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Orioles minor league week in review: 2021 draft class leads Delmarva to sweep; Bannon keeps raking

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The newest additions to the Orioles’ farm system were an immediate hit in their first taste of full-season ball.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles-Media Day
It’s no wonder you’re smiling when you hit nine home runs in nine games.
Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Camden Chat’s minor league week in review, your one-stop roundup of all the action around the Orioles’ farm system. And there was plenty of excitement to be had this week.

For these recaps, we denote Orioles prospects by their rankings on MLB Pipeline (though if you prefer sources like FanGraphs or Baseball America, you do you). Since our last edition, Pipeline updated its team rankings as well as its overall Top 100 MLB Prospects lists, adding in prospects who were drafted last month and reshuffling others accordingly. The Orioles boast both the #1 prospect in baseball, Adley Rutschman, and the #1 pitching prospect, Grayson Rodriguez (#8 overall). That’s a pretty good start to building a future contender! Three other Orioles in MLB’s top 100 include D.L. Hall (#78), Gunnar Henderson (#80), and the Birds’ most recent first-round pick, Colton Cowser (#83).

As for the new Orioles’ top 30, Pipeline’s latest update saw a few notable changes. Three 2021 draftees made the list, with Cowser at #4, second-rounder Connor Norby ranked #9, and competitive balance round pick Reed Trimble clocking in at #21. Three prospects formerly ranked in the top 30 were bounced from the list entirely: Luis Ortiz (previously #30), Garrett Stallings (previously #26), and Rylan Bannon (previously #20) — though that last one seems like a questionable omission considering how Bannon has performed of late. More on that below.

A few prospects raised their stock in the updated rankings. The biggest jump belonged to outfielder Kyle Stowers, who moved up 11 spots to #11 in the midst of his breakout 2021 season. Right-hander Kyle Bradish, a Dylan Bundy trade acquisition, who’s now pitching at Norfolk, moved from #12 to #8. It’s good to be a Kyle in the Orioles’ system. Also making big gains was shortstop Joseph Ortiz, who rose from #29 to #20 despite having his season cut short by shoulder surgery.

On the flip side, a number of prospects took a tumble. Left-handers Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells, who have struggled in their first taste of the big leagues this season, slipped to #22 and #23, a 13-spot drop for Lowther and six for Wells. Righty Carter Baumler and infielder Tyler Nevin dropped nine spots each due to Tommy John surgery and general unproductiveness, respectively. And Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, dropped from #3 to #7 as he’s yet to begin his professional career due to myocarditis.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides

This week: 2-4 vs. Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
Season record: 39-55, sixth place (21.5 GB) in Southeast Division of Triple-A East

It’s Rylan Bannon’s world, and we’re all just living in it. With another four home runs this week, Bannon has now clobbered an incredible nine dingers in his last nine games, driving in 17 runs in that span (eight this week). Even with his fiery-hot streak, Bannon is still batting just .187 with a .734 OPS for Norfolk this season, numbers that prompted Pipeline to drop him from their prospect list. Still, the Orioles were high on him even before the surge, with Mike Elias telling reporters recently that Bannon was hitting into a lot of bad luck.

Yet Bannon wasn’t even the Tides’ best hitter this week. That distinction belongs to Ryan McKenna, just demoted from the Orioles, who terrorized Triple-A pitching with four home runs, a triple, eight runs, seven RBIs, and six walks. And somehow this guy could never crack the Orioles’ lineup because they had to play DJ Stewart.

You know the offense was clicking when #1 prospect Adley Rutschman merely played third fiddle. His second week in Norfolk was just as successful as his first, as he led the team with nine hits and hit his first Triple-A homer. Outfielder Robert Neustrom added four doubles for a Tides offense that scored 37 runs and posted an .876 OPS this week, second-highest in the league.

Unfortunately, the highest OPS in the league this week belonged to Norfolk’s opponent, the Knights, who posted an eye-popping 1.009 mark. So, yeah, it was a horrendous series for Tides pitchers, who allowed six or more runs in all but one game and 40 total. But don’t blame righties Cody Sedlock and Blaine Knight, who both made their Triple-A debuts in a tag-team performance Friday and combined to allow just one run, with Sedlock earning the win and Knight the save. Sedlock was particularly impressive, throwing five shutout innings, striking out six, and walking none. The Orioles’ first-round pick from 2016 may be working his way back into the picture after a couple of ugly seasons early in his pro career.

