February 25, 2024

Ranking MLB’s up-and-coming prospects; Orioles are on the upswing

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Uh-oh. The Orioles might have an ace in Corbin Burnes. Meanwhile, Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects list has dropped, Theo Epstein is back in Boston, and the White Sox bullpen is in shambles. I’m Levi Weaver here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to the Windup!

The Jacksons reign supreme

It’s that time of year again! With about 10 days left before pitchers and catchers report, Keith Law’s annual Top 100 Prospects list is hot off the presses. Go ahead and bookmark this one now for easy reference once a few of these guys start hitting — or returning to — the big leagues (so long as they maintain Rookie of the Year eligibility, they’re fair game, so guys like Evan Carter of the Rangers (No. 9) and Kyle Harrison of the Giants (No. 11) are represented).

A few thoughts:

• While the Brewers have (as we noted above) been in teardown mode at the big-league level this offseason, they’re the most well-represented organization on the list, featuring six prospects, led by outfielder Jackson Chourio, who ranks second overall (and second among guys named Jackson; Holliday of the Orioles is No. 1).

• On the other end of the spectrum, three teams — HoustonKansas City and Oakland — didn’t have a single player crack the list. For the Astros, that’s understandable; they’ve been on a 10-year string of maximizing big-league talent. For the Royals (56-106 in 2023) and A’s (50-112), uh … yikes.

• No fewer than 20 players from last year’s draft are represented. Keith says he thinks that’s the most he’s ever included. The highest-ranking member of last year’s draft class? That would be Wyatt Langford of the Rangers (No. 6), who was taken with the fourth pick last summer.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the series — the “just missed” list comes out tomorrow, and Keith’s team-centric lists will feature heavily as we start team-by-team previews next month in the lead-up to Opening Day.

A new era in Baltimore

How far will the O’s go now that they have a bona fide top-of-the-rotation pitcher? (Kayla Wolf / Getty Images)

It felt like about nine minutes (OK, it was a couple of days) passed between the announcement that the Orioles were being sold and the news that they would be acquiring three-time All-Star and 2021 NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers for LHP DL Hall, SS Joey Ortiz and the 34th pick in this year’s draft.

As Ken lays out here, for many, this might seem like a confusing move. Why would the Brewers trade Burnes if they were in the mix for the NL Central this year (which they very much could have been)?

As with most things that are stupid and horrible, it comes down to money. The Brewers are in a small market, and can’t really afford to function the same way that, say, the Dodgers and Mets can. Therefore, rather than lose Burnes to free agency (getting only a compensation draft pick in return), it made more sense to preemptively deal him and reload for another competitive window a few years down the road.

In fact, don’t be surprised if mega-reliever Devin Williams is next to go.

For the Orioles, it’s another step away from a very long era of swallowing losses like Pac-Man gobbling his way through level after excruciating level of bitter pills. They vanquished some ghosts last year by advancing to the ALDS but needed a top-of-the-rotation pitcher to help get them over the hump. Burnes could very much be that guy.

Even Aaron Boone knows it could be a problem for the rest of the AL East.

Ken’s Notebook: South Side reliever woes

From my latest notes column:

The Athletic’s Eno Sarris had a classic reaction to the Chicago White Sox’s trade of right-handed reliever Gregory Santos to the Mariners.

Eno isn’t wrong: The five relievers who made the most appearances for the White Sox last season — Aaron Bummer, Kendall Graveman, Reynaldo LópezKeynan Middleton and Santos — have all been traded since last year’s deadline. The reliever who had the sixth-most appearances, Bryan Shaw, is a free agent.

The White Sox are not completely barren in the bullpen, though. They signed right-hander John Brebbia and left-hander Tim Hill as free agents, and for five years of Santos acquired righty Prelander Berroa along with outfielder Zach DeLoach and the 69th pick in the draft. Lefty Garrett Crochet will be stretched out as a starter after missing nearly all of last season, first while completing his recovery from Tommy John surgery, then while dealing with shoulder inflammation. But he still could end up closing.

Even if the bullpen proves too thin, the trades of Bummer and Santos this offseason are the kinds of deals first-year GM Chris Getz should be making with the team coming off 101 losses. Bummer’s three years of club control brought back five players from the Braves, including three former first-round picks, pitchers Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster and infielder Braden Shewmake.

The point of those moves, along with the White Sox’s other trade with the Diamondbacks on Saturday for outfielder Dominic Fletcher, was to raise the team’s floor. Fletcher and DeLoach will join a right-field mix that includes a third left-handed option, Oscar Colás, and veteran Kevin Pillar, a right-handed-hitting non-roster invitee.

The goal of the trade the White Sox have yet to make, the one involving ace righty Dylan Cease, will be to raise the team’s ceiling. Three top position prospects, shortstop Colson Montgomery, third baseman Bryan Ramos and catcher Edgar Quero, are expected to open at Double A or Triple A. Left-hander Noah Schultz, the team’s first-round pick in 2022, could reach Double A this season.

Surround those players with high-end prospects from a Cease deal, whether before Opening Day or at the deadline, and the White Sox might be onto something.

Theo Epstein rejoins Red Sox

By presiding as general manager over the 2004 Red Sox team that broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the team’s first World Series in 86 years, Theo Epstein cemented his legacy as a Boston sports legend.

After a turn in Chicago to add another city to the list of places where he will never have to purchase his own drinks, Epstein is back in Boston, this time as a part owner and senior advisor of Fenway Group — so he’ll be involved in more than just baseball. As Jayson Stark notes in his column, Epstein’s duties will include hockey, golf, and the English Premier League.

Actually, you should read that entire story from Jayson, chronicling Epstein’s remarkable path and background. Did you know his grandfather wrote the screenplay for “Casablanca”? (I did not.) Stark follows Epstein’s path from intern in Baltimore in 1992 through the two curse-busters, working in the commissioner’s office as the league navigated last year’s new rule changes, all the way to, well — this, a “leadership coach” of sorts.

He’ll work with new Red Sox president of baseball operations Craig Breslow and Pittsburgh Penguins GM Kyle Dubas; one of his first major tasks will be consulting as Liverpool begins its search to replace long-time manager Jurgen Klopp, who will step down in May.

Handshakes and High Fives

The Giants and A’s pulled off an all-Bay-Area trade, with Ross Stripling headed over the bridge to Oakland while minor-league outfielder Jonah Cox and some cash) will go to San Francisco in return.

Fabian Ardaya spoke to Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman to help tell the story of the Dodgers’ “Plan A” offseason of spending — one that may have made them, says Sam Blum, into the “villains of baseball.” Ardaya also has notes on Shohei OhtaniWalker Buehler and Gavin Lux.

Justin Turner spoke for the first time since joining the Blue Jays, discussing how he views his role on the roster.

Patrick Mooney was at the Cubs’ winter convention, and the biggest question right now is the same one that’s been around since the end of last season: is Cody Bellinger coming back?

Eno Sarris and Greg Jewett have this year’s fantasy baseball closer rankings for you.

An incredibly specific and weird group is starting to take form: “Position players from the 2021 Texas Rangers who are now converting to pitcher.” The group is up to three now: Charlie Culberson (Braves), Ronald Guzmán (Orioles) and DJ Peters, who signed a minor-league deal with the Rangers over the weekend.

Other free agent signings of note: Carlos Santana to the Twins (his seventh team) and Jake Diekman to the Mets (his ninth team). Meanwhile, the Ken Giles comeback tour is coming to Atlanta, Phil Maton appears to be headed to the Rays, and the Mets signed Shintaro Fujinami.

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(Top photo: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)