A funny thing has happened on the way to what assorted baseball media figures assumed was another 100+ loss season for the Orioles. They’ve started winning games, sitting on a .500 record of 46-46 at the All-Star break. Instead of fans having to wonder when the prospects will start arriving to turn things from dismal to bearable, now it’s more like wondering when the prospects will show up to help the team take the next step.
Each Tuesday on Camden Chat, we take a look at the last week of minor league game action. Much of the focus is on prospects who made the preseason composite top 30 Orioles list, with check-ins on others who’ve been showing something interesting for their age and level in the 2022 season.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- Last week: 3-3 vs. Worcester Red Sox
- Coming week: at Durham (48-42, Rays); series begins Friday
- Season record: 44-46, seventh place (5 GB) of ten teams in International League East division
The Tides have been playing .500 baseball for the last month. That’s a big improvement on where they were earlier in the season. One part of that is a revamped infield and another part is that they’re having some better-pitched games. Over the last two weeks, Norfolk has held opponents to three or fewer runs in nine out of twelve games.
As has been the case with a lot of these recaps this season, one standout player was GUNNAR HENDERSON - now a top 5 prospect in all of MLB according to MLB Pipeline, and even the #1 prospect per Baseball Prospectus. GUNNAR only played in three games for the Tides this week due to getting time off to go play in the MLB All-Star Futures Game, which was still enough time for him to get three hits, including two triples, and add two more walks to his season tally. In the Futures Game, he walked, reached on an error, and scored two runs.
Henderson is on the cover of Baseball America’s August issue:
No less of an on-base machine is Terrin Vavra, who has missed some time due to injury this season but keeps cranking out hits and walks when playing. Vavra went 4-12 in at-bats and also walked five times. He has a .443 OBP across 42 Norfolk games this year. If you’re eyeing Rougned Odor’s season line for the Orioles and thinking there’s an internal second base upgrade available right now, you’re not the only one.
Not as hot at the plate this week were Jordan Westburg! and Yusniel Díaz. A 4-19 week with no extra-base hits is an aberration for Westburg! this season. Díaz’s mustering just two hits in 17 at-bats is, unfortunately, less of an aberration. He has a .710 OPS in 29 games for Norfolk this season. That’s not going to get him back in anybody’s imagined future good Orioles team roster.
Let’s talk about D.L. Hall. The best currently-healthy Orioles pitching prospect has reportedly corrected a pitch tipping issue that plagued him in June and he’s been on fire in July. Hall sent 18 batters down on strikes in 10.2 innings across two starts this week, though he also issued five free passes. It’s a good K/BB ratio, but the walk rate is what it has been. Can’t help but wonder when the Orioles will have seen enough and just get him to Baltimore.
Other notable prospects
- OF Kyle Stowers - If it wasn’t for GUNNAR and Vavra, Stowers dropping a .900 OPS for the week would be the standout. The dude is OPSing .876 for the season.
- RHP Mike Baumann - The erstwhile Oriole pitched five innings in one relief outing, allowing no runs and only one hit but also walking four guys.
- RHP Chris Vallimont - This 40-man pitcher struck out seven batters in a six inning start this week. He’s really cut down the walk rate since arriving in the organization and may be worth keeping an eye on.
- Injured list - Grayson Rodriguez (lat strain, last pitched June 1), Kyle Brnovich (Tommy John surgery)
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- Last week: 4-1 vs. Akron RubberDucks
- Coming week: at Richmond (6-12 second half, Giants); series begins Friday
- Season record: 11-6 second half record, second place (0.5 GB) of six teams in Eastern League Southwest division
The Bowie week in review is also able to start with a big “Hell yeah!” That’s because Colton Cowser hit three home runs over five games. Cowser had only homered four times in 62 games for Aberdeen this season and now has five in 16 Bowie games. Fluke or a sign of a durable improvement? The latter, we can hope.
Cowser wasn’t even the best-hitting Baysox player by OPS for the week, as infielder Joseph Ortiz cracked a pair of home runs himself as part of a 7-16 week at the plate. With a .637 OPS for the season, he could use some more weeks of that sort. Fellow infielder Connor Norby also hit two dingers, though he only had three hits for the week overall.
The Baysox Twitter account posted a rare (for an Orioles affiliate this year) highlight reel of Ortiz’s two home run game, including both of the Ortiz homers:
That's four-straight wins for Bowie! pic.twitter.com/l0WaKTHnJc— Bowie Baysox (@BowieBaysox) July 16, 2022
Among the pitchers this week, possible future crafty lefty Drew Rom kept on plugging along with an outing representative of his season to date - many strikeouts, more baserunners than you’d like, limiting the damage. Rom struck out eight in a five-inning start, mostly scattering seven hits and two walks. Rom has a 3.92 ERA and 1.441 WHIP for the year to date.
24-year-old righty Noah Denoyer, an undrafted free agent from 2019, is also still plugging along. Denoyer has been an occasional starter and occasional bulk relief dude. He pitched a four inning start this week, allowing one run on three hits and two walks. Denoyer has 72 strikeouts in 56 inning between Aberdeen and Bowie this season and a WHIP of just 0.946. I don’t know what to make of a guy like that, but I’m checking his lines every week and he hasn’t disappointed yet.
Other notable prospects
- IF César Prieto - 4-15 hitting this week leaves an acceptable .267 average, but with no walks and only one XBH, not a great overall batting line. .691 OPS in 45 games at Bowie.
