The 2021 minor league season has reached the finish line for most Orioles affiliates. And after the cancellation of the 2020 season, this year’s glorious return to the field was everything we could have hoped for.
The Orioles’ talent pipeline has started producing legitimate prospects up and down the organization — prompting both MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs to rank the Orioles as the #1 farm system in baseball, and Baseball America #2 — and it’s led to one of the most entertaining minor league seasons in recent memory. The Birds have boasted individual standouts — from the likes of Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, and many more — as well as team successes, such as the postseason-bound Bowie Baysox.
Here’s the rundown of all the action in the Orioles’ minors this week.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
This week: 2-4 vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
Season record so far: 48-72, sixth place (29.0 GB) in Southeast Division of Triple-A East
Norfolk is the only O’s full-season affiliate whose regular season didn’t end this week. They’ll play two more five-game series, visiting Charlotte and hosting Durham, before finishing the slate Oct. 3, the same day the MLB season ends. In the meantime, the Tides are happy not to see any more of the Jumbo Shrimp, against whom they went 11-25 this season.
Any discussion of the Tides must begin with the #1 prospect in baseball, Adley Rutschman, and he was awesome yet again this week, leading Norfolk with a 1.076 OPS in five games. Four of Rutschman’s five hits went for extra bases, including a homer, and he even roped two triples, more than he’d had in his entire professional career to that point. Tyler Nevin (#30 O’s prospect) and unranked Mason McCoy put up numbers very similar to each other, with each collecting seven hits, two homers, and three RBIs. Nevin is finishing the season strong with an .862 OPS in September so far after woeful marks of .533 in August and .633 in July.
Norfolk’s pitching star was righty Kyle Bradish (#8), whose erratic Triple-A career swung upward this week. He worked five strong innings without allowing an earned run, striking out eight and walking none. Bradish has struggled with his control, but this was his third walkless outing in his last four. He brought his Norfolk ERA back under 5, to 4.70.
Other notable prospects:
- OF Kyle Stowers (#11): The Orioles’ minor league home run leader added another to his tally this week, his third with Norfolk and 27th overall. Stowers’ strikeout totals remain high — he whiffed a team-worst nine times this week — but he also drew a club-leading five walks.
- OF Yusniel Diaz (#12): If anyone can figure out where it all went wrong for Diaz, please alert the Orioles, who have had no luck turning him around. With another horrific week — 2-for-19, eight strikeouts — the one-time prize of the Manny Machado trade is batting an unfathomable .162/.219/.231 with two homers in 48 games for Norfolk. Maybe there’s a lingering injury at play here, because no professional baseball player should have a stat line that looks like that.
- LHP Kevin Smith (#14): It continues to be a rough go at Triple-A for Smith, the Miguel Castro trade acquisition, who gave up two runs and walked four (while fanning six) in a four-inning start this week. Smith has hit a wall at the highest minor league level, posting a 5.68 ERA in 14 games in Norfolk after breezing to a 1.04 mark in six games at Bowie.
- IF Jahmai Jones (#18): After an 18-game trial in the majors in which Jones batted just .164 with a .425 OPS, the O’s optioned him in favor of Pat Valaika, which is generally not a great sign for your prospect status. For what it’s worth, Jones bashed a home run in his first game back at Norfolk.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
This week: 5-2 vs. Altoona Curve (Pirates)
Final regular season record: 73-47, second place (0.5 GB) in Southwest Division of Double-A Northeast
To say this was a dramatic week for the Baysox would be an understatement. They began the final week battling for one of two postseason slots, while the two other teams in contention, Akron and Somerset, played against each other. Entering the season finale, Bowie was half a game behind the two other clubs, meaning if they won they’d be in the playoffs — leapfrogging whichever team lost the other game — and if they lost their season would be over. It doesn’t get much more high-stakes than that.
The Baysox jumped ahead early Sunday, then fell behind, and trailed in the eighth inning, six outs away from their season ending. But a furious last at-bat rally put three on the board and punched Bowie’s ticket to the Championship Series. They’ll play Akron, Cleveland’s affiliate, who came back from a late 4-0 deficit — and from having a perfect game thrown at them for six innings — to eliminate a shell-shocked Somerset in the finale. (Too bad, so sad, Yankees affiliate. Better luck next year.)
The Baysox…ARE MOVING ON!— Bowie Baysox (@BowieBaysox) September 19, 2021
For the third time in franchise history, the Baysox will play for a title!
FINAL: Altoona 5 | Bowie 7 pic.twitter.com/uLQnHX71Hr
What a year for the Baysox, who finished with the best winning percentage in franchise history (.608) and will be playing for a championship for the second straight season. It’s going to be a star-studded series, as each roster boasts three of its parent club’s top seven prospects — Grayson Rodriguez, Gunnar Henderson, and Jordan Westburg for Bowie, and George Valera, Bo Naylor, and Brayan Rocchio for Akron. (Cleveland’s #1 prospect, infielder Tyler Freeman, was also on Akron’s roster but underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in August.)
