This week has not seen the greatest Orioles baseball that has ever been played. Next week’s not looking too good either. Fortunately for O’s fans in 2021, there’s been some good news from prospects down in the minors. As the calendar turns to June and just about a full month of minor league action has taken place, here’s our weekly look at where things stand. The farm continues to be a source of excitement and hope for a year (or more likely two) down the road.
Let’s start with some good news. Two prospects who had been playing with Aberdeen have shown enough to the O’s brain trust that they’ve been promoted to Bowie. The most exciting of these is Grayson Rodriguez, the team’s top pitching prospect and one of the best pitching prospects in all of the minors. He’s expected to make his first Double-A start on Wednesday.
Close behind in excitement for Rodriguez is Sunday’s announcement that Jordan Westburg, the 2020 competitive balance pick and MLB Pipeline’s #6 Orioles prospect, is going up from Delmarva to Aberdeen after driving in four runs in his final game as a Shorebird. Westburg departs the peninsula with a 1.075 OPS.
Also moving up is 2019 fourth round pick Joey Ortiz (#30). He’s earned his way up with a .289/.382/.434 batting line, but it doesn’t hurt that he’s a shortstop and so’s Westburg, who will probably take the playing time at Aberdeen that Ortiz had been getting.
Prospects not ranked in the top 30 are moving up as well. J.D. Mundy, an undrafted free agent first baseman in 2020, follows Westburg from Delmarva to Aberdeen, while Blaine Knight (2018 third round pick) and Johnny Rizer (2019 seventh round pick) go from Aberdeen to Bowie. These three guys are all old for the levels they were at and will have to swiftly conquer their new levels to gain any kind of prospect heat. I’ll be rooting for all of them to succeed.
The week also saw Tyler Nevin (#22) get to make his MLB debut on his birthday, the first Oriole to ever do this. It’s not clear how long he’ll be staying in the bigs.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- This week: 4-1 vs. Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
- Season record: 8-15, tied for last place among seven teams in Southeast division
It seems like there’s a new injury to a Norfolk position player every time you turn around. Rylan Bannon (#21) joined Yusniel Díaz (#8) and Jahmai Jones (#17) on the injured list this week. He was removed after a swing with what turned out to be an oblique strain. With this injury and Nevin’s promotion, there are no position players in the top 30 O’s prospects list active at Norfolk.
This was the first winning week posted by the Tides in 2021. Through a month of games, they’ve still only played two different teams. Minor league scheduling this year is weird. The week’s lone loss was a 17-5 defeat on Friday. In that game, rehabbing Oriole Hunter Harvey gave up three hits and a walk in a 1.2 inning outing, allowing three runs, one earned. Most of the damage didn’t wound any prospect’s ERA, though Isaac Mattson gave up four runs in one inning. He now has a 15.75 ERA with Norfolk after returning there following his O’s debut.
Kyle Bradish (#12), who like Mattson arrived in the Dylan Bundy trade, joined Norfolk this week following a promotion late last week. It was a mixed bag over his first two games, as he gave up two runs and walked three in a 3.1 inning start to get things going, then followed that up by giving up one run in five innings. That’s a 3.24 ERA overall. Bradish, like most O’s pitching prospects in the minors this year, seems to be limited early on to five innings or about 75 pitches.
Knuckleballer Mickey Jannis, not a prospect at age 33 but always cool because he’s a knuckleballer, recorded a three-inning scoreless save. He has pitched in 15.1 innings over four games for the Tides, with a 2.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP to date. I’d rather see him than Shawn Armstrong.
Other notable prospects:
- Zac Lowther (#9) - In one outing this week, Lowther hit 82 pitches in a 4.2 inning start. Charlotte batters got to him for six hits and two walks, though he only allowed two runs. Through three Norfolk games, his ERA is 7.15.
- Alexander Wells (#18) - Picked up the win in his one game this week, which is the good news. The bad news is he still gave up three runs in 3.1 innings and through four Tides games Wells has a 9.88 ERA.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- This week: 4-1 vs. Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)
- Season record: 17-5, first place of six teams in Southwest division
Across the entirety of minor league baseball, only one team has a better winning percentage than the Baysox. That’s Brewers Triple-A affiliate Nashville at 18-5. This team has, simply put, been performing how you’d hope for a team with four - now five, with Rodriguez’s promotion - of the team’s top 10 prospects playing on it.
Seriously, DL Hall (#4) and Rodriguez both throwing regularly to Adley Rutschman (#1) - as bad as it’s been in Baltimore, you can imagine better things coming soon. Rutschman has continued to dominate this league, with seven hits and five walks over five games played this week, including home runs from both sides of the plate in Sunday’s doubleheader. He’s now hitting .293/.465/.573 through 22 games, with more walks than strikeouts.
Here’s one of those homers, or as good of a view of one as minor league baseball can manage:
Adley Rutschman breaks the game open with his sixth home run of the season! pic.twitter.com/vqMlfpvhRt— Bowie Baysox (@BowieBaysox) May 30, 2021
Maybe Hall and Rodriguez won’t be throwing to him for much longer. Or maybe Hall will impress the O’s enough to move up to Norfolk with Rutschman eventually. He turned in another scoreless outing in his start this week, striking out eight over five innings. That gives him 39 strikeouts in 21 innings for 2021. The walk rate remains a concern: He walked three this week and has walked about one in six batters he’s faced this year.
As good as Rutschman was this week, he didn’t even have the best OPS of the week for the Baysox. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier, the second O’s pick in the 2018 draft, hit three homers to post a 1.658 OPS for the week. Grenier is a glove-first guy who’s never hit enough to be on the radar even as a glove-first guy. He’ll need more weeks like this to change that. He’s now batting .234/.315/.438 for the season.
