The trade deadline has come and gone, but you could hardly tell based on the Orioles minor league depth chart. With the Orioles squarely in contention for the American League pennant, many members of Birdland clamored for Mike Elias & Co. to send shockwaves through the minor league system in order to acquire big time major league talent. Instead, the effect the trade deadline had on the minor league system could be more accurately described as a ripple.
The two biggest names that left the Orioles minor league system were infielder César Prieto and left-handed pitcher Drew Rom—the key pieces of the Jack Flaherty trade. Prieto, the 24-year-old from Cuba, has certainly seen his stock rise over the 2023 season, slashing .342/.392/.468 between Double-A and Triple-A this season. Rom, on the other hand, was trending in the wrong direction before the trade, posting a 5.34 ERA while allowing a .291 average. While both have clear potential, both ranked outside the Orioles’ top 15 prospects and didn’t have clear paths to the major leagues.
However, the jettisoning of Prieto and Rom (as well as Zach Showalter, in the Flaherty trade, and Easton Lucas, for Shintaro Fujinami) surely won’t be the last time the O’s trade from their minor league depth in order to plug holes at the major league level. WIth that in mind, let’s take a look at prospects who can play themselves onto or off of the trade block in the last two months of the season.
2B/OF Connor Norby (Orioles No.6, MLB No. 62)
The Orioles' top five prospects all have either already made their major league debuts or have the undeniable talent that will make it impossible for the O’s not to make room for them. Then there’s Connor Norby. The 2nd round pick from the 2021 draft is another one of Mike Elias’ great draft-and-develop success stories. A bat-first infielder coming out of East Carolina, Norby has laid to rest any concerns that his bat wouldn’t keep up against professional pitchers. Over the last two seasons, the 23-year-old has hit .282 while putting up an impressive 43 homers. Norby consistently shows power to all fields and this year ranks third in the International League with 198 total bases.
My oh my he's done it again!@norby_connor leads off tonight's game with a home run, the fifth time he's done so this year!!! He's done it four times since July 14!— Norfolk Tides (@NorfolkTides) August 1, 2023
Norby's 15th home run of the season puts Norfolk up 1-0.#RisingTide pic.twitter.com/qp88jzZm14
However, Norby seems to have a Jordan Westburg problem when it comes to finding a path to playing time at the major league level. Sure, he shows plus power for a middle infielder. But then again, so does Westburg. And, yes, Norby has even shown impressive defensive versatility throughout the minors. But so did Westburg, and he’s already proving himself to even be one of the Orioles best defenders in his short time at the majors. With Gunnar Henderson already excelling at the majors and Jackson Holliday practically breaking down the door to Baltimore, it’s not like Norby’s path to the majors is likely to get any easier.
Norby has even openly spoken about the possibility of him being traded, saying he “almost kind of [hopes] that [he’s] in one of [the trade packages] sometimes”. It almost feels like an eventuality that Norby will get his wish this offseason. While it’s possible that the front office could see Norby’s bat as too valuable to part with, it’s more likely that the O’s see him as the trade centerpiece they can most easily part with in a deal for another starter or a big bat.
SS/2B Joey Ortiz (Orioles No.5, MLB No.59)
Ortiz is ready to play at the major league level now, that much is clear. He’s dominated at Norfolk this season to the tune of a .354 average and a .976 OPS. Ortiz may also be the best defensive shortstop in the entire Orioles system, and Mike Elias has even said he sees Ortiz “[having] a long future as a starting shortstop, and here is the most likely place.”
Orioles SS prospect Joey Ortiz went 4 for 4 tonight raising his average in Triple-A to .348 and OPS to .984. Zone contact rate of 89% and 106.5 MPH 90th percentile EV. Great defender— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) July 26, 2023
I get that BAL is crowded, but Ortiz has nothing left to prove in AAA.pic.twitter.com/Oxz5LpTEai
However, just like the ascension of Westburg makes a path to playing time difficult, Holliday should make things near impossible for Ortiz. If Holliday really is going to push for playing time with the Orioles in 2024, that would almost certainly relegate Ortiz to the bench role currently occupied by Jorge Mateo. However, unless Elias decides to instead deal from his major league depth (Mateo, Ramón Urías, etc.), it might be too tempting to package Norby and Ortiz in a trade that could really put the Orioles roster over the top.
INF/OF Terrin Vavra and OF Kyle Stowers
If we’re naming players who have been passed by during the 2023 season, Stowers and Vavra would certainly top the list. Both started the season on the O’s opening day roster, collected only 79 at-bats between them and then were both demoted back to Norfolk. Since then, their seasons largely followed the same path. Vavra yo-yo-ed back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk and then landed on the 7-day IL with a shoulder strain. Vavra hasn’t come back yet from that shoulder strain and last appeared for the Tides on June 14th.
Stowers similarly suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for all of July, but he’s come back in August and put on a show. In 15 ABs since returning from injury, Stowers is hitting .400 with an OPS of 1.000, while also blasting two HRs and collecting 9 RBIs. Thought the 25-year-old OF has only put up 161 ABs in the minors this year, his numbers have still been impressive. With 14 HRs, 42 RBIs an.304 average and an OPS over 1.000, Stowers continues to show plenty of the ability that had him fighting for a starting spot in the O’s outfield at the end of the last season.
However, between their time lost to injury and the Orioles’ lack of patience with them, both Stowers and Vavra seem to have fallen too far down the organizational pecking order to make a comeback. They both still offer skills that will play at the major league level. Stowers provides the type of left-handed power that teams covet in corner outfielders, while also providing above average defense. Vavra is on the opposite end of the spectrum offensively—a contact over power hitter—while also providing the versatility to play all around the infield, in the outfield and even at catcher. While they may no longer be viewed as the caliber of prospect that can headline a trade, they’re certainly better than most trade throw-ins and could be part of a competitive package for a star player.
The caveat with all these players of course is that—with a little over a month left in the minor league season—all of these guys have the opportunity to play themselves into a bigger role heading into the 2024 season. And yet, perhaps it would be better for Elias & Co. to start planning on how they can cash in on these prime trade candidates while preparing the roster for the likes of Holliday, Heston Kjerstad and the other elite prospects in Baltimore’s minor league system.
Which minor leaguers is most likely to be traded this offseason?
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