With minor league seasons starting to wind down, Orioles GM Mike Elias has handed out a few promotions to some prospects who’ve been performing well to give them a head start on the level they’d have presumably been starting next season anyway.
On Monday’s minor league off day, the team promoted 2021 first round pick Colton Cowser from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk, along with infield prospect Joey Ortiz. Also moving up, from High-A Aberdeen to Bowie, is infield prospect Darell Hernaiz, who only turned 21 years old this month. Additionally, just-drafted outfield prospect Jud Fabian has been bumped up from Low-A Delmarva to Aberdeen after playing just ten games with the Shorebirds.
One more bit of fun prospect news from Monday afternoon. Grayson Rodriguez, who hasn’t pitched in an actual game since suffering a lat strain on June 1, will join Aberdeen to begin a rehab assignment this week.
Cowser’s promotion to Norfolk means he’ll be hitting three minor league levels this season. The 22-year-old outfielder has been absolutely torching Eastern League competition in 49 games since being promoted to that level. He’s batted .341/.469/.568 in those games, with an impressive ten home runs. The power has gone to a new level with Bowie. In Aberdeen, he hit just four home runs in 62 games this season.
Ortiz, the fourth round pick by the Orioles in the 2019 draft, has also made a substantial in-season improvement. The righty-batting infielder, 24, had only OPSed .596 at the end of June, with only four homers in 64 games.
However, since the start of July, Ortiz has batted .355/.425/.634, with 11 homers in 47 games. Ortiz will become eligible for the Rule 5 draft this offseason, so it makes sense to me that the team wants to evaluate him for a few weeks at a higher level to get more information for making the decision of whether to add him to the 40-man roster.
One might be forgiven for wondering whether the announcement of another infield prospect joining the Norfolk roster is a sign that the Orioles are about to make a big league prospect promotion, such as Gunnar Henderson or Jordan Westburg.
Hernaiz’s promotion from Aberdeen to Bowie certainly seems to have been helped by Ortiz opening a space by going to the Tides. Ortiz has started 84 games for the IronBirds at shortstop this season. That’s Hernaiz’s primary position to date; the Puerto Rico native has started 128 career minor league games at short.
Picked in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, Hernaiz is not a name anyone would have thought about much before this season. As a 19-year-old at Delmarva last year, Hernaiz hit just .277/.333/.358 in 94 games. That was poor enough to have him repeat the level. After about a month of games this season, Hernaiz had an .852 OPS for the Shorebirds, which got him sent up to Aberdeen. From there, he’s batted .305/.377/.456 in 60 games, with a notable uptick in power and walk rate.
Last but certainly not least is Fabian. The Orioles were big fans of Fabian last year, having been rumored to want to draft him with the #41 pick in that draft before the Red Sox snagged him at #40 and failed to sign him. The O’s swiped back in towards the end of the second round this season, using the draft pick they acquired in the Cole Sulser/Tanner Scott trade to the Marlins to take him.
Fabian has already hit three homers in ten Delmarva games, with 12 of his 17 hits going for extra bases. Since his not signing last year meant he had four years of college under his belt, he was the oldest of the O’s draft class. Fabian will turn 22 next month. It makes sense to be more aggressive with him when his early results at a level where he’s older than the average player in the league were so strong.
On the recently-updated Camden Chat composite top Orioles prospect list, Cowser is the 5th-ranked prospect in the system, with Fabian tied for 17th and Ortiz and Hernaiz tied for 24th. It’s going to be interesting to see what all of these players can do at their new levels for the rest of the season.