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Orioles minor league week in review: Bowie’s rotation dazzles, Norfolk brings the power

All five Baysox starters pitched well to lead the club’s first series win, while the Tides remained comfortably in first place with an offensive explosion.

Baltimore Orioles v Minnesota Twins
Lewin Díaz’s three homers powered the first-place Tides.
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

No matter how well a team may be playing at the major league level — and the Orioles, with the third best record in baseball, are playing quite well indeed — a strong minor league system is an absolute necessity to provide depth when complications arise. Yesterday’s injury to Cedric Mullins is going to sting, but the O’s might have enough high-level prospect talent to ease the blow, with Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz, and a hopefully-soon-healthy Colton Cowser in the mix to replace him on the big league roster.

Let’s check in on the week that was in the Orioles’ minors, focusing especially on the prospects in Camden Chat’s composite rankings.

Triple-A Norfolk Tides

  • Last week: 4-2 at Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals)
  • Coming week: seven games vs. Gwinnett Braves (22-28)
  • Season record: 35-15, first place (8.0 game lead) in International League East

The Tides’ comfortable lead in the division remains at eight games, exactly what it was one week ago and one week before that. Their .700 win percentage is third-best in all of minor league baseball, behind only the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers (.725) and the Low-A Clearwater Threshers (.704), a Phillies affiliate.

With Joey Ortiz (#7 prospect) up with the Orioles most of the week and Colton Cowser (#5) on the IL with a quad injury, the normally prospect-laden Norfolk lineup was down to just two: Jordan Westburg (#6) and Connor Norby (#9). Each hit a homer and three doubles, with Norby collecting 11 hits and Westburg seven. It was the minor league veterans who really made the offense click, including Lewin Díaz — who homered three times and collected nine RBIs — and Josh Lester, who roped a team-leading 12 hits and swatted two dingers, and now leads all O’s minor leaguers with 14 homers this year. The Tides scored seven or more runs in all four of their wins this week.

The news wasn’t so good for the Tides’ starting rotation, which by and large got pummeled this week. Four different starters — DL Hall (#4), Drew Rom (#18 tied), and the unranked Ryan Watson and Chris Vallimont — each allowed at least six runs in their starts, combining for an unsightly 20.65 ERA. They gave up 27 hits, four homers, and nine walks. Only veteran lefties Bruce Zimmermann (six scoreless innings) and Cole Irvin (five innings, two runs) emerged from the week relatively unscathed. So if you were hoping that Grayson Rodriguez’s vacated rotation spot in Baltimore would be filled by a fellow prospect, well, none of them are exactly beating down the door.

Norfolk season-to-date stats

Double-A Bowie Baysox

  • Last week: 4-2 at Akron RubberDucks (Guardians)
  • Coming week: vs. Harrisburg Senators (22-22, Nationals)
  • Season record: 16-27, last place (7.0 GB) in Eastern League Southwest

It took until their seventh series of the year, but the Baysox finally notched their first series win in a six-game set. Bowie was backed by strong pitching, as their five starters — Cade Povich (#12 prospect), Chayce McDermott (#18 tied), Justin Armbruester (#22), and the unranked Carlos Tavera and Garrett Stallings — each delivered an outing of five innings or more with two or fewer runs allowed. A rough second outing of the week by Povich in the series finale Sunday — 4.1 innings, five runs — was the only blemish for the otherwise stalwart starting staff. They were essentially the opposite of Norfolk’s rotation this week.

Tavera, Armbruester, and Stallings each worked five scoreless innings. Tavera’s was particularly impressive, as he didn’t allow a hit, earning him Eastern League Pitcher of the Week honors. The 24-year-old right-hander was the first pitcher the O’s selected in the 2021 draft, taking him in the fifth round out of the University of Texas Arlington. He’s been erratic so far in 2023, posting a 5.47 ERA and 18 walks in 26.1 innings, but this was a step in the right direction.

The Baysox offense supported the pitching with eight home runs in the series, and yes, of course one was from Heston Kjerstad (#10), his 10th of the season. But fellow slugger Coby Mayo (#8) one-upped Kjerstad, cranking two roundtrippers — his sixth and seventh of the year — in the same week he entered MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list. Less heralded youngsters Donta’ Williams and TT Bowens each mashed two homers as well, and John Rhodes (#23 tied) hit one.

