15. Gray Fenter, SP
Date of Birth: 1/25/96
Height/Weight: 6’0″/200 lbs
Acquired: Drafted by the Orioles in the 7th round of the 2015 Draft
The Orioles have not had a ton of success drafting high-school pitchers over the past two decades. That won’t prevent them from continuing to try, and they spent an early-round pick on Fenter last year then gave him second-round money to keep him from going to college. Fenter’s debut season in the Gulf Coast League can be classified as a success, and he still has plenty of room for growth. The right-hander logged 21.2 innings and recorded a 1.66 ERA.
Fenter can top 95 mph with his fastball, but typically works in the mid-90s. He generates good sink on his fastball and can throw it for strikes. His curveball is a well-developed second pitch at this point of his career. Fenter’s changeup will improve as he continues to use it more frequently at the higher levels. There’s still quite a ways to go before Gray Fenter can be talked about as a big leaguer, but the early signs point to him being a strike-thrower with the build to handle the rigors of starting pitching. That is not an unfamiliar description of all the pitching prospects who have not panned out for the Orioles over the years, but give Fenter time.
14. Christian Walker, 1B
Date of Birth: 3/28/91
Height/Weight: 6’0″/220 lbs
Acquired: Drafted by the Orioles in the 4th round of the 2012 Draft
Walker has had sips of coffee at the major-league level with the Orioles each of the past two years, totaling 13 games and recording four hits in 27 at-bats. In four years in the minor leagues since coming out of the University of South Carolina, Walker has slashed .280/.348/.453. His best year came in 2014, as he hit 26 home runs and drove in 96. Coming out of college, he was seen as a solid hitter with good gap-to-gap power. Despite hitting well against elite college pitching in one of the best conferences, Walker was not viewed as a top first-base prospect. The widely held belief was that he would not hit for power. That’s a tough label for a right-handed first baseman to overcome. Last year at Triple-A, Walker’s power numbers dropped rather significantly. The Orioles have continued to speculate that Norfolk’s park, located on the edge of the harbor, tamps down offensive numbers.
Walker’s career could be approaching a fork in the road. With Chris Davis signed for the next seven years, Walker must prove he can provide value to the big-league club as a bench bat or defensive replacement. He has played respectable defense in the minor leagues. Davis has him blocked for a starting role, and has no desire to move to the outfield. There are other ways for Walker to prove his value to the Orioles, however. Expect him to see some at-bats with the major-league team at some point this season. A solid spring could give him a shot at landing on the Opening Day roster.
13. Tyler Wilson, SP
Date of Birth: 9/25/89
Height/Weight: 6’2″/185 lbs
Acquired: Drafted by the Orioles in the 10th round of the 2011 Draft
Wilson is the type of prospect the Orioles have not had success with in recent years — a mid-round pick with little upside. He’s the type of prospect constantly turned into gold by an organization like the St. Louis Cardinals. Coming out of the University of Virginia, Wilson was barely topping out about 90 mph, but has improved his velocity to the point where he can touch 94 mph. He throws his fastball with good sink. Wilson also throws a slider and changeup that are good enough to get major-league hitters out. Were it not for his ability to sink the ball, Wilson’s results would be much worse at the major-league level.
Wilson started five games for the Orioles last season, and won two games. He had a 3.50 ERA and a 3.77 FIP while also showing good command and poise on the mound. Here’s the deal with Wilson — he will not wow anyone with physical tools, but is a gamer who loves to compete, knows how to pitch, and finds a way to get outs. He will keep the ball down in the zone, get outs on the ground, and limit home runs and walks. His best tool may be what’s between his ears. There’s a chance Wilson could win the number-five starter job for the Orioles out of camp (looking less likely now, however, as the Orioles appear deep in talks with Yovani Gallardo). The Orioles have a few pitch-to-contact type right-handers already in their rotation, but Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez give up more than their fair share of fly balls and home runs. Wilson could prove to be a dependable fifth starter who limits home runs in a tough division. Again, not a ton of upside, but Wilson has the potential to be dependable rounding out a rotation.
12. Jonah Heim, C
Date of Birth: 6/27/95
Height/Weight: 6’3″/190 lbs
Acquired: Drafted by the Orioles in the 4th round of the 2013 Draft
The Orioles have had issues developing hitters at some important positions on the diamond, but not catcher. While it may not be a huge developmental victory to turn Matt Wieters, turning Caleb Joseph into one of the better defensive catchers in the division is a big win for the farm system. Heim has the potential to be another backstop to succeed in the Orioles’ system.
Defense is Heim’s forte — for now. He is very skilled when it comes to blocking, receiving, and calling a game. His pop times are better than the average MLB catcher. Heim has consistently shown pop times around 1.9 seconds. The league-average catcher checks in around 2.0 seconds. In three professional seasons, the upstate New York product has thrown out 32.1-percent of would-be thieves on the bases. With more advanced pitchers holding runners, he likely would have thrown out an even higher percentage. Overall, his mechanics behind the plate are very polished.
Defensively, Heim is nearly a finished product. It’s on offense that he still has ample room for growth. At 190 pounds, he needs to put on strength to consistently drive the ball. His swing is smooth from both sides of the plate, and Heim has not struck out at an alarming rate. He makes contact, but must begin driving the ball to improve on his career .216/.266/.302 line. Even if he never hits big-league pitching, Heim still projects as a solid big-league backup.
Coming out of the Buffalo area, Heim entered professional baseball at a disadvantage to his Southern and West Coast peers who have the ability to play elite travel ball in February without several feet of snow on the ground.
11. David Hess, SP
Date of Birth: 7/10/93
Height/Weight: 6’2″/180 lbs
Acquired: Drafted by the Orioles in the 5th round of the 2014 Draft
One of the players Hess has been compared to in scouting reports is former Orioles starter Bud Norris. If Orioles fans who watched Norris turn back into a pumpkin in 2015 would like to skip onto the next prospect on the list, no judgement will be passed.
While the comparisons to Norris will scare some off, keep in mind that he was arguably the best pitcher on the 2014 staff that went to the ALCS. At his best, Norris had a mid-90s fastball and a decent slider. Hess has a very similar arsenal. His fastball sits in the low-90s and has good late movement. He also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup that project to be right around league average. All of these things sound very similar to the good version of Bud Norris.
Hess is a four-pitch pitcher in the starting rotation for the time being. He may be transitioned to the bullpen where he can rely on his fastball and slider. Regardless, Hess has a big-league arm and a chance to see the Camden Yards mound as early as 2017.