Welcome to Camden Chat’s weekly minor league review post, chock-full of goodies from the past week in the Orioles’ system. And just yesterday, a slew of new O’s minor leaguers joined the fun as the club’s two affiliates in the Florida Complex League (formerly known as the Gulf Coast League) began their seasons in Sarasota.
MASN’s Steve Melewski broke down the rosters of the two clubs, dubbed Orange and Black, and the headliner is 2020 fourth-round draft pick Coby Mayo, the 19-year-old infielder selected from Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Mayo, ranked as the Orioles’ #14 prospect by MLB Pipeline, is recovering from a knee injury in spring training. He’s one of just three players on either roster acquired via the draft; all others were signed as international amateurs, either by the Orioles or other organizations.
Two other top-30 prospects appear on FCL rosters: outfielder Luis Gonzalez (#28) and left-hander Luis Ortiz (who just entered the list as #30). Both are 18-year-olds out of the Dominican Republic who headlined Mike Elias’ inaugural international signing class in July 2019. Gonzalez joins Mayo on the Black team roster while Ortiz will play for Orange.
Several players acquired in Elias trades show up on these rosters, as well. Outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelberth Romero, both acquired in the Andrew Cashner deal in 2019, are on the Orange squad. Righty Jean Pinto, half of the Jose Iglesias trade return, plays for Black, as does infielder Isaac De Leon (Richard Bleier trade) and outfielder Mishael Deson (Mychal Givens trade).
In their openers yesterday, the Black team won a rain-shortened six-inning affair, 6-1, while the Orange team was blanked, 9-0. Mayo went 1-for-3 with a double and a run, and Gonzalez doubled and reached base three times. Pinto earned a win with four innings of one-run ball, striking out six. (Box scores here.)
Now let’s take a look at the Orioles affiliates who have been in action for nearly two months.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
This week: 5-1 vs. Gwinnett Stripers (Braves)
Season record: 20-25, fifth place (10.0 GB) in Southeast Division
The Tides enjoyed their best week of the season, thanks to a pitching staff that held the Stripers to two runs or fewer in each of their five wins this series. The bullpen was especially stout, as nine Norfolk relievers worked to a cumulative 1.16 ERA. There aren’t any real prospects among that group, which mostly consists of minor league journeymen, but I’ll offer a tip of the cap to right-handers Eric Hanhold and Dusten Knight. Each made three scoreless appearances, combining for eight strikeouts in seven innings and notching three saves.
The rotation is where the intriguing prospects hang out, and three of them started this week: Zac Lowther (#9 prospect), Kyle Bradish (#12), and Kevin Smith (#15). Lowther’s disappointing debut season at Triple-A continued when he gave up five runs in four innings Thursday, walking three and hitting a batter, to take Norfolk’s only loss. Lowther has struggled to a 5.18 mark for the Tides this year to go with with three forgettable big league appearances. The news was better for the other two, particularly Bradish, who unleashed a five-inning, 10-strikeout domination of Gwinnett on Friday, matching his season high in Ks that he set in his final appearance for Bowie on May 19. Smith, like Bradish, allowed just two runs in his outing, going 4.2 innings Sunday in his second start at Triple-A. He struck out six and surrendered six baserunners.
Norfolk brought the bats to the series, too, launching nine home runs in the six games. Two were hit by outfielder Ryan McKenna, who was rewarded with his fifth call-up to the Orioles at the end of the week. (Incidentally, it appears McKenna, with his 34 games in the bigs, has graduated from Pipeline’s Top 30 list, with Ortiz sliding onto the list at #30.) Also homering was #8 prospect Yusniel Diaz, who’s had a scorching return to Norfolk after a rehab assignment at Double-A. Diaz went 7-for-19 in five games this week. First baseman J.C. Escarra, freshly promoted from Bowie, homered and drew six walks in a successful first week with the Tides.
