The minor league seasons are heading into their second month. There’s a lot to celebrate in the Orioles farm system, with the top affiliate, Norfolk, sporting the best record in all of minor league baseball. That’s a team with four team top prospects in its lineup most nights, with two more in the starting rotation, so their success - helped by those players - is great to see.
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: 5-1 vs. Durham (Rays)
- Coming week: at Jacksonville (17-14, Marlins)
- Season record: 24-8, first place (6.5 games ahead) of ten teams in International League East
The highest Orioles minor league affiliate is basically the Rays of Triple-A. They are the holders of the best record in the entirety of minor league baseball, with a run differential of +108. The next-best team in the league is +43. The lineup is stuffed with some of the team’s top prospects and this past week, all of those guys had a good week. What is the big league club going to do with all of these guys? The question isn’t likely to be answered this week.
Standing atop the leaderboard this week was Jordan Westburg, who led the way with three home runs in his six games to increase his total to eight for the year. That was part of 9-25 hitting overall, raising his season OPS to .988. Joey Ortiz added a pair of homers as well.
The 2021 top of the Orioles draft duo, Colton Cowser and Connor Norby, also made it interesting. Cowser continued to showcase his on-base ability, drawing six walks while also hitting 6-17 in six games. That’s a lot of times on base. Norby’s season has started out slower; he notched ten hits to his season tally this week, including three doubles and a homer.
Norby has been getting some work in left field. He pulled off this play on Sunday in a game where he already homered:
It wasn’t a bad week to be a pitching prospect at Norfolk either. Both of the lefties, DL Hall and Drew Rom, pitched shutout innings in their respective starts in this series. Rom struck out 11 batters while scattering two hits and three walks in six innings. Hall issued four walks and also hit a batter in a five-inning start where he struck out eight. As ever with Hall, it’s a lot of command challenges.
Others of note
- LHP Cole Irvin - Obviously not a prospect, but the erstwhile Oriole gave up two runs in a seven inning start this week. Crucially for Irvin, he’s only walked three batters in four Triple-A starts. I wonder how much more the O’s need to see to suspend his exile.
- RHP Noah Denoyer - The 40-man roster righty allowed three runs in a two-inning stint. 5.17 ERA and 1.532 WHIP through his first six games.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- Last week: 2-4 vs. Erie (Tigers)
- Coming week: at Harrisburg (11-15, Nationals)
- Season record: 8-17, last place (7.5 games back) of six teams in Eastern League Southwest
The Baysox allowed six or more runs in all but one game this week. For the season, they’re allowing more than five runs per game.
My first question when I sit down to do one of these is: “How did Heston Kjerstad do?” This week: Great! The 2020 first rounder cracked two more home runs to join the lead across the organization with eight, and added two doubles and a triple too. That’s a .783 slugging percentage for the week; Kjerstad is now OPSing 1.044 through 23 games, picking up right where he left off after the Arizona Fall League last year. He’s striking out just 16.5% of the time.
Just another Kjerstad home run. He went the opposite way with both of his dingers this week:
One player exceeded even Kjerstad’s slugging for the week. Fellow outfielder Billy Cook, not typically mentioned in this space, hit three home runs in a 9-22 week, his first three homers of the season. In the infield group, César Prieto also clocked nine hits, though with less power than Cook. Impressively, Prieto did not strike out at all this week, and has struck out just five times in 107 PA.
Pitching prospect Chayce McDermott, from the Trey Mancini trade last year, started two games in the series. It was a mixed bag, allowing a combined five runs across nine innings. McDermott struck out 16 batters though, and is now sporting a 36/12 K/BB and 2.84 ERA in 25.1 innings for the season.
Two rehabbing Orioles rolled through the Baysox staff this week. Mychal Givens tossed a couple of scoreless innings. Dillon Tate appeared in three different games and allowed seven runs between them.
Others of note
- IF Coby Mayo - 5-17 this week with three walks; batting .271/.398/.471 in 24 games this season.
- LHP Cade Povich - Four runs, three earned in a 4.2 inning start this week. Silver lining: Seven strikeouts, no walks, 34 K in 21.2 IP for the season.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- Last week: 3-3 at Brooklyn (Mets)
- Coming week: vs. Hudson Valley (18-9, Yankees)
- Season record: 10-15, fifth place (7 games back) of six teams in South Atlantic League North
My next question after Kjerstad is: “How did Jackson Holliday do?” For another week, the answer is: Pretty good! He led the way for the Aberdeen batters with seven hits in 20 at-bats. Holliday drew five walks and swiped three bases too. Still more walks than strikeouts for the season. .894 OPS in 10 games since being promoted to High-A.
Freshly promoted to Aberdeen this series was former University of Maryland product Maxwell Costes, who debuted for the IronBirds by hitting three home runs in his first four games. A different Max, Max Wagner, was right behind Costes with a pair of home runs. Wagner tripled, walked four times, and stole three bases. He’ll need some more weeks like that to improve on his .614 OPS for the season.
Costes delivering a grand slam for the IronBirds:
After hitting two home runs yesterday, Max Costes hits a grand slam today! pic.twitter.com/L84LGtAGjl— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) May 5, 2023
An early standout for the Aberdeen pitching staff has been Jean Pinto, a 22-year-old who’s repeating the level this year. In his start this week, he tossed four innings and allowed just one run. Pinto’s now struck out 34 batters in 22 innings this year, posting a 2.45 ERA along the way.
Others of note
- OF Dylan Beavers - A tough week for Beavers, just 2-20 at the plate, although he did walk four times. .762 OPS this season.
- OF Jud Fabian - Also tough for Fabian. 2-19. Like Beavers, he walked a bit, getting five free passes. .675 OPS in 2023.
- IF Frederick Bencosme - A hitting machine last year, Bencosme played in three games this week and got four hits in 11 at-bats. The 20-year-old is hitting .206 so far for Aberdeen but is picking up a fine walk rate (16.7%)
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- Last week: 2-4 vs. Carolina (Brewers)
- Coming week: at Down East (15-10, Rangers)
- Season record: 14-11, third place (1 game back) of six teams in Carolina League North
This has been the Samuel Basallo show so far this year, as one of the first Orioles seven-figure international signings has been doing great in his first taste of a full season affiliate. He missed most of this week, though, only playing games on Saturday and Sunday. That was still time enough for the big dude to hit a triple.
Fellow catcher Creed Willems has actually been even better so far this year repeating the level where he scuffled last year. Willems, still just 19 until next month, blasted another two homers in the previous week. Despite a .975 OPS in the series, that actually lowers his season OPS - now 1.144 in 21 games.
Willems hitting one of his homers:
Creed Willems night: 3/3, 3 RBI and this BOMB pic.twitter.com/0qgtMMTYuQ— Orioles Player Development (@OsPlayerDev) May 4, 2023
Others of note
- RHP Juan Nunez - This 22-year-old from the Jorge López trade allowed just an earned run in eight innings over two outings this week. 2.92 ERA in six games, but a high walk rate (5.5 BB/9)
In a three-way poll last week, Westburg was the winner with 65% of the vote. He’s the fourth different winner in as many weeks, joining Holliday, Norby, and Kjerstad. There could be a repeat winner this week as Westburg will have a chance to go two in a row.
Who was the Orioles minor league player of the week for May 2-7?
This poll is closed
Jordan Westburg, Triple-A Norfolk (three more homers, tied for organization lead)
Drew Rom, Triple-A Norfolk (11 strikeouts in one game)
Billy Cook, Double-A Bowie (three home runs, 1.344 OPS in six games)
Maxwell Costes, High-A Aberdeen (three home runs, 1.500 OPS in four games)