The start of the MLB amateur draft is just five days away, which means this time next week the Orioles will have a bunch of shiny new prospects — including whomever they draft with the #1 overall pick — to add to their already burgeoning minor league system when signed.
In the meantime, the prospects currently in their system continue to get the job done, as they again proved this past week. Let’s recap all the action in our weekly wrap-up, with particular focus on the players on Camden Chat’s composite top prospects list.
Yesterday, the Orioles dropped the long-awaited news that 2020 first-round pick Heston Kjerstad (#10) has been promoted from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen. The outfielder has been a rousing success story this year, returning from more than a year out of action — first with myocarditis, then a hamstring injury — to hit the ground running in his pro debut this June. Kjerstad was a man among boys at Low-A, batting .463/.551/.650 with two home runs, 17 RBIs, and 13 walks in 22 games. Most importantly, Kjerstad has proved he’s fully healthy and ready for the next challenge. Best of luck to him in Aberdeen.
Mike Elias passed along updates on some injured prospects over the weekend, starting with Grayson Rodriguez (#2), the top pitching prospect in baseball. Rodriguez’s follow-up imaging on his lat strain came back “as good as it could have,” according to Elias, though he has yet to perform baseball activities as he rehabs in Sarasota. Elsewhere, Baysox infielder Coby Mayo (#7) landed on the injured list with back spasms that Elias says are “just muscular, nothing structural.” And Delmarva hurler Carter Baumler (#20) suffered right shoulder inflammation that the team is hoping will subside with rest. Baumler had made just four starts since returning from Tommy John surgery.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- This week: 3-2 at Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
- Next: vs. Worcester Red Sox (44-40, Red Sox)
- Season record: 41-43, seventh place (4.0 GB) in International League East
Can we take a moment to note how tightly packed the East division is? The top eight teams in the division are separated by only five games, including three teams currently tied for first place. That’s going to be a wild pennant race, and the Tides are right in the thick of it.
They’ve certainly got the talent to push their way to the front, especially on offense, where four of their top eight hitting prospects currently reside. Jordan Westburg (#6) continued his hot hitting this week, popping a home run and a team-leading seven RBIs, but don’t forget about Terrin Vavra (#12), who collected six hits in four games and drew four walks for a .500 OBP. Since returning to Norfolk on June 8 following an IL stint, Vavra is batting a ridiculous .330/.430/.474 in 25 games. Vavra, who was mainly playing center field before the hamstring injury, has spent most of his time at second base since his return, so I think we have an idea of which position the Orioles foresee him playing in the majors.
The Tides’ most impressive performance this week came on the mound, where DL Hall (#3 tied) absolutely overpowered the Jacksonville lineup in a 14-strikeout, three-hit masterpiece. I can confirm through extensive research that...wowza, that’s good!!!! Hall worked six full innings — the first time all year he’s gone past five — and threw a season-high 98 pitches as he continues to get stretched out. Best of all, the often control-challenged lefty allowed only two walks. Hall, who had walked 10 batters in his last two starts of June, has issued just three free passes in two starts since fixing a flaw in his delivery.
— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) July 6, 2022
DL Hall with a BIG afternoon in Jacksonville!!
6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 14 K. 98/68.
Statement made. pic.twitter.com/agYvmb3rbL
The Norfolk rotation changes by the week. This week brought a rehab start from veteran major leaguer Matt Harvey (five innings, two runs) and the arrival of lefty Kirk McCarty (four innings, three runs) on a waiver claim from Cleveland, while former first round pick Cody Sedlock made what turned out to be his final start in the Orioles’ organization. Sedlock was traded to Detroit on Sunday for cash. Another veteran O’s minor leaguer, 2017 draftee Cameron Bishop, announced his retirement.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Gunnar Henderson (#3 tied): You guys, Gunnar is actually (gulp) slumping. I didn’t think it was possible! He was just 3-for-16 with seven strikeouts this week, and is batting an ugly .139 with a .429 OPS and no homers in 10 games since June 29 — which was his 21st birthday. You know what they say: once you turn 21, you’re basically past your prime. (Nobody says that.)
