The kids are all right

By on March 11

The demise of the Orioles farm system is greatly exaggerated.  Okay, maybe it’s partially true.  It doesn’t take much analysis to look at how many players we’ve graduated from the minors to the big league club recently and recognize that it’s going to impact your organizational depth.  However, unlike some members of the national media, I think that there are several players in the O’s upper minors (AA/AAA) who have a chance to be major league contributors in the near future.  Please indulge me as I offer my thoughts on their respective achievements thus far and prospective futures.

Note: All stat lines are provided as BA / OBP / SLG.  Also, I am not a sabermatrician, or a mathematician, or a statistician.  And this isn’t Fangraphs.  I will earnestly try not to abuse the numbers or draw grander conclusions from them than can be justified, but if you’re looking for detailed discussion of w0BA or WAR or BABIP, be prepared for disappointment (not that you weren’t already).

  1. Ryan Adams, 2B/3B
    2010 stats at AA-Bowie in: .298 / .365 / .464
    2011 ST stats : .500 / .556 / 1.250

    Adams has always been a strong offensive prospect, as demonstrated by last year at AA Bowie where he hit a club record 43 doubles, as well as 15 HRs.  And the ST numbers, while obviously obtained in only a handful of ABs, also hint that Adams’ bat will play at the ML level.  The major knock on Adams though, and its a pretty significant one according to most prospect reports, is his defense, which is rated at below average to poor at both 2B/3B.   Clearly, his offensive numbers would be extremely valuable from a MI/CI, but not if the trade-off was below average defense.

    The bat will always tantalize, but the inability to play any position well will keep him out of the bigs.  If he ever figures it out defensively, I’d like his chances of sticking on the ML roster though.
  2. Joe Mahoney, 1B
    2010 stats at A-Frederick & AA-Bowie: .307 / .366 / .498
    2011 ST stats: .375 / .412 / .563

    Standing 6’7″ and weighing in at 255 lbs, Mahoney sure looks like an ML 1B. He also has uncommon speed for his size, swiping 13 bags last year and 29 the year before that.  These traits in and of themselves make an intriguing prospect.  But it wasn’t really until last year that Mahoney’s bat really got anyone’s attention, earning him a promotion to AA-Bowie, which he then justified by posting better numbers at AA than he had at Single-A. Still, many are concerned the sudden breakout may have just been a flash in the pan.

    It wasn’t just a flash in the pan, but the upside is limited to a solid ML regular. While he has a unique skill set, no one skill or tool overwhelms you. He also lacks the power most people look for in an 1B, though that’s not the end of the world.  But unfortunately, unless he goes to AAA and goes all ’09 Nolan Reimold on it, I don’t know that the Orioles necessarily view him as their long term solution at 1B and could acquire someone that would block him.
  3. Matt Angle, OF
    2010 stats at AA-Bowie & AAA-Norfolk: .278 / .351 / .327
    2011 ST stats: .263 / .286 / .263

    Angle’s calling cards are basically his speed and defense, his defense earning him ranking as the best defensive outfielder and outfielder with the best arm in the O’s farm by Baseball America.  Angle also has hit enough at every level to demonstrate he’s capable with the bat, but basically only as a slap hitter and an on-base guy.  Naturally, Angle’s speed also translates into SBs, with 29 last year, and 42 the year before that.

    Given the limited offensive skills and superior OF defensive ability, Angle basically projects as a very solid 4th OF.  Should his offense prove enough to get him in an ML lineup on a part time or regular basis, he’d be very valuable in the leadoff role and would likely produce many runs with his ability to steal bases.
  4. Brandon Snyder, C/1B
    2010 stats at AAA-Norfolk: .257 / .324 / .407
    2010 stats at Baltimore: .300 / .300 / .400 (20 ABs)
    2011 ST stats: .300 / .333 / .400

    Drafted out of HS in VA, Brandon Snyder was definitely picked for his bat.  Hence the move to 1B, to alleviate the defensive demands of playing catcher and preserve his longevity. For whatever reason though, Snyder’s development as a hitter has been uneven.  After breaking out in the beginning of the ’09 season, with a line of .343 / .421 / .597, Snyder was promoted to AAA-Norfolk, where he’s yet to put up even remotely as impressive numbers.  Yet, in limited ML and ST exposure and his time in the AFL, he’s never appeared overmatched, making his struggles at AAA somewhat puzzling.  In an interview with MASNsports.com’s Steve Melewski, Snyder himself has said that spacious Harbor Park and its vast power alleys were at least partly to blame, saying, “It’s going to be tough. That park and that place is a tough place for my game.”

