Even with the Orioles having a great record at the major league level this season, there’s something that remains fun about headlines of a top prospect getting promoted one level closer to MLB. That’s what we’ve got this week, with Heston Kjerstad being announced to Triple-A Norfolk. The players who are already in MLB are mostly the ones who will get the team places this year, but if the O’s are really going to be heading into an era of sustained success, it’s current prospects who will play a big part in that happening.
This week also marks the beginning of the rookie-level short seasons for both the Florida Complex League and Dominican Summer League. This year’s seven-figure international signing, Luis Almeyda, is starting in the DSL, while a couple of other recent million-dollar bonus Orioles, Maikol Hernandez and Braylin Tavera, are on the FCL rosters to begin those seasons.
Each week on Camden Chat, we check in on the Orioles full-season minor league affiliates, with a particular focus on players from the composite top Orioles prospect list.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- Last week: 5-2 vs. Gwinnett (Braves)
- Coming week: at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (27-30, Yankees)
- Season record: 40-17, first place (7 game lead) of ten teams in International League East and best record in whole league
With Kjerstad joining the Tides, the Norfolk lineup now potentially has six top 100 prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline on a given night. Pretty fun! This past week featured the return of Colton Cowser to Triple-A as well after an injury rehab at lower levels. The Orioles are easing Cowser back in to a full workload, so he’s only played in a couple of games and did not play the full game. That was still time enough for him to get four hits in five AB, including this:
Starring over the full week for Norfolk, as has been the case many weeks this season, was Jordan Westburg, who certainly isn’t quieting any of the calls of people who want to see him promoted promptly with weeks like this one. Westburg added another two homers to give him 15 on the season, part of a week where he hit 7-25 with five extra-base hits overall. He was the International League Player of the week with this performance.
Fellow infielder Connor Norby had nine hits in the same number of AB, though he only went for extra bases twice and walked less too.
Less fun for our purposes is that the pitching prospect duo of Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall are both down here with the Tides now. The good news for Rodriguez is that he pitched six scoreless innings while only giving up one hit this past week. Very good! Much less exciting is that he walked five dudes in the game. That’s not going to get him back up to the Orioles. Hall, still in the midst of the “intentional de-load,” gave up a run in his planned three-inning start, allowing three hits and two walks while striking out two.
Others of note
- IF Joey Ortiz - Did not play at all this week. Was said by Orioles reporters to be battling an illness, but apparently Norfolk radio said he may have had a sore neck also. Last time I got sick the coughing gave me a sore neck too, so I get it.
- LHP Drew Rom - Allowed two runs in a three-inning start this week, which unlike Hall was probably NOT the planned length. Rom issued five free passes while also striking out five guys. Too many walks for a command artist.
- RHP Noah Denoyer - The other Norfolk prospect on the 40-man roster ALSO issued five walks this week, though his were over 4.2 innings in two relief outings. 20 walks in 29.1 innings this season, and that’s probably why he’s not on the Orioles yet.
- OF Hudson Haskin - Last played at this level on April 16 but is reportedly returning to Norfolk this week after a couple of weeks with Aberdeen and Bowie.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- Last week: 2-4 vs. Harrisburg (Nationals)
- Coming week: at Erie (29-22, Tigers)
- Season record: 18-31, last place (10 games back) of six teams in Eastern League Southwest
Kjerstad’s boost to Norfolk came after a week in which he characteristically kept hitting the ball well, racking up nine hits in 26 at-bats, including his 11th homer of the season. He heads up to the next level after a total OPS of .959 in 46 games with the Baysox. Pretty good!
Also heading up to the Tides with Kjerstad is reliever Easton Lucas, acquired for Jonathan Villar after the 2019 season. Lucas, 26, is a left-hander who’s been back at Double-A after struggling here last year. He’s struck out 24 batters over 17 innings in 11 games this year, and cut the walk rate nearly in half since last year. Good luck to both of these guys.
The Bowie outfielder who did the best at the plate this past week is one who will be staying there. That’s Donta’ Williams, the team’s fourth round pick from 2021. Williams went 9-18 this week, with five doubles in there. Williams has also been ripping off amazing plays on defense with regularity, though it was at the plate that he excelled this week.
Your favorite Orioles pitching prospect with a long last name (and my favorite too), Justin Armbruester, had another week with a solid outing for the Baysox - five innings allowing just three hits and a walk, though he did still give up two runs. For the season, he’s thrown 50 innings across ten starts, with 1.62 ERA and 1.060 WHIP. I’d have sent him up to Norfolk along with Kjerstad and Lucas, but nobody asked me. Not as successful this week: Cade Povich, who was dynamited for six runs, five earned, in three innings - allowing nine hits, including two home runs.
Others of note
- IF Coby Mayo - The most exciting Baysox hitter with Kjerstad promoted, Mayo went 7-24 this week, with no homers but four doubles. Though he OPSed .851 for the week, that actually drops his season total to .899. Mayo has a 20-game on-base streak going.
- IF César Prieto - Though batting .348 for the season, Prieto went just 5-20 this week. He maintains an impressive contact rate with just 11 strikeouts - and 13 walks.