Other notable prospects:
- 2B Jahmai Jones (#16): The Alex Cobb trade acquisition sparked a Twitter firestorm among O’s fans when the club recalled two infielders who aren’t him on Sunday. Jones is tearing up Triple-A with a .921 OPS, 17 RBIs in 22 games, and as many walks (16) as strikeouts, including five free passes this week. He’d likely be an upgrade over the miniscule production the O’s are currently getting from their second basemen, but according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, the Orioles want Jones to further develop his defense first. (Implying that the current O’s second basemen are good at defense?)
Double-A Bowie Baysox
This week: 2-4 vs. New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Blue Jays)
Season record: 29-17, tied for first place in Southwest Division
Once the best team in minor league baseball, Bowie has fallen back to earth in recent weeks, suffering a seven-game losing streak before salvaging the final two of the New Hampshire series. The Baysox have lost their past two series after winning their first six of the year, and are now in a virtual tie with Erie atop the division.
The loss of #4 prospect DL Hall to elbow tendinitis didn’t help, but the best pitching prospect in baseball, Grayson Rodriguez (#2 O’s prospect), did his best to pick up the slack. His one start this week was sensational: five scoreless innings, one hit, one walk, and eight strikeouts. Rodriguez has now made five starts at Bowie, the same number he had at High-A Aberdeen before his promotion, and has been almost equally dominant. His strikeout rate at Double-A is a blistering 13.1, his ERA (1.82) and WHIP (0.811) are excellent, and he’s averaging fewer than five hits and one homer every nine innings, all while being nearly four years young for the level. More, please. Lefty Cameron Bishop, who of late has been piggybacking with Rodriguez, threw four shutout, no-hit innings of relief, lowering his season ERA to 2.41.
Meanwhile, #1 overall prospect Adley Rutschman homered and drew another five walks this week without striking out. He’s leading all Double-A players in free passes this year with 39, and pitchers frankly seem afraid to throw him strikes. How soon until the Orioles advance Rutschman to a level where he’ll be challenged?
A triumvirate of non-ballyhooed prospects led the Bowie offense this week. Third baseman Patrick Dorrian smacked a team-leading 11 hits, including two homers, in batting .440 with a 1.241 OPS. He’s got a .937 OPS this year, and being about a year old for the level, perhaps could be in line for a promotion to Norfolk. Outfielder Robert Neustrom ripped six extra-base hits for a .391/.462/.739 batting line, adding five RBIs to his team-leading total of 36. And first baseman Toby Welk’s first six games at Double-A since arriving from Aberdeen couldn’t have gone much better: two home runs, 10 runs scored, and a club-best seven walks, more than even Rutschman.
Other notable prospects:
- RHP Mike Baumann (#7): What a lost year this has been for Baumann, who was sidelined early by injury and has been completely out of sorts since returning. His lone outing this week was a 2.1-inning, seven-run mess in which he walked three and coughed up two homers. My birthday buddy was supposed to be in line for his big league debut this year, but with his 8.64 ERA and 7.6 walk rate, it doesn’t appear that will happen anytime soon.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
This week: 2-4 vs. Rome Braves
Season record: 25-21, second place (4.5 GB) in North Division
Three weeks ago at this time, the IronBirds were flying high with a four-game division lead. Times have been tough since, and they’re now staring up at Hudson Valley. This week began inauspiciously with a 14-0 blowout defeat en route to a series loss.
The big story at Aberdeen this week was the arrival of #5 prospect Gunnar Henderson, fresh up from Low-A. The bad news is Henderson is still looking for his first hit in High-A, going 0-for-14 this week. The good news is he showed off a keen batting eye, drawing eight walks for a respectable .364 OBP. The 2019 second rounder, who turns 20 today, is holding his own while playing against guys three years older. He’ll be fine.
It was a rough week for the entire IronBirds offense, which hit a league-worst .173 with a .574 OPS and 72 strikeouts. Jordan Westburg (#6) was just 3-for-20, though all three hits were for extra bases, including a grand slam. Adam Hall (#11) also had just three hits in 21 at-bats, including a homer, but he was a perfect 6-for-6 in stealing bases, for what it’s worth. Hall has shown off his speed this year (16-for-17 in steals) but little else, with a .223 average, .598 OPS, and 54 strikeouts to 12 walks.
