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Orioles minor league week in review: The gas cans come to Bowie

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No Orioles affiliate had a winning week, but Grayson Rodriguez pitched twice, Gunnar Henderson’s moving up, and more.

MILB: JUL 17 Gulf Coast League - GCL Twins at GCL Orioles
People are bringing empty gas cans to Bowie when Grayson Rodriguez starts.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As with a distressing number of weeks in the 2021 season so far, the Orioles only won one game at the MLB level in the past week. Every week seems to bring a fresh reminder that better times for the organization will not be coming until many of the placeholder players on the Orioles are replaced by prospects who are up to the challenge of being MLB regulars.

Fortunately for Orioles fans, there continues to be a lot to be excited about from the minors. With every Monday being a scheduled off day for minor league clubs, each Tuesday on Camden Chat features a rundown of the week that just happened. O’s affiliates Bowie and Delmarva remain in first place in their divisions. Bowie slipped just a little bit this week; their .675 winning percentage is no longer the best in minor league baseball.

The promotions

The Big One will be when Adley Rutschman is promoted to Norfolk. That did not happen this week. Another team’s fans get The Big One as baseball’s #1 overall prospect Wander Franco is joining the Rays today.

What Orioles fans have to settle for is still interesting at least, as Gunnar Henderson (MLB Pipeline’s #5 Orioles prospect) earned his way from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen. Henderson heads up a level after having batted .312/.369/.574 in 35 games for the Shorebirds. The High-A level is probably where he would have been in 2021 if no pandemic ever came along.

Two other players among the Orioles top 30 prospects are moving up this week. Yusniel Díaz (#8) played a rehab stint with Bowie this week and will be returning to Norfolk. Moving up into the Bowie outfield is Kyle Stowers (#22), who’s hit seven home runs in 35 games for the IronBirds and posted an OBP over .400 to boot. Like Henderson, Stowers is heading up to the level he’d have probably started 2021 without the pandemic. How he looks from here on will do more to determine his prospect stock than what he’s done so far.

Five other players who have already been in action for affiliates this year are moving up as well. The most interesting of these for me is Kyle Brnovich, part of the Dylan Bundy trade, who heads up to Bowie after striking out 48 batters in 34.1 innings for Aberdeen. Brnovich is not on the current top 30 O’s prospect list, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him appear in a midseason update.

The injuries

Unfortunately, a couple of new prospect names joined the minor league injured list this week. DL Hall (#4) is now down with elbow tendinitis. Any time a pitching prospect has some elbow concern, you have to hold your breath a little bit. It seems like Hall will be shut down for close to a month due to this. Joining him on the Bowie injured list is Terrin Vavra (#10), whose .263/.413/.447 hitting is interrupted with a lower back strain.

Remaining on the injured list are Rylan Bannon (#20), who tweaked an oblique in late May, and Anthony Servideo (#23), whose most recent game was June 1 due to a sore hip.

As well, within the last week, the Orioles said that the team’s 2020 top pick Heston Kjerstad (#3 prospect for now), who’s yet to play in a professional game due to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), has experienced a reoccurrence of the inflammation, leaving him still with no timetable as to when he will get onto a field.

The two high school players the O’s signed with the extra money that making the underslot pick of Kjerstad gave them have also not played a game yet. Coby Mayo (#14) has been coming along slowly due to a knee issue, and Carter Baumler (#19) had Tommy John surgery earlier in the year.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides

  • This week: 2-4 vs. Durham Bulls (Rays)
  • Season record: 15-24, sixth place (12 GB) of seven teams in the Southeast division of Triple-A East

The Tides are the only O’s affiliate that never led its division this year. They started out 4-14 and are 11-10 since, so there has been some improvement, though the Bulls, who are loaded with top Rays prospects including Franco and Vidal Brujan, proved to be a tough matchup for Norfolk again this week.

What’s good for Orioles fans who’d like to see the Orioles be better in the near future is that there were still some standout performances from individual Tides. Five batters posted OPSes above .800 for the week and three were over 1.000.

That included Jahmai Jones (#16), whose 10 hits in 23 at-bats led the way, and he walked four times and stole two bases besides. With O’s second baseman entering Monday hitting a combined .204/.267/.311, I think Jones might be the prospect I’m most interested in seeing in 2021. (I mean, Rutschman, obviously, but that’s not happening.)

