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Orioles minor league week in review: Grayson’s injury looms large over O’s farm

While the Orioles’ top pitching prospect went down with a lat strain, the sizzling Gunnar Henderson is on his way to replace him on Norfolk’s roster.

SPORTS-BBA-ORIOLES-RODRIGUEZ-BZ Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

OK, I’ll say it up front: this wasn’t the best week in the Orioles’ minor leagues this year.

The fateful injury to Grayson Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in baseball (and the Birds’ #2 prospect behind the recently promoted Adley Rutschman), casts a shadow over the entire system — and throws a wrench in the club’s rebuild. Rodriguez, before suffering a Grade 2 lat strain in the sixth inning of Wednesday’s start at Norfolk, was expected to arrive in the major leagues as early as this month, joining his battery mate Rutschman in gaining big league experience as the two spearheaded the club’s eventual return to contention.

Instead, the Orioles expect Rodriguez to be sidelined until at least September, almost certainly delaying his eventual MLB debut until the 2023 season. It’s a tough blow for the big 22-year-old right-hander, who had done everything you could possibly want him to do at every minor league stop, including this year at Triple-A, where he was 5-1 with a stupendous 2.09 ERA and 0.839 WHIP as well as 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He had 80 strikeouts and allowed just 48 baserunners. He’s done nothing but dominate since the Dan Duquette-era Orioles made him the 11th overall pick in the 2018 draft.

Rodriguez’s injury is the most high-profile but just the latest to ravage the Orioles’ prospect list this year. Six other top-30 prospects remain out of action: Heston Kjerstad (#10, hamstring strain), Reed Trimble (#18 tied, shoulder surgery), the just-released Jahmai Jones (#21, Tommy John surgery), Kyle Brnovich (#22, Tommy John), John Rhodes (#23, undisclosed injury), and Yusniel Diaz (#28, hamstring strain). Kjerstad, who is currently playing games at extended spring training in Sarasota, could be assigned to Low-A Delmarva this month.

But it’s not all doom and gloom in the Orioles’ minor league system. Yesterday, the O’s made the exciting announcement that infielders Gunnar Henderson (#3 tied) and Jordan Westburg (#6) both have been promoted to Norfolk from Double-A Bowie. It was a well-earned promotion particularly for Henderson, who has put up mind-boggling numbers as a 20-year-old at Double-A this year, batting .312 with a 1.025 OPS, eight home runs, and 35 RBIs in 47 games, along with 12 steals in 14 attempts for good measure. He has more walks (41) than strikeouts (38) this year, and has yet to face a pitcher younger than he is. Henderson is playing at a truly elite level for someone of his (or any) age.

Westburg, who has been Henderson’s infield teammate at nearly every minor league stop, was batting .247/.345/.473 with nine homers and 32 RBIs in 47 games at Bowie. The 2020 first-round pick, at 23, was a year young for Double-A, so the promotion to Norfolk should provide a new challenge for him. The arrival of two of the Orioles’ most highly regarded prospects makes Norfolk a plenty intriguing team again, even after the departures of Rutschman and now Rodriguez.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides

  • This week: 3-3 vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
  • Next: at Nashville Sounds (34-19, Brewers)
  • Season record: 26-28, tied for sixth place (9.0 GB) in International League East

Before Henderson’s and Westburg’s promotions, Norfolk’s lineup had been a bit light on legitimate prospects, with only outfielder Kyle Stowers (#8 tied) among the Birds’ top 30. Stowers did his best to carry the offense, powering two home runs — both in the series finale — and collecting a team-leading seven RBIs this week. With eight strikeouts this week, though, he’s still fanning in about 25 percent of his plate appearances this year. Among non-prospects, former Rule 5 guy Richie Martin and 2018 second-rounder Cadyn Grenier each had eight hits this week, raising their season OPSes to .830 and .714, respectively. Neither is an MLB-caliber starter, but either could easily replace Chris Owings as a utility man.

On the mound, all eyes now turn to DL Hall (#3 tied), the Orioles’ top healthy pitching prospect. Hall made two starts this week and was particularly sharp in his second one, throwing five innings and racking up nine strikeouts, both season highs. He allowed just two hits, and both runs scored on a homer by erstwhile big leaguer Lewin Diaz. Stuff-wise, Hall looks great and fully recovered from last year’s stress reaction in his elbow. He’s still battling his command, though. With four walks this week, Hall has issued a free pass in seven consecutive starts and is averaging 4.3 walks per nine innings.