Bowie season-to-date stats

High-A Aberdeen IronBirds

  • Last week: 2-5 vs. Jersey Shore BlueClaws (Phillies)
  • Coming week: at Hudson Valley Renegades (27-18, Yankees)
  • Season record: 20-24, fifth place (6.5 GB) in South Atlantic League North

In Aberdeen, all eyes immediately go to Jackson Holliday, the #3 prospect in all of baseball. And this week he was almost...ordinary. Oh, don’t get me wrong — he still had a really nice series, posting a .423 OBP on the strength of eight walks and six hits. But compared to his previous week, in which he lit the world on fire with 13 hits, seven extra-base hits, and 14 RBIs in five games, Holliday was bound to fall short of those lofty standards.

The standout hitting prospect this week was Jud Fabian (#13), who laced five doubles in slashing .350/.458/.600. Max Wagner (#16) had just four hits but two of them were home runs, the only two dingers that the IronBirds hit this week. Hudson Haskin (#17), on a rehab assignment from Norfolk, was 4-for-12 and drove in five. He’ll soon be back with the Tides, where he was off to a scalding hot start — .391/.500/.652 in 13 games — before a hamstring strain sent him to the IL on April 18. The other two top-20 O’s prospects on Aberdeen, Dylan Beavers (#11) and Frederick Bencosme (#20), were less successful this week, combining on an 8-for-46 (.174) showing.

On the pitching side, the best performance came from right-hander Jean Pinto, who worked five scoreless innings and struck out eight. The 22-year-old righty, now with a 2.58 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 13.85 K/9 rate in nine starts, is repeating the level after spending all of last year at Aberdeen. With numbers like that, he could be close to a promotion to Double-A. And 6-foot-7 Kyle Virbitsky threw four scoreless innings of long relief, though it lowered his season ERA only to 8.03. The right-hander was a throw-in as part of the Cole Irvin/Darell Hernaiz trade this past winter.

Aberdeen season-to-date stats

Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds

  • Last week: 4-2 vs. Lynchburg Hillcats (Guardians)
  • Coming week: seven games at Fredericksburg Nationals (17-25)
  • Season record: 23-20, third place (1.5 GB) in Carolina League North

The Shorebirds’ series win was their first of May, and they remain right in the thick of things in the North division race. The Orioles’ top international prospect, Samuel Basallo (#14), continues to swing the bat well, leading the team with seven hits this week. Fellow catcher Creed Willems homered and drove in six. The homer was his eighth, twice as many as any other Delmarva hitter. Willems boasts a cool 1.057 OPS in his second year at Low-A, up dramatically from last season’s .585. Another guy repeating the level, outfielder Elio Prado, swatted a homer this week. His slugging percentage is up to .417 this season after a .252 mark in 2022. The now 21-year-old Prado was acquired as a teenager from the Red Sox in the 2019 Andrew Cashner trade.

We’ve yet to see a breakout season from any of Delmarva’s pitchers. Of the nine hurlers who have thrown 20 or more innings this year, only one has an ERA below 4.00. That’s right-hander Juan Nunez, one of the four pitchers acquired in last year’s Jorge López deal, which has already reaped dividends with Povich and Yennier Cano. Nunez, 22, has a 3.55 ERA in nine games and is striking out more than a batter per inning, but he’s averaging an ugly five walks per nine. This week he worked 4.1 innings and gave up just one hit, striking out eight and walking three. Elsewhere, 19-year-old lefty Deivy Cruz worked five shutout innings of one-hit baseball to close the series.

Delmarva season-to-date stats

**

Last week’s poll was nearly unanimous, with Holliday earning his second win with a whopping 94% of the vote (394 out of 419) for the largest margin of victory we’ve seen yet. He won’t be a repeat candidate this week, though, nor will three of the four previous winners: Westburg (twice), Norby, Kjerstad, and Cowser.

Poll

Who was the Orioles minor league player of the week for 5/23-5/28?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    Lewin Díaz, Norfolk (3 HR, 3 DO, 9 RBI, 1.278 OPS)
    (156 votes)
  • 23%
    Connor Norby, Norfolk (11 H, 1 HR, .438 OBP)
    (78 votes)
  • 9%
    Bruce Zimmermann, Norfolk (six scoreless innings, 8 K)
    (33 votes)
  • 21%
    Carlos Tavera, Bowie (five hitless innings, Eastern League Pitcher of the Week)
    (71 votes)
338 votes total Vote Now