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Orioles minor league recap 6/16: Grayson Rodriguez makes spotty Bowie home debut

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In front of a lively crowd at Prince George’s Stadium, the #1 pitching prospect in baseball threw major gas but suffered a couple of rough patches.

MILB: JUL 17 Gulf Coast League - GCL Twins at GCL Orioles Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Double-A: Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland) 3, Bowie Baysox 2

If you’ll excuse me for switching up the usual order of recaps, I’m going to start with Bowie, which hosted one of the most hotly anticipated minor league games in recent memory. Grayson Rodriguez, MLB Pipeline’s newly minted best pitching prospect in baseball, made his Baysox home debut after two road starts to begin his Double-A career. The battery of Rodriguez and Adley Rutschman, the overall second-best prospect in baseball, made this a must-see event, with a spirited crowd of 4,963 — myself and Stacey among them — filling the stands at Prince George’s Stadium, many with gas cans in tow.

Rodriguez’s gas lived up to the hype. He was clocked at 100 mph or more on the stadium gun on multiple occasions, including one pitch that registered at 103. Granted, minor league radar readings aren’t the most reliable, but whatever the true velocity may have been, Grayson was bringing the heat. He also mixed in a changeup and slider that brought a lot of ugly swings from Akron hitters. Rodriguez racked up six strikeouts, including one each of Tyler Freeman and Bo Naylor, Cleveland’s #2 and #3 prospects per Pipeline.

That was the good part. But Rodriguez wasn’t dominant by any stretch. Several Akron hitters made sharp contact, including an Andruw Monasterio two-bagger in the third that set up a run-scoring groundout and an Alex Call leadoff double to the wall in the fourth that ultimately made it a 2-0 game. The damage might have been worse but for slick Baysox defense, with third baseman Pat Dorrian making a diving stop and throw to take away a potential RBI single in the third, and shortstop Cadyn Grenier ranging out for an over-the-shoulder catch to strand another Rodriguez baserunner in the fifth.

Rodriguez departed after a two-out triple in the fifth with a pitch count of 83, his most of the season. He allowed two runs on four hits, with a walk and six Ks, in 4.2 innings. On his way out, Rodriguez had some stern words and serious side-eye for home plate ump Dane Poncsak, whose tight strike zone might have cost Rodriguez a few outs.

This wasn’t a banner day for the Bowie offense, which managed just four hits. The lone highlight was Doran Turchin’s game-tying two-run homer in the fifth that took Rodriguez off the hook for a loss, though the RubberDucks retook the lead the following inning against reliever Tyler Joyner. Also of note: #8 prospect Yusniel Diaz, rehabbing from Norfolk, saw his first game action since suffering a hip strain for the Tides on May 9. He went 1-for-2 with a scalded single and a walk in the familiar confines of Bowie, where he played 114 games from 2018-19.

And poor Adley Rutschman put up a terrible showing for the raucous Bowie crowd. In the third, with the bases loaded and one out and the chance to do major damage, Rutschman bounced the first pitch back to pitcher Thomas Ponticelli, who started an inning-ending double play. In the fifth, with two men in scoring position and one out, Rutschman struck out swinging against flamethrowing righty Manuel Alvarez, who was also hitting 100 on the gun. All told, Rutschman went 0-for-3 with a walk, stranding five on base.

Even though the Baysox lost and neither of the Birds’ top two prospects were at their best, it was still a fun night at the ballpark, and proof that Orioles fans are still enthusiastic about the future of the team (if not the present). I could definitely get used to seeing the Rodriguez/Rutschman battery in Baltimore for a long time.

Triple-A: Norfolk Tides 4, Durham Bulls (Rays) 1

The Tides were the only O’s affiliate to win on this night, and most encouragingly, #17 prospect Alexander Wells pitched a gem. He tossed five shutout innings while allowing just two hits, both to Wander Franco, the best prospect in baseball. Wells struck out four and didn’t walk anyone. After a rough May, Wells has been brilliant in three June outings: one earned run in 14 innings (0.64 ERA), six hits, 14 strikeouts, and no walks. Tell me, who would you rather have starting for the Orioles four days from now: Alexander Wells or Matt Harvey?

Speaking of Norfolk players who are ready for a callup, #16 prospect Jahmai Jones continued to rake, going 3-for-4 with his third home run and a pair of RBIs. Jones is second on the Tides in RBIs despite playing just 11 of their 34 games. Meanwhile the Orioles continue to fumble around with the likes of Stevie Wilkerson and Pat Valaika at second base. Assuming Jones is fully recovered from his oblique injury, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in the majors soon, getting everyday playing time at the keystone position.

Backstop Brett Cumberland (.861 OPS) also homered, his fifth, and guess what? The O’s currently have a black hole at catcher, too. Bring everybody up, is what I’m saying.

High-A: Asheville Tourists (Astros) 13, Aberdeen IronBirds 5

This was a night to forget for the IronBirds pitching staff, which was torched 13 runs on 15 hits. The top six hitters in the Asheville lineup each had multiple hits, including a guy with the awesome name of Matthew Barefoot. Each of the four IronBirds pitchers was scored upon, but starter Connor Gillispie took the brunt of it, giving up seven runs in 2.2 innings.

A few Aberdeen hitters had solid games. Leadoff man Zach Watson went 3-for-4 with a homer, and DH Andrew Daschbach also homered. The news wasn’t so good for #6 prospect Jordan Westburg, who took an 0-for-5 with three strikeouts. He’s hitting just .209 with a .636 OPS since his promotion to Aberdeen. #11 prospect Adam Hall was 0-for-4 with two Ks, continuing his forgettable season (.214 average, .532 OPS).

Low-A: Salem Red Sox 6, Delmarva Shorebirds 2

There wasn’t much to talk about here, as Salem scored all six of its runs in the fourth inning — five of them off Noah Denoyer — and cruised from there. Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles’ #5 prospect, roped a double and also stole a base, one of three Delmarva steals on the night. They didn’t do much good, though, considering the Shorebirds went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. Despite the loss, Delmarva (23-12) remains three games ahead of Salem for first place in the fourth-team North Division.

Complete box scores from Tuesday’s games can be found here.

Wednesday’s scheduled games:

  • Norfolk: vs. Durham, 7:05 PM. Starter: Kevin Smith (Norfolk debut)
  • Bowie: vs. Akron, 6:35 PM. Starter: TBD
  • Aberdeen: at Asheville, 6:35 PM. Starter: TBD
  • Delmarva: vs. Salem, 7:05 PM. Starter: Houston Roth (1-1, 4.50)