Welcome to a rare Wednesday edition of Camden Chat’s minor league week in review, in which we recap all the action from the Orioles’ minor league affiliates over the last seven days, with a particular focus on Camden Chat’s top prospects list.
The affiliates didn’t get their usual Monday off day this week, since an Independence Day without baseball would be patently un-American. Instead, their off days fell on Tuesday, giving prospects seven games in a row to put up some numbers. Let’s see how they did.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- This week: 4-2 vs. Gwinnett Stripers (Braves); 0-1 at Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
- Next: five more games at Jacksonville (43-36)
- Season record: 38-41, seventh place (5.0 GB) in International League East
Gunnar Henderson (#3 tied) got Norfolk’s week off to a rousing start by hitting for the cycle last Tuesday, his last day as a 20-year-old. But starting on his 21st birthday June 29, Henderson has gone 2-for-20 with no extra base hits, two walks, and 10 strikeouts. I hate to say it, folks, but Gunnar is clearly past his prime. He had a good run, but now he basically has one foot in the grave.
But seriously — Henderson’s prospect stock is soaring. He’s now the #5 prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline’s updated Top 100 rankings yesterday. That’s a 36-spot jump for Gunnar since Pipeline’s last update in May.
It was a nice week for Kyle Stowers (#8 tied), who homered in the first and last games of the Gwinnett series and also doubled three times, slugging .640 for the week. But the club’s best hitter was Terrin Vavra (#12), who had three multi-hit games, homered, and posted a 1.028 OPS. Vavra is a bit of an overlooked prospect at times, but he has an excellent .323/.423/.451 line in 34 games at Norfolk while playing both second base and outfield. Considering that Orioles second basemen are batting a combined .191 with a .618 OPS this season, it seems like Vavra could be a candidate for a big league promotion soon.
On the pitching side, DL Hall (#3 tied) took a big step forward after identifying a mechanical flaw that had led to a couple of ugly outings. Whatever he did differently this week, I’d strongly recommend that he keep doing it. Hall unfurled a dominant four-inning start, allowing one hit and no runs and striking out eight. Encouragingly, he walked just one batter after issuing 10 free passes in his previous two starts. A few more starts like this and Hall could put himself back into the mix for a callup to the majors. So, too, could exiled Oriole Bruce Zimmermann, who is now three starts into his Triple-A reset after bombing out of the Birds’ rotation. Zimmermann tossed two quality starts this week, winning both, while posting a 2.77 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Jordan Westburg (#6): Westburg hit his sixth Triple-A home run, but batted .231 for the week and had nine strikeouts and no walks. He’s now a top 100 prospect in MLB per the updated Pipeline rankings, coming in at #96.
- RHP Mike Baumann (#13): One start, four innings, two runs. Meh.
- OF Yusniel Diaz (#28): Diaz returned to the Tides for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury May 13. His bat has been slow to restart, though, with just three hits in 23 at-bats (.130).
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- This week: 5-1 vs. Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants); 0-1 at Somerset Patriots (Yankees)
- Next: five more games at Somerset (47-29)
- Second-half record: 5-2, first place (0.5 games ahead) in Eastern League Southwest
- Overall season record: 32-44
The Baysox have been cooking with gas since the arrival of three ballyhooed prospects at the start of the week. Each of the trio has had something to offer early on. Colton Cowser (#3 tied) enjoyed a glorious 3-for-3 Double-A debut with a home run, and though he managed just two hits the rest of the week, he drew seven walks to give him a .571 OBP. That’ll play. Connor Norby (#11) was on fire, batting .391 (9-for-23) with four doubles and more walks than strikeouts. Meanwhile, Coby Mayo (#7) played only three games before back spasms sidelined him, but he found time to crank his first Double-A homer and 14th this season overall.
This lineup runs more than three deep, though. Infielder Cesar Prieto (#16 tied) led Bowie with 10 hits, seven runs, and nine RBIs, including a grand slam Wednesday. Outfielder and 2020 second-round pick Hudson Haskin (#18 tied) blasted two home runs and posted a .350/.364/.850 line. And unranked first baseman J.D. Mundy bashed three dingers and drew five walks for a 1.526 OPS.
Matt Harvey’s comeback tour brought him to Bowie this week, and he pitched as you would expect a former MLB ace to pitch against Double-A hitters. He threw 10 innings, gave up three runs, walked nobody, and struck out 16. At this point it seems likely he’ll rejoin the Orioles sometime this season, whether that excites you or not.
Nearly all of Bowie’s rotation was on its game this week. Beyond Harvey’s two starts, the Baysox got strong performances from righties Ryan Watson (1.64 ERA, 15 strikeouts in two outings) and Noah Denoyer (five innings, one run, nine strikeouts) and lefty and #15 prospect Drew Rom (six innings, three runs, seven Ks). Only Zach Peek failed to join the party, getting bombed for six runs in 1.2 innings. A tip of the hat as well to bulk reliever Justin Armbruester, who worked two outings of four innings each, surrendering just one run with a stupendous 12:0 strikeout to walk ratio. Garrett Stallings, too, excelled in relief, with a 10-strikeout performance in four innings of work.
