This week was the one that Orioles fans have dreamed about for a long, long time. Adley Rutschman, the top prospect in baseball and the Birds’ most-hyped youngster since Manny Machado, finally graduated from the minor leagues and made his much-anticipated debut with the Orioles on Saturday.
But Rutschman is far from the only talented youngster who could form the nucleus of the next great Orioles team. And a slew of O’s prospects continued to make their case to join Adley in a Baltimore uniform sooner rather than later. Let’s recap all the action in our minor league week in review.
Fresh off the Rutschman call-up, the Orioles announced a wave of notable promotions yesterday.
César Prieto is joining Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and Joey Ortiz in Double-A Bowie’s infield, the Orioles announce.— Nathan Ruiz (@NathanSRuiz) May 23, 2022
Other minors moves:
Shed Long Jr. to Norfolk
Darell Hernaiz and Alex Pham to Aberdeen
Carter Baumler and Elio Prado to Delmarva
The Prieto promotion was a long time coming, if such a thing can be said about a guy who has played stateside for less than two months. The 23-year-old Cuban, part of the Orioles’ international signing class this January, was overqualified for High-A, batting .340 with an even 1.000 OPS in 25 games, which included seven home runs in 105 plate appearances. He’s tied for 16th in Camden Chat’s composite top 30 prospects list. It’ll be interesting to see how Baysox manager Kyle Moore splits the playing time between a prospect-studded infield of Prieto, Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, and Joey Ortiz — at least until Henderson’s inevitable promotion to Norfolk.
Meanwhile, Hernaiz (#29, tied) leaves Delmarva, where he’d been stationed since the start of 2021 but was still nearly a year young for the level, now 20. He’s bolstered his power this season, already matching his home run total from last year — six — but in nearly 300 fewer plate appearances. The shortstop will fill the infield hole left by Prieto at Aberdeen. And it’ll be exciting to finally see Baumler (#20) make his professional debut, two years after he was the only pitcher the O’s selected in the five-round 2020 draft and subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- This week: 5-1 at Charlotte Knights (White Sox)
- Next: vs. Gwinnett Stripers (21-21, Braves)
- Season record: 20-22, tied for fifth place (6.0 GB) in International League East
Now that Rutschman is in the bigs, it’s time for Birdland to impatiently clamor for the next great prospect, Grayson Rodriguez (#2), to make his debut. In MLB Pipeline’s top 100, updated yesterday, Rodriguez ranks as baseball’s top pitching prospect and #3 overall (with Rutschman still #1). And his two outings this week only intensified fans’ fever pitch. Rodriguez opened and closed the Tides’ series with a pair of victories, including an incredible Tuesday outing — his last one with battery mate Rutschman, for now — in which he racked up 11 strikeouts in 5.1 scoreless innings. Wowza! It was enough to raise some fans’ hopes that the O’s would call up Rutschman and Rodriguez in tandem over the weekend.
But general manager Mike Elias stressed that the Orioles are being “super careful with the workload” and slowly building up Rodriguez before they consider a promotion. In that sense, his second outing of the week was encouraging, if not as dominant as his first. Rodriguez threw a season-high six innings, tossing 86 pitches and fanning nine while giving up two runs. I declare he’s built up. Call him up!
D.L. Hall (#3, tied) was a bit more erratic, getting roughed up for four runs, five hits, and three walks in his lone start this week. Still, Elias praised the 23-year-old lefty, saying, “He looks great. He’s throwing harder than ever. He’s doing it with ease and efficiency.” It may be a bit before Hall is Baltimore-bound, but there’s a lot to like.
And oh by the way, don’t forget about Kyle Stowers (#8, tied), who is starting to turn things around after a sluggish first month at Triple-A. Stowers had an absolutely ridiculous week, crushing five home runs — more than doubling his season total to that point — while collecting 12 hits, 11 runs, and 10 RBIs, and the free swinger also drew an impressive five walks. With one white-hot week, Stowers boosted his season OPS to .926.
Not to be outdone was fellow outfielder Robert Neustrom (unranked), who smacked three homers and 11 RBIs of his own while posting a 1.064 OPS for the week. The Tides as a team scored 52 runs and blasted 16 home runs in six games off Charlotte pitching, including double-digit runs in each of the final two games.
Other notable prospects:
- C Adley Rutschman (#1): In what were hopefully the last games he’ll ever play in the minors (barring rehab), Rutschman hit two home runs in three games before his call-up to the Orioles.
- RHP Mike Baumann (#13): My birthday buddy pitched one game for Norfolk, throwing 2.2 innings, before getting summoned to Baltimore for a long-relief appearance Saturday. The O’s optioned him back to the Tides yesterday to make room for fresh arms.
- IF/OF Terrin Vavra (#12), IF Jahmai Jones (#21), OF Yusniel Diaz (#28): Still sidelined by a hamstring strain, right elbow inflammation, and hamstring strain, respectively. Elias acknowledged that time is running out on Diaz, the prize of the Manny Machado trade in 2018 who has yet to make his MLB debut. “I don’t know what to say other than it stinks,” Elias said of Diaz’s second IL stint of the year.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- This week: 1-5 at Hartford Yard Goats (Rockies)
- Next: vs. Erie SeaWolves (21-18, Tigers)
- Season record: 14-23, sixth place (8.0 GB) in Eastern League Southwest
Bowie is not a particularly good team, but it boasts one particularly amazing player. Gunnar Henderson — excuse me, GUNNAR HENDERSON — is laying waste to Double-A pitching. With a three-homer, 1.268-OPS week, Henderson (#3 prospect, tied) now holds a .291/.450/.538 batting line in 36 games, with seven home runs and more walks (35) than strikeouts (27). And I will remind you that, at 20, he is three years younger than the average Double-A player. I will also remind you that the O’s selected Rutschman and Henderson in the same draft. Not too shabby, friends. A promotion to Norfolk for Gunnar seems imminent, especially with Prieto now on board.
