Allegany Communications Sports

Don’t look now, but the Baltimore Orioles are currently 14-2 in Grapefruit League play, which is every bit as insignificant as the NFL-record 24-game preseason winning streak of the Baltimore Ravens, yet still seems to make John Harbaugh very proud. Whatever.

The Orioles’ preseason success this spring is significant, though, not in their possibly being crowned Grapefruit League champs by the end of the month, but in how they have been doing what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it with stiff competition, not just against opposing teams, but mainly against each other to make the team from within the deepest, most talented and highest-rated collection of prospects in the game today.

You can look at it up: The Orioles farm system has Earl Weaver deep depth in its deep depth of star baseball prospects. Why just last week, MLB Pipeline became the latest to rate the Orioles farm system No. 1 for their sixth straight set of rankings, which are done during the preseason and in midseason of each baseball season, meaning Baltimore has held the top spot in baseball since midseason of 2021 when catcher Adley Rutschman was the No. 1 prospect in baseball.

Even now with former No. 1 Gunnar Henderson an established star in the big leagues, the Orioles are still loaded with elite up-and-coming talent, with five players in the first 32 spots of Pipeline’s Top 100, even after the offseason trade of infielder Joey Ortiz, who is a top-100 player — infielder Jackson Holliday, the current top-rated prospect in baseball, catcher Samuel Basallo, No. 17; outfielder Colton Cowser, No. 19; infielder Coby Mayo, No. 30; and outfielder Heston Kjerstad, No. 32.

The 20-year-old Holliday, who crushed a grand slam on Sunday about 500 feet, already has performed as advertised this spring and is making a push to break camp with the big-league club, but he’s not alone. Cowser is hitting .450 with a 1.050 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), while Mayo is batting. 333 with a 1.029 OPS.

These guys are raking, but so, too, is Kjerstad, not to mention former top-100 prospect Kyle Stowers. And let’s not forget infielder Jordan Westburg, who contributed at second base upon being called up last season, and will be called upon to be ready at shortstop this season as well.

It’s all great fun, particularly when you’re 17 days from Opening Day, but Opening Day roster spots are going to be determined, pretty much, in these next 17 days.

The Orioles, if you recall, still have a pretty good, pretty young and established outfield in place already in Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. Not only that, it seems everyone wants to forget about Ramon Urias, the Gold Glove third baseman, who plays all infield positions, and who also crushed a homer on Sunday.

Last year’s Orioles team was the best I’ve seen at utilizing the entire 40-man roster, and that’s based on the versatility of the players, so count on all of the above prospects to make the bigs at some point this season, but don’t count on seeing them all on Opening Day. Cowser, I’d say, is a lock to be there on March 28, because he plays all three outfield positions.

Holliday would be the other one I wouldn’t be surprised to see on Opening Day; he’s certainly making it very difficult for the Orioles to say no. And make no mistake, he’s going to be in Baltimore for most of the season, but the Orioles may decide to follow suit in saving a year of service time by waiting until May to bring him up.

No matter what happens, it doesn’t appear the Orioles can go wrong when it comes to their position players — they’re loaded. What happens with the pitching, of course, is an entirely different and most important matter. But we still have 17 days, so, as Scarlett O’Hara says, we’ll worry about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, MLB’s inaugural Spring Breakout begins this week, which should be fun to watch. The Spring Breakout is a series of spring training games pitting the best prospects from all 30 farm systems against each other from March 14-17 in stadiums across Arizona and Florida.

On Thursday, the Orioles’ top prospects will take on those of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have the No. 9 farm system in the MLB Pipeline ratings. The game will feature the 2022 No. 1 overall pick Holliday and the 2023 No. 1 overall pick, Pirates pitcher Paul Skenes, facing each other for the second time this spring.

The O’s are loaded with top position-player prospects, while the Pirates are loaded with top pitching prospects in Skenes, Anthony Solometo and Bubba Chandler, all top-100 prospects.

By the way, after opening the season in Miami against the Marlins, the Pirates will be in Washington for a three-game series against the Nationals before hosting their home opener and a three-game series against the Orioles on Friday, April 5.

Yes, baseball season is good. It is very good, indeed.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT