It was another successful week down on the Orioles’ farm. And before last week’s on-field action even began, Orioles prospects continued to pile up praise.
Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles’ best pitching prospect and #2 overall in the system per MLB Pipeline, was named the High-A East Pitcher of the Month for May after going 3-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 23.1 innings at Aberdeen. The award was announced not long after Rodriguez was promoted to Double-A Bowie. Elsewhere, #5 prospect Gunnar Henderson was named the Low-A East Player of the Month, following an outstanding May at Delmarva in which he batted .313 with a 1.004 OPS, six homers, 30 RBIs, and 21 runs.
And yesterday, Baseball America updated its top 100 prospects list, ranking Rodriguez as the best pitching prospect in baseball and 11th-best prospect overall. Other Orioles on BA’s list include Adley Rutschman (#2 overall), DL Hall (#44), Heston Kjerstad (#77), and Gunnar Henderson (#89).
Here’s our rundown on all the week’s happenings in the Orioles’ minor league system.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
This week: 2-3 vs. Durham Bulls (Rays)
Season record: 10-18, seventh place (10.5 GB) in Southeast Division
What was to be an exciting week for the Tides against baseball’s top prospect, Wander Franco, was marred by Thursday’s horrific incident in which Durham pitcher Tyler Zombro was struck in the head by a line drive. The game was immediately halted in the eighth inning, and Friday’s game was postponed as well. Zombro is currently in stable condition at Duke University Hospital, where he has been able to get out of bed and walk with some assistance, according to Rays manager Kevin Cash. The entire baseball world is wishing a speedy recovery for the 26-year-old.
On the field, the most intriguing Tides performer of the week was righty Kyle Bradish (#12 O’s prospect on Pipeline), who racked up eight strikeouts in five scoreless innings in Sunday’s series finale, though he did issue four walks. (Two of the hits he allowed were to Franco, who predictably torched Norfolk pitching for a .478 average, 1.217 OPS, and eight RBIs in the series.) Bradish, in three starts since his promotion to Triple-A, has a 2.03 ERA and 17 strikeouts, giving up 13 hits and eight free passes. A few too many baserunners, but I like what I see so far.
Elsewhere on the pitching staff, Dean Kremer has graduated from the O’s prospects list but is back in Triple-A, where he struck out seven in four innings, giving up two hits and two runs in his start this week. Rehabbing Rule 5 righty Mac Sceroler didn’t fare as well, getting touched for four runs and six hits in 2.2 innings, though you have to like that 7/0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It was Sceroler’s first career game at the Triple-A level; he had never pitched above High-A when the Orioles plucked him from the Reds organization in November.
On the hitting side, Tyler Nevin (#22) returned to Norfolk from Baltimore and tied for the team lead with five hits in the series, along with fringier prospects Brett Cumberland (who hit Norfolk’s only homer of the week) and Zach Jarrett, son of NASCAR champ Dale. And in transaction news, the Tides released Josh Rogers, the lefty acquired in the Orioles’ Zack Britton trade in 2018. Rogers, returning from 2019 Tommy John surgery, was 0-3 with a 7.79 ERA in four games for Norfolk this year. The Nationals signed Rogers last week.
Other notable prospects:
- LHP Alexander Wells (#18): The Australian lefty made a bulk relief appearance after Sceroler’s rehab start and found it to his liking, tossing four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, and striking out five. It only lowered his season ERA to 7.64, so he’s still got work to do.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
This week: 4-2 vs. Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies)
Season record: 21-7, first place (2.5 game lead) in Southwest Division
With Rodriguez’s promotion, the top three active O’s prospects all play for the Baysox, so yeah, this is a team of quite some interest. And, not surprisingly, it’s also a team that’s extremely good at baseball. The Baysox ran their winning streak to eight games this week before their pitching collapsed in a couple of weekend losses. Even still, Bowie has the best record in minor league baseball.
Let’s start with the big guns, shall we? Adley Rutschman (#1 prospect) had another stellar week at the plate, hitting .292 with a 1.018 OPS, two doubles, and a pair of solo home runs, and also drew a team-leading four walks. I will continue to exclaim, “Call him up!” until there is reason not to.
Big right-hander Grayson Rodriguez (#2) made his much-anticipated Double-A debut on Wednesday and passed with flying colors, working five strong innings, striking out eight, walking two, and giving up one run on four hits. He seemed to settle in after Hartford jumped on him for a first-inning run. His left-handed partner in crime, DL Hall (#4), delivered a six-inning, three-run, seven-strikeout performance in his lone start of the week. It says something about Hall that he can throw a quality start and it almost seems disappointing. Hall has a 2.67 ERA in six starts, averaging 15 strikeouts and four walks per nine innings.
But it’s not just the big-name prospects who are contributing to Bowie’s success. Some less-heralded guys are coming up big, too. Righty and 2017 draftee Cameron Bishop, a one-time Top 20 prospect who was pushed off the list this year, fired a fantastic start in which he struck 12 batters in five shutout innings. Fellow guy-with-the-name-of-a-chess-piece Blaine Knight threw a quality six-inning start to win his Double-A debut.
Meanwhile, outfielder Johnny Rizer, a seventh round pick from Mike Elias’ first O’s draft in 2019, blistered 12 hits this week — tied for the most among all minor leaguers — in his first six games at the Double-A level. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier, the Orioles’ competitive balance round pick in 2018, continued his recent surge by going 9-for-24 with three doubles and five RBIs. And outfielder Robert Neustrom, a 2018 fifth-rounder, hit one of the most eye-popping home runs you’ll ever see.
