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Orioles minor league week in review: Prieto blasts four homers, Rodriguez dominates again

A recent international signing led the charge for a still-surging O’s minor league system this week.

South Korea v Cuba - WBSC Premier 12: Opening Round Group C
Former Team Cuba infielder Cesar Prieto is now bashing dingers for Aberdeen.
Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Welcome to another edition of Camden Chat’s minor league week in review. The Orioles’ affiliates enjoyed a mostly successful week, which ended with two clubs in first place in their divisions, another O’s prospect receiving league-wide honors, and — oh yeah — the imminent returns of Adley Rutschman and D.L. Hall. So let’s get into it.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides

  • This week: 3-3 vs. Durham Bulls (Rays)
  • Next: at Gwinnett Stripers (6-12, Braves)
  • Season record: 11-7, tied for first place in International League East

It was an inspiring week in Norfolk, where Bulls right-hander Tyler Zombro — who suffered a horrific head injury after being struck by a line drive at Harbor Park last year — made his triumphant return to a minor league mound, earning a standing ovation from both clubs.

The Tides pulled into a tie with Buffalo atop the 10-team division after a series split this week. Two of the victories, naturally, came courtesy of the Orioles’ top two right-handed pitching prospects, Grayson Rodriguez (#2 in Camden Chat’s composite top 30 Orioles prospects list) and Kyle Bradish (#8, tied). Rodriguez was particularly dominant, twirling a masterful 5.1 scoreless innings of one-hit, eight-strikeout ball on Wednesday. He retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced. Through three Triple-A starts, Rodriguez has a 1.26 ERA and 23 whiffs. Is that good?

Bradish was no slouch himself Friday, working a full six innings and striking out eight. Only one of the three runs he allowed was earned, keeping his ERA a tidy 1.20. With Chris Ellis’s injury opening a spot in the Orioles’ rotation, one wonders if Bradish could be Baltimore bound in the near future.

Norfolk’s offense was explosive, scoring 31 runs in the six games, though the guys doing the most damage weren’t top-30 prospects. Catcher Brett Cumberland, part of the 2018 Kevin Gausman trade, led the team with three home runs and nine RBIs this week, while former Rule 5 shortstop Richie Martin continued his attempt to get back to the majors, roping three extra-base hits and posting a 1.238 OPS in four games.

Two guys who land somewhere in the 31-40 range of O’s prospects, infielders Tyler Nevin and Rylan Bannon, had hot weeks as well. Nevin in particular is tearing it up in his second full year at Triple-A, collecting a club-best 10 hits and four doubles this week. Nevin is currently sporting an impressive .382/.444/.582 line in 14 games this year. Bannon, meanwhile, had six hits and five walks this week for a neat .500 OBP.

Norfolk’s best hitting prospects, though, didn’t join in on the fun. Kyle Stowers (#8, tied) went 2-for-15, Jahmai Jones (#21) was 3-for-21, and Terrin Vavra (#12) played just two games before going on the injured list with a strained right hamstring. Vavra joins Yusniel Diaz (#28), who hasn’t played since April 12 with a hamstring injury of his own, on the IL.

Other notable prospects:

  • RHP Kyle Brnovich (#22): The 24-year-old righty was placed on the IL with a right elbow sprain, and while the Orioles haven’t made an official announcement about his status, Raul Ramos — yes, the kingpin of the Orioles/Carlos Correa rumors this winter — reported that Brnovich will undergo Tommy John surgery. Dagger.
  • LHP Kevin Smith (#24): The southpaw from the Miguel Castro trade has alternated between starts and bulk-relief outings this year, and this week was the latter. Smith pitched four scoreless innings out of the bullpen Saturday after a disastrous start by Zac Lowther (1.1 innings, seven runs).

Double-A Bowie Baysox

  • This week: 4-2 vs. Akron RubberDucks (Guardians)
  • Next: at Richmond Flying Squirrels (8-7, Giants)
  • Season record: 8-6, second place (1.5 GB) in Eastern League Southwest

It was a roller coaster week for the Baysox, who overall had a successful series but also some less-than-stellar moments, including when their first 11 batters of the game struck out against Guardians #2 prospect Daniel Espino on Saturday. Bowie hitters struck out a whopping 17 times in that game, but still made it competitive in an 8-6 loss.

Top infield prospects Gunnar Henderson (#3, tied) and Jordan Westburg (#6) each posted an OBP of .400 or better this week, making up for low hit totals (four apiece) by drawing plenty of walks, eight for Henderson and six for Westburg. Westburg’s season OPS sits at .929; Henderson’s at .886.

And what a debut week it was for Dylan Harris, signed as an undrafted free agent from UNC in 2020. In his first series at Double-A, Harris led the Baysox in hits (10), runs (seven), home runs (two), and doubles (four), while also making this completely ridiculous defensive play. The 25-year-old, who OPS’d just .677 across two levels last year, won’t appear on any prospect rankings, but he was integral to Bowie’s success this week.

On the pitching side, Zach Peek, part of the Dylan Bundy trade return, was the only hurler to make two starts, posting a 3.38 ERA and striking out better than a batter per inning. It was a nice week for fellow ex-Angels prospect Garrett Stallings, acquired for Jose Iglesias, who worked five scoreless, one-hit innings Wednesday. Not so effective was Antonio Velez, the intriguing lefty from the Tanner Scott/Cole Sulser deal, who was hit hard for five runs and nine hits in a five-inning start Saturday. Velez has a 6.28 ERA after three starts.