- OF Kyle Stowers (#8 tied): Stowers, too, was quiet at the plate this week, going 3-for-18 with no home runs. He’s still putting up an impressive .874 OPS for the season, and figures to be the next man up if the O’s trade an outfielder or designated hitter before the Aug. 2 deadline.
- RHP Mike Baumann (#13): Baumann had a stellar multi-inning appearance in relief of Hall, working three scoreless frames with five strikeouts to notch his first save.
- LHP Kevin Smith (#24): The non-roster lefty had a scoreless three-inning stint of his own, and has given up just one run in his last eight innings. Could he work his way into becoming a Norfolk-Baltimore shuttle guy?
- OF Yusniel Diaz (#28): The bad news: Diaz had just two hits in 11 at-bats. The good news: he walked six times, most on the team, to give him a .471 OBP for the week. Diaz has a .780 OPS in 24 games for Norfolk but isn’t beating down the door for a big-league call-up.
- RHP Logan Gillaspie (#29 tied): Despite a scoreless outing this week, Gillaspie has a 6.30 ERA in five games since the O’s optioned him back to the Tides.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- This week: 2-3 at Somerset Patriots (Yankees)
- Next: vs. Akron RubberDucks (44-36, Guardians)
- Second-half record: 7-5, third place (1.0 GB) in Eastern League Southwest
- Overall season record: 34-47
It’s safe to say that Colton Cowser (#3 tied), the Orioles’ first pick in the 2021 draft, is acclimating well to the Double-A level. After putting up solid if not spectacular numbers at High-A, Cowser has upped his game all across the board in an 11-game sample at Bowie, with a .314/.510/.571 triple slash. This week he batted .333 with a 1.040 OPS and hit Bowie’s only home run. Outfielder Hudson Haskin (#18 tied) equaled Cowser’s 6-for-18, two-double performance.
Kyle Bradish (#8 tied on our preseason prospect list, though he has since graduated) made his first appearance for the Baysox since 2021, this time on a rehab assignment from the Orioles. He worked three perfect innings with five strikeouts as he works his way back from right shoulder inflammation. Also returning from injury was unranked lefty Antonio Velez, the key prospect from this April’s Tanner Scott/Cole Sulser trade with Miami. Velez, who had missed nearly a month with an undisclosed injury, tossed two perfect innings.
The Bowie rotation is an interesting one, staffed with a bunch of guys who are pitching well but are mostly unheralded (lefty Drew Rom, at #15, is the only one ranked in the top 30). Rom, Ryan Watson, and Justin Armbruester each tossed OK starts this week, but Noah Denoyer surrendered four baserunners and didn’t get out of the first inning. The best performance came from right-hander Garrett Stallings, working bulk relief after Velez’s start, who fired six shutout innings and struck out seven.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Connor Norby (#11): The 2021 second-rounder was just 3-for-19 this week but is faring well overall at Double-A, with a .793 OPS in 11 games since his promotion.
- IF Joey Ortiz (#14): Ortiz’s ongoing struggles on offense continue, with a 4-for-21 week dropping his season OPS to .601. To advance his career, Ortiz will need to have a Jorge Mateo-like glove to overcome his, well, Jorge Mateo-like bat.
- IF Cesar Prieto (#16 tied): Prieto hit .294 but with no power this week, which is representative of how his Double-A career has played out. He’s hitting .281 but is slugging only .374 with two homers in 40 games.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- This week: 3-2 at Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)
- Next: vs. Jersey Shore BlueClaws (27-53, Phillies)
- Second-half record: 9-6, second place (1.0 GB) in South Atlantic League North
- Overall season record: 52-29
The IronBirds scored 22 runs in their five games despite no individual player having a particularly stellar week. Outfielder John Rhodes (#23 tied), the top-ranked prospect on Aberdeen’s roster until Kjerstad’s arrival, was just 4-for-21, though his season OPS is a solid .793. Outfielder Billy Cook had only three hits this week but all were for extra bases — one double, one triple, one homer. First baseman TT Bowens also homered and tripled.