Other notable prospects:
- SS Joey Ortiz (#14): Ortiz had eight hits but just one for extra bases, giving him a .623 OPS for the week and .615 for the year.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- This week: 3-3 vs. Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox); 1-0 at Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets)
- Next: five more games at Brooklyn (35-41)
- Second-half record: 6-4, first place (1.0 games ahead) in South Atlantic League North
- Overall season record: 49-27
The IronBirds already won the first-half division title to clinch a playoff spot, but just for kicks, they’re currently leading the second half as well. Their .645 season win percentage is third-best in the minors, behind only Myrtle Beach (.684) and Charleston (.658) of the Low-A Carolina League.
Someone had to step up on offense with the departures of Cowser, Norby, and Mayo, and one unexpected person to do so was 2021 tenth-round pick Billy Cook, who had a fantastic week — four homers, nine RBIs, and a 1.231 OPS in seven games, plus two stolen bases for good measure. Still, Cook is hitting under the Mendoza line (.192) this season.
A more high-ceiling prospect, infielder Darell Hernaiz (#29 tied), did a little bit of everything at the plate. He raked 10 hits — including three doubles, a triple, and a homer — walked twice and stole four bases in five attempts. Hernaiz, who at 20 is nearly two and a half years younger than the average High-A player, has a nearly identical OPS at Aberdeen (.851) as he did in Delmarva (.852), and has already drawn more walks in 87 PAs here than he did in 138 PAs at Low-A. He’s very much trending upward.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- This week: 0-6 at Fredericksburg Nationals; 1-0 vs. Salem Red Sox
- Next: five more games vs. Salem (40-36)
- Second-half record: 2-8, sixth place (7.0 GB) in Carolina League North
- Overall season record: 23-52
The end of the first half gave Delmarva the chance to wipe the slate clean and start over fresh aaaaaand...they’re already 2-8 in the second half, seven games behind the division-leading FredNats, who swept them this week. Well then. Delmarva’s season winning percentage of .307 is the worst in minor league baseball by a considerable margin.
But you don’t judge minor league teams by their win-loss records, you judge them by their prospects. And in that regard, the Shorebirds are...well, also not great, with very few highly ranked prospects currently on their roster. The exception, of course, is 2020 first round pick Heston Kjerstad (#10), who continued to blister the ball this week: a .409/.536/.591 line and his second professional home run. You have to figure he won’t be playing at Low-A much longer.
Infielders Luis Valdez and Frederick Bencosme each collected 10 or more hits this week, and Isaac De Leon (a Richard Bleier trade acquisition) popped two homers. Pro ball continues to be a struggle, however, for catcher Creed Willems, an overslot signing from the 2021 draft. With a 2-for-19 week and seven strikeouts, Willems is batting .136 with a .430 OPS in 41 games for Delmarva. He has struck out 44 times.
The pitching standout of the week was 18-year-old lefty Deivy Cruz, a 2020 international signing from the Dominican, who made his first start at Low-A and dominated with five scoreless innings, two hits, and five Ks. Nice way to start, kid. At this rate he’ll be a much better Deivy Cruz for the Orioles than middling 2003 shortstop Deivi Cruz.
Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League
Checking in on some of the Orioles’ more high-profile international amateurs, infielder Maikol Hernandez (#16 tied) and catcher Samuel Basallo (#25) — who became the Orioles’ first two seven-figure signings in 2020 — are going in opposite directions for the FCL Orioles. While Basallo has posted a strong .321/.381/.518 line with three homers in 15 games, Hernandez has struggled to a .151/.286/.208 mark. Meanwhile, 2021 signing Braylin Tavera, the highest-paid international amateur in O’s history, has a .751 OPS and two homers in 18 games for Orioles Black of the DSL.
Last week’s player of the week poll was one of the tightest we’ve ever had, with three candidates picking up at least 100 votes each. Kjerstad emerged victorious over Westburg and Delmarva’s Noelberth Romero with a mere 35 percent plurality. Kjerstad has won each of the last two weeks, joining Henderson as the only two-time winner. Past winners include Haskin, Kyle Bradish, Jean Pinto, Mayo, Juan De Los Santos, Stowers, Grayson Rodriguez, and Westburg.
We’ve got a crowded field this week, but none are previous winners. Who ya got?
Who is the Orioles minor league player of the week for 6/28-7/4?
This poll is closed
Bruce Zimmermann, Norfolk (2-0, 2.77 ERA, 13 IP, 13 K)
Colton Cowser, Bowie (.571 OBP, 1.101 OPS, 3-for-3 with HR in Double-A debut)
Cesar Prieto, Bowie (grand slam, 9 RBI, .357 BA, 1.009 OPS)
Ryan Watson, Bowie (11 IP, 1.64 ERA, 15 K)
Billy Cook, Aberdeen (4 HR, 9 RBI, 1.231 OPS)
Darell Hernaiz, Aberdeen (10 H, 4 SB, .400 BA, 1.164 OPS)