The new class of Orioles draftees continued to lay waste to Low-A pitching, but the offense scuffled at Norfolk while Bowie lost a crucial series.
The 2021 minor league season is sadly winding down, with only two weeks left in the season for Double-A, High-A, and Low-A clubs. (Triple-A, like the majors, will continue until Oct. 3.) As of now, no Orioles affiliate is in line to make the playoffs by having one of the best two records in their league, with Bowie the only one that has a puncher’s chance.
Still, there’s been plenty of exciting stuff going on in the Orioles’ organization, both on and off the field. We’ll break it all down for you in our weekly minor league review.
It’s not too late for a few prospects to advance to a higher level, as the O’s announced a handful of promotions yesterday. The most notable name is outfielder Kyle Stowers, the Orioles’ #11 prospect per MLB Pipeline, who’s moving up for the second time this year, this time from Bowie to Norfolk. Perhaps no O’s prospect has raised his stock more this season than Stowers, who leads all Orioles minor leaguers with 24 home runs. He bashed seven of them at High-A Aberdeen before heading to Bowie and blistering 17 more. Between the two levels, he’s batting .280/.387/.538 this season, although his whiff rate — he’s striking out once every 3.1 plate appearances — is a bit of a concern. The 23-year-old, a second round pick in 2019, now gets to test his mettle against Triple-A pitching.
Moving from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen are outfielder Mason Janvrin and right-hander Jake Lyons. The speedy Janvrin is a perfect 25-for-25 in stolen base attempts this year, although he’s hitting just .203 with a .664 OPS and was almost two years older than the average Low-A player. Too bad pinch-running specialists aren’t really a thing anymore, or he’d have a clearer path to the majors. Lyons, meanwhile, can strike out batters with the best of them — averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine, including 10 whiffs in his Delmarva swan song this week — but has struggled with control, walking 4.5 batters per nine.
Also moving up is 19-year-old outfielder Mishael Deson, a Florida Complex League standout who will now get his first taste of full-season ball with Delmarva. Deson was the player to be named later in last year’s Mychal Givens trade with the Rockies and could prove to be a steal. He was recently named the FCL Player of the Month after batting .429 with a 1.102 OPS, 26 hits, and 40 total bases in August.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
This week: 3-4 vs. Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
Season record: 43-64, sixth place in Southeast Division of Triple-A East
It was a rare seven-game week for Norfolk, who made up a May postponement with a Wednesday doubleheader. But the story was the same as the previous week — the Tides could not hit. Norfolk scored only 16 runs in the seven games, posting a team batting line of .199/.293/.311. Don’t lay the blame on #1 prospect Adley Rutschman, though; he continues to rake Triple-A pitching since his promotion, going 5-for-16 with a pair of doubles this week to give him a .359 average and .933 OPS in 22 games at the level.
The only Tides hitter besides Rutschman doing anything worth mentioning is outfielder Robert Neustrom, who walloped two home runs in the series finale Sunday, including this prodigious blast.
Robert Neustrom destroyed this baseball over the party deck at Harbor Park. Friends…that is a rare feat. pic.twitter.com/b7GYasMlaX
— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) September 5, 2021
I’ll admit that I couldn’t have told you the first thing about Robert Neustrom when this season began, but now he’s very much on the radar screen. The 2018 fifth-round pick had posted unremarkable numbers in his first two pro seasons, but he’s tapped into his power this year and could yet play a role in the majors.
Norfolk’s pitching was impressive this week. In the rotation, Mike Baumann (#10 prospect) struck out seven batters without a walk in a six-inning, one-run gem. With an even 2.00 ERA in six starts at Norfolk, he’s making a bid for a late-season audition in the bigs. Also pitching well was lefty Kevin Smith (#14), whose five scoreless innings Wednesday snapped a streak of three straight rocky outings. And don’t forget former prospect Dean Kremer, who’s trying to salvage what’s been a miserable 2021 season in both the majors and minors. Kremer also worked five shutout frames this week, racking up five Ks without walking anyone. He lowered his Triple-A ERA more than 50 points to 5.40.
Other notable prospects:
- RHP Kyle Bradish (#8): Bradish also fared well in the strikeouts-to-walks department, with six of the former and none of the latter in his lone outing this week. He was, however, tagged for three solo home runs.
- OF Yusniel Diaz (#12): It’s not getting any better for Diaz, who was 3-for-17 without an extra-base hit this week. He’s got a preposterously bad .165/.230/.237 batting line in 39 games at Norfolk. As his prospect stock continues to plummet, Diaz needs to pretend this season never happened and start from scratch in 2022.
- IF Tyler Nevin (#30): Speaking of plummeting stock, Nevin — after a 2-for-18 week — is batting just .218 with an ominous .666 OPS this season. His power has completely disappeared; Nevin hasn’t homered in nearly two months.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
This week: 2-4 vs. Somerset Patriots (Yankees)
Season record: 61-45, second place in Southwest Division of Double-A Northeast
Playoffs: Bowie’s record is third-best, 1.5 games behind #2 Somerset (63-44)
This was a costly series loss for the Baysox, who entered the week in playoff position with the second-best record in the league but now find themselves on the outside looking in. Somerset overtook them for the #2 spot, pulling 1.5 games ahead with just two weeks left to play.
