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Orioles minor league week in review: Westburg, Henderson storm into Norfolk

Heston Kjerstad made a long-awaited Delmarva debut, a bunch of Aberdeen arms racked up Ks, and more from the Orioles farm.

Altoona Curve v Bowie Baysox
Jordan Westburg, seen here in action for Bowie last fall, homered twice after being promoted to Triple-A this week.
Photo by 2021 Rodger Wood/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Before last night, the Orioles had been playing a bunch of other bad teams, or at least teams that have thus far been disappointing. One game against the Blue Jays, the first they’ve played this year, is still only one game, but it was such a miserable experience that it served almost single-handedly as a reminder about how far the O’s have to go in order to be on the same level as actual good teams. Some of the guys on the team right now could be on a good team, but most of them won’t.

For several years now, it has been apparent that if the Orioles are going to be able to sustain success, the improved talent is going to have to come from their minor league prospects in some form. Each Tuesday on Camden Chat, we take a look at the last week of minor league game action, with a particular focus on players from the preseason composite top Orioles prospect list, and hopes that these guys will bring long-lasting good times in the near future.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides

  • Last week: 4-2 at Nashville Sounds (Brewers)
  • Coming week: vs. Syracuse Mets (21-38)
  • Season record: 30-30, tied for sixth place (5 GB) in North division of International League

This week was all about the arrival of a couple of newly-promoted high-ranked Orioles infield prospects: GUNNAR HENDERSON (#3 tied on the Camden Chat composite list) and Jordan Westburg (#6). Friends, few things about writing for Camden Chat give me more joy than to report on good performance from top prospects, and that’s exactly the joy that I am able to deliver to you about GUNNAR and Westburg after their first week at Norfolk.

Westburg, the O’s second pick from the 2020 draft, gets top billing here after racking up ten hits in his first five Triple-A games, including a pair of dingers. A sustained hot streak here could rocket him into the conversation for late-season playing time in Baltimore this year. GUNNAR homered in his first game for Norfolk, and though he had fewer hits than Westburg, he drew eight walks while only striking out three times. Across both levels this season, Henderson has now drawn 49 walks to 41 strikeouts.

Enjoy the second of the two Westburg homers:

With Adley Rutschman in Baltimore and Grayson Rodriguez on the injured list, the highest-ranked active Orioles prospect remains at Norfolk: DL Hall (#3 tied). Hall has been continuing to rack up gaudy strikeout totals, adding another eight in a 4.2 inning start this week. They’ve got him built up to at least 82 pitches now.

Hall also keeps walking dudes, though, issuing three free passes in this start; he’s walked 14% of batters faced at Norfolk this season. I feel that I am more worried about the walks than most other fans who write, tweet, or talk about Orioles prospects.

Norfolk season-to-date stats.

Other notable prospects:

  • OF Kyle Stowers (#8 tied) - 3-16 hitting this week, all doubles, with four walks and seven strikeouts. It’s a .901 OPS for the season and that’s gotten him a “COVID substitute” big league call to join the Orioles in Canada.
  • IF Terrin Vavra (#12) - After missing a month-plus with injury, returned to Norfolk this week and picked up right where he left off, with 7-20 hitting and a pair of stolen bases.
  • RHP Mike Baumann (#13) - Two scoreless innings of relief across two outings this week. Also a COVID substitute in Toronto.
  • LHP Kevin Smith (#24) - Four walks allowed in a 3.2 inning start where he also gave up three runs on four hits. I think the preseason rankings used for our composite were late to notice his stock had dropped. Smith’s Norfolk ERA is 3.60 in 10 games, but it comes with an unsightly 6.6 BB/9.
  • Injured list: RHP Grayson Rodriguez (#2, lat strain), RHP Kyle Brnovich (#22, Tommy John), OF Yusniel Díaz (#28, hamstring)

Double-A Bowie Baysox

  • Last week: 2-5 at Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)
  • Coming week: vs. Binghamton Rumble Ponies (21-35, Mets)
  • Season record: 21-35, last place of six teams (11.5 GB) in Southwest division of Eastern League

Is it a coincidence that the team’s two best-rated hitting prospects got promoted and then they scored only one or two runs in four of the five losses? Perhaps not. That’s a five-game losing streak for the O’s Double-A affiliate. Credit to Baysox pitchers, though, for holding the Senators to the same 1-2 run range in four of seven games.