Not to be forgotten, Jordan Westburg (#6) had a strong series as well, homering twice as part of his eight-hit week, though he struck out seven times and walked just once. His season OPS has creeped over the .800 mark. Not joining the fun was fellow infielder Joey Ortiz (#14), who was just 2-for-18. Ortiz’s glove at shortstop may be major league ready, but his bat (.629 OPS) is far from it.
There wasn’t much to talk about on the pitching side, other than rehabbing big leaguer Dean Kremer, who tossed an immaculate inning en during a two-inning, five-strikeout return from injury. Right-hander Ryan Watson, who entered the series with a 2.28 ERA, scuffled in his two outings this week (eight runs and 13 hits in 8.2 innings). Lefty Antonio Velez, an intriguing piece from the Cole Sulser/Tanner Scott trade, gave up five runs in four innings and carries a 6.84 ERA for the season.
Other notable prospects:
- LHP Drew Rom (#15): Rom has been on the IL since May 8 with an undisclosed injury,.
- OF Hudson Haskin (#18, tied): With a 5-for-22 this week, Haskin continued his cold May. He’s OPSing just .577 this month after a stupendous 1.182 in April.
- IF/OF Adam Hall (#27): Hall returned this week after a 19-day IL stint and had two hits in three games.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- This week: 2-4 vs. Rome Braves
- Next: vs./at Wilmington Blue Rocks (20-16, Nationals)
- Season record: 26-11, first place (5.5 games ahead) in South Atlantic League North
I guess it had to happen sometime. The IronBirds, who’d won each of their first six series of the year, finally had their first losing week at the hands of the Braves. The series loss did little to dampen the IronBirds’ dominance of the South Atlantic League, where they still lead their division by 5.5 games over their upcoming opponent, Wilmington. In a shakeup of the usual six-game series format, the IronBirds will split a home-and-home with the Blue Rocks, playing the first three games in Aberdeen and the next three in Wilmington.
Cold bats were to blame for Aberdeen’s struggles this week, as the prospect-studded lineup averaged less than three runs per game. Coby Mayo (#7 prospect) homered twice, though with just a .269 OBP thanks to one walk and seven strikeouts. In fact, 13 of the 14 IronBirds hitters this week struck out more than they walked (the exception was #23 prospect John Rhodes, who had just seven plate appearances but walked in two of them).
It wasn’t a particularly exciting week for Aberdeen pitchers, either, though reigning South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week Connor Gillispie delivered a solid start (five innings, one run, three walks, eight strikeouts). Poor Jean Pinto, who some projected to have a breakout year, was torched for seven runs in three innings, raising his ERA to 6.21.
Other notable prospects:
- OF Colton Cowser (#3, tied): A one-walk, seven-strikeout performance isn’t great to see from last year’s first round draft pick, who was lauded for his batting eye. His OPS sits at a middling .768 and he has twice as many Ks as free passes. We haven’t seen his best yet.
- IF Connor Norby (#11): Another 2021 draftee, Norby missed the week with a swollen eye.
- IF Cesar Prieto (#16, tied): In his Aberdeen swan song, Prieto collected five hits and two RBIs.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- This week: 5-1 vs. Fredericksburg Nationals
- Next: at Charleston RiverDogs (26-13, Rays)
- Season record: 15-24, sixth place (6.5 GB) in Carolina League North
On the flip side of the coin from the IronBirds is the Shorebirds, who finally won their first series of 2022 in their sixth attempt. Perhaps this group of international youngsters is starting to gel. Darell Hernaiz (#29, tied) wrapped up his Delmarva career with six hits and a pair of stolen bases this week, while catcher Creed Willems (unranked) showed some signs of life with five hits, including a triple. Willems, the Orioles’ lone high school draftee in 2021, has hits in six of his last seven games after beginning his Low-A career with a 2-for-42.
The Shorebirds pitched decently in this series, including righty reliever Alex Pham, who tossed three hitless innings for a save and then was promoted to Aberdeen along with Hernaiz. The 22-year-old Pham had a 1.59 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 11.1 innings. Right-hander Shane Davis worked a four-inning start without allowing an earned run, lowering his ERA to 3.21 and WHIP to 1.19. But the club’s top starter, 19-year-old Juan De Los Santos, gave up three runs in four innings this week and had a scary exit from the game.
Unfortunate sight in Salisbury as Juan De Los Santos is out of the game after being hit by a line drive and appearing to hold his elbow in some pain.— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) May 22, 2022
He's been a big bright spot this season. Hoping it's nothing too serious.
The Shorebirds will, at some point, be adding another notable name: 2020 first-round pick Heston Kjerstad (#10), who is ready to begin rehab after a spring hamstring injury. Elias said Kjerstad will begin playing extended spring training in Sarasota and that the Orioles’ goal is “to get him to Delmarva this summer. I don’t know when that’s going happen.”
Last week’s player of the week poll brought the first Shorebird to win, De Los Santos, who garnered 63 percent of the vote. We’ve had six different winners in six weeks, with Haskin, Kyle Bradish, Pinto, Mayo, and Henderson preceding him. This week we have only two candidates, one hitter and one pitcher who stood head and shoulders above the rest. Cast your vote!
Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week for 5/16-5/22?
This poll is closed
Grayson Rodriguez, Norfolk (2-0, 11.1 IP, 20 K, 1.59 ERA, 0.97 WHIP)
Kyle Stowers, Norfolk (5 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R, 12 H, .480 AVG, 1.767 OPS)