Also included in that group is my ongoing favorite non-prospect in the system, NASCAR scion Zach Jarrett. He only hit .200 for the week, but added a home run and five walks, so he was still in the OPS over .800 group. In 22 games with the Tides, he’s now batting .280/.393/.507. With the 40-man roster situation being what it is, the 26-year-old is a longshot to become a part of the team’s plans. Performance like this can’t hurt.

On the pitching side of things, Australian lefty Alexander Wells (#17) made two starts against the Bulls. One went well, with five scoreless innings. The other went less well, with Durham getting to him for four runs in 4.1 innings. Still, that’s a 3.86 ERA over the week, and these outings lowered his season ERA to 5.63 and WHIP to 1.344. Those aren’t great numbers, but they are significant improvements over how his year began.

Other notable prospects:

  • LHP Zac Lowther (#9) - Five scoreless innings in his one start this week, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out six batters. That’s more like it.
  • RHP Kyle Bradish (#12) - A bad week for the most advanced of the starting pitchers from the Dylan Bundy trade. Durham socked him for five runs - three earned - in a short 1.2 inning start. Better luck this week.
  • 1B/OF Tyler Nevin (#20) - Batted under .200 for the week, with two home runs and four walks to still leave him with an .844 OPS for the week and .828 OPS with Norfolk this year.
  • RHP Mickey Jannis (unranked) - I’m listing the 33-year-old knuckleballer because I’d rather see him than Matt Harvey. Who doesn’t love a knuckler? He gave up two runs in five innings in his one start this week.

Here’s Nevin homering out into what appears to be a parking lot beyond the left-center fence in Norfolk:

I would not feel confident about parking my car there.

Double-A Bowie Baysox

  • This week: 2-4 vs. Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland)
  • Season record: 27-13, first place of six teams in Southwest division of Double-A Northeast

This is the first week of the 2021 season in which the Baysox did not post a winning record. They scored more than two runs in just two of the week’s six games. Always a tough way to win. The best-performing hitter by OPS for the week was the rehabbing Díaz, with an .881 OPS over five games.

Double-A pitching continues to live in fear of Adley Rutschman (#1). The catcher went 6-21 with no extra-base hits this week, but they still issued him six free passes. Rutschman has equal numbers of walks and strikeouts so far - 34 apiece. That’s a walk rate (and strikeout rate) of 18.3% for the season. Move the man up and see how he does there!

Perhaps the Orioles are happy to keep Rutschman linked up with Grayson Rodriguez (#2) for now. Rodriguez made two starts this week, giving up two runs in each - one in 4.2 innings, one in five innings. He struck out 14 of the 36 batters he faced, so the legion of fans who showed up with gas cans to watch him hit what the Bowie stadium gun claimed was 103mph were probably not totally disappointed. Rodriguez also had time to goof off a bit between starts:

Twitter silliness between Rodriguez, Hall, and Rutschman is not unusual. It seems like it will be fun once all of these guys are in Baltimore at the same time.

The Baysox were tagged for 17 runs in Saturday’s game, but they held Akron to three or fewer runs in four of the remaining five games in the series. These guys aren’t why Bowie lost. Of the five pitchers who started a game for Bowie this week, Rodriguez’s 3.72 ERA for the week was the highest. Among the good outings was former Orioles minor league pitcher of the year Ofelky Peralta, who hurled five scoreless frames with five strikeouts. Peralta has struck out 31.7% of batters faced this year, though he’s also walked 11.9%.

Other notable prospects:

  • RHP Mike Baumann (#7) - Walked four batters in a four inning start, though he only allowed one earned run. Baumann has only made five starts to date, but you don’t like to see more walks (11) than strikeouts (10) for a pitcher.
  • SS Joey Ortiz (#29) - Only got four plate appearances this week and went hitless.

