Things are heating up down on the farm, which got an influx of talent from the newest O’s draftees this week.
Welcome to Camden Chat’s weekly roundup of all the happenings in the Orioles’ minor league system. This week saw a ton of action up and down the farm, from a slew of 2021 draft picks making their professional debuts down in the Florida Coast League, to the Orioles’ — and MLB’s — #1 prospect getting his long-awaited call to Triple-A. There’s no time to waste, so let’s jump right in.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
This week: 2-5 vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
Season record: 32-50, sixth place (22.5 GB) in Southeast Division of Triple-A East
Though the Tides are hopelessly out of contention, they’re now a must-watch club after the addition of baseball’s top prospect, Adley Rutschman, who was promoted from Double-A Bowie on Sunday. Rutschman will make his Triple-A debut tonight at Norfolk’s Harbor Park against Memphis.
He joins an offense that could badly use a spark. The Tides didn’t score more than four runs in any of their seven games this week, and they averaged fewer than five hits a game. Every Norfolk hitter except Mason McCoy (6-for-20) and J.C. Escarra (3-for-10) batted under .200 this week. Prospects Jahmai Jones (ranked #16 by MLB Pipeline) and Tyler Nevin (#21) combined to hit just .145 (7-for-48) with no home runs, 12 strikeouts, and four walks. Rylan Bannon (#20) was a woeful 1-for-15.
Catcher Brett Cumberland, who figures to go from starter to backup with Rutschman’s arrival, was hitless in 14 at-bats. Since July 6, Cumberland is a brutal 6-for-60 with one homer and two RBIs, dropping his season average below the Mendoza line, though his OBP is still an impressive .369 thanks to 29 walks and 28 (!) hit by pitches. That’s twice as many HBPs as the second-most-plunked player in the Triple-A East.
There was some good news on the pitching side, where righty Mike Baumann (#7 prospect) continued his recent surge, tossing six scoreless, one-hit innings with two walks and six strikeouts. Baumann has thrown two impressive outings at Norfolk after rattling off four in a row at Bowie before his promotion. His early-season struggles seem to be firmly behind him, and he’s re-emerged as a legitimate rotation candidate for the Orioles, though perhaps not until next year. A guy going in the opposite direction is Dean Kremer, who gave up three runs in 2.2 innings in a losing relief appearance this week, dropping to 0-12 between Norfolk and Baltimore this season.
Other notable prospects:
- RHP Kyle Bradish (#12): Bradish labored through his one start this week, allowing three hits, four walks, and two runs in four innings of work, striking out five. His 59 strikeouts in 50 innings for Norfolk this season are impressive; his 29 walks and 5.04 ERA are not.
- LHP Kevin Smith (#15): Again: good news and bad news. Smith threw five scoreless, hitless innings with six strikeouts this week! But he also walked five batters while doing so, which isn’t going to cut it. Like Bradish, Smith’s Triple-A career has been heavy on both whiffs (39 in 30.2 innings) and free passes (23).
Double-A Bowie Baysox
This week: 3-3 vs. Somerset Patriots (Yankees)
Season record: 49-33, second place (1.5 GB) in Southwest Division of Double-A Northeast
Adley Rutschman’s swan song in Bowie saw the Baysox get no-hit in his final game, as rehabbing big league All-Star Luis Severino combined with two relievers for the feat Sunday. Rutschman went 6-for-22 this week with two home runs and two doubles — including a homer off Severino in his previous rehab start Tuesday — and finished his Baysox career with a .271/.392/.508 line, 18 homers, 55 RBIs, and 55 walks in 80 games. Now, on to bigger things!
Former major leaguer Seth Mejias-Brean, who was demoted from Norfolk to Bowie at the end of July, was the only Baysox hitter besides Rutschman to have a productive week, hitting .333 with a .940 OPS and a homer. But we’ll offer a tip of the cap to third baseman Patrick Dorrian, who had just one hit but drew five walks for a .462 OBP this week. If I told you that a Baysox hitter is leading the Northeast League in walks this year, you’d probably assume it was Rutschman, right? Nope. Adley is second to Dorrian, who has 59.
Meanwhile, top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez (#2) delivered one heck of a start, throwing 4.2 scoreless innings and racking up nine strikeouts Thursday. He allowed only two baserunners (one hit, one walk). Absolute dominance, as we’ve come to expect from the right-hander, who lowered his Bowie ERA to 2.63. He threw a season-high 89 pitches, but still has yet to go longer than five innings in a start for the Baysox this year. I understand why the O’s are treating him cautiously after a canceled minor league season in 2020, but it’ll be fun to see what he can do when the gloves come off.
Other notable prospects:
- OF Yusniel Diaz (#8): Diaz was sent down from Norfolk on an unofficial rehab assignment after missing three weeks with turf toe. He’s apparently not finding Double-A any more to his liking than Triple-A, going just 2-for-21 with eight strikeouts this week, though both hits were doubles. The chances of Diaz — who’s batting ,171 with a .535 OPS across two levels this year — making it to the majors this year are slim to none, a sad outcome for a prospect who was already in Double-A when the Orioles acquired him three years ago.
- OF Kyle Stowers (#22): It was an uncharacteristically rough week for Stowers, who was just 2-for-22 with 13 strikeouts and one walk after destroying Double-A pitching for more than a month beforehand. Stowers has gone hitless in four of his eight games in August after doing so in just four of his 27 games in July.