So how did those O’s prospects fare in this crucial week for Bowie? On the mound, Grayson Rodriguez (#2 prospect) did his usual thing, twirling five strong innings and giving up just one run. For the second straight start, he had five strikeouts and zero walks. He’s thrown 103 innings across two levels this year and has enough gas left in the tank — the gas can, if you will — to start Game 2 of the playoffs, following Gray Fenter in Game 1. (Fenter also had a solid start this week, allowing two runs in 5.2 innings with six Ks, though his overall ERA is 5.47.)
As for the hitting prospects, Gunnar Henderson (#4) and Jordan Westburg (#6) had wildly different weeks. While Henderson struggled in his debut week at Double-A, going 3-for-15 with 10 strikeouts, Westburg was the offensive force the Baysox needed. He led the team with a 1.005 OPS, seven runs, and 11 hits, including a home run. After a slow adjustment to Double-A at first, Westburg has found his stroke.
Let’s also give some dap to the less-heralded players who helped Bowie capture a playoff spot. Third baseman Patrick Dorrian manned the hot corner all season for the Baysox, cranking an impressive 22 home runs and 67 RBIs and posting an .836 OPS. The 25-year-old, acquired from the Pirates for Yefry Ramirez in 2019, seems ticketed for a promotion to Norfolk next year. Infielder Cadyn Grenier, the Orioles’ competitive balance round pick in 2018, lived up to his sterling defensive reputation by committing just five errors in 107 games, mostly at shortstop. And closer Diogenes Almengo, signed as a minor league free agent in the last year of the Dan Duquette regime, nailed down 16 saves in 20 chances, including three this week.
Other notable prospects:
- LHP Drew Rom (#26): Not even Rodriguez could match the brilliance of Rom this week. The 21-year-old left-hander unveiled the most dominant outing of his season and, likely, his career. In Friday’s start, he retired all 15 batters he faced and was so overpowering that Altoona’s batters never even hit a ball in the air; Rom got seven of his outs on strikeouts and the other eight on ground balls. This was, like, Zack Britton territory. Rom finished the regular season with a 3.18 ERA and 10.0 K/9 between two levels.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
This week: 2-4 vs. Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
Final season record: 58-61, second place (12.5 GB) in North Division of High-A East
Talk about a low-scoring series. There were no more than seven combined runs in any of the six games, and no team topped four in any game. The Aberdeen offense, which is almost completely devoid of prospects after Henderson’s promotion to Bowie, was utterly lifeless aside from first baseman TT Bowens, who hit both of the team’s homers this week and scored five of their 10 runs.
The only remaining top-30 prospect, Adam Hall (#15), stumbled to the finish line with a 5-for-27 week in which he struck out 10 times and didn’t draw a walk. Overall it was an uninspiring season for Hall, who got off to an ice-cold start, missed time with injuries, and wound up batting .248/.335/.337 with just 18 extra-base hits in 81 games. The guy can still run, though; Hall was 26-for-27 in stolen base attempts.
While the offense sagged, the pitching flourished. Eleven of Aberdeen’s 17 pitchers didn’t allow an earned run this week. The standout was right-hander Brandon Young, a 2020 undrafted free agent, who made two starts and threw eight scoreless innings, allowed only two baserunners, and struck out 10. The first of those two outings was a brilliant, Rom-esque outing in which Young threw five perfect innings, struck out nine, and allowed just one ball out of the infield. Young was deservedly named High-A East Pitcher of the Week. Righty Zach Peek, too, pitched well, striking out six in a scoreless five-inning start, though he walked two and plunked a batter.
The IronBirds finished their season hovering around the .500 mark, not bad for a team that had a lot of turnover during the year. No position player spent more than 81 games with the club during their 119-game season, and no pitcher worked more than 28 appearances.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
This week: 4-2 vs. Salem Red Sox
Final season record: 68-52, second place (3.0 GB) in North Division of Low-A East
The Shorebirds came up a few games short of the playoffs, but it was a fun ride, particularly in the last two months when the 2021 draft picks joined the roster. The club went 20-10 from that point. First round pick Colton Cowser (#5 prospect) had just five hits this week, all singles, but wrapped up an excellent professional debut at Delmarva, hitting .347 with a .904 OPS and 26 RBIs in 25 games while walking (22) more than he struck out (19). He hit just one homer, but the rest of the numbers are strong, and he’s likely Aberdeen-bound to start 2022. Second rounder Connor Norby (#9), too, hit well, with a .413 OBP boosted by 21 walks, including a team-leading six free passes this week.