    Snyder returns to AAA and puts up numbers very similar to prior years, with perhaps moderate improvement.  But I agree with him that for some reason Harbor Park does negatively affect his numbers, because he looks and performs better in basically all other environments.  I think the bat is good enough to play in the majors, but he may close to being passed in the 1B organizational depth chart by Mahoney, if he hasn’t been already.
  5. Josh Bell, 1B/3B
    2010 stats at AAA-Norfolk: .278 / .328 / .481
    2010 stats in Baltimore: .214 / .224 / .302 (159 ABs)
    2011 ST stats: .231 / .344 / .462

    Acquired in a trade with the Dodgers for George Sherrill, Bell was viewed by many O’s fans as the prospective 3B of the future.  And after putting together a reasonable season at AAA-Norfolk in ’10, Bell got a chance to audition at the ML under Buck Showalter.  Unfortunately, as the numbers above show, the audition didn’t go so well.  Of course, for any young player, initial adjustment from AAA to the bigs is often the biggest hurdle in development, so his struggles were neither surprising nor alarming.  Bell did exhibit a fairly high strikeout rate and poor plate discipline though, factors which were cause for concern. Early returns in ST this year show a dramatic improvement in discipline, with the 100 point difference between OBP and BA, but the limited number of ABs makes any definitive conclusion about his growth difficult to make.

    Unlike some other members of this list, Bell has generally received positive reports on his defense.  Even with Buck’s recent insertion of him at 1B in ST, Bell has gotten good reviews.  Offensively, once Bell matures I see him as a 20-25 HR guy who will also hit his fair share of doubles. Whether he can continue his new trends regarding plate discipline and OBP will determine whether he can force his way onto the ML roster or position himself as the heir apparent at 3B.

Realistically, only two of these guys, if that, will have solid ML careers.  And though it’s a tough call, I’m picking Angle and Bell as the most likely to make it.  Angle may not be an everyday starter but he has a very refined skill set based on speed that will always have value for its ability to both prevent and produce runs.  I also think Bell’s improved patience is for real, making him a much more dangerous offensive player, and since his defense seems to get positive reviews I think he has the least holding him back from being ML ready.

The O’s system may not be brimming with future all-stars, but it does possess several players who could definitely contribute at the ML level, or as the great Buck Showalter would refer to them, nuggets.  And when you collect enough of those nuggets, you get to experience a little something known as winning.  If you’re anything like me, those days can’t come soon enough.

3 Responses to “The kids are all right”

  1. Paul O. says:

    I disagree on Mahoney. I believe hitting close to .300 and hitting 20+ homers is plenty good for first base. Look at his total stats from AA-AAA last year. Our current 1B isn’t even taking batting practice so I would be more than happy to see him have a break out year at AAA and promote his big tail.

  2. Paul O. says:

    Sorry, I was mistaken. He never played at AAA. And he didn’t hit over 18 homers either.
    I must be thinking about Guzman’s 33 homers, and Waring’s 22 homers at AA. Both are impressive, but I’m not sure either guy will make it to the bigs.

  3. Mark
    Mark says:

    Yeah, I just hope any one of Snyder, Mahoney or Bell takes a major step forward this year and really establishes themselves as a legitimate 1B prospect, because Lee is obviously a one year rental and I’m not sure I want to overpay for Prince Fielder next offseason, if we even could. Mahoney is definitely the player who looks the most like a classic 1B, and as you said, not having big power isn’t necessarily a issue, if he hits for a high average and plays good defense, a la Kevin Youkilis. But whoever it ends up being, I am looking forward to have some more home-grown O’s to root for soon.

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