Other notable prospects:

  • RHP Grayson Rodriguez (#2): In what may have been his final start of the year (heavy sigh), Rodriguez was spectacular, allowing just two hits and striking out four in 5.2 scoreless innings before an uncharacteristic 89-mph fastball prompted a mound visit from the trainer. The rest, sadly, is history.
  • RHP Mike Baumann (#13): An erratic year for Baumann hit its nadir this week, as the 26-year-old was bombed for 11 runs (seven earned) and nine hits in 2.2 innings, inflating his Triple-A ERA to 8.79 to go with a 4.91 mark in the majors.
  • LHP Kevin Smith (#24): In his one start this week, Smith walked five batters in four innings. Already off the 40-man roster, an inability to throw strikes (18 walks in 26.1 innings) has doomed his prospect status.

Double-A Bowie Baysox

  • This week: 3-3 at Altoona Curve (Pirates)
  • Next: at Harrisburg Senators (21-29, Nationals)
  • Season record: 19-30, sixth place (10.0 GB) in Eastern League Southwest

Even on his way out the door, Gunnar Henderson (#3 tied) continued to rack up accolades at Double-A. Yesterday he was named Eastern League Player of the Week following an explosive series in which he smacked 10 hits — half of them for extra bases — and drove in seven, giving him a 1.357 OPS for the week. Yeah, I think he was ready to move up. Jordan Westburg (#6), too, finished his Bowie career on a strong note, reaching base nine times and scoring seven runs while adding a homer. Unranked catcher Cody Roberts contributed nine hits and a roundtripper.

Drew Rom (#15) was the lone Baysox hurler to make two starts this week, working 3.2 innings and then four innings, as he eases his way back from an illness that landed him on the injured list. Rom gave up 10 hits but limited the damage to three runs (two earned), and he threw strikes, fanning nine while walking just one. The 2018 fourth-round pick isn’t an especially hard thrower but is working on honing his mechanics. At 22, he’ll have time to figure things out.

Among unranked pitchers, starters Zach Peek and Ryan Watson had solid starts, combining for one earned run in nine innings, but Garrett Stallings was torched for eight runs (seven earned) and eight hits while recording just four outs. The outing jumped his ERA from 4.26 all the way to 5.72. The club’s most effective pitcher this week was right-hander Noah Denoyer, who made two bulk relief appearances and combined for nine innings of one-run, 11-strikeout ball. The Orioles signed Denoyer, 24, as an undrafted free agent in 2019, and he’s turned in a 2.31 ERA in 10 games between High-A and Double-A this year.

Other notable prospects:

  • SS Joey Ortiz (#14): A woeful 2-for-20 week dropped Ortiz under the Mendoza line to a .199/.276/.329 triple slash. As highly regarded as his defense may be, Ortiz isn’t going to get out of Double-A anytime soon until he starts hitting.
  • IF Cesar Prieto (#16 tied): Prieto is starting to get comfortable at Double-A, hitting .364 this week. After seven homers for Aberdeen, he’s still looking for his first one for Bowie.
  • OF Hudson Haskin (#18 tied): Haskin had a forgettable week, with no extra-base hits and nine strikeouts to just one walk, but still has an .809 OPS for the year.
  • OF Adam Hall (#27): Four hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts. Bleh. He did have two stolen bases, though.

High-A Aberdeen IronBirds

  • This week: 2-4 vs. Hudson Valley Renegades (Yankees)
  • Next: at Brooklyn Cyclones (22-26, Mets)
  • Season record: 33-16, first place (7.5 games ahead) in South Atlantic League North

After a rare losing series, only Aberdeen’s second of the year, the IronBirds now have only the fifth-best winning percentage in minor league baseball (.674) rather than the best. Oh well. They’re still comfortably in first place in their division.

The IronBirds didn’t score many runs this week, averaging fewer than three per game, and didn’t hit a single home run in this six-game series. No regular had an OPS better than .756. That belonged to Colton Cowser (#3 tied) on the strength of his five walks, though he had only three hits all week. Coby Mayo (#7), with a mere five hits, led the team in that category.

