For the first time in seven years, there’s an Orioles team at the major league level that’s unambiguously worth celebrating in the month of May. Things are already fun and will hopefully stay that way. What makes it even more fun is that the team came into this season with a farm system that was, by rankings in a number of different publications, the #1 system in all of baseball. The prospects will be coming soon to keep the good times rolling. Or at least, that’s the dream.
Each week on Camden Chat, we check in on the Orioles farm from top to bottom, with a particular focus on players from our composite top 20 O’s prospect list.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- Last week: 3-3 vs. Syracuse Mets
- Coming week: at Memphis (25-20, Cardinals)
- Season record: 31-13, first place (eight game lead) of ten teams in International League East. Best record in league, third-best winning percentage in all of MiLB.
Norfolk batters lead the whole 20-team league in OPS as well as runs scored per game. Tides pitchers lead the league in ERA, and have the lowest home run rate of any team. That is one way to have such a good record. The Tides had wins where they scored 12 and 9 runs this week, in addition to games where they allowed 0 and 1 run.
This week for Norfolk was as much about who was not able to play more as it was about who did play. Colton Cowser was limited to just one game before going on the injured list with quad soreness. DL Hall is now undergoing what the Orioles told reporters is an “intentional de-load,” which Mike Elias explained on a MASN broadcast meant that Hall will be ramping up some weight room work he couldn’t do due to his offseason back injury, while ramping down his on-field innings. Hall gave up two runs in a three-inning start this week. I’m curious how long that reduced pitching workload will go on.
Sad for the Jordan Westburg fans this week, as he did not OPS over 1.000 over his six games. He merely OPSed .990. What a slacker. That included hitting his 12th home run of the season, tied for the lead (with non-prospect Josh Lester) of any player in the O’s organization. 12 home runs in 38 games played is a mighty nice pace.
On the pitching side, lefty Drew Rom mostly scattered eight hits and two walks in a 5.2 inning start this past week, allowing just one run. Kind of like that Dean Kremer outing in Toronto, except Rom only struck out five. Rom, for the season, has a 3.40 ERA to go with a 1.412 WHIP, and he is striking out slightly more than a batter per inning pitched.
Other prospects of note
- 2B/OF Connor Norby - After a sluggish April where he posted a .658 OPS, he’s now got an .810 in May to improve his season batting line to .271/.325/.409. Hit just his fourth homer this week; finding the power stroke would be nice.
- RHP Noah Denoyer - The 40-man roster pitcher allowed two runs in two relief outings totaling three innings this week. The 5.56 ERA and 6.0 BB/9 aren’t going to get him rushed to the Orioles, though he is at least getting a lot of strikeouts (28 K, 22.2 IP).
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- Last week: 3-3 vs. Altoona (Pirates)
- Coming week: at Akron (19-19, Guardians)
- Season record: 12-25, last place (7.5 games back) of six teams in Eastern League Southwest
Things are not working out in the win column so far for this affiliate, which is no fault of a trio of hitting prospects who’ve been doing great overall and continued to do well this week. Heston Kjerstad continues to stand at the top, hitting 9-22 this past week. Like Westburg in Norfolk, he “disappointed” by OPSing “just” .980 and not over 1.000, but he’s still over that at 1.021 for the season.
Ahead of Kjerstad in both batting average and OBP is César Prieto, who’s blossomed this year with Bowie after struggling here last year. Prieto, batting .364 for the season, went “only” 8-24. The Orioles infield mix is something, you guys. And let’s not forget about Coby Mayo either, who hit 6-21 this week, including his fifth homer of the season.
On the pitching side, the top Baysox pitching prospect, Cade Povich, didn’t have one of his better games this week. Povich’s start was over after four innings with four hits and three walks allowed, plus three earned runs. For the 2023 campaign, Povich’s number remain impressive, especially the strikeouts: 48 in 30.2 innings, with a K/BB of 3.69.