Other notable prospects:
- Mike Baumann (#7) - Two starts this week, giving up five runs in just 3.2 innings. Baumann’s even less built up than other pitchers due to not pitching in any big league spring training games. He was bounced by one of these starts in less than an inning, giving up four runs in that game alone.
- Terrin Vavra (#10) - A cooling off week for Vavra after a scorching start. He hit just .125 for the week, dropping his season line to a still-impressive .265/.432/.485. We’ll have to see where his hitting settles in after a bit of a slump. As of last night, Vavra is now listed as one of Pipeline’s top 10 second base prospects.
- Kevin Smith (#16) - Four scoreless innings in 71 pitches for the lefty from the Miguel Castro trade this week. Smith has yet to go beyond 4.2 innings in four starts, but he’s struck out 22 in 17 innings with just a 1.06 ERA.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- This week: 4-0 at Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)
- Season record: 15-8, first place of five teams in North division
A rainy week for Aberdeen in the borough of Brooklyn, as three of the scheduled six games ended up being postponed due to rain. They made one up with a doubleheader on Thursday and will have more doubleheaders to come later in the year.
The rain did not stop them from sweeping the week. The IronBirds allowed just five runs in the four games they played. This club has given up the fewest runs of any of the O’s affiliates, allowing 3.86 runs per game. Its 1.062 WHIP is the lowest of the O’s minors teams as well. The remaining pitchers will have to pick up the slack after Rodriguez and Knight have been promoted to Bowie.
Two top 30 O’s prospects remain on the Aberdeen staff after Rodriguez’s promotion. Drew Rom (#26) gave up a run on six hits in a five inning start to lower his season ERA to 2.70. Garrett Stallings (#27) rebounded from a tough previous two starts with one run allowed in five innings. Here are Stallings’s five strikeouts:
A really good outing for Garrett Stallings today.— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) May 29, 2021
5 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K. Just 54 pitches. pic.twitter.com/9m2xfdvCGl
Other notable prospects:
- Adam Hall (#11) - The 2017 second round pick is like Bowie’s Grenier in that he has work to do after a tough start. He had seven hits, including two doubles, over these four games, leaving his season line at .250/.320/.324. Looking for some more power and fewer strikeouts. He’s struck out in 31.6% of plate appearances this season.
- Kyle Stowers (#23) - Went the opposite direction from Hall this week, with two hits in 16 at-bats, including 10 strikeouts. Stowers has a .412 OBP through 21 games and has struck out 32% of the time.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- This week: 4-1 vs. Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland)
- Season record: 17-6, first place of four teams in North division
Nashville and Bowie are the only two minor league teams with better records than this club. Westburg’s promotion to Aberdeen takes this team’s highest-ranked hitter up a level. Mundy is not a ranked prospect, but he is another Delmarva hitter who was OPSing above 1.000 now headed to Aberdeen. There are still four top 30 O’s position players left on the roster.
Delmarva’s infield will still be headlined, for now, by Gunnar Henderson (#5), who’s played his way onto some MLB top 100 prospect lists. Henderson hit 4-18 in the week’s games, a disappointing week compared to his early weeks that still keeps him over a 1.000 OPS for the season. Westburg’s promotion gives Henderson more of an opportunity to play shortstop. The two each started eight games there for Delmarva.
2020 second rounder Hudson Haskin (#14) is the next-best hitter remaining with the Shorebirds. Haskin drew six walks and stole three bases this week. He’s now stolen 11 bases in 12 tries for 2021. The .937 OPS is nice too.
The Shorebirds pitching staff does not have any top prospects on it, in large part because Mike Elias has not done much drafting of pitchers. In 2019, the team did not select a pitcher until the eighth round. In 2020’s five round draft, they took a pitcher with their last pick. That pitcher, Carter Baumler (#20), had Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2021 season.
What they do have are a number of guys who are racking up strikeout totals who will become interesting if they ever stop walking too many dudes. In the last week, Xavier Moore gave up four runs in a 2.2 inning start where he walked four guys. Not good! He also struck out five and has struck out 22 of 52 batters this year. There’s also 2020 undrafted free agent signing Brandon Young, who had one scoreless four inning outing this week. Young has 25 strikeouts, and also 11 walks, in 17.1 innings.
Other notable prospects:
- Anthony Servideo (#24) - Servideo has continued to show impressive plate discipline, adding another three walks this week for a .412 OBP despite only a .231 average. None of his three hits went for extra bases and he’s hit just three doubles for the season, so he’s slugging only .288 despite an impressive OBP of .489.
- Darell Hernaiz (#28) - At 19 years old, Hernaiz is the youngest player on this roster, and nearly two and a half years younger than the average player in the league. Hernaiz went 2-13 this week and is now batting .261/.297/.348 for the year. Some prospects will take some patience.
Last week’s winner of the minor leaguer of the week poll was Westburg, which is part of what helped him earn his way up to Aberdeen. Hopefully he keeps appearing on these polls at his new level. He collected 64% of the vote last week. Poll winners to date are Rodriguez, Henderson, and Westburg.
Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week?
This poll is closed
Adley Rutschman (.500/.600/1.000 week for Bowie)
Cadyn Grenier (3 HR, 8 RBI for Bowie)
Adam Hall (7-14 hitting for Aberdeen)
Grayson Rodriguez (9 K in 5 IP, promoted to Bowie)
J.D. Mundy (.333/.400/.611 week, promoted to Aberdeen)