The highest-ranked remaining prospect at Bowie, Joey Ortiz (#14), was also the best hitter for Bowie this week, with seven hits - three for extra bases - in 23 at-bats. The infielder needs some more weeks like this, as he’s sitting on a less-than-impressive .634 OPS for the season. Other Baysox hitters did not do as well: César Prieto (#16 tied) went just 4-27 to drop his Bowie OPS to .623; Adam Hall (#27) went just 2-18 for the week, now OPSing .666 for the season.

At the moment, there’s just one active pitcher on the Baysox roster from our preseason composite top 30. That’s lefty Drew Rom (#15), whose one start this week saw him labor for 85 pitches - a season high to date - while getting through just 3.2 innings. They were, at least, scoreless innings Rom’s ratios are good so far this season (41 strikeouts, 11 walks) but he’s given up a lot of non-home run hits. He’s still just 22. These are interesting results.

An unranked starting pitching prospect catches the eye this week: Zach Peek, part of the same Dylan Bundy trade that brought Kyle Bradish to the Orioles. Peek pitched nine innings across two starts, allowing just one run on a solo home run, while notching 11 strikeouts. I’m paying attention to the 24-year-old righty.

Another curiosity: Noah Denoyer, who’s been pitching 3+ inning relief stints first for Aberdeen and now for Bowie. Denoyer blanked Harrisburg in 3.1 innings this week, striking out seven batters with just one walk. He now has a 1.93 ERA and 0.729 WHIP in six Double-A games. Denoyer’s old to be a prospect at this level (24) and he’s not slotting in either as a starter or a high-leverage reliever but he keeps getting the outs he’s asked to get.

Bowie season-to-date stats.

Other notable prospects:

  • OF Hudson Haskin (#18 tied) - Played in only the first game of the series, leaving early following three at-bats. He hasn’t played since; a reason has not been announced.

High-A Aberdeen IronBirds

  • Last week: 5-2 vs. Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)
  • Coming week: at Jersey Shore BlueClaws (22-34, Phillies)
  • Season record: 38-18, first place of six teams (9 game lead) in North division of South Atlantic League. This is the best record of any minor league team at this level or higher.

Earlier in the season, this was where the best hitting and best pitching was going on in the farm system. Norfolk’s hitters have passed Aberdeen’s in OPS, but its pitchers (and defense) are still leading the system by far with 4.05 runs allowed per game. The IronBirds won the five games where they allowed three runs or fewer and lost the other two.

As with the Norfolk section above, when the team does well, it’s the best to be able to report on good performance from the prospects. Among the offensive stars this week for Aberdeen were the team’s two top picks in last year’s draft: Colton Cowser (#3 tied) and Connor Norby (#11).

For a very recent top 5 college pick, Cowser’s taken more lumps than you might like at the High-A level so far this season, with particular concern for a guy not known for his strikeouts now with a 28.7 K%. This was a good week for Colton, with only four strikeouts in 26 PA, balanced by four walks, and seven hits (three doubles) on top of that. That’s an .878 OPS for the week and a .765 for the season.

Norby one-upped the first rounder, as among his seven hits were a pair of home runs, his sixth and seventh of the season so far. Norby was also known for walking more than striking out in college but now has struck out (28) twice as many times as walked (14) in 2022. The batting line of .263/.340/.467 sure looks nice.

