Remember a few years ago, when the Orioles were routinely losing 100+ games and getting humiliated at the major league level, when O’s fans would look wistfully upon the prospects ascending the lower levels of the minors and hope they’d bring a brighter future to Birdland?
The future is here, folks. The first batch of those stud prospects — Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, and Grayson Rodriguez — are on the major league club. And the next wave is right behind them, with Triple-A Norfolk bursting at the seams with talented youngsters who are primed to arrive in the majors soon. The Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate are a combined 29 games over .500, which means the good vibes could be continuing in Baltimore for quite some time to come.
Let’s check in with those unstoppable Tides, as well as the rest of the intriguing prospects throughout the organization, in this week’s minors review.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- Last week: 4-2 at Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (Marlins)
- Coming week: vs. Syracuse Mets (16-23)
- Season record: 28-10, first place (8.0 game lead) in International League East
The best team in minor league baseball has now won six of its seven series this year and split the other. Norfolk could win some series against major league teams. And in each of their seven series, the Tides have scored double-digit runs in at least one game, a streak that continued this week with a pair of 10+ run performances on Tuesday and Saturday.
The 1-2 punch of Colton Cowser (Camden Chat’s #5 prospect) and Jordan Westburg (#6) simply cannot be stopped. If there’s a more productive duo in minor league baseball right now, then...who is it? I want names. This week Cowser led the team in hits (11), walks (eight), runs (nine), average (.500), OBP (.613), and SLG (.864), and that was even with taking an 0-for-5 in the second game. He was named the International League Player of the Week. Westburg, meanwhile, provided the power, leading with three home runs and nine RBIs.
For the season, Cowser is batting .336/.477/.567 and Westburg .321/.395/.626. On some teams they’d have already been called up to the majors by now. The fact that the Orioles haven’t needed them yet speaks well to their big league depth. But I think the O’s could find room for both these guys, don’t you? Perhaps once the Birds finish this particularly grueling portion of the schedule, they’ll feel comfortable enough to break in the new guys.
It was also nice to see DL Hall (#4) turn in his most effective start of the year, working six innings and racking up nine strikeouts on Wednesday, both season highs. Only a Jerar Encarnacion homer in his final inning spoiled a scoreless performance. Most crucially, Hall walked only one batter. If he can continue to keep his free passes under control, Hall could be back in the bigs sooner rather than later. So too could veteran Cole Irvin, who came through with a seven-inning, one-run performance this week. It was his third straight start of six or more innings and two or fewer runs, and he’s walked only two in that stretch.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Joey Ortiz (#7): Ortiz homered during a 3-for-14 week before earning a promotion back to the Orioles on Sunday.
- IF Connor Norby (#9): Norby, who had an outstanding nine-game stint with Norfolk last year, is off to a more modest start in 2023. After a 6-for-30 week, he’s batting .272 with a .710 OPS in 36 games.
- LHP Drew Rom (#18 tied): It was an eventful week for the homegrown lefty, who was called up to the majors for the first time. Unfortunately he didn’t make an appearance before being sent back down, so his MLB debut will have to wait.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- Last week: 1-5 at Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)
- Coming week: vs. Altoona Curve (15-16, Pirates)
- Season record: 9-22, last place (7.5 GB) in Eastern League Southwest
The Baysox, as a group, are the polar opposite of the Tides, carrying the worst record in their league by a significant margin. They’re the only team above Low-A ball that has yet to win 10 games this year. (Well, other than the Oakland Athletics.) Bowie’s offense in particular has been a problem. They scored two or fewer runs in five of their six games this week and have the lowest OBP (.314) and fewest walks (105) in the 12-team Eastern League this season.
Still, the big-name prospects are pulling their weight, led by Heston Kjerstad (#10), who swatted his team-leading ninth home run this week. With a .300/.384/.646 line, Kjerstad is angling for a promotion to Triple-A, though with just 28 games of Double-A experience, the O’s might not be in a hurry to move him up. Coby Mayo (#8) also had a nice week, with a homer and six walks, to boost his season OPS to .898. And César Prieto (#23 tied) was a hitting machine, tallying 11 hits for the week and hitting his third homer. Prieto’s .984 OPS so far is 350 points higher than his previous stint at Bowie last year.
On the mound, lefty Cade Povich (#12) continues to pile up the strikeouts, notching 10 of them in a scoreless five-inning start this week, picking up Bowie’s only win. He’s got 44 punchouts in 26.2 innings this year, a K/9 rate of 14.9. That’ll play. Right-handers Justin Armbruester (#22) and Garrett Stallings (unranked) each worked five innings and gave up one or fewer runs as well, but — as has been an ongoing theme for Baysox pitchers this year — received no run support.