It was, though, a good week for most of the Orioles’ best prospects at this level, led by right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (#2), who twirled yet another dominant performance. In five shutout innings, Rodriguez punched out seven batters and allowed just one hit. His only blemish was a bit of wildness; he issued three walks.
On the hitting side, Kyle Stowers (#11) is — news flash — a beast. The Orioles’ minor league home run leader powered three more dingers this week in his final games with Bowie before he takes his talents to Norfolk. Jordan Westburg (#6) also homered twice this week (though he was 1-for-17 otherwise), as did outfielder Shayne Fontana.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Terrin Vavra (#13): It was a quiet week for Vavra, who went just 1-for-15 with a walk. He sat out two games, perhaps still being eased back after missing two months with a back strain.
- LHP Drew Rom (#26): The southpaw worked in long relief this week, tossing four scoreless innings Saturday with two hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. His Bowie ERA is 5.10.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
This week: 4-3 vs. Jersey Shore BlueClaws (Phillies)
Season record: 55-52, second place in North Division of High-A East
The IronBirds have no hope of making the playoffs, 13.5 games behind the current #2 seed, Greensboro. With various promotions and the season-ending injury to Hudson Haskin (#16), Aberdeen’s roster is light on top prospects right now, carrying just two of the Orioles’ top 30. Those two, at least, had good weeks: Gunnar Henderson (#4) OPS’ed 1.075 with a homer and five RBIs, while Adam Hall (#15) collected seven hits, including two doubles and a triple. Henderson now has a 16-game on-base streak as he continues to get acclimated to High-A.
Could some future ballyhooed prospects be lurking on the IronBirds’ roster? Take a peek at Zach Peek, one of the four pitchers acquired in the Dylan Bundy trade two years ago. With an impressive outing this week — five innings, one run, seven strikeouts — Peek lowered his ERA to 3.63 in eight games at High-A along with 12.7 strikeouts per nine. Jean Carmona, the last remaining player from the 2018 Jonathan Schoop trade, contributed a homer and a team-best eight RBIs this week, and he’s still only 21. Meanwhile, outfielder Lamar Sparks, formerly a top-30 prospect, was just 4-for-20 with a triple this week but has an .839 OPS in 16 games at Aberdeen.
Just another day of Orioles pitching prospects showing that the cupboard is in fact pretty stocked.
Zach Peek’s line today: 5 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 7 K
— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) September 5, 2021
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
This week: 4-2 vs. Carolina Mudcats (Brewers)
Season record: 61-47, second place in North Division of Low-A East
Playoffs: Delmarva has the fifth best record in the league; 5.0 games behind #2 Salem (66-42)
With time running out on the 2021 season, the math is working against the Shorebirds’ hopes of making the playoffs, but boy, are they giving it everything they’ve got. Ever since the bulk of 2021 draft class joined Delmarva on Aug. 17, the Shorebirds are 13-5 and are tearing the cover off the ball. This week, they scored a preposterous 70 runs in six games. Seventy! That included an 18-9 blowout in the series opener and an amazing 21-3 demolition on Saturday, along with run totals of 10, nine, eight, and four in the other games.
Let’s talk about that Saturday game, which would have made for a good week of offense for most teams. Every hitter mashed, of course, but nobody was better than first baseman and 10th-round pick Billy Cook, who clobbered three home runs in the game, including two grand slams, for a nine-RBI night. First-round pick Colton Cowser (#5 prospect) hit his first Delmarva home run in that game, and second-rounder Connor Norby (#9) smacked his second.
Cook, Cowser, and Norby were three of seven Shorebirds hitters to post an OPS over .900 for the week. The two best were 2021 13th-rounder Jacob Teter and 2020 fourth rounder Coby Mayo (#17), each of whom had two homers and eight RBIs this week. Mayo ripped nine hits and scored 10 runs, while Teter showed plenty of patience, walking eight times.
We know these guys can slug, and get on base, and hit for average, but did you know they can also run? The Shorebirds notched 20 stolen bases this week — twice as many as any other team in the league — while being caught just four times. Darell Hernaiz (#24) swiped five of those, finding a way to contribute while amassing just six singles for the week. Mason Janvrin also stole four.
On the mound, righty Jean Pinto is quickly emerging as an intriguing prospect. Fresh off being named the Low-A East Pitcher of the Month for August — in which he posted a 1.35 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, and 29 strikeouts in 26.2 innings — Pinto unfurled another gem this week, racking up 11 strikeouts in six innings for his first Low-A victory. Between Delmarva and the FCL, Pinto has a 12.1 strikeout rate this season. Meanwhile, the guy the O’s traded for him, Jose Iglesias, was released by the Angels this week. I’m gonna call that deal a win.
Stowers was the runaway choice as last week’s player of the week poll, pulling in two-thirds of the vote. He became the fourth two-time winner of the season, joining Rodriguez, Rutschman, and Westburg. He’s a candidate this week to become the first three-time winner. Other winners to date include Henderson, Johnny Rizer, Cadyn Grenier, J.D. Mundy, Baumann, Rylan Bannon, and Ryan McKenna.
Tuesday’s scheduled games:
- Norfolk: at Durham, 6:35 PM.
- Bowie: at Harrisburg, 6:30 PM.
- Aberdeen: at Wilmington, 7:05 PM.
- Delmarva: vs. Fredericksburg, 7:05 PM.