- OF Hudson Haskin - Hit by a pitch during the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader and did not play for the rest of the week. Hopefully it’s not an extended absence; his season OPS of .804 is solid and intriguing.
- RHP Justin Armbruester - Really got socked the hardest he’s gotten this season, allowing six runs (three earned) in a 2.2 inning relief outing. If he rebounds, he could still be an interesting unheralded arm to watch.
- Injured list - Coby Mayo (back, last played July 1), Zach Peek (apparent forearm injury, last pitched July 2)
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- Last week: 2-4 vs. Jersey Shore (Phillies)
- Coming week: at Greenville (7-12 second half, Red Sox)
- Season record: 11-10 second half record, second place (2.5 GB) of six teams in South Atlantic League North. The IronBirds already qualified for the postseason by winning the first half division title.
The Heston Kjerstad Finally Arrived Tour moved from Salisbury to Aberdeen for this week, just in time for storms on Tuesday to damage the stadium, cause a Tuesday postponement, and the Wednesday game to be suspended before it could be completed. That’s some powerful mojo. Kjerstad’s debut at this level was less of an immediate smash as his Delmarva one. Through five games, he has two hits, though he’s also drawn three walks for an early .316 OBP.
Kjerstad wasn’t the only batter to struggle here, as Aberdeen scored three or fewer runs in all four of its losses. One player who did do fine at the plate for the week is infielder Darell Hernaiz, who picked up five hits in as many games, including his second IronBirds homer. He OPSed .794 for the week and is now batting .297/.368/.451 in 32 games for Aberdeen. The 20-year-old Hernaiz is still 2.6 years younger than the average player he’s facing here.
As has been the case for pretty much the whole season, Aberdeen’s pitching staff is full of guys who aren’t highly-rated but are trying to make names for themselves. Jean Pinto has crept into MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Orioles prospects list. He threw four innings for the IronBirds in one start, allowing three runs, one earned. Pinto walked four and also struck out four, leaving him with a 3.63 ERA and 10.9 K/9 for 2022.
Strikeout machine Ignacio Feliz was unleashed for a six inning start, where he blanked the opposition while striking out seven batters. Feliz walked two and allowed just one hit. He’s had a walk problem on the season overall - 36 in 63.2 innings to date. He’s also struck out 95 guys. 95!
Other notable prospects
- OF John Rhodes - Two hits, both doubles, in 17 at-bats this week, cooling his season OPS to .760.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- Last week: 3-3 at Carolina (Brewers)
- Coming week: vs. Fredericksburg (15-6 second half, Nationals)
- Season record: 8-13 second half record, tied for last place (7 GB) of six teams in Carolina League North division
Until the 2022 draftees arrive on this roster, there are not many players around where you need to follow their every move. There were some solid performances in the series they just played, including by Frederick Bencosme, who picked up nine hits! This guy almost never strikes out (11 SO in 130 PA) and hasn’t hit for a lot of power either, but he keeps hitting. Three of his nine hits went for extra bases this week, so he’s now batting .368/.431/.436 in 34 games. The infielder is just 19 years old. There are worse things to build on.
A recent promotion brought 18-year-old left-handed pitcher Deivy Cruz up to the Shorebirds. He put zeroes on the scoreboard in a five inning start this week, striking out five batters but also issuing three walks. Cruz has now pitched in four games for Delmarva, with 20 strikeouts to 11 walks in 17.1 innings. The Orioles seem to have some live arms kicking around. They’ve just got to figure out how to get them to throw strikes.
Other notable prospects
- OF Trendon Craig - Another guy who’s been hitting, and getting some walks, without much power. The 20th round pick from junior college last year went 6-18 with two doubles and a triple. The .370 OBP in 53 games isn’t bad.
- IF Luis Valdez - Noteworthy chiefly for having 45 stolen bases this season after adding another four this week. Valdez had nine hits this week just like Bencosme, only one of which went for extra bases. He is also getting on base at a nice clip (.363 OBP) with a slugging percentage lower than the OBP (.341).
Bonus Florida Complex League
The two Orioles seven-figure signings from last year’s international amateur class are playing here. Samuel Basallo, still just 17 years old until next month, has stumbled a bit in July (.547 OPS) after a nice June (.820 OPS in 12 games). Maikol Hernández hasn’t gotten it going yet (.132/.298/.171 in 22 games - well, it is a nice walk rate). One less-known age-appropriate performer is Carlos Rodriguez, an 18-year-old catcher/first baseman, who’s hitting .268/.385/.435 in 20 games.
This team has a 7-23 record. That’s another illustration of how Elias’s early international signing classes just didn’t have access to the full pool of players.
The minor league player of the week poll last week gave us our first three-time winner of the season, as Kjerstad took 55% of the vote among the three choices offered. He’s not in line for a potential fourth win after this week’s games. Other winners so far in 2022: Haskin, Kyle Bradish, Pinto, Mayo, Juan De Los Santos, Stowers, Rodriguez, Westburg, and Henderson (twice).
Who is your Orioles minor league player of the week for 7/11-7/17?
This poll is closed
Terrin Vavra, Triple-A Norfolk (four hits, five walks, .443 OBP this season)
Colton Cowser, Double-A Bowie (three home runs in five games)
Ignacio Feliz, High-A Aberdeen (six shutout innings, 95 K in 63.2 IP in 2022)
Frederick Bencosme, Low-A Delmarva (9-24 this week, batting .368 in 32 games)