Other notable prospects:
- RHP Chayce McDermott (#18 tied): The right-hander and Trey Mancini trade acquisition walked four and gave up two runs in one unremarkable outing this week.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- Last week: 3-3 vs. Hudson Valley Renegades (Yankees)
- Coming week: at Winston-Salem Dash (22-9, White Sox)
- Season record: 13-18, fifth place (7.0 GB) in South Atlantic League North
The IronBirds seemed well on their way to a series win, taking the first three games, but then dropped three in a row to settle for a split. They have yet to win a six-game series this year. That’s unlikely to change this coming week, when they face the best team in High-A, Winston-Salem. As with Bowie, though, the high-end prospects are generally performing well, so the club’s losing record isn’t much to fret about.
The Orioles’ first four picks from last year’s draft — Jackson Holliday (#3 prospect), Dylan Beavers (#11), Max Wagner (#16), and Jud Fabian (#13) — are all regulars in the Aberdeen lineup. That quartet hit well this week, combining for five home runs (with everyone but Beavers hitting at least one), 14 runs, 11 RBIs, and 11 walks. The team’s top hitter for average, though, was Frederick Bencosme (#20), who went 7-for-18 (.389) with three extra-base hits. After a slow start to the season (.173/.333/.289 in April), Bencosme is slashing .379/.455/.552 in nine games in May.
No Aberdeen pitchers are among the Orioles’ top 30 prospects, but a few gave standout performances this week. Right-hander Jean Pinto, acquired from the Angels in the 2020 José Iglesias trade, worked 8.1 superb innings over two starts, giving up just one run and striking out 15. Pinto, repeating the High-A level this year, has a 2.08 ERA in seven starts. And 2021 late-rounder Alex Pham was dominant Friday, striking out 11 while allowing just two baserunners in five scoreless innings. The outing lowered the 23-year-old righty’s ERA to 1.93 ERA in six games.
On The Verge #BabyBird of the day for May 12th:— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) May 13, 2023
Aberdeen IronBirds RHP Alex Pham: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K
Pham now owns a 1.93 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and .171 BAA with 34 K in 23.1 IP this season pic.twitter.com/2j2TkmSnCp
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- Last week: 3-3 at Down East Wood Ducks (Rangers)
- Coming week: at Charleston RiverDogs (13-20, Rays)
- Season record: 17-14, third place (1.0 GB) in Carolina League North
The Shorebirds entered the week a game behind the Wood Ducks and finished it the same way after a series split. Delmarva is one game behind the North division’s co-leaders, Down East and Carolina. The unquestioned leader of the offense is 18-year-old Samuel Basallo (#14), who signed a seven-figure bonus as an amateur from the Dominican Republic in 2020. With eight hits, a homer, and six RBIs this week, Basallo boasts a .318/.350/.527 line and 32 RBIs in 27 games. I’m struggling to recall the last O’s international prospect who looked this impressive, since the team foolishly stayed out of that market for years. Jonathan Schoop, maybe? A decade ago?
Delmarva’s other early offensive standout, 19-year-old catcher Creed Willems, went 1-for-9, left Friday’s game early, and didn’t play the final two games. Presumably there’s an injury involved, though it’s often hard to find details about such things.
The Shorebirds continue to blur the line between starters and bulk relievers. Nine different pitchers have made a start this year, but all nine of them have also pitched in relief at some point. Those with strong performances this week include 19-year-old lefty Deivy Cruz (no relation to former Orioles shortstop Deivi Cruz), who allowed just one hit in four scoreless innings, and the seven-foot southpaw Jared Beck, who scattered seven baserunners in four shutout frames. The odds are stacked against him, but it’d be a lot of fun for the gargantuan Beck to one day make it to the majors.
Last week, Westburg became the first repeat winner of the player of the week vote, winning his second consecutive poll with a 49% plurality. Other winners this year have included Norby, Kjerstad, and Holliday. Can Westburg make it three in a row, or will another first-time winner break onto the scene?
Who was the Orioles minor league player of the week for 5/9-5/14?
This poll is closed
Colton Cowser, Norfolk (11 H, 8 BB, 9 R, 1.447 OPS)
Jordan Westburg, Norfolk (3 HR, 9 RBI, 1.176 OPS)
Alex Pham, Aberdeen (5 IP, 0 ER, 11 K, 0.40 WHIP)