Monday, January 10, 2011

What Has the Oriole Farm System Produced?

I have beat this point like a drum, almost since the inception of this blog more than 4 years ago...but why stop now? The Oriole farm system, once the best in baseball, has been abysmal for the last 25 years or so. And this is the #1 reason that the Orioles have lost for 13 straight seasons, why they have had 19 losing seasons since they last won the World Series and why they have trouble competing in the AL East. Andy MacPhail has done his part to restore it but he had a big hole, nay, a chasm to fill.

How deep was that pit that is the Oriole farm system? Really, really deep. To demonstrate that point, I decided to look at how many homegrown players it has produced for the club since 1988, the season the Orioles posted the worst record in franchise history.

I'm not looking for stars. My criteria for position players and starting pitchers was a 5.0 WAR during their Oriole career and 3.0 WAR for a reliever's Oriole career.

The player also has to have spent significant time in the Oriole system. Players traded for who had already reached AAA in their former organizations (or players who had dominated AA so thoroughly that starting them in AAA the next season was a no-brainer) were excluded. Chris Hoiles and Brady Anderson, for example, don't count.

These are not lofty standards. The Tampa Bay Rays had 7 players on their 2010 roster alone who met this criteria.

Here's the list, in order their Oriole debut along with their Oriole career WAR.

Bob Milacki - 6.1 WAR

If there's ever a player who demonstrates how low these standards are, it's Bob Milacki. Debuting at the end of miserable 1988 season, Milacki was a big part of 1989's "Why Not?" team. I was surprised he was on this list because I had forgotten his rebound 1991 season. Most of Milacki's value is wrapped in those two seasons.

Gregg Olson - 9.3 WAR

Like Milacki, Olson debuted in 1988 and was also a big part of the "Why Not?" team. Unlike Milacki, Olson spent 1989-1993 as a very productive player out of the Oriole bullpen.

Ben McDonald - 13.8 WAR

Debuting in 1989, McDonald would never live up to the hype but had a decent career. He was developing in to a very good pitcher when injuries began to take their toll in 1995.

Leo Gomez - 10.0 WAR

Gomez hung around for 6 seasons with a couple of decent seasons in 1992 and 1994.

Mike Mussina - 47.4 WAR

The only true star produced during this period, Mussina was one of the greatest pitchers in Oriole history.

Arthur Rhodes - 6.8 WAR

I had always thought of Rhodes as a Jose Mesa type, a guy the Orioles didn't give a chance to relieve before they cut him loose. But he was primarily a reliever the last four seasons of his Oriole career. I had forgotten that.

Sidney Ponson - 11.6 WAR

Ponson's up and down career was really not so bad. He was hyped as a #1 starter but was probably more of a back of the rotation guy. But he was decent.

Jerry Hairston - 6.4 WAR

Hairston had his moments. He must have if the Orioles were wondering if he or Brian Roberts would be the better player.

Brian Roberts - 28.7 WAR

He's Brian Roberts. Enough said.

Daniel Cabrera - 8.7 WAR

A couple of tantalizing seasons...

Nick Markakis - 17.3 WAR

It's amazing that Markakis made it at all. He only had 33 games above high-A ball when the Orioles made him one of their starting outfielders going into the 2006 season. It's safe to say that Markakis succeeded in spite of the Oriole farm system. He was rushed to the majors at a ridiculous pace.

That's it. These 11 players are the best that the Oriole farm system has produced for the major league club. In 23 years...this is it!

What's the point? The point is that the Oriole farm system was so wretched over the past 25 years or so, that I can't be upset with what the Orioles farm system is now. Andy MacPhail has improved the system by leaps and bounds. The starting rotation this season could feature four homegrown starters. There are two homegrown arms in the bullpen and the position player with the most upside is also homegrown.

That's why I can't be pessimistic about the future of the Orioles as some of my fellow bloggers are. Viewed in a vacuum, the state of the Oriole farm system is a bit bleak. In context, it is healthy and improving. Would I like them to produce more major league talent? Yes, but it is producing more than it has in years...decades. Should they spend more on the draft? Yes, but they are spending more than they ever have. Would I like them to be more active internationally? Yes, but they have signed foreign born players in the last couple years where their presence was nearly non-existent.

Slowly, the minor league system is coming along. It's not a powerhouse but at least it's functioning now. It's a start.

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