Other notable prospects:

  • RHP Kyle Bradish (#8): While he rose in Pipeline’s rankings, Bradish suffered his worst outing of the year, getting torched for five runs, five hits, and two walks without making it out of the first inning Sunday. The debacle lifted his Norfolk ERA back over 5.00. He hasn’t exactly mastered Triple-A as well as the O’s had hoped.
  • RHP Mike Baumann (#10): Another pitcher with a forgettable week, Baumann labored through 39 pitches in an abbreviated, one-inning start Wednesday, allowing five baserunners.
  • OF Yusniel Diaz (#12): There’s not much time left for Diaz to salvage a horrific 2021 season, and a 3-for-12 week with no extra-base hits or walks isn’t going to cut it. Elias noted that Diaz has been out of whack ever since spring training, but the club hasn’t gotten to work with him much because of his injuries. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old continues to slip down the prospect rankings.
  • LHP Kevin Smith (#14): The lefty’s 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio was nice, but he was also tagged for four runs and seven hits — including four home runs — in his lone start this week, inflating his ERA to 5.75. Smith is sort of in the same boat as Bradish: a 24-year-old who could have made a case for a big league call-up this year had he not struggled so much in Triple-A.
  • IF Jahmai Jones (#18): Jones clubbed two home runs and six RBIs this week, and at long last his time has come: the Orioles called Jones up to the majors yesterday after months of fans clamoring for them to do so. Good luck, Jahmai!
  • LHP Alexander Wells (#23): Wells was immune from whatever affliction plagued the rest of the Norfolk staff. His start this week was wonderful, a scoreless five-inning effort in which he retired 15 of 16 batters.

Double-A Bowie Baysox

This week: 4-2 vs. Reading Fightin Phils (Phillies)
Season record: 57-37, second place (1.5 GB) in Southwest Division of Double-A Northeast

We’re about one month away from the minor league playoffs, which begin on Sept. 21 for every level except Triple-A, and the Baysox are currently sitting in postseason position. This year, the two best teams in each league (regardless of division) earn playoff berths, and Bowie trails only 59-36 Akron. The Baysox will need to fend off Portland (55-38) and Somerset (56-39) from the Northeast Division if they hope to hang on to their spot.

A winning series helped Bowie’s case this week, carried by an offense that provided both patience (29 walks, most in the league) and power (nine homers, tied for second). The hottest bats were three non-top-30 prospects: Toby Welk (two homers, triple, double, 1.571 OPS), Andrew Daschbach (three homers, seven RBIs, four walks, 1.291 OPS), and Johnny Rizer (homer, triple, double, 1.127 OPS). Kyle Stowers, fresh off rocketing up the prospect list to #11, added a home run and drew five walks in a solid week at the plate.

This was a two-start week for #2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who pulled a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde act. His first outing featured the kind of dominance we’ve come to expect from the big right-hander: five innings of one-run ball, with twice as many strikeouts (six) as baserunners (three). But his encore in the series finale brought a rare stumble from the 21-year-old Texan, who gave up four extra-base hits, two walks, and five runs, though he did still strike out seven, giving him 95 Ks in 61.2 innings at Bowie.

Other notable prospects:

  • SS Jordan Westburg (#6): In his first week at the Double-A level, Westburg was just 3-for-22, but he showed a good eye at the plate by drawing a team-leading six walks. He’s got a .408 OBP across three levels this season.
  • LHP Drew Rom (#26): Rom scuffled through a three-inning, four-run start while giving up two home runs, raising his Bowie ERA to an even 5.00 through four outings.

High-A Aberdeen IronBirds

This week: 1-4 vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks (Nationals)
Season record: 48-45, second place (11.0 GB) in North Division of High-A East

It was a rough week for the IronBirds, but a few prospects stood out. Gunnar Henderson (#4) homered, doubled twice, and collected a team-high five RBIs, though nine strikeouts in 20 at-bats isn’t great. Terrin Vavra (#13), rehabbing from Bowie after a back strain in June, led the club with eight hits. And the just-promoted Lamar Sparks played only three games but managed two triples and a home run. The 2017 fifth-round pick, who missed all of 2018 due to injury and hadn’t played above Rookie Ball until this year, is putting himself back on the radar.

On the pitching side, 2019 eighth-rounder Griffin McLarty turned in the best outing from a starter, tossing five innings of one-run ball in his Aberdeen debut. Zac Lowther (#22), on a rehab assignment as he works back from a shoulder strain, coughed up five runs in 2.2 innings, though only two were earned.

Other notable prospects:

  • OF Hudson Haskin (#16): It was a strong week for the 2020 second-round pick, who doubled, tripled, and drew a team-best five walks. In 24 games at Aberdeen, Haskin is getting on base just as much as he did for Delmarva before his promotion — nearly a .380 clip — though he’s homerless in 87 at-bats.

Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds

This week: 6-0 vs. Fredericksburg Nationals
Season record: 54-42, second place (3.0 GB) in North Division of Low-A East

Did the Delmarva Shorebirds just become one of the most exciting teams in all of minor league baseball? It’s sure shaping up that way. The club received a huge jolt of new talent when 12 members of the Orioles’ 2021 draft class, along with 2020 fourth-rounder Coby Mayo (#17 prospect), were promoted from the Florida Complex League to start the week. And this group of guys gelled instantly, sweeping all six games from Fredericksburg while posting double-digit runs four times.

The new-look lineup is full of patient hitters with good contact skills, evidenced by the club striking out just 39 times (fewest in the league) while drawing 37 walks (second most). There were contributions throughout the roster as each of the Shorebirds’ 13 hitters collected at least one RBI, one free pass, two hits, and two runs.

The guy who drew the most attention, of course, was first-round pick Colton Cowser (#5), and he had a fine debut with five hits, four RBIs, and four walks. But really, nearly every one of the 2021 picks had a solid week. Second-rounder Connor Norby (#9) homered, tripled, doubled, and drove in six. Third-rounder John Rhodes and seventh-rounder Connor Pavolony each homered, as did Mayo. Tenth-rounder Billy Cook swiped three bases.

Three pitchers from the 2021 draft class debuted as well: fifth-rounder Carlos Tavera (the first pitcher selected), 16th-rounder Peter Van Loon, and 18th-rounder Conor Grady. The trio combined for six scoreless innings, with neither Tavera nor Grady allowing a hit. In other pitching news, congratulations to righty Jake Lyons for doing something few O’s prospects have done this year: throw six innings in a game. He held the Nationals to one run and three hits while striking out eight.

Other notable prospects:

  • OF Reed Trimble (#21): Trimble had only four hits, all singles, but in a lineup of disciplined hitters, the 21-year-old outfielder was the, uh, disciplinedest. His five walks and .500 OBP led the team.
  • IF Darell Hernaiz (#24): One of the few holdovers on the Shorebirds roster, Hernaiz went just 2-for-15, though he delivered a two-run single Wednesday to lead Delmarva to victory.

Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League

Though most of the 2021 draft class has advanced to Delmarva, a few stragglers remain in the FCL, including the last player the O’s picked, 20th-rounder Trendon Craig. He went 5-for-10 with a homer this week. Eighth-rounder Creed Willems, the Orioles’ only high school draftee, was 1-for-7 in three games. On the mound, Justin Armbruester, Daniel Lloyd, Keagan Gillies, Ryan Long, and Alex Pham, all drafted between the 12th and 19th rounds, combined for six scoreless innings. Meanwhile, in the DSL, catcher Samuel Basallo (#25 prospect), hit his second pro homer as part of a 3-for-17 week. He’s got a .674 OPS in 20 games.

**

Last week, Bannon was the overwhelming choice in our player of the week poll, earning two-thirds of the vote. He was the second straight Norfolk Tide to win (following Mike Baumann) after none did so in the first 11 weeks. Odds are it’ll be three in a row as it’s a nearly all-Norfolk ballot this week, including Bannon as a possible repeat winner. Other winners have included Rodriguez (twice), Rutschman (twice), Westburg (twice), Henderson, Rizer, Cadyn Grenier, J.D. Mundy, and Stowers.

Poll

Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Rylan Bannon, Norfolk (7-for-18, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 1.477 OPS)
    (59 votes)
  • 65%
    Ryan McKenna, Norfolk (8-for-18, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 6 BB, 1.806 OPS)
    (216 votes)
  • 12%
    Cody Sedlock, Norfolk (5 IP, 0 ER, 6 K, W in Triple-A debut)
    (41 votes)
  • 1%
    Alexander Wells, Norfolk (5 IP, 0 ER, 3 K, retired 15 of 16 batters)
    (6 votes)
  • 2%
    Jake Lyons, Delmarva (6 IP, 1 ER, 8 K)
    (7 votes)
329 votes total Vote Now

Tuesday’s scheduled games:

  • Norfolk: vs. Jacksonville, 7:05 PM. Starter: Mike Baumann (1-0, 2.81)
  • Bowie: vs. Erie, 6:35 PM. Starter: TBD
  • Aberdeen: at Brooklyn, 7:00 PM. Starter: TBD
  • Delmarva: at Salem, 7:05 PM. Starter: TBD