Other notable prospects:
- RHP Mike Baumann (#7): It’s safe to say Baumann’s 2021 is not going as planned. He was delayed in making his season debut after a right flexor strain and he’s been getting lit up since returning. In this week’s start, he gave up seven runs (four earned) and four hits in 2.2 innings, blowing a 7-0 first-inning lead in a game the Baysox ultimately lost. His ERA in three starts at Bowie is 12.79.
- IF Terrin Vavra (#10): The Bowie leadoff man went 7-for-23 (.304) with a homer and six RBIs this week, bouncing back after the previous week’s slump. For the season, he has a .910 OPS in 24 games, including a .416 OBP. Talk about being a table setter.
- LHP Kevin Smith (#16): Piggybacking with Rodriguez in his debut, Smith worked the final four innings, striking out seven while holding Hartford scoreless for a save. The 24-year-old lefty from the Miguel Castro trade leads the stacked Baysox staff with a 0.86 ERA this season.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
This week: 4-2 vs. Hickory Crawdads (Rangers)
Season record: 19-9, first place (4.0 game lead) in North Division
Can we point out that the IronBirds, who are 10 games above .500, comfortably in first place, and hold a .679 winning percentage, are only the third best team in the Orioles’ organization? Man, this system is loaded.
This week marked the High-A debut of Jordan Westburg (#6 prospect) after he destroyed Low-A pitching. While he went just 3-for-14 for the IronBirds, he drove in three runs and compiled a .353 OBP. Three of his four starts came at his natural position at shortstop, whereas at infielder-loaded Delmarva he’d been playing more third than short. First baseman J.D. Mundy, who was promoted alongside Westburg last week, had just two hits, but both were home runs. Outfielders Shayne Fontana and Zach Watson were the IronBirds’ hitting stars for the week, with each contributing at least three extra-base hits and an OPS over 1.000.
Righty Kyle Brnovich, one of the four pitchers acquired in the Dylan Bundy trade, opened eyes Sunday with a 13-strikeout performance, more than doubling his previous career high. Dominance. His previous outing of the week was less impressive, a four-inning, three-run performance in the series opener. Lefty Drew Rom (#26) had a five-inning start in which he struck out nine and walked nobody. That’ll do.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Adam Hall (#11): It’s been more bad than good for Hall in 2021, and this week was his worst yet: a 1-for-16, 10-strikeout disaster. The 22-year-old former second round pick is batting just .214 with a .556 OPS this year.
- IF Jahmai Jones (#17): On a rehab assignment from Norfolk, Jones showed no ill effects from his recent oblique strain, going 4-for-8 with a home run. The sooner he can get back to the Tides, and perhaps to the Orioles after that, the better.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
This week: 3-3 vs. Fredericksburg Nationals
Season record: 20-9, first place (4.0 game lead) in North Division
With Westburg’s departure up the ladder, Gunnar Henderson (#5 prospect) is now The Guy for the Shorebirds, and he mostly lived up to that reputation this week by going 7-for-22 (.318) with two homers and five RBIs. He may have been a little too aggressive, though, with 10 strikeouts to just one walk this week, including the dreaded platinum sombrero (five Ks in one game) on Saturday.
Outfielder Mason Janvrin has had a mostly unremarkable year until this week, when he exploded for a 1.397 OPS, reaching base 12 times — six hits and six walks — homered twice, and drove in seven. And a hearty welcome to first baseman TT Bowens, signed as an undrafted free agent from Central Connecticut last year, who made his professional debut this week and collected six hits, including two home runs.
Delmarva has taken an interesting approach with its pitching staff this year, switching hurlers between starting and bulk-relief roles interchangeably. Eleven different pitchers have started at least two games apiece, but all of them (except the rehabbing Baumann) have also made at least two long-relief appearances. This week, the best performances came from righties Zach Peek — another piece of the Bundy trade — and undrafted free agent signee Noah Denoyer. The two, both working in relief roles, combined for 7.2 scoreless, no-hit innings, with 11 strikeouts. They also combined for seven walks, so it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Is that an expression?
Other notable prospects:
- OF Hudson Haskin (#14): It was a rough week for last year’s second round pick, who was just 3-for-22 with a walk, though he did pop a homer.
We’ve got some mostly new and unheralded names in this week’s minor league player of the week poll, aside from Rutschman, who could become our first repeat winner of the season after taking 74 percent of last week’s vote. Other previous winners include Rodriguez, Henderson, and Westburg.
Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week?
This poll is closed
Cameron Bishop, Bowie (5 IP, 0 ER, 12 K, W)
Johnny Rizer, Bowie (12 hits, tied for most in minors)
Adley Rutschman, Bowie (1.018 OPS, 2 HR, 4 BB)
Mason Janvrin, Delmarva (.375 AVG, 1.397 OPS, 2 HR, 3B, 7 RBI, 6 BB)
Tuesday’s scheduled games:
- Norfolk: at Jacksonville, 7:05 PM. Starter: TBD
- Bowie: at Binghamton, 6:35 PM. Starter: Grayson Rodriguez (1-0, 1.80)
- Aberdeen: at Bowling Green, 7:35 PM. Starter: TBD
- Delmarva: at Lynchburg, 6:30 PM. Starter: TBD