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Orioles in the Arizona Fall League: Week 4 roundup

Heston Kjerstad leads the AFL in hits, total bases, and home runs.

Scottsdale Scorpions v. Peoria Javelinas
Heston Kjerstad continues to lead the Arizona Fall League in home runs.
Photo by Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images

For most of the month of October, a handful of prospects and minor league players from each MLB organization have been in action in the Arizona Fall League to try to boost their stock. Seven Orioles prospects, headlined by Heston Kjerstad, have been playing games with the Scottsdale Scorpions along with players from the Angels, Atlanta, Giants, and Red Sox organizations.

Now with four weeks of games played, the Scottsdale team is 11-11. It’s been an offense-heavy league up until this point, though that’s been declining with each passing week, including this one. Teams are now averaging 5.88 runs scored per team per game. That’s a lot. The MLB average this year was 4.28 runs per team per game. However, it’s down from 6.12 runs a week ago and 6.60 two weeks ago.

OPS for batters is a similar story. The whole league has a .789 OPS, 83 points higher than all MLB hitters this season. It’s dropping over time, though. That was .803 OPS this time last week and .830 two weeks ago.

League play runs through November 10. Each week, we’ll take a look at how the Orioles are doing out there.

Heston Kjerstad

After a more than two year layoff before making his pro debut this season, the biggest thing for Kjerstad is staying on the field. The first bit of good news from the AFL is that he’s doing that. Kjerstad leads all AFL batters in plate appearances with 81. The Orioles sent him out there to play and he’s playing more than anybody.

The second bit of good news is Kjerstad is doing good things with that playing time, leading all batters in hits and total bases. He’s also tied for the lead in home runs with five. It’s added up to a .347/.383/.627 batting line through 17 games.

These are good numbers. If you want to look for some warts, it’s maybe a little bit of a concern that he’s struck out in 29.6% of his plate appearances so far and is striking out nearly five times for every walk he’s taken.

Does it mean anything? I don’t know. Maybe he’s been sent out there with orders to get in swings against live, higher-level pitching. There could be less positive explanations also. It’s not hard to take a walk in the AFL. The whole league is walking in 13.3% of plate appearances. Kjerstad, for whatever reason, isn’t. He walked in 10.2% of PA in the minor league season.

César Prieto

With offensive production across the league dipping as it goes along, take note that this isn’t happening to Prieto, who’s added 63 points to his OPS over the last week of games. In real number terms, this still doesn’t leave him with a great batting line: .205/.289/.410. Like every other AFL number, it’s a small sample. He only played in two games this week and has played in 12 total. Hopefully the 23-year-old Cuban signee can finish strong.

Reed Trimble

Like Kjerstad, Trimble had to start this season late due to an injury problem - in his case, offseason labrum surgery in his non-throwing shoulder. It’s not going as well for Trimble, whose 12 game batting line sits at .161/.325/.194 and has not been improving as the league action has rolled along.

Noah Denoyer

The average age of an AFL pitcher is 23.2 years old. All four pitchers sent out by the Orioles are older than that. That includes 24-year-old Denoyer, the undrafted free agent signing after the 2019 draft. The only one of the O’s pitching prospects to make starts for Scottsdale, Denoyer added five scoreless innings to his tally this week. Over five starts, he’s struck out 19 batters in 19 innings and now has a 4.75 ERA.

The question for Denoyer remains: Has he shown enough in the regular season and with this to be added to the 40-man roster later this month? If he’s not added, has he done enough that a team might take him in the Rule 5 draft?

Nolan Hoffman

Those questions for Denoyer are the same for all of these other guys. Hoffman, a 25-year-old reliever initially drafted by the Mariners in 2018, has good ratios working in his favor across seven relief outings, with 11 strikeouts to two walks in 9.1 innings. The ERA isn’t so good, at 4.82, but like Denoyer, it’s been dropping over time. Both of these guys had ERAs over 6 when I did this roundup a week ago.

Easton Lucas

The O’s got this 26-year-old lefty as the trade return from the Marlins for Jonathan Villar. He also becomes Rule 5 draft eligible this winter, as he was a 14th round pick in 2019 out of the college ranks.

You know the small sample size warning already: Lucas has pitched 8.2 innings over seven games. It’s not much for four weeks, let alone a bigger part of a baseball season. He’s only allowed one earned run to date and has struck out nine guys, though that’s come along with five walks.

Nick Richmond

All apologies to Richmond, but there’s not much good to say about a 10.29 ERA with more walks issued than strikeouts recorded over seven outings. The 24-year-old has already been released by the Tigers, the organization that signed him initially, and hasn’t done much in his AFL time to show he’s more than roster filler for the Orioles.