High-A Aberdeen IronBirds

  • This week: 3-3 vs. Asheville Tourists (Astros)
  • Season record: 23-17, second place (1.5 GB) of five teams in North division of High-A East

This was not a good week for the pitchers here, as the IronBirds gave up seven or more runs in five games, including double digits twice. Prospect Drew Rom (#25) was not among those shellacked, as he gave up just one earned run (two more unearned) in a five inning start where he walked three and struck out three. Rom has a solid 40-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio through eight starts. Brnovich, promoted to Bowie, had one scoreless outing of 5.1 innings.

It was, however, still a good week for the hitters. Stowers earned his way to Bowie with a 1.119 OPS for the week, and there were two guys better than that. Stowers’s Stanford and Orioles minor league teammate Andrew Daschbach lit up for 11 hits, including six for extra bases, and 2020 undrafted free agent J.D. Mundy was a dude among dudes with four home runs, four doubles, four walks, ten hits, ten RBI, and ten runs scored.

Mundy now has seven home runs in 13 games since being promoted to Aberdeen. Not too shabby. However, Mundy is already 23 years old, so he’s the same age as the average player in High-A. He’ll probably need to shred this league’s competition and keep dominating up into Bowie to get attention beyond, “Wow, that guy did really well this week.” But it’s good he did well!

Other notable prospects:

  • SS Jordan Westburg (#6) - 8-24 hitting this week, including his first High-A homer in 15 games, with two stolen bases as well. Hopefully he can carry that forward into future weeks after a slow start at the level.
  • SS/2B Adam Hall (#11) - Started the week 0-10 then added three hits each on Saturday and Sunday to get to an .856 OPS for the week. Hall needs some more good weeks. His season batting line is just .236/.307/.291.
  • RHP Garrett Stallings (#26) - Five runs, four earned given up in a short 2.2 inning start, with seven hits allowed including two homers. Stallings has really been victimized by the long ball this year, giving up nine in 35 innings.

Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds

  • This week: 2-4 vs. Salem Red Sox
  • Season record: 25-15, first place of four teams in North division of Low-A East

With Henderson promoted, the highest-ranked remaining prospect on the roster is Hudson Haskin (#13), the O’s second round pick in last year’s draft. This was not a good week for Haskin, who went just 2-19 at the plate, with eight strikeouts and only one walk added to his tally.

Darell Hernaiz (#27) also had a tough week, with 2-18 hitting while drawing three walks. Hernaiz, who won’t turn 20 until August, is one of the youngest players in this league, so he certainly shouldn’t be written off for one bad week. If he has too many like it, that will be a bummer. He’s hit .270/.314/.333 in 33 games and has stolen nine bases.

The Shorebirds pitching staff has been bereft of any of the team’s top prospects for the entire season, so this is nothing new for them. What they continue to have are a bunch of guys who strike out a ton of batters and also walk too many batters. If any of them pitch well enough to get Mike Elias’s attention for a promotion, that will be worth paying attention to. Until then, you know. Maybe next month’s draft will make this roster more intriguing.

Minor league Rule 5 pick Ignacio Feliz is the most interesting of the bunch by virtue of being only 21. Feliz threw 68 pitches (a season high for him) over a four inning scoreless start this week, striking out seven Salem batters with just one walk allowed. He’s struck out 29 batters in 26.2 innings, though he’s also walked 19.

Enjoy this montage of Feliz strikeouts from this week’s start:

**

For the second consecutive week last week, a relatively unheralded Orioles minor leaguer took home the player of the week honors in our poll. Cadyn Grenier was the plurality choice with 41% of the vote after he posted over a .500 OBP for the week two weeks ago. Tougher going for Grenier this week, with a .410 OPS over six games.

Winners of our weekly polls to date: Rutschman, Rodriguez, Henderson, Westburg, Johnny Rizer (6-26 hitting this week), Grenier.

Poll

Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Jahmai Jones, Norfolk (10 hits, 2 SB, 1.101 OPS for week)
    (79 votes)
  • 12%
    Kyle Stowers, Aberdeen (earned Bowie promotion with 1.119 OPS week)
    (26 votes)
  • 43%
    J.D. Mundy, Aberdeen (10 H/R/RBI, 4 2B/HR/BB all this week)
    (88 votes)
  • 4%
    Kyle Brnovich, Aberdeen (5.1 scoreless IP, 7 K, earned Bowie promotion)
    (10 votes)
203 votes total Vote Now