Other notable prospects:

  • SS Joey Ortiz (#14): The 23-year-old is still looking to get untracked at the plate, going 5-for-20 with nine strikeouts and no walks this week. He’s batting just .216 with a .588 OPS overall, though he is a year young for the level.
  • LHP Drew Rom (#15): The lefty tossed another solid outing, holding the RubberDucks to one run and striking out four in four innings, lowering his ERA to an even 3.00 after three starts.
  • OF Hudson Haskin (#18): After missing four games last week, Haskin returned to the lineup and mashed a home run while collecting a team-best eight RBIs.
  • OF Adam Hall (#27): The speedster had a seven-hit week, boosting his batting average to .340 and OBP to .407 through 11 games. That’ll play.
  • RHP Logan Gillaspie (#29): Gillaspie earned a win in his lone appearance this week, thanks to 2.1 innings of scoreless relief.

High-A Aberdeen IronBirds

  • This week: 4-2 at Greensboro Grasshoppers (Pirates)
  • Next: vs. Jersey Shore BlueClaws (6-9, Phillies)
  • Season record: 10-5, first place in South Atlantic League North

Oh, is life good for the IronBirds right now. Not only did they win their series to move into sole possession of first place, but they’re about to add some eye-popping reinforcements — namely, the Orioles’ #1 and #3 prospects, Adley Rutschman and D.L. Hall, who will join Aberdeen on rehab assignments. Each will be making his 2022 debut. They won’t stay in Aberdeen long before they move up to higher-level affiliates, but it’s going to be a fun week.

This past week was fun, too, especially for César Prieto (#16, tied) who was named South Atlantic League Player of the Week after destroying Greensboro pitching for four home runs, nine RBIs, two doubles, five walks, and a sizzling 1.605 OPS. The 22-year-old Cuban, part of the Orioles’ most recent international signing class, wasn’t considered a power prospect, but he’s got six home runs in just 15 games this year. It might be about time for Prieto to face a new challenge in Bowie.

It was also a slugging kind of week for Connor Norby (#11), who bashed three homers and boosted his season OPS to .949. Fellow 2021 draftee John Rhodes (#23) whacked four extra-base hits for a .650 SLG for the week. The two upstaged the top pick from that draft, Colton Cowser (#3, tied), who was just 3-for-21 to drop his season batting line to .214/.318/.375. He did, however, hit his first home run at High-A.

There are no top-30 O’s pitching prospects on the Aberdeen roster, but a few names are worth mentioning. Righty Jean Pinto, one of the standout pitchers from 2021 (and another piece of that Iglesias trade), hasn’t duplicated his success at High-A just yet, with another mediocre outing this week — four innings, three runs — moving his ERA to 8.10. Last year’s highest-drafted pitcher, fifth rounder Carlos Tavera, similarly struggled with a three-inning, five-run effort. More successful was former minor league Rule 5 pick Ignacio Feliz, who racked up 10 strikeouts in his four-inning relief outing Wednesday.

Other notable prospects:

  • 3B Coby Mayo (#7): It was a solid if unspectacular week for the breakout candidate, who hit his second home run of the year. This is the kind of guy who could have a four- or five-homer week in his future once he gets hot.

Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds

  • This week: 1-5 vs. Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs)
  • Next: at Augusta GreenJackets (7-8, Braves)
  • Season record: 5-10, sixth place in Carolina League North

The Shorebirds, with their very young roster of recent international acquisitions, have had some growing pains, nearly getting swept this week and dropping to last place in their six-team division. It happens. The offense, in particular, had trouble getting going in this series. The Shorebirds managed just two home runs, both by Darell Hernaiz (#29, tied), which were his only two hits this week. If speed is your thing, Mychal Givens trade acquisition Mishael Deson swiped three bags, but no other hitter particularly stood out.

The same was true of the pitching staff, which includes a lot of names that are probably unfamiliar to all but the most dedicated prospect hounds. It was a Jekyll and Hyde kind of week for 18-year-old Moises Chace, who impressed on Monday in his first career start — four innings, no runs, five strikeouts — but was shellacked the second time the Pelicans got a look at him, a four-hit, four-run outing in which he recorded just two outs.

——

Last week, Kyle Bradish was the runaway winner in our player of the week poll, garnering 71 percent of the vote after earning International League Pitcher of the Week honors. We’ll have a third different winner this time around, as neither Bradish nor previous winner Hudson Haskin are part of this week’s poll.

Poll

Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week ending 4/24?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    Tyler Nevin, Norfolk (10 H, 4 2B, .435 AVG, 1.219 OPS)
    (22 votes)
  • 10%
    Grayson Rodriguez, Norfolk (5.1 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 1 BB, 8 K, W)
    (41 votes)
  • 15%
    Dylan Harris, Bowie (10-for-20, 2 HR, 4 2B, 1.545 OPS, great defensive play)
    (61 votes)
  • 69%
    César Prieto, Aberdeen (4 HR, 9 RBI, 1.605 OPS, South Atlantic League Player of the Week)
    (281 votes)
405 votes total Vote Now