There is an alternate timeline where Connor Norby made his major league debut in 2023. Ranked as a top-100 prospect by both Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America going into the season, the infielder was coming off of 2022 where he excelled at three levels in the minors.
Norby began 2022 with the High-A Aberdeen IronBirds and finished with a brief but impressive stint at Norfolk. He only played nine games but went 14-for-39 (.359) with four home runs, two doubles, and just five strikeouts. Not a bad way to close out his season.
That was just his first full season in the minors, which made his ascension to Triple-A impressive. Norby was drafted in the second round in 2021 out of East Carolina University.
He followed that with a solid 2023 in Triple-A Norfolk with periods of excellence but did not have the overwhelming numbers seen by some of his teammates.
Through the end of April, Norby was pretty cold. He finished the month with just a .675 OPS and the power he had flashed in 2022 (29 homers in the season) didn’t make an appearance. But when the calendar turned to May, Norby’s bat took off. He started the month with an eight-game hitting streak in which he hit .361, and for the full month he OPS’d .864. He had just three home runs, one more than in April, but he did slug 12 doubles.
It was a steady season from there on out for Norby as he hit 22 home runs and 40 doubles, good for an impressive ISO of .193. Unfortunately, his walk rate of 9% was worse than most of the other big prospects at Norfolk. The good news is that if you followed his season-long progression, his walk rate picked up as the year season went on. That is hopefully the start of a trend.
There were stretches where he was red hot, including the entire final month of the season. In September, he had just three games where he did not reach base and he at one point hit home runs in three straight games that included back-to-back games with grand slams. He also picked up 24% of his walk total in September.
Over the course of the season, Connor Norby hit .290/.359/.483. He didn’t turn 23 years old until June, so he’s young for the league. An .842 OPS across a full Triple-A season is quite good, but it wasn’t quite as good as a number of his fellow prospects.
Because here’s the thing about being a good player at Triple-A in the Baltimore Orioles system: sometimes it just isn’t enough. MLB Pipeline assigned Norby an MLB ETA of 2023 but too many other prospects were deemed ready before him.
Norby is listed as 2B/OF but played most of his season at second base. He made 102 starts at second and 30 in the outfield, mostly left field. He could crack many major league lineups. But the Orioles already have Jordan Westburg, who plays second and third base, up with the big league team.
They have Gunnar Henderson manning third base or shortstop. And they have the number one prospect in all of baseball, Jackson Holliday, ready to debut at second base or shortstop sometime in 2024. And that’s doesn’t even mention corner infield prospect Coby Mayo and middle infielder Joey Ortiz, who also debuted in 2023. Norby is the odd man out in the infield.
So what about the outfield? Norby is behind prospects Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, both of whom have already debuted. But unlike Cowser and Kjerstad, Norby bats right-handed. That could give him an advantage, especially if the team opts to move Austin Hays in the offseason. But left field at Camden Yards is a tough draw for an outfielder who only made 30 starts out there last year.
This appears to be the offseason when Mike Elias will have to start trading prospects to fill in major league gaps such as pitching. And as much as I enjoy Connor Norby, he seems like a prime suspect to be part of one of those trades. Like I said, he could crack a number of major league lineups. But it’s hard to see his path to Baltimore through all of the other players ahead of him.
Norby has shown who he is with a full season at Triple-A and he shouldn’t spend another season at that level. So all that remains to be seen is what the Orioles decide to do with him.
2023 prospect reviews: Alex Pham/Trace Bright, Billy Cook/John Rhodes, International Prospects, Carter Baumler/Seth Johnson, Creed Willems, Justin Armbruester, Max Wagner, Jud Fabian, Mac Horvath, Cade Povich, Chayce McDermott, Dylan Beavers, Enrique Bradfield Jr.
Friday: Joey Ortiz