Baseball is winding down for the year. The World Series matchup is set. If you haven’t squeezed in enough just yet, there’s also the Arizona Fall League that’s been going on this month, where seven Orioles prospects, headlined by outfielder Heston Kjerstad, have been in action with the Scottsdale Scorpions, along with prospects from the Atlanta, Angels, Giants, and Red Sox organizations.
Through three weeks of games, the Scottsdale team with the O’s prospects on it has played to a 9-8 record. The league overall has been full of offense to date, although that’s been declining every week. Perhaps the hitters were ahead of pitchers at first and now pitchers are catching up. AFL batters combined have an .803 OPS (down from .830 a week ago) while teams are averaging 6.12 runs per team per game (down from 6.60).
The league play runs through November 10. Each week, we’ll take a quick look at how the Orioles minor league players out there are doing.
As both the highest-ranked Orioles prospect in this group and the one who’s had to overcome both a medical issue and an injury just to make it onto the diamond, Kjerstad is the most interesting story to follow.
This last week began with a bang for Kjerstad, as he hit an inside-the-park home run in his first at-bat last Monday. That was part of a four-hit effort that bumped his OPS at that time up to 1.174. Pretty good over a small sample size! The O’s outfielder went 0-7 over his next two games, then added another 3-5 day later on in the week.
Again, it’s a small sample size of 13 games spread over three weeks, but it’s gone well out there so far. Kjerstad is hitting .373/.403/.661. He leads the league in hits and total bases. That’s partly a function of him being one of the only players who’s playing that often - a lot of rostered AFL guys have played in only nine or ten games. That’s normal for the AFL. Rosters are big and every team’s prospects need to get playing time.
Some cold water is poured over these numbers a bit from The Athletic’s Keith Law, who wrote a short note about Kjerstad in his AFL scouting roundup last week. Of the O’s outfield prospect, he wrote: “I saw more of the same rust that I saw from him during the regular season. He was behind good velocity and had some trouble picking up off-speed stuff, even from right-handers. ... I’m still rooting for him but also concerned that he had such trouble with average major-league stuff every time I saw him.”
Of the three O’s position player prospects on Scottsdale, the only one of the three who’s already made it to the Double-A level is Prieto. That makes him the closest to potentially appearing for the Orioles, but it’s going to take more than the .643 OPS he posted over 90 Bowie games to get him higher than that.
AFL action is not changing this narrative yet. Prieto has played in a total of ten games and is batting .182/.243/.394. If you want to find some silver lining in that, he isn’t striking out a lot and half of his hits are for extra bases. He just needs to do that while adding like 80 points to his batting average.
Another outfielder with some rust to shake off, Trimble only played in 33 games this year, so his first full season in the system wasn’t that full. That’s because he had offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder that kept him out of a lot of the regular season.
Much like Prieto, there’s not much to change the narrative around Trimble in his action out in Arizona to date. He’s batted .160/.333/.200. It’s a nice walk rate but basically not nice anything else.
Denoyer is the only pitcher out of the four O’s minor leaguers sent to Scottsdale who’s been making starts. As you’d expect, he’s thrown the most innings out of the four of them, but that’s only 14 innings, so as with all of this other stuff, we’re dealing with small sample sizes.
Three of the four of them, including Denoyer, have ERAs over 6.00 after three weeks of pitching. As mentioned above, it’s been an offense-heavy league, probably for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with how well the pitchers are actually pitching. Denoyer has struck out 15 batters in his 14 innings, so at least he’s got that going for him.
Hoffman, a 25-year-old righty, has now pitched 7.1 innings over five games for Scottsdale. It hasn’t gone great on paper, given that he’s allowed five runs in those five games. But he’s struck out eight batters, and hasn’t surrendered a dinger. I am not sure that will be enough to get him onto the 40-man roster in a month.
Lucas, a lefty reliever who turned 26 last month, is the one guy who isn’t allowing runs in bunches. Indeed, he hasn’t allowed any earned runs at all - only an unearned run across five relief outings totaling 6.2 innings. In that small sample, the strikeout rate is about 30%, in the realm of what he posted for Double-A Bowie this year.
Richmond has six relief outings to his name and is the only one of these O’s minor leaguers who’s not striking out at least a batter per inning. What he is doing is issuing as many walks as strikeouts at five apiece.