No Aberdeen pitcher threw more than five innings this week, but former minor league Rule 5 pick Ignacio Feliz (unranked) impressed with a two hits and seven strikeouts in five scoreless frames (though he did walk two and plunk a batter). Reliever Alex Pham, in his second outing since being promoted to Aberdeen, struck out five in three scoreless innings, allowing just one baserunner. On the other end of the spectrum, righty Carlos Tavera, the Orioles’ top-drafted pitcher (fifth round) in last year’s draft, suffered a 2.1-inning, seven-run start in which he issued five walks. Ouch.

Other notable prospects:

  • IF Connor Norby (#11): A 3-for-16 week with no extra-base hits for the 2021 second-rounder.
  • IF Terrin Vavra (#12): Rehabbing from Norfolk, Vavra had just three hits, but all were doubles. He also walked four times. It shouldn’t be long before he returns to the Tides.
  • IF Darell Hernaiz (#29 tied): Two hits, including a double, in 16 at-bats. Hernaiz is batting .237/.326/.342 in 11 games since moving up to High-A.

Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds

  • This week: 2-4 at Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Cubs)
  • Next: vs. Fayetteville Woodpeckers (23-28, Astros)
  • Season record: 18-33, sixth place (10.5 GB) in Carolina League North

The Shorebirds, after nearly two months, have a top-30 O’s pitching prospect on their roster at last. That’s one Carter Baumler (#20), their fifth round pick from 2020 — the only pitcher they selected in that truncated five-round draft — who has finally returned from Tommy John surgery. Baumler made his second professional start this week and tossed three scoreless innings, just like in his first. He walked two, gave up three hits, and struck out four.

On offense, a few trade acquisitions from recent years stood out, including the two from the 2019 Andrew Cashner deal, infielder Noelberth Romero (who hit Delmarva’s only home run this week) and outfielder Elio Prado (who posted a .480 OBP). Outfielder Mishael Deson, from the 2020 Mychal Givens trade, and infielder Isaac De Leon, from the Richard Bleier deal that same year, each drew six walks. Romero stole three bases, as did shortstop Luis Valdez, who now has 26 steals in 30 attempts this year.

Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League

A few more O’s affiliates got into action yesterday, as both the FCL and DSL kicked off their 2022 seasons. The early rosters are peppered with a few notable names. Outfielder Braylin Tavera — whom the O’s signed in January for $1.7 million, the largest amateur signing bonus in club history — is part of the DSL Orioles Black roster, as is shortstop Leandro Arias, who currently ranks as the Orioles’ #26 prospect. The other DSL club, Orioles Orange, includes well-regarded shortstop Edwin Amparo and outfielder Thomas Sosa. All are 17.

Meanwhile, a few members of the 2020-2021 international class have made their way stateside into the FCL, including prospects Maikol Hernandez (#16 tied) and Samuel Basallo (#25), who were the Orioles’ first-ever seven-figure international signings. And infielder Anthony Servideo, the Birds’ third-round draft pick in 2020, will begin the year on the FCL Orioles as he rehabs from sports hernia surgery.

The FCL Orioles lost their opening game yesterday, 11-1, with the catcher Basallo going 2-for-4 but also committing a throwing error and allowing a passed ball. Hernandez took an 0-for-5. Both DSL affiliates lost their openers, as well. In Orioles Black’s 8-7 defeat, Tavera went 1-for-3 with a walk and two RBIs in his pro debut, and Arias had two hits, a walk, and two runs. Arias also committed an error and was picked off. Orioles Orange fell, 5-2, as Amparo and Sosa each went hitless but drew a walk apiece.

**

Last week’s player of the week winner was Grayson Rodriguez (another heavy sigh), who threw seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts in his last full, uninjured game. In eight weeks, we’ve had eight different winners, but chances are good that we’ll have our first repeat winner this time. Previous winners include Haskin, Kyle Bradish, Jean Pinto, Mayo, Henderson, Juan De Los Santos, and Stowers.

Poll

Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week for 5/30-6/5?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Kyle Stowers, Norfolk (.350 AVG, 1.212 OPS, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R)
    (11 votes)
  • 8%
    Noah Denoyer, Bowie (9.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 11 K)
    (21 votes)
  • 87%
    Gunnar Henderson, Bowie (.476 AVG, 1.357 OPS, 7 RBI, Eastern League Player of the Week)
    (216 votes)
248 votes total Vote Now