Among other 2021 draftees, 13th-rounder Jacob Teter mashed alongside his more well-known counterparts, finishing with a .316/.420/.516 line, three homers, and 20 RBIs in 24 games with the Shorebirds. Tenth-rounder Billy Cook showed some pop with six roundtrippers, including two this week. But most were overshadowed by a 2020 draft pick, Coby Mayo (#17), who — despite starting the season in the FCL after returning from a knee injury — unlocked his offensive potential at Delmarva, blasting five home runs and slugging .547 in 27 games. He powered one of those homers in his final week, along with a team-best seven RBIs.
Delmarva’s pitching staff isn’t loaded with high-profile prospects, but righty Jean Pinto, acquired in the Jose Iglesias trade, is making a strong case to become one. Though he finished his season with a rough outing — five runs in a four-inning relief stint — Pinto posted a 2.51 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in nine games at Low-A after dominating the FCL. He struck out 56 batters in 46.2 innings. Carlos Tavera, the Orioles’ highest-drafted pitcher in 2021 (fifth round), gave up only three runs and four hits in 12 innings this year, but his control was a mess: he walked a batter per inning.
Other notable prospects:
- OF Reed Trimble (#21): The 2021 competitive balance round pick didn’t distinguish himself among the new O’s draft class, with a 4-for-22 week ending his season at .169/.276/.185 and no homers for Delmarva.
- IF Darell Hernaiz (#24): The 2019 fifth rounder spent the entire season at Delmarva and, for a guy who was still a teenager until August, more than held his own. Hernaiz ripped 10 hits this week to finish with a .277 average and .690 OPS in 94 games. He also had 22 steals.
Florida Complex League
The FCL also wrapped up its season this week. Fittingly, the scheduled finale between the Orioles Black and Orioles Orange squad was rained out, as so many of their games were this year. Orioles Black finished with an 18-28 mark and Orange at 11-34, not that team records tell you much for short-season ball.
The Black squad’s best hitter most of the year was Mishael Deson, an outfielder acquired in the Mychal Givens trade, who batted .369/.416/.515 and earned a late-season promotion to Delmarva. The Orange offense was highlighted by third baseman Moises Ramirez, a rare international signing from the Duquette era, who batted .313 with an .890 OPS and five homers but struggled with plate discipline, striking out 23 times and walking four. On the pitching side, righty Raul Rangel, a 2019 international free agent, led Orioles Black with a 2.73 ERA in 11 games, striking out 11.7 batters per nine innings.
Outfielder Luis Gonzalez (#29 prospect), one of Mike Elias’ first big amateur signings in 2019, had a rough introduction to pro ball, hitting just .176 with a .543 OPS in 41 games while splitting time between the Black and Orange squads. So too did fellow 2019 signing Luis Ortiz, an 18-year-old lefty who posted a 5.52 ERA in seven games, albeit averaging better than a strikeout per inning.
Dominican Summer League
The action continues in the DSL, whose season runs until Oct. 2. The Orioles have two teams in that league, one of which is 22-25 and the other 13-31. Catcher Samuel Basallo (#25), a seven-figure international signing this January, has been solid, hitting .259 with a .788 OPS, five homers, and 18 RBIs. Fellow seven-figure amateur Maikol Hernandez (#19) hasn’t fared as well. An 0-for-4, four-strikeout performance yesterday dropped his average to the Mendoza line and his OPS to .586. Each has played 35 games. Another 2021 signing, Anderson De Los Santos, has opened some eyes with a .327/.415/.477 line in 34 games, with 15 walks to 18 strikeouts. For pitchers, look out for 2019 signing Cesar Alvarez, a righty who has 63 strikeouts in 47 innings to go with a 2.49 ERA in 11 starts.
In last week’s player of the week poll, Cowser’s 11-for-20 week helped him garner 49 percent of the vote for his first win. The others to take home the honors this year include two-time winners Rodriguez, Rutschman, Stowers, and Westburg, as well as one-time winners Henderson, Johnny Rizer, Grenier, J.D. Mundy, Mike Baumann, Rylan Bannon, Ryan McKenna, and Billy Cook.
Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week?
This poll is closed
Adley Rutschman, Norfolk (five XBH, two triples, HR, 1.076 OPS)
Drew Rom, Bowie (five perfect innings, retired all 15 batters on strikeouts and grounders)
Jordan Westburg, Bowie (11 hits, HR, 7 R, 1.005 OPS)
Brandon Young, Aberdeen (8 IP, 0 ER, 13 K, retired 24 of 26 batters, High-A East Pitcher of the Week)
Tuesday’s scheduled games:
Bowie: vs. Akron, Game 1 of Double-A Northeast Championship Series, 6:35 PM. Starter: Gray Fenter