- RHP Chayce McDermott - What is it with Orioles pitching prospects walking five dudes this week? McDermott walked five guys in a 3.1 inning start where he allowed only one hit. 6.4 BB/9 for the season.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- Last week: 4-2 at Hudson Valley (Yankees)
- Coming week: vs. Asheville (22-25, Astros)
- Season record: 24-26, fifth place (4.5 games back) of six teams in South Atlantic League North
The IronBirds swept the board with Player and Pitcher of the Month honors for the South Atlantic League. The top hitter was, unsurprisingly, Jackson Holliday, who won in May though he’s off to a slow start early in June - just two hits in 18 AB this week. It’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back from that in a new series.
The pitcher to be honored was Alex Pham, a 2021 19th rounder who’s in the Aberdeen rotation this year after pitching out of the bullpen last year. Pham held batters to a .442 OPS in five May starts, though his lone June start saw him give up four runs in 3.2 innings. Pham’s rotation mate Jean Pinto tossed another four scoreless innings in his start this week, allowing just a hit and a walk while striking out six. Pinto, 22, is repeating the level but has shaved about 1.5 runs off of his ERA, with an impressive 13.8 K/9.
It was kind of a team-wide slump for Aberdeen this week, as no hitters did much of anything except for Jud Fabian. The outfielder was “only” 4-17 at the plate, but reached base plenty with another four walks, and he made the most of these times on base by stealing four bases to give him 16 for the season. Fabian’s now OPSing .800 for the season, which by Aberdeen standards is not too bad.
Others of note
- OF Dylan Beavers - On the plus side, he delivered an inside-the-park home run. On the negative side, he was just 2-18 in five games, striking out seven times.
- IF Max Wagner - Bounced back in May after a tough April, but the early June returns are back in the bad column. 2-20 hitting with no extra base hits.
- IF Frederick Bencosme - It only gets worse as we go down the list. Bencosme hit 1-16 this week. Just 20, the O’s can be patient with Bencosme, which they will need to be because he’s now dipped below the Mendoza line in 40 games at this level.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- Last week: 1-6 vs. Fredericksburg Nationals
- Coming week: vs. Down East (28-19, Rangers)
- Season record: 24-26, third place (6 games back) of six teams in Carolina League North
Three of these six losses were by one run and a fourth was by two runs, so it wasn’t like they were getting blown out every game, but still, that was a rough week to send this affiliate back below .500.
Delmarva remains a team that is not, for the time being, stocked with many of the team’s top prospects at all. The only top 20 guy here is catcher Samuel Basallo, who’s continued his respectable slugging in his age 18 season. Though he did strike out nine times in 20 AB this week, Basallo picked up six hits, including his fifth homer of the season, giving him an .820 OPS through 45 games. Basallo hitting the tank:
5th home run of the year for Samuel Basallo.— The Verge- An Orioles MiLB Podcast (@BSLOnTheVerge) June 3, 2023
The video seems to glitch out so as far as where it actually landed, your guess is as good as mine.
Ahead of Basallo’s performance for this week was Carter Young, who received an overslot bonus after being drafted by the O’s in the 17th round last year to entice him to leave Vanderbilt. Young hit 7-17 across four games this week, collecting his second pro homer. So far for the season, he’s batting .207/.327/.287. There’s room for improvement in both the batting average and power department. May was better than April for the 22-year-old, and hopefully June can be better still.
On average, the Shorebirds pitching staff is the youngest of any Carolina League team. This shows in the number of 19- and 20-year olds on the roster. The youngest pitcher on the team is lefty Deivy Cruz, who pitched a four-inning relief outing this past week in which the only run he gave up was a solo homer. Cruz struck out six and walked only one over this game, which is a nice one for him since he’s struggled with command (61 BB in 89 IP) since hitting full season ball last year.
As long as the Orioles aren’t drafting pitchers, they’re going to be helped if they can manage to develop guys like Cruz into prospects. Like Young, Cruz was better in May than in April, particularly with his command problem. April saw Cruz walk 12 batters in 10.2 innings. In May, he walked 11 in 20.2 IP. If that improvement continues, that will be interesting.
The plurality winner of last week’s minor league player of the week poll, with 46% of the vote, was Norfolk infielder Lewin Díaz. The votes were the votes, so here we are. Maybe he will eventually join or even replace spring training competitors Ryan O’Hearn and Josh Lester in Baltimore. So far, the other winners of a week have been: Westburg (twice), Norby, Kjerstad, Cowser, and Holliday.
Will Westburg be the first three-time winner in our polls so far this year? He’s a popular guy on this website right now. The choice is yours. Use it wisely.
Who was the Orioles minor league player of the week for the week ending 6/4?
This poll is closed
Jordan Westburg, Norfolk (7-25, 11 runs scored, 2 HR, 1 SB)
Donta’ Williams, Bowie (9-18, 5 2B)
Jean Pinto, Aberdeen (6 K, 1 BB in 4 IP)
Carter Young, Delmarva (7-17, 2B, HR)