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Orioles minor league week in review: Norfolk’s hot hitters pressing for promotion

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The Orioles farm is busier than ever this week with Florida Complex League teams getting rolling.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
Many people are looking forward to seeing Jahmai Jones in Baltimore soon. He had another fine week for Norfolk.
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Orioles 2021 season is now officially more than halfway over. The basic truth that the potential of the future remains more interesting than the present has not changed very much in that time. It’s not the current MLB roster, or even very many of the players on it, that will be a part of bringing better times back to Birdland.

Each Tuesday on Camden Chat features a look back on the week of minor league action that just happened as well as an overview of how the team’s top prospects have been performing.

The week that just passed even included a new minor league level starting up, as the rookie-level Florida Complex League (what used to be known as the Gulf Coast League) got under way. The Orioles have two teams playing in this league, with rosters that include a large number of internationally signed players getting their first taste of baseball in the US. I won’t be covering these teams in the same detail as the others, but will highlight a couple of weekly performers.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides

  • This week: 3-3 vs. Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
  • Season record: 23-28, fourth place (12 GB) of seven teams in Triple-A East’s Southeast division

The Tides remain the only one of the full season Orioles affiliates not to have led their division this season. They’ve been steadily improving after a tough start to the season. Maybe they’ll even find their way to .500.

Norfolk’s most interesting players have been driven in large part by who sucks the most for the Orioles. The worst-hitting position on the Orioles continues to be second base, where they have a combined .529 OPS. Catcher is only slightly better at a .578 OPS, with the added factor that Pedro Severino appears to be extremely bad at every aspect of catcher defense. It feels like anything must be better than this.

With that in mind, the two most interesting men in Norfolk are second baseman Jahmai Jones (MLB Pipeline’s #16 Orioles prospect) and catcher/designated hitter Brett Cumberland. Jones just polished off a week where he batted .286 (6-21) with only one extra-base hit, though the fact that he drew seven walks and stole two bases won’t quiet the chorus of people who’d rather see him playing 2B in Baltimore than Pat Valaika.

Jones now has a .287/.421/.475 batting line for the season. That’s pretty good indeed, but keep in mind that Stevie Wilkerson and Austin Wynns were both scorching hot at Norfolk, went up to Baltimore, and stunk at the plate. The big leagues are tough. Still, I’m in that rather see Jones than Valaika club.

Cumberland is another one who gets into this category, although he has a reputation of being limited defensively. He could well come up and look worse than Severino. As for this week, Cumberland unleashed the power, hitting three home runs for the week. He’s a low average, solid OBP and slugging guy, now batting .233/.395/.432 for the year. He’s even thrown out six of eleven would-be base stealers.

Now closing games for Norfolk is Dusten Knight (unranked), who could follow in the footsteps of peculiarly-spelled first name guys Konner Wade and Spenser Watkins to the Orioles. Knight, 30, pitched 4.1 scoreless innings this week while allowing just one hit. For the season he has a 1.00 ERA and 1.056 WHIP in 16 games. Also, when he gets a save, he does this:

Other notable prospects:

  • OF Yusniel Díaz (#8) - 2-24 hitting on the week sinks him to .206/.276/.338 hitting in 18 AAA games. Three years out from the Manny Machado trade, its headliner from that time is 24 and not heading in the right direction.
  • RHP Kyle Bradish (#12) - Struck out five batters in a five inning start this week, allowing two runs on five hits and two walks. Through seven starts here, he has a 4.20 ERA and 1.633 WHIP, with 39 strikeouts in 30 innings.
  • LHP Kevin Smith (#15) - Allowed just a run in his five inning start, striking out nine batters while holding the Knights to two hits and a walk.
  • LHP Alexander Wells (#17) - The Australian lefty returned from the Orioles and pitched five shutout innings, scattering three hits and two walks.
  • 1B/OF Tyler Nevin (#21) - 4-21 hitting for the week doesn’t help the batting average, but he socked two dingers and added five walks for a respectable .756 OPS for the week, leaving his season OPS at .796.