On the pitching side, prospects Drew Rom (#25) and Garrett Stallings (#26) both delivered quality starts this week, with each working six innings and striking out seven. It was not a good week to be Nick Roth, who gave up eight innings in one inning over two appearances, walking five batters.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
This week: 5-1 vs. Fredericksburg Nationals
Season record: 30-16, first place (5.0 game lead) in North Division
The Shorebirds are the only O’s affiliate that remains solely in first place, thanks to an excellent all-around series against the baby Nats. The Delmarva offense exploded for 42 runs, including a pair of double-digit blowouts, while the pitching staff allowed no more than three runs in any game. That combination is going to win you a lot of games.
Let’s start with the offense, which has taken on a different look of late. Delmarva began the season with four top-30 prospects in its infield, but with the promotions of Henderson and Westburg and a hip injury to Anthony Servideo (#23), only Darell Hernaiz (#27) remains. Hernaiz is now able to play shortstop, his natural position, almost exclusively, after making only sporadic appearances there when the roster was more crowded. He played error-free defense this week while hitting .300 (6-for-20), though overall he’s got some work to do with the bat, posting a .650 OPS with very little power this year.
Speaking of power, outfielder Cristopher Cespedes flashed some this week, blasting three home runs and driving in 10. The 23-year-old was a minor league Rule 5 pick from Cleveland in 2019. Outfielder Hudson Haskin (#13 prospect) also homered and doubled twice, with five runs and five RBIs.
Delmarva’s pitchers were solid up and down the line, as not a single one of their 14 pitchers allowed more than two earned runs this week. The best performances came from righties Zach Peek, part of the Dylan Bundy trade return, and Houston Roth, a 29th-round draft pick in 2019. Peek made two starts and gave up just one run in nine innings, giving up just seven baserunners while striking out 13. Roth, in two long-relief outings, struck out 11 in eight innings, surrendering only one run and four baserunners.
Coming off a dominant 8 strikeout performance last time out, Zach Peek put together another good outing for Delmarva today.— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) June 27, 2021
4 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K. Lowers his season ERA to 2.97. pic.twitter.com/bIQSzNpDX9
Not to be forgotten: righties Ignacio Feliz and Ryan Watson each worked a scoreless bulk-relief outing. Feliz tossed 4.1 no-hit innings Thursday, while Watson had seven strikeouts and no walks in five great innings the next night. Among hurlers with at least 20 innings pitched, Feliz (1.16) and Watson (1.23) are Delmarva’s two ERA leaders.
Last week was our closest Player of the Week vote so far, as Aberdeen’s J.D. Mundy won by a mere nine votes over Norfolk’s Jones. Neither is in this week’s poll, nor is anyone from those two clubs, as it’s an all-Bowie-and-Delmarva showdown. Through seven weeks, we’ve yet to have a repeat winner (though Rodriguez could change that this week) and yet to have a pitcher win since the first week (but three are candidates this time). Previous winners: Rodriguez, Henderson, Westburg, Rutschman, Johnny Rizer, Cadyn Grenier, and Mundy.
Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week?
This poll is closed
Patrick Dorrian, Bowie (team-leading 11 hits, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .440 AVG, 1.241 OPS)
Grayson Rodriguez, Bowie (5 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K, W)
Toby Welk, Bowie (team-leading 10 R and 7 BB, 2 HR, 1.081 OPS in club debut)
Cristopher Cespedes, Delmarva (3 HR, 10 RBI, 1.074 OPS)
Zach Peek, Delmarva (9 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 K, W)
Houston Roth, Delmarva (8 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, W)
Tuesday’s scheduled games:
- Norfolk: at Charlotte, 7:04 PM. Starter: Spenser Watkins (1-2, 3.58)
- Bowie: at Akron, 6:35 PM. Starter: TBD
- Aberdeen: vs. Brooklyn, 7:05 PM. Starter: TBD
- Delmarva: at Lynchburg, 6:30 PM. Starter: TBD