Nearing the end of the 2021 MLB season, the story for the Orioles is not much different than it was at the beginning. The real excitement, the stuff that inspires hope for better times to come, is down on the farm rather than at the big league level.
Just like the MLB season, the minor leagues are now all but over with. Bowie’s quest for a berth in its league championship was realized, and it lost that best-of-five series in a sweep last week. Only Triple-A Norfolk and the two Dominican Summer League affiliates have games remaining.
Bowie, along with Aberdeen, Delmarva, and the Florida Complex League teams, are done with. For a handful of prospects, an assignment to the Arizona Fall League awaits next month. A number more will be ticketed for mostly behind-closed-doors fall instructional league lessons. Hopefully that will add up to players hitting the ground running next year.
This week did see the Orioles hand out their season-long player awards to minor leaguers. If you’ve been following our weekly posts since May, or looking at minor league box scores and stat lines, the winners aren’t a big surprise.
Sharing the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year award are catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Kyle Stowers. The winner of the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award is Grayson Rodriguez.
Here’s how things went for the MLB Pipeline Top 30 Orioles who were still in action this late into September.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- This week: 3-2 vs. Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
- Season record: 48-72. That’s their regular season record. Triple-A games last week and this week aren’t counting in season records, but individual stats still count. Confusing!
Neither Rutschman nor Stowers did anything over this week’s five games to fall below the other. The co-players of the year were both above a .900 OPS in five games, keeping their season batting lines over the same .900 OPS. Rutschman blasted his 23rd dinger of the season. Stowers had no homers but exceeded even Rutschman’s .435 OBP by going 8-19 with four walks. The guy still strikes out a lot, but he gets on base and when he hits the ball it tends to be hit hard.
Not every prospect headed towards the finish line with such a strong series. Yusniel Diaz (#12) hit a home run this week... and it was the only hit he got in 11 at-bats. The 24-year-old outfielder has a .459 OPS in 51 games for the Tides. He will probably be lower than #12 when this prospect list updates for the offseason. Healthier and better players have passed the Manny Machado trade headliner by.
Kyle Bradish (#8) added a strong outing for his probably penultimate start of the season, blanking the Knights for five innings. Bradish held Charlotte to two hits and two walks, striking out five batters. Bradish took some lumps with Norfolk this season but he has a 1.80 ERA in four September starts. Let’s hope that’s more reflective of his true talent than his 6.00 ERA in July or 5.74 ERA in August.
Other notable prospects:
- LHP Kevin Smith (#14) - Smith was blitzed for five runs in a 2.1 inning start this week, including an almost unbelievable six walks in that time. Six walks! Throw strikes! Smith’s pitched in 15 games for Norfolk and has a 6.26 ERA and 1.793 WHIP.
- IF Tyler Nevin (#29) - Nevin got in a little big league taxi squad time in Philadelphia, but wasn’t activated. In three Norfolk games, he went 2-12, which doesn’t help his season OPS of .696 very much.
- OF Robert Neustrom (unranked) - The 2018 fifth round pick is one of the more interesting under-the-radar guys. Neustrom was 6-20 this week, including a home run, and is now batting .250/.347/.461 with nine homers in 59 Norfolk games. Is it enough for a 40-man roster spot this offseason? I’ve stayed intrigued all summer.
- IF Rylan Bannon (unranked) - Bannon has gone the wrong direction as a prospect this year, which didn’t change very much this week as he went 3-12 with no extra base hits. But he did draw nine walks, so, that’s something? He has a .681 OPS in 79 Norfolk games.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- This week: 0-3 in Double-A Northeast Championship Series vs. Akron RubberDucks (Cleveland)
- Season record: 73-47.
The Baysox lost 5-1, then they lost 8-5, then they lost 6-5, and just like that, their season was over. This was a tough draw. Akron’s lineup was stacked with Cleveland’s top prospects. They made it to the league championship for a reason. Bowie was not able to counter with as loaded of a pitching staff.
The one real bummer in this short series is that Rodriguez took a tough outing into the offseason. The top pitching prospect, who Mike Elias suggested this week could get Opening Day 2022 roster consideration, got jumped all over in a short start. Akron smoked him for six runs in 2.1 innings. This was Rodriguez’s first season going over 100 innings pitched as a pro, so you can guess he was tired in a way he hasn’t been before. Hopefully that gives him something to work on next year.
It wasn’t a poor series for every Bowie prospect. Gunnar Henderson (#4) had three hits in the series, including a game 2 home run. Drew Rom (#25) left the Baysox in a commanding position in Game 3, striking out seven across five scoreless innings. Bowie led that third game, 5-0, heading into the eighth, before non-prospects in the bullpen ran into problems. The fate of the rebuild does not hang on Morgan McSweeney or Diogenes Almengo.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Jordan Westburg (#6) - One hit in 11 at-bats in the series, plus two walks. He’d wrapped up the regular season with a .285/.389/.479 batting line across three levels, though that was only a .752 OPS in 30 games with Bowie.
Dominican Summer League
Heading towards the season’s final games, Orioles 1 is 13-36, while Orioles 2 is 24-28. This is one sign that, while Mike Elias has been able to start improving the international effort, there’s a bit of a way still to go.
Two of the Orioles top 30 prospects have been playing down at this level. That’s their two seven-figure bonus guys from this year’s amateur signing class. Maikol Hernandez (#19) heads into the season’s final days with a .230/.340/.308 batting line. It is a long way for a 17-year-old from Venezuela to MLB.
Catcher Samuel Basallo (#24) has a more promising debut season batting line, hitting .252/.354/.433. The average player in the league is a year older than Basallo, and the league’s total OPS is .682. Basallo’s .787 is notable. Even so, he has a long way to go as well.
With only a small number of games played across the whole system, there won’t be another player of the week poll for this week. Last week’s winner in the season’s final poll was Rom, the plurality choice of 41% of voters. Over the whole season, there were 13 different weekly winners, with Rodriguez, Rutschman, Stowers, and Westburg all winning twice each.