The World Series is over with, and with it, just about every last shred of baseball that’s connected to MLB until spring training rolls around in February. The one thing that’s still chugging along, for the rest of this week anyway, is the Arizona Fall League, where seven Orioles prospects, headlined by Heston Kjerstad, have been playing with and against prospects from other teams for the last five weeks.
The past week in Arizona saw the league’s “Fall Stars Game,” which is a bit like the big league version of the same. One day there was a Home Run Derby, and the next, a game where AL prospects who’ve been doing well in the league played against NL prospects. Kjerstad was a participant in both the derby and the game. He finished as runner-up in the derby, hitting 11 home runs to make it to the final round, then hitting ten more to lose by one. In the game itself, Kjerstad had a hit in four at-bats, as well as a walk. Good job.
It’s a hitter-friendly environment out there in Arizona. That’s been showing up in the AFL results, although offense has been declining each week. They’re now averaging 5.72 runs per team per game with each team having played 27 games. That’s about a run and a half more than the average MLB team this season. It’s also down from 5.88 runs last week and 6.12 two weeks ago. Similarly, an OPS of .773 is high, but it’s down from .789 last week and .803 the week before that.
The coming week is the final week of AFL play. The last scheduled game is November 10, with the Scorpions, at 13-13, in the hunt to play for the league championship game. Here’s how things have been going for the O’s prospects out there.
All he’s done is keep hitting. The 23-year-old Kjerstad has played more than any other AFL player, recording 95 plate appearances through 20 games, and he continues to have a great-looking batting line, at .371/.400/.663. He leads the league in hits and doubles, and with five homers is only one behind the league leader there. The Orioles sent Kjerstad out there to keep shaking off the rust from his long layoff and he’s done that and more.
One scout who’s seen Kjerstad out in Arizona and came away impressed is MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis. In an interview this week with MASN’s Steve Melewski, he had this to say about Kjerstad:
The good news for Orioles fans is he looks like the guy, the No. 2 pick in the draft from a few years ago. He looks like the guy I thought was the best left-handed college power hitter in that draft. ... He looks like the type of guy that could hit .260 with maybe 30 homers. He’s not a blazing runner or anything, but he moves well enough. He’s got a strong arm.
Here’s Kjerstad hitting some dingers in the derby:
Heston Kjerstad with 11 majestic shots. Such easy power here. #birdland pic.twitter.com/JmAqTnwUOU— Prospects Live (@ProspectsLive) November 6, 2022
Kjerstad has been playing close to every day. The other two O’s position players haven’t been. Prieto sits with 14 games played, adding two more to the tally this week. As ever, these are not very large sample sizes. Prieto, 23, is batting .208/.291/.396 with 55 plate appearances under his belt in Arizona. For a guy who had made it to Double-A, it’s a bit disappointing to see he hasn’t gotten the better of AFL pitchers.
Trimble, another outfielder, also added only two more games played this week to give him 14 in total in AFL play. They were a couple of good games, with Trimble raising his batting average 64 points and his slugging percentage by 81 points. That’s the good news. The bad news is that doing both of those things still leaves him with a .225/.347/.275 batting line.
Denoyer was the other Orioles prospect to be tabbed to play in the Fall Stars Game. He was the starter for the AL team, pitching the first inning with only an unearned run allowed. (It was Kjerstad’s error in the box score.) Denoyer, the 24-year-old former undrafted free agent who’s about to become Rule 5 draft eligible, has been improving as the league has gone along.
This week, he shaved another .25 runs off his ERA, leaving him with a 4.50 ERA in 20 innings. That’s included more strikeouts (21) than innings pitched, though also an elevated walk total (11). The Orioles have presumably been looking closely to figure out if they want to put this guy on the 40-man roster in a couple of weeks.
It would not be unusual if a reliever who most O’s fans haven’t thought much about goes from an AFL roster to the 40-man roster. Hoffman, a 24-year-old righty, had also scuffled in a couple of early AFL outings but has done well since. He added two more innings to his tally this week and dropped his ERA by nearly a full run to 3,97 in 11 games. What’s good for Hoffman is the K/BB ratio: He’s struck out 15 guys in 11.1 innings and has only issued two walks.
Lucas had only allowed one earned run until this week, when he gave up three more and saw his ERA inflate to 3.60. Seven walks in 10 innings is not really what you’re looking to see - though it’s worth keeping in mind that poor-looking AFL results haven’t kept the Orioles from eventually making use of a reliever.
Last year’s AFL action saw Logan Gillaspie end up with a 9.00 ERA; the Orioles added him to the 40-man roster in November and he went on to pitch 17 games for the big league club this year.
Eight games pitched and the ERA remains in double digits, with nearly as many walks issued (7) as batters struck out (8). Small sample size and all, but it’s sure not a good one.