Until the fortunes of the Orioles started to turn around in the middle of last season, the idea of the team actually getting better as a result of the Mike Elias roster-building plan was a distant and abstract hope rather than anything that could be felt in a concrete way. Players other than Adley Rutschman felt far enough away to not pin immediate hopes on them.
It’s a different story now, with the O’s having eight top 100 prospects on many preseason rankings and six or seven of those eight starting at the Triple-A level or higher. Instead of starting to anxiously wonder if this thing will ever come together, Orioles fans can look at these players and wonder which of them will show up, and when, to help take the team to an even better level.
As we’ve done over the past couple of seasons, Paul Folkemer and I will take a look each Tuesday on Camden Chat at the past week of minor league action, with a particular focus on players from the composite Orioles prospect list. So far, only Norfolk has played more than three games, but for now, Orioles affiliates are a combined 13-4.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- Last week (plus): 3-0 at Durham (Rays), 4-1 vs. Gwinnett (Braves)
- Coming week: at Nashville (5-4, Brewers)
- Season record: 7-1, first place of ten teams (1.5 game lead) in International League East
There are seven Tides players who have at least 20 plate appearances so far. Five of those seven players have an early OPS of at least .900. That’s fun! Only two of these five are from our top prospect list, however: Connor Norby (#9) and Hudson Haskin (#17). A lot of the biggest bopping was done by a couple of non-prospects who were also hot hitting in spring training: Josh Lester (four homers already) and Ryan O’Hearn (three).
Norby is a freshly-minted top 100 prospect according to MLB Pipeline due to a number of early-season prospect graduations from eligibility, including by the Orioles own #1 prospect at the start of the season, Gunnar Henderson.
If hints from Orioles beat writers are to be believed, one of these lefty mashers will find his way to Baltimore after the string of left-handed starting pitchers lined up in the Oakland series is in the rear view mirror. Those same beat writers led me to believe one of the lefty mashers would make the Opening Day roster, so, you know. Jordan Westburg (8-31 with two homers) is off to a less-shoutworthy but still nice start. Colton Cowser (3-30, 10 SO) is not off to any kind of nice start.
With the way some members of the Orioles pitching staff have performed up to this point, it might be that the Norfolk depth there will be a crucial part of whether the team succeeds or not as well. As we all know, the top pitching prospect duo of Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall was assigned here to begin the season. Rodriguez is already in Baltimore (for good?) Hall has made two starts totaling 7.1 innings; he’s struck out 12 batters out of 35 faced, but he’s also given up four earned runs for a 4.91 ERA.
Two of last offseason’s additions to the 40-man roster are also pitching for Norfolk to begin the season. Drew Rom gave up three runs in five innings in his first start of the season. Noah Denoyer has pitched five innings of relief across two games so far, allowing two runs. If Austin Voth’s struggle continues, I might not take long to want to see Denoyer take his place.
Among the games that Norfolk played this week was a 21-2 blowout win that featured a franchise record-tying 11 runs in a single inning.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- Last week: 2-1 at Hartford (Rockies)
- Coming week: vs. Akron (1-2, Guardians)
- Season record: 2-1, tied for second place of six teams (1 GB) in Eastern League Southwest
The Bowie roster is not quite as loaded with the top 10 team prospects as it was at times last season, but they’ve still got four of our top 20 and eight of the top 30 as the season begins. There are guys who will hopefully be worth following here.
Starting with this level, there are only three games to talk about. No one should freak out with either exuberance or despair because of three minor league games. You are still allowed to think it’s cool that each of Heston Kjerstad and Coby Mayo have already gotten their first home runs of the year out of the way, and that César Prieto racked up six hits in his first three games.
Mayo hitting an absolute freaking laser:
The top-ranked prospect among Bowie pitchers is Cade Povich, acquired in last year’s trade of Jorge López. Povich’s first start of the year wasn’t a stellar one, as he gave up four hits and three walks while allowing two runs in only three innings. Room for improvement there. Things went much better with the season debuts of Chayce McDermott (four scoreless innings of relief with six strikeouts) and Justin Armbruester (five shutout innings).