Other prospects of note
- RHP Chayce McDermott - Five shutout innings this week. Pretty good! He walked four while striking out four. The walks are an issue this year, as he’s handed out a free pass to one in seven batters. He’s made it work so far with a 2.62 ERA and 1.136 WHIP.
- RHP Justin Armbruester - Continues to be maybe the most interesting less-heralded prospect in the system. Two starts this week with just one earned run allowed in 11 innings. Armbruester, a 12th round pick from 2021, has a 1.58 ERA in eight starts.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- Last week: 5-1 at Winston-Salem (White Sox)
- Coming week: vs. Jersey Shore (17-18, Phillies)
- Season record: 18-19, fourth place (4 games back) of six teams in South Atlantic League North
The dude just keeps on rolling. Honestly, it’s well past ridiculous at this point. He thrashed the Dash over this week’s six-game set, piling on an almost unbelievable 13 hits, including three doubles, three triples, and two homers. Oh yeah, and he stole two bases, and walked three times with only one strikeout.
All of this earned Holliday the Player of the Week honors for the South Atlantic League. That’s a 2.000 OPS for the week to increase his Aberdeen batting line to .395/.505/.724 in 21 games. It’s absurd. How much more of this does he need to do before Mike Elias kicks him up to Double-A? I’d have done this already, not that anyone asked me.
If not for Holliday, the guy most worth crowing about this week would be Max Wagner, who’s rebounded from some April struggles to OPS over 1.000 in May. Wagner batted 7-15 this week, but what was really impressive was drawing nine walks, so he did actually top Holliday’s OBP on the week at .689. Keep it up, Max.
The IronBirds pitching staff has the third-best ERA in the South Atlantic League. One reason for that so far has been the youngest pitcher on the team, Jean Pinto, who at 22 is repeating the level. Pinto was pasted this week, though, giving up four runs on nine hits in just three innings. Even after this, he’s got a 2.97 ERA for the season.
Other prospects of note
- OF Jud Fabian - Stole four bases in a single game and five for the week overall. Fabian batted 6-18 with four walks.
- OF Dylan Beavers - Not a week to remember as he hit just 2-17.
- IF Frederick Bencosme - Only slightly better than Beavers with 3-19 hitting. .695 OPS for the season up to this point.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- Last week: 2-4 at Charleston (Rays)
- Coming week: vs. Lynchburg (20-19, Guardians)
- Season record: 19-18, tied for third place (2.5 games back) of six teams in Carolina League North
There’s not a lot to say about Delmarva in a week where Samuel Basallo scuffled, hitting just 4-23 over six games. His companion in the mashing catcher duo, Creed Willems, was placed on the injured list over a week ago. I’m not aware off-hand of what’s ailing Willems.
The Shorebirds pitching staff has been filled all season by players who are hoping to make a name for themselves. One of the team’s youngest pitchers is Yaqui Rivera, 19, who tossed a scoreless inning of relief this week and is now sporting a 14.5 K/9 through 13.2 innings. He’s also got a 5.9 BB/9 - this week he walked one batter and hit another. Work on the control.
Other prospects of note
- SS Carter Young - The overslot 17th rounder by the O’s last year did not get off to a good start this year but put together a fine week, batting 7-18 with five walks. He needs more weeks like this.
The winner of last week’s poll was Cowser, whose quad injury has kept him from getting onto the poll this week. Let’s hope he’s back soon. Jordan Westburg is our only two-week winner so far, with Norby, Kjerstad, and Holliday having won individual weeks in addition to Cowser.
You have the power to crown either another repeat winner or a three-time champion this week. Although it’s tempting, I am not declaring a Russian Election Poll for Holliday.
Who was the Orioles minor league player of the week for the week ending 5/21?
This poll is closed
Jordan Westburg, Norfolk (org-leading 12th home run)
Heston Kjerstad, Bowie (9-22 with a week OPS of .980)
Justin Armbruester, Bowie (2 GS, 1 ER in 11 IP)
Jackson Holliday, Aberdeen (SAL Player of the Week, 2.000 OPS!)