An ongoing trend on Aberdeen’s roster has been unheralded 23-year-old-or-younger pitching prospects racking up gobs of strikeouts while posting acceptable WHIP and ERA numbers. Let me hit you with some guys: Peter Van Loon (9 IP in 2 GS this week, 11 K, 4 BB), Jean Pinto (4 IP in relief, 7 K, 1 BB, 11.8 K/9 this season), Ignacio Feliz (4 IP in relief, 7 K, 2 BB, 14.9 K/9 this season), Justin Armbruester (5 IP start, 7 K, 1 BB).

Worth his own paragraph is last year’s fifth round pick, Carlos Tavera (unranked), who earned South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week honors with six shutout innings where he allowed only a hit and two walks while striking out six batters. Like these other guys, Tavera has an impressive K/9 (11.6) and WHIP (1.122) so far in 2022. I have written before and may write again: I wonder when the bump to Bowie will come for some of these guys.

Aberdeen season-to-date stats.

Other notable prospects:

  • OF John Rhodes (#23) - Injured list, last played May 18.
  • IF Darell Hernaiz (#29 tied) - Active but has not played since June 5.

Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds

  • Last week: 1-4 vs. Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Astros)
  • Coming week: at Salem Red Sox (28-29)
  • Season record: 17-35, last place of six teams in North division of Carolina League

We have finally gotten the full season affiliate debut for Heston Kjerstad (#10)! The #2 overall pick in the 2020 draft, whose professional career was halted first by myocarditis and then a hamstring strain, was activated mid-week. It’s a long journey from here to the heights the Orioles surely hoped when they selected him, but for now, you can’t beat three hits in two games, with a walk thrown in too.

The Shorebirds position player contingent continues to otherwise be made up of guys who aren’t name-brand prospects, but are looking to maybe someday be. The champion of the unranked this week was outfielder Trendon Craig, picked in the 20th round last year. Craig batted .500 this week - 9-18, slugging .833. For the season that leaves him hitting .258/.384/.398. I like the OBP.

Among Delmarva pitchers, the best/only ranked prospect had a path to the pro diamond that resolved only a week quicker than Kjerstad’s - Carter Baumler (#20), the fifth round pick in that same 2020 draft. It’s a slow ramp-up for the 20-year-old righty. He added another three scoreless, hitless innings to his tally this week, striking out six batters. As with Kjerstad, it’s a long journey from here to helping the big league club, but this is a nice beginning.

As with the hitters, and with the Aberdeen pitchers, a shoutout for an unranked thrower. Juan De Los Santos has been featured in this space before and his six-inning start this week was another strong one, with two runs allowed (one earned) on four hits and no walks. De Los Santos struck out ten, boosting his season total to 58 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. Like Baumler, this righty is 20 years old.

Delmarva season-to-date stats.

Bonus Dominican Summer League note

The biggest dollar Orioles signing ($1.7 million) of any international amateur class so far, Braylin Tavera (unranked on our composite list), has made his professional debut over the past week with DSL games getting under way. The 17-year-old outfielder has opened his career with a hit in each of his first seven games, and four walks on top of that. Here’s Tavera cranking his first pro homer, though we don’t get to see where it landed:

**

GUNNAR HENDERSON was the runaway winner among the three choices in last week’s player of the week poll, taking down 87% of the vote. This makes him the first repeat winner of the season. Other winners: Haskin, Kyle Bradish, Pinto, Mayo, De Los Santos, Stowers, and Rodriguez.

Poll

Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week for 6/6-6/12?

This poll is closed

  • 65%
    Jordan Westburg, Triple-A Norfolk (two homers in week after promotion)
    (201 votes)
  • 12%
    Zach Peek, Double-A Bowie (9 IP, 1 ER, 11 strikeouts across two starts)
    (37 votes)
  • 14%
    Carlos Tavera, High-A Aberdeen (SAL Pitcher of the Week)
    (45 votes)
  • 7%
    Trendon Craig, Low-A Delmarva (.500 hitting across six full games)
    (23 votes)
306 votes total Vote Now