While the major league Orioles are descending into a pit of despair, their minor league affiliates are laying waste to their competition. Three of the four clubs currently sit in first place in their respective divisions, which is always fun to say, no matter how early in the season it may be. More importantly, a number of the Orioles’ best prospects are thriving in the early goings. Let’s look at how they fared this week.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
This week: 1-5 vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
Season record: 4-14, last place in Southeast Division
Let’s start this minor league rundown with the bad news. The Tides are a shipwreck, languishing in last place and tied for the worst record in the league. They’ve struggled on both sides of the ball, ranking near the bottom of the 20-team Triple-A East in both OPS (.692, fourth-worst) and ERA (5.33, fifth-worst). You might say they’re the Orioles of Triple-A.
The Tides were two outs away from getting swept by Jacksonville before salvaging the finale with a two-run rally in the ninth. Norfolk scored just 11 runs in the six games, posting a league-worst .562 OPS.
For those hoping the freefalling Orioles could dip into the Norfolk roster for some major league help, you’ll probably be disappointed. On the pitching side, prospects Zac Lowther (ranked #9 by MLB Pipeline) and Alexander Wells (#18) have been hit hard, with the two combining to give up 13 hits and eight earned runs in seven innings in this week’s outings. The Tides’ best pitching performance this week came from 33-year-old knuckleballer Mickey Jannis, who pitched five perfect innings Thursday but got a loss because of the ghost-runner extra-innings rule.
The news isn’t much better on the offensive side, where prospects Yusniel Diaz (#8) and Jahmai Jones (#17) are still sidelined with leg and oblique injuries, respectively, with snakebitten former Rule 5 pick Richie Martin joining them on the shelf this week after fracturing his wrist chasing a fly ball. Martin is expected to miss two to three months. On the plus side, backstops Austin Wynns (4-for-14, HR, two RBIs this week) and Brett Cumberland (6-for-22, HR, two RBIs) continued to make a case for replacing either of the Orioles’ struggling catchers at the big league level.
Other notable prospects:
- OF Ryan McKenna (#13): In three games after being demoted by the Orioles on May 20, McKenna had two stolen bases and the game-tying homer in the ninth Sunday.
- IF Rylan Bannon (#21): An already bad season got even worse for Bannon, who was a paltry 2-for-24 with six strikeouts and no walks this week. He’s hitting .181 with a .543 OPS this year.
- IF Tyler Nevin (#22): Like most Tides, he’s been unremarkable; a 3-for-11 week moved his season batting line to .207/.266/.431.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
This week: 4-2 vs. Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants)
Season record: 13-4, first place (0.5 game lead) in Southwest Division
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The first-place Baysox are one of the most fun teams in minor league baseball right now, led by two must-watch prospects in Adley Rutschman (#1) and DL Hall (#4). And both had their moments of brilliance this week.
Bowie was down to their final out.— Bowie Baysox (@BowieBaysox) May 23, 2021
Adley Rutschman hit this ball 445 feet. pic.twitter.com/SOF73o1jYF
Rutschman’s dramatic game-tying homer Sunday provided his only dinger and RBIs of the week, but he posted a .406 OBP thanks to six hits and four walks in 26 PAs. His OPS for the year is up to .908. Hall, meanwhile, has a 2.81 ERA and 31 strikeouts in four starts this year. But his eight-strikeout performance this week was tied for only third-best among Baysox starters. Righty Kyle Bradish (#12) sizzled with 10 strikeouts Wednesday, after which he was promoted to Norfolk. Seventh-year O’s farmhand Ofelky Peralta fanned nine in his lone start this week. And left-hander Kevin Smith (#16) enjoyed a stupendous Thursday outing in which he racked up seven consecutive strikeouts and eight total.
All told, five Baysox starters — Hall, Bradish, Smith, Peralta, and David Lebron — combined to pitch 21.2 innings this week, striking out 41, without allowing an earned run. Spoiler: that’s extremely good. It’s no wonder the Baysox rotation has the second-most strikeouts in the 12-team Double-A Northeast League (101) despite pitching the second-fewest innings (66.2). Their 2.97 ERA also ranks second.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Terrin Vavra (#10): Vavra had his first rough week, going 3-for-18 with nine strikeouts, though he did homer. Even still, he’s been a great table-setter atop the lineup this season, leading the Baysox in average (.308) and OBP (.463).
