As the Orioles’ lengthy rebuild nears its intended goal, the organization has grown more comfortable with pushing its prospects, particularly position players. It became commonplace in 2022 to see talented youngsters play at three different levels. Gunnar Henderson did this on his way to Baltimore, Colton Cowser worked from Aberdeen up to Norfolk, and so did a slightly lower profile player: Connor Norby.
The Orioles drafted Norby with the 41st overall pick in the 2021 draft out of East Carolina University. He was their second pick that year, following the aforementioned Cowser. The infielder came out of college with a muted skillset and dicey glovework at second base, but there was no denying his ability at the plate. His .415/.484/.659 slash line in his final season at ECU showed that he could swing his way into a lineup.
Since becoming a pro, Norby has backed up that view of his bat. He compiled a 135 wRC+ in 26 games with Delmarva in 2021 to set the stage for his ascent in 2022, a season in which he climbed up the organizational ladder in more ways than one.
Norby took his lumps in Aberdeen to kick the year off. His OPS went from .866 in April to .606 in May, and then .671 in June. At the end of that month, he was handed a promotion to Bowie, a level that never gave him much trouble. He started on a seven-game hitting streak, OPS’ed .800 in July, then 1.066 in August, and by mid-September he had a .960 OPS overall with the Baysox. That earned him one more jump, this time a nine-game stint with Norfolk, where he went 14-for-39 with four home runs and two doubles.
Connor Norby was on fire in August pic.twitter.com/9aLCoHz76X— Orioles Player Development (@OsPlayerDev) September 7, 2022
Whatever it was that ailed Norby back in Aberdeen was sorted out by late September at Harbor Park. The late power surge in Norfolk propelled him to 29 home runs on the year across all levels, the highest mark in the organization.
Such an impressive performance has catapulted Norby into a discussion about the Orioles’ plans on their big league infield. Second base was a clear problem for them in 2022, and it is a position that deserves attention this winter. Mike Elias could look outside of the organization, but there are several worthwhile options already in-house.
4️⃣4️⃣4️⃣ feet. 1️⃣0️⃣7️⃣ mph.@norby_connor got all of this one pic.twitter.com/DmGSMCJszl— Orioles Player Development (@OsPlayerDev) August 3, 2022
Norby has to be part of the conversation considering his proximity to the big league roster. But he is not the clear front-runner for the job. That designation likely belongs to either Jordan Westburg, the team’s reigning Minor League Player of the Year, or Joey Ortiz, another fast-riser in the organization that saw his bat catchup to his glove in 2022.
Defense could be the differentiator. Scouting reports indicate that Norby’s work in the field is passable but perhaps a touch below average. Westburg gets similar marks. Meanwhile, Ortiz has long been lauded for his glove. Layer in the fact that he is Rule 5 eligible this December and had a good showing at the plate this year, and it starts to look like a logjam at the position.
The Orioles seem to be aware. Norby spent the overwhelming majority of his season at second base, getting valuable reps. However, they did put him out in left field a handful of times: thrice in Aberdeen, seven instances in Bowie, and just once with Norfolk. Westburg and Ortiz spent the entire year on the dirt.
Norby could also come up in trade talks. The Orioles need to upgrade their starting rotation, and it is expected they will add a bat of some significance as well. The specifics of how that gets done are not yet clear, but a worthwhile trade will almost certainly involve some of the organization’s better young players. There is nothing to suggest Norby is more likely to get dealt away than any other player in the organization, but it cannot be taken off the table either.
Should Norby stick around through the winter, he is set for a return to Triple-A Norfolk for a full-season debut. Depending on promotions of Westburg, Ortiz, and others, the infield at Harbor Park could be pretty full. But all indications at this point are that Norby will stick at second base most days and keep pushing for a major league debut, something that now feels destined to happen in 2023.
Previously: Fallen prospect roundup, Jean Pinto, Darell Hernaiz, Drew Rom, international prospect roundup, César Prieto, Mike Baumann, Hudson Haskin, John Rhodes and Reed Trimble, Cade Povich and Chayce McDermott, Joey Ortiz, Terrin Vavra, injured pitcher roundup, Coby Mayo, Kyle Stowers, Heston Kjerstad, Jordan Westburg, 2022 draftee roundup
Tomorrow: DL Hall