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Orioles prospects were a mixed bag in the Arizona Fall League this year

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The Orioles sent a group of players to Arizona this fall for extra work, and while most of them struggled and some got injured, there were a couple of bright spots.

Mesa Solar Sox v Peoria Javelinas
Greg Cullen warms up for the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League on November 9, 2021.
Photo by Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images

As you may know, the 2021 Arizona Fall League season came to a close recently. And the Orioles’ affiliated team — the Mesa Solar Sox — won the Championship, which Mark Brown touched on last week.

Seven O’s prospects participated in the Fall League, including four pitchers and three position players. Unfortunately, the majority did not play well. A couple of players had their time cut short due to injury, while just one pitcher and one hitter excelled with Mesa.

Pitchers

The Fall League did not go well for Orioles pitching prospects, who struggled mightily in Arizona. The lone exception was left-hander Nick Vespi, who was originally drafted by Baltimore out of Palm Beach State College in 2015.

Vespi, who is now 26, threw a total of 14.1 innings in Arizona and came out with a 2.51 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. But like the other pitchers we’ll cover shortly, Vespi was on the wild side. He averaged 4.4 BB/9 innings, but at the same time, he struck out quite a few batters as well (10.7 K/9).

Having experienced an up-and-down regular season that included a 1.42 ERA at Bowie and a 6.86 mark at Norfolk, Vespi now has some positive momentum heading into the 2022 regular season. If he can put up some solid numbers at Triple-A, we could see him in Baltimore at some point next year.

Now, for the negative. There was a trio of O’s pitchers that performed poorly with the Solar Sox.

Cameron Bishop, a late round O’s draft pick in 2017, threw 12.1 innings in Arizona. And even though he kept the ball in the park, he allowed a total of 11 earned runs. That comes out to an 8.03 ERA, which is actually second best out of the four O’s pitching prospects. Yikes! Bishop had serious control issues, surrendering 15 walks while striking out 11. That would help explain his unsightly 2.03 WHIP.

Another pitcher — Logan Gillaspie — is a unique case. He was actually an Independent League catcher before signing a minor league contract with the Brewers in 2018 as a pitcher. More recently, he joined the Orioles on a minor league contract last June.

The 24-year-old right-hander tossed an even 14 innings with the Solar Sox and gave up 14 earned runs. He allowed seven walks and had 18 strikeouts, along with a 1.79 WHIP and .300 BAA.

Like the pitchers previously mentioned, Gillaspie split his 2021 regular season between two minor league levels. He registered a 3.77 ERA at Aberdeen and 5.60 ERA at Bowie.

After being drafted by the Pirates in 2018, 24-year-old right-hander Conner Loeprich came to the O’s in a trade for international bonus pool money in 2020. He threw the most innings — 19.1 — of any Orioles prospect in the Fall League, but he didn’t fare well with all that playing time.

Loeprich gave up 18 runs en route to an 8.38 ERA, 2.59 WHIP, and .400 BAA. He also issued 18 walks and hit two batters while striking out 15. Unfortunately, that lines up with Loeprich’s 2021 regular season, when he allowed 35 runs in 44 innings with Aberdeen and had a 1.59 WHIP.

Position Players

Two of the O’s position players had their time in Arizona cut short by injuries. That included Kyle Stowers, who was 2-for-10 in three games played, and Yusniel Diaz, who was 6-for-27 with a home run in seven games.

But there was one bright spot in terms of Oriole hitters. Second baseman Greg Cullen played in 15 games for the Solar Sox and did quite well for himself. Originally drafted out of Niagara University in 2018 by the Braves, Cullen joined the O’s organization in 2020 as part of the Tommy Milone trade.

In Arizona, the 25-year-old Cullen collected 12 hits in 43 at-bats, including two doubles and three home runs. He also walked nearly as much as he struck out (9 BB:10 SO) and recorded a .279/.400/.535 triple slash line with a .935 OPS.

Cullen continued to show a strong batting eye this fall, just like he did during the regular season. But he hit for more power than he did in his first minor league season with the O’s, which was a pleasant surprise. Between Delmarva and Bowie in 2021, Cullen slashed .259/.429/.398. He’ll look to carry his Fall League success into the 2022 regular season and keep himself on the Orioles’ radar.