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
This week: 3-3 vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks (Nationals)
Season record: 11-7, first place (2.0 game lead) in North Division
The IronBirds finally played their first home series as a High-A franchise and emerged with a split, keeping them in first place. And this your weekly reminder that Grayson Rodriguez (#2 prospect) is awesome. The right-hander’s one start this week brought his usual dominance: six innings (his longest outing yet), no walks, eight strikeouts, and just one hit, which was a solo homer. He earned his first win at the High-A level and actually raised his season ERA by one point — to 1.47.
But arguably the best Aberdeen performer this week was outfielder Kyle Stowers (#23), who blistered 10 hits for 18 total bases, drove in seven runs, and batted .455/.519/.818 for a 1.337 OPS. The 2019 second-round pick had four multi-hit games this week and boosted his season OPS from .667 to .910. I’d say he’s turned his season around.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Adam Hall (#11): Hall had five hits this week, all singles, and flashed his speed with a team-leading three steals. But he isn’t making much progress in propelling his season forward and is still hitting .185 with a .482 OPS this year.
- LHP Drew Rom (#26): The lefty’s lone start was a forgettable one — three runs (two earned) in 2.2 innings, giving him a 3.09 ERA for the year.
- RHP Garrett Stallings (#27): The Jose Iglesias trade acquisition was tagged for two home runs in his five-inning, three-run outing Saturday.
- IF Joseph Ortiz (#30): A new addition to Pipeline’s top 30, Ortiz had a solid 6-for-20 week that included three doubles, tied with Stowers for the team lead. He’s batting .297/.395/.453 this year.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
This week: 4-2 vs. Carolina Mudcats (Brewers)
Season record: 13-5, first place (tied) in North Division
You guys, Delmarva’s lineup is an absolute behemoth. The Shorebirds scored seven or more runs in five of their six games, totaling 52 runs this week. It’s a continuation of what they’ve done all season; Delmarva leads the East League in practically every offensive category this year, including runs (141), OBP (.401), SLG (.449), homers (25), and walks (107). Good luck getting these guys out, opposing pitchers.
A whopping four Shorebirds posted an OPS over 1.100 this week, including the Orioles’ top two infield prospects, Gunnar Henderson (#5) and Jordan Westburg (#6), promising outfielder Hudson Haskin (#14), and first baseman J.D. Mundy, who was signed as an undrafted free agent last year. That quartet combined for 32 hits, 22 runs, five home runs (at least one apiece), and 27 RBIs. They even stole six bases as well, four of them by Haskin.
Leading the charge was Westburg, who went 10-for-19 to boost his season average to an even .400. You have to think the 22-year-old, a first-round draft pick from Mississippi State in 2020, is a candidate for a promotion to Aberdeen.
Westburg was named Low-A East Player of the Week, an honor that went to Henderson a week earlier. (Henderson made another strong case, bashing a team-leading two homers and nine RBIs this week.)
You might not have heard of outfielder Dylan Harris, another undrafted free-agent signee from last year, but I must point out that he drew 12 walks in 22 plate appearances this week. Talk about patience at the plate.
Right-hander Mike Baumann (#7 prospect) finished his rehab with Delmarva by tossing three perfect innings Thursday. His next stop will be Bowie.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Anthony Servideo (#24): With eight more walks this week, Servideo now boasts an incredible .507 OBP this year despite a .239 average and no power. This guy is fascinating.
- IF Darell Hernaiz (#28): With six hits (all singles) and no walks, Hernaiz posted an aesthetically pleasing .333/.333/.333 batting line this week, but did little to improve his .644 season OPS.
Camden Chat readers elected Henderson as last week’s minor league player of the week with 59% of the vote. He’s a candidate again this week along with, among others, two of his hot-hitting Delmarva teammates. Who gets your vote?
Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week?
This poll is closed
Kyle Bradish, Bowie (4 IP, 10 K, 2 H, 1 BB, promoted to Norfolk)
Hudson Haskin, Delmarva (1.386 OPS, 7 R, 4 SB)
Gunnar Henderson, Delmarva (1.107 OPS, 2 HR, 9 RBI)
Kyle Stowers, Aberdeen (10-for-22, 1.337 OPS)
Jordan Westburg, Delmarva (10-for-19, 1.414 OPS, Low-A East Player of the Week)
Tuesday’s scheduled games:
- Norfolk: vs. Charlotte, 6:35 PM. Starter: TBD
- Bowie: vs. Harrisburg, 6:35 PM. Starter: Mike Baumann
- Aberdeen: at Brooklyn, 6:30 PM. Starter: TBD
- Delmarva: vs. Lynchburg, 7:05 PM. Starter: TBD