- LHP Drew Rom (#25): The southpaw pitched well in his second start with Bowie, working a five-inning start in which he gave up two runs on five hits, with seven strikeouts and zero walks. So far he’s got a 2.70 ERA and 13-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio since his promotion to the Baysox.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
This week: 4-1 vs. Jersey Shore BlueClaws (Phillies)
Season record: 43-39, second place (9.0 GB) in North Division of High-A East
Coming off a six-game losing streak, the IronBirds righted the ship this week, clinching a series win even before Sunday’s finale was suspended after two innings. Pitching led the way for Aberdeen, as eight of their 16 pitchers didn’t allow a run this week. That includes righties Conner Loeprich and Zach Peek, each of whom worked a scoreless five-inning start, and Connor Gillispie, who threw four hitless innings of relief for a save.
Hitting-wise, it was a good week for awesomely named catcher Maverick Handley, who delivered a team-high seven RBIs as part of a 5-for-12 week. Shout out, too, to AJ Graffanino, son of former big leaguer Tony and part of last year’s Tommy Milone trade, who went 7-for-11 (all singles) and drove in five runs.
Jordan Westburg (#6) had his 17-game hit streak snapped Friday but still has a 33-game on-base streak intact, while the other top prospects in the Aberdeen lineup — Gunnar Henderson (#5) and Hudson Haskin (#13) — were relatively quiet. The Athletic’s Keith Law weighed in on the trio after scouting one of their games, praising Westburg for his plate coverage and Henderson for his keen eye, while noting that Haskin has “a very unorthodox approach at the plate” that gives him impressive bat speed but might be hurting his pitch recognition.
Jordan Westburg had now reached base safely in 33 straight games as he collects his 8th home run since joining Aberdeen.
Stay hot, Westburg! pic.twitter.com/Bq0qwjwVSF
— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) August 7, 2021
Other notable prospects:
- RHP Garrett Stallings (#26): The Jose Iglesias trade acquisition picked up his eighth win, giving up two runs, five hits, and two walks in five innings. He struck out six.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
This week: 2-4 vs. Down East Wood Ducks (Rangers)
Season record: 45-38, second place (4.5 GB) in North Division of Low-A East
It was a good week for Lamar Sparks, the 2017 fifth-round pick whose career has been stalled by injuries. Sparks led Delmarva with seven hits and five RBIs this week, hit a homer, and also was a perfect 4-for-4 in stolen base attempts. His .722 season OPS won’t wow anyone, but he’s trending in the right direction. The only top-30 prospect on Delmarva’s roster, infielder Darell Hernaiz (#27), homered this week and delivered a walkoff hit on his 20th birthday.
Right-hander Jean Pinto, the other piece of the Iglesias trade along with Stallings, was outstanding in his second start since coming up from the FCL. Pinto worked six scoreless innings Tuesday with six strikeouts and no walks, retiring the last 15 batters he faced, and was named the Low-A East League Pitcher of the Week. Also impressive was righty Gregori Vasquez, signed as a minor league free agent before the season. In 6.1 innings over two relief appearances, Vasquez allowed just three baserunners and struck out nine.
Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League
The FCL was in the center of the action this week, as 11 of the Orioles’ 2021 draft picks — every position player except their lone high school selection, Creed Willems — began their professional careers in Sarasota. Several, including first-rounder Colton Cowser, made their debuts last Monday, then had to sit through three straight days of postponements before taking the field again. (Apparently it rains a lot in Florida. Who knew?)
Cowser, as you might imagine, has been the early standout so far, going 9-for-13 with four extra-base hits, six RBIs, and a 1.868 OPS. In an extremely small sample size, sixth rounder Collin Burns has also impressed, going 5-for-6. Second rounder Connor Norby is shaking off the rust, going 2-for-14 with two doubles. All have been playing for the Orioles Orange team that is now 6-20 (but has won three in a row since the new guys arrived). Over on the Orioles Black squad, 2020 fourth-round pick Coby Mayo (#14 prospect) continues to rake, tallying three more extra-base hits and five runs scored this week. The 19-year-old has a 1.024 OPS in 23 games.
#orioles OF prospect @CowserColton shows a level cut on this hustle double! Later scoring on Billy Cook’s sac fly its 2-2 in the 6th #birdland #prospects pic.twitter.com/vDYcLqURoG
— Eric-Birdland (@Eric_Birdland) August 9, 2021
Among O’s top-30 prospects, outfielder Luis Gonzalez (#28) and lefty Luis Ortiz (#30), headliners of Mike Elias’ inaugural 2019 international class, are off to sluggish starts in the FCL. Gonzalez is hitting .186 with a .605 OPS in 23 games, while Ortiz has a 5.27 ERA in six games. Out in the DSL, infielder Maikol Hernandez (#18) and catcher Samuel Basallo (#24), the Orioles’ first ever seven-figure international amateur signings, are OPSing .522 and .738, respectively.
In last week’s Player of the Week poll, Westburg’s three-homer week earned him 52 percent of the vote and made him the third repeat winner this year, joining Rodriguez and Rutschman, each of whom have also won twice. Other winners this year include Henderson, Johnny Rizer, Cadyn Grenier, J.D. Mundy, and Stowers.
Tuesday’s scheduled games:
- Norfolk: vs. Memphis, 7:05 PM. Starter: Bruce Zimmermann (0-0, 3.00)
- Bowie: vs. Richmond, 6:35 PM. Starter: TBD
- Aberdeen: vs. Asheville, 7:05 PM. Starter: TBD
- Delmarva at Lynchburg, 6:30 PM. Starter: TBD
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