Minor league seasons are heading into their last few weeks. Two Orioles affiliates have a shot to play for a championship.
Five months of 2021 Orioles baseball are now in the books. The less said about them, especially the 3-24 record in August, the better, so let’s talk about the Orioles minor league teams instead. Four months are in the books for these squads, which are collectively stocked with players who, we hope, can be part of a wave of talent that washes the franchise back onto first place shores.
The last week brought at least one big hopeful sign for that goal. MLB Pipeline, whose team rankings we’ve been using to focus these weekly posts all season, posted its updated farm system rankings to reflect how things have changed since the preseason due to players graduating to MLB, trades, the draft, and raising or lowering their stock through their performance coming out of the pandemic year where there was no minor league action.
The Orioles are now #1. It’s an exciting development, even if the MLB-level Orioles are determined on an almost daily basis to remind us of how far they have to go from where they are now to where we would like them to be.
Also included this week is a note about each team’s playoff situation. There are no Triple-A playoffs in 2021. For Double-A, High-A, and Low-A, the top two teams by regular season record in each league, regardless of division, will play for the league championship.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- This week: 1-5 vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
- Season record: 40-60, sixth place (24.5 GB) of seven teams in Northeast division of Triple-A East
- Playoffs: n/a
It was a sad week for the Tides offense, as they scored more than three runs in just one of the six games. On the plus side for Orioles fans, Adley Rutschman (#1 in system and all of baseball) was one of the players who did fine, with 6-19 hitting for the week and four walks on top of that. Through 16 Norfolk games, he’s OPSing .943. The only thing to nitpick so far is it would be nice if he had more extra-base hits at this level. I’m sure they will come.
Norfolk pitching was not nearly so sad. The team lost three 4-3 games as well as a 1-0 game just this week. That’s enough where you can say they had a chance to win. They just… didn’t. Mike Baumann (#10) had the best outing of any Tides starting pitcher in the week’s series, pitching five shutout innings. Baumann scattered four hits and three walks while striking out five. He’s walked 13 batters in 21 innings for Norfolk, but with a 2.14 ERA in five games, this hasn’t hurt him yet.
Not every ranked pitching prospect was so successful. Kyle Bradish (#8) was summoned into a long relief role and gave up three runs on six hits in a three inning outing. It’s been 16 games for Norfolk for the righty starter and he has a 5.25 ERA and 1.654 WHIP. I had higher hopes.
Other notable prospects:
- OF Yusniel Diaz (#12) – Hitless in 13 at-bats this week, which leaves him batting .164/.220/.246 in 33 games for the season. Not hard to argue he deserved to be dropped lower than #12 in the midseason update.
- LHP Kevin Smith (#14) – One start that only lasted 3.1 innings, which was still long enough for Smith to give up six hits and three walks. Like with Bradish, I had higher hopes than a 5.95 ERA and 1.754 WHIP through 11 games.
- LHP Alexander Wells (#23) – A two inning scoreless start was cut short to keep him fresh in case the MLB team needed him. Wells, at least, has found Triple-A success through 13 games: 3.29 ERA, 1.024 WHIP.
- IF/OF Tyler Nevin (#30) – 3-17 in five games this week, lowering his Norfolk OPS to .679. Yet again, I had higher hopes.
- IF Rylan Bannon (unranked) – Hit 10 home runs in 10 games from August 11-24. Went 1-19 in the five games after that. I might still rather see him at the MLB level than Kelvin Gutierrez.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- This week: 2-4 vs. Erie SeaWolves (Tigers)
- Season record: 59-41, second place (2.5 GB) of six teams in Southwest division of Double-A Northeast
- Playoffs: Bowie has the #2 seed, with Somerset (NYY, 59-42) and Portland (BOS, 56-43) chasing. Bowie plays Somerset this week.
