks.
The Fallen: Austin Hays, OF: Hays rocketed to the majors in his first full season of pro ball in 2017 but fell back down to earth last year. He struggled with injuries and also with making consistent contact. Hays also didn’t drive the ball for power nearly as well but that could have been a result of the injury. He’ll need to find that power stroke again because his aggressive nature may keep him from being a strong hitter for average. His strong arm gives him some value in the outfield but he’s limited to the corners.
The 2019 Contributor: Zach Pop, RHP: A strong amateur prospect out of (Ontario) Canada, Pop’s game really took a step forward when he pitched at the University of Kentucky. He didn’t get a lot of innings out of the college’s bullpen but he flashed good stuff. That repertoire, led by a good fastball, allowed him to move swiftly through the minors and he reached double-A in his first full pro season. His control is ahead of his command so we could see more strikeouts in his future as he matures. Pop uses his size to great excellent plane on his offerings which creates outstanding plane on his fastball and induces a ton of ground balls.
The 2019 Sleeper: Jean Carlos Encarnacion, 3B: Like Zach Pop above, Encarnacion was an import from another organization (the Braves) as the Orioles began their youth movement. Encarnacion is raw but his natural feel for hitting allows him to succeed despite his less-than-ideal approach at the plate (ie. aggressive nature). He needs to tone things down and really wait for an ideal pitch to drive. He has natural, raw power and doesn’t need to sell out to drive the ball a long way. High-A ball will be a good challenge for him in 2019 and will need to make adjustments to survive.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.