On the pitching side, righty Carlos Tavera, the Orioles’ highest drafted pitcher last year (fifth round), returned from a three-week IL stint, striking out five in 2.1 scoreless innings. Righty Jean Pinto, part of the Jose Iglesias trade return, picked up a win with five innings of long relief and eight Ks. And former 13th-round draftee Dan Hammer brought the hammer with a five-inning, one-hit, seven-strikeout performance in relief.
Remember Brenan Hanifee? The right-hander was the Orioles’ fourth-round draft pick in 2016 and was considered a top-20 prospect for the club as recently as 2019 before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. This week he made his first appearance for a full-season affiliate in three years, giving up one run in 2.2 innings. Hanifee is still just 24, so perhaps he could re-enter the prospect picture if he works his way back to full health.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Darell Hernaiz (#29 tied): With five hits and two doubles this week, the 20-year-old is still hitting well for Aberdeen (.301/.371/.452 in 27 games).
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- This week: 3-2 vs. Salem Red Sox
- Next: at Carolina Mudcats (40-41, Brewers)
- Second-half record: 5-10, tied for fifth place (8.0 GB) in Carolina League North
- Overall season record: 26-54
The already-struggling Shorebirds are in danger of having a toothless lineup with Kjerstad no longer around to carry them. The outfielder was a one-man wrecking crew in his final week for Delmarva, leading the team with nine hits — nobody else had more than five — and five RBIs, plus five walks. It added up to a nifty 1.701 OPS for the week. Yeah, I think he was ready for his promotion.
Shortstop Luis Valdez, a 2018 international signing under Dan Duquette, is one of Delmarva’s most fascinating players at the moment. He racked up five more stolen bases this week, giving him 41 (forty-one!) in 51 attempts this year. He also drew a team-leading seven walks this week and has a .357 OBP for the season (but only a .335 OPS). The odds are stacked against Valdez, but maybe he has a future as a Quintin Berry-esque pinch-runner. So far it’s been slow going for another shortstop, Anthony Servideo, the Orioles’ 2020 third-rounder who is returning from sports hernia surgery. He was 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts this week and has just four hits in 31 at-bats (.129) at Delmarva.
Three Delmarva starters — Ryan Long, Deivy Cruz, and Conor Grady — contributed a seven-strikeout performance apiece in their outings this week, though only Long’s came in a winning effort. I’m not very familiar with poor Angel Vargas, but the 20-year-old righty gave up six runs in two-thirds of an inning this week and now has an unsightly 16.95 ERA in 11 games at Low-A, averaging more than three baserunners per inning.
Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League
Shortstop Maikol Hernandez (#16 tied), signed to a seven-figure deal out of Venezuela in 2020, has had a brutal introduction to stateside ball. The 18-year-old is batting .127/.276/.451 with no homers in 18 games for the FCL Orioles. Fellow seven-figure 2020 signing Samuel Basallo (#25), a Dominican catcher, is faring much better, with an .831 OPS, three homers, and 16 RBIs in 18 games. Joining them on the FCL club is Adam Hall (#27), on a rehab assignment from Bowie with an undisclosed injury. He played twice this week, with one hit. Over in the DSL, infielder Leandro Arias (#26) has a .200 average and .640 OPS in 22 games, along with seven steals in nine attempts. And 18-year-old outfielder Braylin Tavera, the headliner of the Orioles’ 2021 international class, is batting .212 but carries a .366 OBP in 21 games.
In a crowded field of six in last week’s player of the week poll, Cowser emerged victorious with 31 percent of the vote after a successful Double-A debut. It was his first win, as he joins Haskin, Bradish, Pinto, Mayo, Juan De Los Santos, Stowers, Rodriguez, Westburg, Henderson (twice), and Kjerstad (twice). It’s a smaller field this week, loaded exclusively with top-tier prospects. Cast your vote!
Who is the Orioles minor league player of the week for 7/6-7/10?
This poll is closed
DL Hall, Norfolk (6 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, career-high 14 K)
Colton Cowser, Bowie (6-for-18, HR, 1.040 OPS in second week at Double-A)
Heston Kjerstad, Delmarva (9-for-13, .692 AVG/.778 OBP/.923 SLG, promoted to Aberdeen)