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- Last week: 2-1 vs. Wilmington (Nationals)
- Coming week: at Hudson Valley (1-2, Yankees)
- Season record: 2-1, tied for first place of six teams in South Atlantic League North
None of the top 10 Orioles prospects are beginning the season at this level, although it sure doesn’t seem like it should be long before Jackson Holliday joins them. More on him in the next section. What the IronBirds do have is a trio of high 2022 picks - Dylan Beavers, Jud Fabian, and Max Wagner - in addition to possibly budding infield prospect Frederick Bencosme.
Of this group, Fabian had the best first series, mostly because he hit a home run, which no other Aberdeen batter can say yet. Bencosme, who batted .336 in 56 games with Delmarva last year, begins his 2023 campaign with 3-10 hitting and a pair of walks. The low-power infielder has yet to get an extra-base hit. Beavers had modest success, batting 3-11. Wagner has .000 all across his batting line through 12 plate appearances.
The roster does not have any ranked pitching prospects at this time. It does have a couple of hopefuls who might pitch their way onto a top 30 Orioles list somewhere if they’re good enough.
Jean Pinto is back at this level to start the season after stumbling a bit last year. Still just 22, Pinto began his season with a run allowed in a 4.1 inning start, though he needed to scatter five hits and two walks to do that. Trace Bright, the highest-signed pitcher from last year’s Orioles draft, struck out ten batters in a 3.1 inning outing. That’s every out recorded by strikeout! Pretty good way to make a first impression in your first full pro season. Bright was victimized by three unearned runs.
Bright strikeout montage:
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- Last week: 2-1 at Salem Red Sox
- Coming week: vs. Kannapolis (1-1, White Sox)
- Season record: 2-1, tied for first place of six teams in Carolina League North
This team seems like it’s going to be the Holliday show until such time as the Orioles promote him. With six hits in 13 at-bats to start the season, he’s picked up right where he left off from last year. Perhaps after it’s the Holliday show it’s going to be the Samuel Basallo show.
The Orioles international signing from two years ago, one of the first to receive a seven-figure bonus from the team, has done well for himself to already have made it to a full-season affiliate by now. Basallo already has two home runs in three games including this absolute TANK from the opening game:
Get used to this, Samuel Basallo hits this baseball waaaaaaaaaay outta here!— Delmarva Shorebirds (@shorebirds) April 6, 2023
A 454-Foot blast gives us a 5-0 lead! pic.twitter.com/f1YeYoRAzj
Basallo’s calling card is that he’s been hitting the ball hard from a young age. As a catcher, he’ll have some more defensive development to do than he might at a different position, so that’ll be worth keeping an eye on too. As long as the bat is playing, the Orioles can figure the rest out.
These two are the only prospects in our composite top 20 who are on the Shorebirds, so when Holliday is promoted, there might be more of a strain to find the prospect potential. The team does also have a couple from the 21-30 range, including Carter Young, who received an overslot bonus from the team last year, and Juan Nunez, also from the López trade. Neither of these guys had a good first series. Perhaps there will be something better to report this time next week.
For the teams themselves, things could hardly be going much better at this point in time. A number of individual prospects could have had things work out better so far, including the former top 5 pick Cowser and many of the pitching prospects.
Who’s your pick for Orioles Minor League Player of the Week? There are plenty of worthy possible poll choices, and I will admit with apologies to Lester and O’Hearn that I’m going to focus on prospects rather than Quad-A guys who got spring training invites but didn’t end up making the team.
Who was the Orioles Minor League Player of the Week for the week-plus ending 4/9?
This poll is closed
Connor Norby, Triple-A Norfolk (12-35, 2 HR, .928 OPS so far)
César Prieto, Double-A Bowie (six hits in opening three-game series)
Trace Bright, High-A Aberdeen (10 strikeouts in 3.1 IP, 0 ER)
Samuel Basallo, Low-A Delmarva (2 HR including 454-foot monster)