Double-A Bowie Baysox

  • This week: 2-4 vs. Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland)
  • Season record: 31-21, first place by percentage points of six teams in Double-A Northeast’s Southwest division

The Baysox once had the best record in minor league baseball, though they’ve since fallen on tougher times, going a combined 6-12 over the last three weeks of games. Some promotions to Norfolk, plus injuries to DL Hall (#4) and Terrin Vavra (#10) have thinned out the talent on the roster since the beginning of the season.

Bowie does still have the one-two punch of Adley Rutschman (#1) and Grayson Rodriguez (#2). Rutschman batted 5-23 for the week and did not add any homers to his season tally. He still has an OBP over .400 and OPS over .900 for the season to date. Rodriguez made one start in which he held Akron to three hits in five innings, though he still gave up three runs as his defense cost him two unearned runs. Through six Bowie starts, he has a 1.82 ERA and 0.843 WHIP.

The standout Baysox hitter for the week was Robert Neustrom, the O’s fifth round pick in 2018. Neustrom, an outfielder, went 8-21 at the plate this week, with a triple and two homers, raising his season batting line to .289/.354/.463 in 50 games. He’s old for the level, but maybe he’ll get a Norfolk assignment in the near future if he keeps hitting like that.

Among pitchers, also old-for-the-level Blaine Knight struck out six in a 5.2 inning outing. Knight’s only pitched in five games for Bowie, so hard to say when it would be enough to promote him, but he’s already 25 and he looks like an improved guy this year.

Other notable prospects:

  • RHP Mike Baumann (#7) - Smooth sailing this week after a string of tough outings. Baumann struck out six in five innings, holding Akron to a run on three hits and a walk. He needs more like that to improve some of his sad season totals (7.06 ERA, 2.1 HR/9, 6.2 BB/9)
  • OF Kyle Stowers (#22) - Blasted two dingers this week to give him three in 12 games since being promoted to this level. His small sample size performance (.214/.298/.500) isn’t quite enough to excite anybody yet.

High-A Aberdeen IronBirds

  • This week: 5-2 vs. Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)
  • Season record: 30-23, second place (4 GB) of five teams in High-A East’s North division

Brooklyn is the last place team in Aberdeen’s division, so it’s nice that they were able to take care of business this week. The schedule included an extra game than usual because a late May rainout in Brooklyn was added to make a doubleheader where each team was home and away once in Aberdeen.

What’s impressive is Aberdeen pulled off that record despite its offense getting only one homer for the week. Rehabbing Triple-A prospect Rylan Bannon (#20) had just one hit in 20 at-bats. His lone hit was the lone Aberdeen homer. Bannon struck out ten times. Gunnar Henderson (#5) also mustered only one hit for the week, making it one hit in 11 games at this level. The now-20-year-old has added 12 walks, which is nice, but clearly has adjustments to make here.

Two top infield prospects who did not disappoint were Jordan Westburg (#6) and Adam Hall (#11). Westburg added four walks to 10-24 hitting to OPS over 1.000 for the week. Hall was also over 1.000, swiping four bags in the process. Westburg is now hitting .283/.392/.443 in 28 games since being promoted to this level. Hall needs some more strong weeks to improve on his season .647 OPS. Got to love the speed: 20 steals with only one time being thrown out.

One way you can tell a team had a good week of pitching is when you look at their weekly stats and see ten pitchers with a 0.00 ERA for the week. Among these was Drew Rom (#25), the highest-ranked pitching prospect at Aberdeen. Rom’s six inning start was part of a doubleheader and goes in the books as a complete game shutout. He struck out six, gave up four runs, and walked none, giving him a 3.14 ERA and 1.110 WHIP in 10 games for Aberdeen this year.

Other notable players:

  • LHP John Means made a two-inning rehab start, giving up one hit, a home run. He’s expected to make starts for Bowie and Norfolk before returning after the All-Star Break.
  • RHP Garrett Stallings (#26) - He’s been good this year when not giving up homers, and in two games this week he allowed just one of them. In all, he struck out 11 batters over 13 innings. Stallings has a 1.093 WHIP to go with a 4.83 ERA. I predict either the WHIP will go up or the ERA will go down.

Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds

  • This week: 5-1 vs. Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland)
  • Season record: 35-17, first place (+6 games) of four teams in Low-A East’s North division

Delmarva has won nine of ten games and sports a run differential of +141. Is that good? I think that might be good.

This team was loaded when the season began and its top players have mostly been promoted, opening up opportunities for others behind them. This group includes first baseman TT Bowens, an undrafted senior sign by the Orioles last year.

Bowens only joined this roster after another 2020 free agent signing, J.D. “The Thundy” Mundy, was promoted up to Aberdeen, where Mundy is still OPSing .994 after a month. Bowens is 23, much older than his Low-A competition. That said, what a nice week for him: 12 hits, three homers, 1.675 OPS. This was enough to have him named Low-A East Player of the Week.

Shout out also to Jean Carmona, who was a throw-in when the Orioles traded Jonathan Schoop in 2018. Three years later, Carmona has finally made it to Low-A. At 21, he’s the age this year’s college juniors are, so if he turns into something, great. Weeks where he hits 7-16 won’t hurt, though he’s only got two extra-base hits out of his 15 hits in 14 games to date.

Minor league Rule 5 draft pick Ignacio Feliz continues to generate intriguing results. Feliz tossed three perfect innings in 43 pitches this week, striking out four batters. The 21-year-old Felix has a 1.06 ERA and 0.971 WHIP in 10 games this year. He probably won’t amount to anything, but he’s interesting.

Other notable prospects:

  • OF Hudson Haskin (#13) - Fine hitting this week that was overshadowed by others. Haskin kicked in an .845 OPS for the week to raise his season OPS to .798.
  • IF Darell Hernaiz (#27) - At 19, he remains the youngest player on the team and one of the youngest in the league. Only hit 3-19 this week, with a homer and three walks.

Bonus Florida Complex League

2020 fourth round pick Coby Mayo (#13) is the player with the highest profile currently on either the Orange or the Black team’s roster. Mayo has five hits in his first three games. 18-year-old outfielder Mishael Deson, who the Orioles acquired in the Mychal Givens trade last year, hit four singles and walked twice in four games.

The injured

Heston Kjerstad (#3) remains with no timetable to a professional debut due to his recovery from myocarditis. DL Hall hasn’t pitched since June 12 due to elbow tendinitis. Vavra suffered a back strain and hasn’t played since June 13. Carter Baumler (#19) will miss the 2021 season after having Tommy John surgery last fall. Anthony Servideo (#23) has a sore hip. His most recent game was June 1. And Joey Ortiz (#29) has a shoulder injury that’s sidelined him since June 22.

**

The plurality choice of last week’s Player of the Week poll was Patrick Dorrian, who hauled in 35% of the vote in a crowded six player field. That’s the lowest percentage for a winner so far. It’s been eight weeks of running the poll and there has yet to be a repeat winner. Dorrian had a respectable .861 OPS this week, but that won’t get him a chance to repeat. Previous winners: Rodriguez, Henderson, Westburg, Rutschman, Johnny Rizer, Cadyn Grenier, Mundy, and now Dorrian.

Poll

Who is your Orioles minor league Player of the Week?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    Brett Cumberland, Norfolk (three homers, 1.173 OPS for the week)
    (39 votes)
  • 15%
    Kevin Smith, Norfolk (9 strikeouts, three baserunners in 5 IP start)
    (51 votes)
  • 14%
    Robert Neustrom, Bowie (1.220 OPS in six games)
    (48 votes)
  • 7%
    Drew Rom, Aberdeen (six strikeouts in six shutout innings)
    (23 votes)
  • 11%
    Adam Hall, Aberdeen (7-18 hitting, four walks, four stolen bases)
    (37 votes)
  • 39%
    TT Bowens, Delmarva (12 hits, three dingers, Low-A East Player of the Week)
    (127 votes)
325 votes total Vote Now