The newly-updated MLB Pipeline rankings have Grayson Rodriguez (#2 in system) as the best pitching prospect in all of baseball. The O’s top two guys are a big reason why they have the #1 farm system. Rodriguez rarely disappoints. He added another nine strikeouts to his season tally in a five inning start. He was able to work around three hits, two walks, and a hit batter to allow just two runs.
Since joining Bowie, Rodriguez has struck out 39.3% of the batters he’s faced. For the whole season, he leads all of minor league baseball with a 40.9% strikeout rate.
That’s pretty good, but I think a Baysox hitter topped that. Kyle Stowers (#11) had another tater-mashing week, clubbing four home runs in six games. That makes 14 in 60 games for the 23-year-old outfielder, who’s followed up a .900 OPS in 36 Aberdeen games with a .915 for Bowie. The question for Stowers remains the strikeouts. He added another five this week and has struck out in 30% of his Double-A plate appearances. At the MLB level, only ten qualified batters are above that mark.
One more positive for the week was the return of Terrin Vavra (#13) to Double-A action this week after a two month injury absence. Vavra picked right back up where he left off in June, with 5-18 hitting that included two doubles and a homer, four walks, and two stolen bases. At 24, Vavra’s performance at Double-A doesn’t say a whole lot, but hopefully a strong finish here will carry over into Triple-A next season, and then from there to Baltimore.
Other notable prospects:
- SS Jordan Westburg (#6) – 3-20 hitting in six games, and only one walk. Westburg, 22, is still getting his feet wet here, batting .143 through two weeks.
- LHP Zac Lowther (#22) – The Orioles technically ended Lowther’s injury rehab and assigned Lowther to Bowie coming out of it. He allowed two unearned runs in a five inning start this week, striking out four with five hits and a walk.
- LHP Drew Rom (#26) – One start, one long relief outing this week, neither of which was very good. Combined for 11 hits, two walks, two hit batters in eight innings, with seven earned runs allowed. Rom has given up six homers in 26 Bowie innings, with a 5.88 ERA.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- This week: 3-4 vs. Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)
- Season record: 51-49, second place (11.5 GB) of five teams in North division of High-A East
- Playoffs: Aberdeen’s record is 5th-best, with #2 seed Greensboro (PIT) at 64-38
Recent promotions and one recent injury has left this team with just two of the Orioles top 30 prospects on its roster. Neither of them are pitchers. The new injury is Hudson Haskin (#16), out for the year with a thumb fracture.
Among the remaining prospects, the highest-placed is Gunnar Henderson (#4). This was a solid week for the 20-year-old as he added five walks to 7-27 hitting to give himself a .394 OBP in seven games. He’s going to need to close out with some more weeks like this to raise his Aberdeen OPS from .704.
Adam Hall (#15) remains a sleeper prospect who just hasn’t woken up yet. He only played in three games this past week, picking up just two hits in 13 at-bats. His Aberdeen OPS of .662 in 65 games is not pretty. It’s too early to give up on him, especially since he lost his age 21 season of development time due to the pandemic, but he’s not on the fast track to MLB.
One pitcher to shout out in particular this week is Zach Peek (unranked), who you might remember as The Starter From The Dylan Bundy Trade Whose Name Isn’t Kyle. Peek gave up just a solo home run in a five inning start, striking out seven batters. He’s pitched six games for the IronBirds and while he has a 3.91 ERA to date, he’s struck out 32 batters in 24.1 innings.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- This week: 3-3 vs. Salem Red Sox
- Season record: 57-45, second place (3 GB) of four teams in North division of Low-A East
- Playoffs: Delmarva’s record is 5th-best, with #2 seed Carolina (MIL) at 61-41. Delmarva plays Carolina this week.
If the new-look Shorebirds are going to push their way into a playoff spot, they’re going to need a bunch of the 2021 draftees who’ve joined the roster to power the offense. In their three losses, they scored either two or three runs. In their three wins, they scored six or more.
Colton Cowser (#5) has lived up to his top pick billing so far, and yes, I know it’s only been ten games. This past week, Cowser added another seven hits to his tally, plus another five walks, for an over .500 OBP for the week. He’s got more walks (nine) than strikeouts (six) to date. Just about the only thing that could make his debut weeks at this level more impressive is if he had hit any homers.
The guy whose name I’m looking forward to cheering in an exaggerated Baltimore accent, Coby Mayo (#17), also stood out. Mayo hit “only” 4-17 in five games, but two went for extra bases, and he added five walks too. Low-ish average, high OBP, solid power has been the story of his first two weeks with Delmarva, which is pretty good for a 19-year-old.
And let’s not give short shrift to the one regular batter on Delmarva’s roster who was not drafted in either 2021 or 2020. Darell Hernaiz (#24), the fifth round pick from 2019, batted 9-17 this week. Hernaiz just turned 20 earlier this month. As I’ve mentioned in a number of weekly updates, his season batting line of .271/.331/.348 is what the scouting world likes to call “holding his own” at this level; he’s more than two years younger than the average competition.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Connor Norby (#9) – The second round pick had a respectable 5-19 tally at the plate, plus three walks. His ten game Delmarva OPS is .864.
- OF Reed Trimble (#21) – Did not play this week. I haven’t seen an injury reported, but there is likely something.
- RHP Jean Pinto (unranked) – The 20-year-old from the Jose Iglesias trade had one start this week. He battled some command problems, walking three batters, which led to two runs scoring. Pinto gave up one hit and struck out six. In six Delmarva games his ERA is 2.05, with a 0.783 WHIP. If he can finish strong, he’ll probably be in the top 30 O’s prospect lists when they’re next updated.
Florida Complex League
The Orioles have two affiliates at this level. Orioles Orange has had a tough time, losing yesterday to fall to 8-28. Orioles Black has done better, with a 17-21 record after yesterday’s loss.
With the 2021 picks plus Mayo now having been at Delmarva for two weeks, the only guy left from Pipeline’s list who’s in the FCL is Luis Gonzalez (#29), an outfielder who was part of the first Elias July 2 class in 2019. Gonzalez has bounced between both the Orange and Black teams and has combined for a .504 OPS in 33 games.
From an age vs. competition standpoint, it’s 18- and 19-year olds whose performance you might want to note. I keep an eye on Mishael Deson (unranked) from the Mychal Givens trade. Deson, 19, is hitting .348/.402/.467 in 29 games. There’s also Stiven Acevedo (unranked), picked up in the pre-July 2 days in 2019, who at 19 is hitting .282/.348/.398 in his first taste of a US-based league. If the Orioles are lucky, maybe their first “this guy with a paltry signing bonus became a prospect story” will end up being Acevedo.
Dominican Summer League
The Orioles have two affiliates on the island. Orioles 1 is 10-19. Orioles 2 is 11-19.
As far as the MLB Pipeline prospects list goes, it’s Orioles 1 that has the guys who are worth watching. That’s where the two Orioles seven-figure bonus signings from this year’s amateur class are assigned. Maikol Hernandez (#19) drove in two runs yesterday and has walked 13 times in 24 games, though he’s only OPSing .598 so far. Samuel Basallo (#25) added a fourth home run in 25 games.
Basallo, who only turned 17 earlier this month, is two years younger than the average competition in the league, so a .783 OPS in 25 games – when the league as a whole is only OPSing .670 – is intriguing.
If you really want to dream on a deep sleeper, the best DSL Orioles 1 hitter to date is 17-year-old Anderson De Los Santos (unranked), who through 26 games is batting .333/.419/.494. De Los Santos is also part of this year’s signing class.
A strong majority awarded last week’s player of the week honors to Ryan McKenna, who’d hit four home runs. McKenna had another good week last week and that’s probably why he’s in Baltimore now.
Winners of the weekly polls to date: Rodriguez (twice), Rutschman (twice), Westburg (twice), Henderson, Johnny Rizer, J.D. Mundy, and Stowers.