It’s been a wild ride in the Orioles’ minor league system this season, but sadly it’s starting to reach its end. Two of the Birds’ full-season affiliates, Aberdeen and Delmarva, shut the doors on the 2023 season this week. Bowie has one week left, barring an improbable postseason bid. Norfolk plays another two weeks of regular season games followed by the International League Championship Series.
While many O’s prospects have headed home for the season, the most significant ones are still on the field. A whopping 13 of the Orioles’ top 15 prospects (as ranked by MLB Pipeline) are playing at Triple-A or Double-A, so we don’t have to close the books on their 2023 seasons just yet. There’s still some fun to be had, just as there was plenty of excitement this past week.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- Last week: 3-3 vs. Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp
- Coming week: vs. Memphis Redbirds (26-37, Cardinals)
- Second-half record: 36-27, fourth place (4.0 GB) in International League East. Norfolk won the division in the first half and has already qualified for the playoffs.
Jackson Holliday’s first week at Triple-A turned out quite nicely, thank you. The #1 prospect in baseball went 1-for-13 in his first three games but found his footing as the week went along, collecting multiple hits in two of the final three games. He also drew five walks, because that batting eye don’t slump. The Birds’ other big-name hitting prospects also did their thing this week. Colton Cowser (#2 prospect) had two homers and drove in 10. Heston Kjerstad (#3) bashed his 21st homer, and Coby Mayo (#4) his 27th. Connor Norby (#7) had five hits but missed the last three games of the series. Even veteran first baseman Lewin Díaz joined in on the fun with a 10-for-19 performance. Joey Ortiz (#6), unfortunately, missed the entire week with oblique tightness.
The Tides’ pitching staff, meanwhile, continues to be a well-oiled machine. Their 68 strikeouts this week led the 20-team International League, and their 3.16 team ERA was second-best. They have a 4.44 ERA for the season, tied with Nashville for the best mark. The midseason promotions of Chayce McDermott (#10) and Cade Povich (#11) have bolstered the Tides’ staff, particularly in the strikeout department. The duo combined for 16 Ks in 10.2 innings this week, with each pitching at least five innings and allowing just one run. The only drawback for these guys is their control; each of them issued four walks this week and has a BB/9 rate of 4.75 or higher this year. Start throwing more strikes and these guys could both be in the big leagues in 2024.
Former top-30 prospect Garrett Stallings showed out this week, racking up 10 strikeouts and allowing just one hit in six innings. Righty Justin Armbruester (#19) went seven innings in his start — a rarity for any O’s minor leaguer this year — but gave up seven runs, six earned.
Among those who may be relevant to the Orioles’ pennant chase, John Means made his final rehab start and gave up three runs and six hits in five innings. He’ll finally be back on the Camden Yards mound tonight. Tyler Wells, once thought to be a slam dunk for a September callup, continues to face some challenges. He returned to the mound this week after missing 10 days with arm fatigue, but gave up two runs in 1.2 innings over two games.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- Last week: 4-2 vs. New Hampshire Fisher Cats
- Coming week: at Harrisburg Senators (25-38, Nationals)
- Second-half record: 34-29, third place (3.0 GB) in Eastern League Southwest
The Baysox enter the final week of the season still mathematically alive for a postseason spot, but it’s going to require an unlikely confluence of events. Most importantly, the Baysox need to win at least four of their six games but preferably sweep the Senators. Then they’ll need first-place Richmond to lose at least three more games than Bowie does. The Flying Squirrels are visiting the Erie SeaWolves this week. ...Of course if the Wolves win that series then they’ll win the division, but since they already won the first half to qualify for the playoffs, the team with the next-best record in the second half (either Bowie or Richmond) would get the other playoff spot. And if those two are tied, then it goes to a tiebreaker, but Bowie and Richmond split the head-to-head series this season, so... (throws papers into the air in confusion) ... yeah, I have no idea.
Basically, Bowie needs to win lots of games this week and Richmond needs to lose a lot, and then hope the math works out. Like I said, it’s unlikely.
In the meantime, let’s just enjoy some awesome performances, and none were more awesome this week than Billy Cook (#27 prospect), who crushed an incredible five home runs, including walkoff homers in back-to-back games. Talk about clutch! Cook deservedly won Eastern League Player of the Week honors for his 11-RBI, 1.500 OPS performance.
Billy Cook walk-off home run FOR THE SECOND NIGHT IN A ROW pic.twitter.com/ZU6ZwCKT6w— Orioles Player Development (@OsPlayerDev) September 7, 2023
The 24-year-old Cook, a 10th round pick from Pepperdine in 2021, has burst onto the prospect scene this season, hitting 24 homers and posting a .797 OPS in 116 games for Bowie. He’s split his defensive time between second base and all three outfield positions. A versatile fielder with pop certainly has a place in the majors, if Cook can sustain his performance at Triple-A next season.
Among Bowie’s other outfield prospects, Dylan Beavers (#9) racked four extra-base hits including a homer, but Jud Fabian (#13) and John Rhodes (#20) went a combined 3-for-30, though they walked nine times between them. There weren’t many standout performances on the mound, where Connor Gillispie threw the staff’s only quality start, a six-inning, two-run outing. Recent entrants into the top-30 rankings, Alex Pham (#29) worked 3.2 innings of scoreless long relief and Trace Bright (#30) gave up a run in four innings.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- Last week: 6-0 vs. Greenville Drive (Red Sox)
- Final season record: 66-63 (32-32 in first half, 34-31 in second half)
What a way to end the season! The IronBirds swept the Drive in six games to put the finishing touches on their 2023 campaign, and to salvage a winning record for the season despite having a 13-game losing streak at one point.
This just in: Samuel Basallo is really good. The Dominican catcher, who has shot up the ranks to become the Orioles’ #5 prospect, crushed three more home runs this series, giving him six in a six-game span dating back to the previous series. He added a double, a triple, and three walks, giving him a cool 1.650 OPS for the week. Basallo, like Cook, earned his league’s appreciation, winning South Atlantic League Player of the Week honors. And the Orioles aren’t ready to end Basallo’s sensational season, promoting him to Double-A Bowie for the final week, his third level of the year. Basallo finished his High-A career with a .333/.443/.688 slash line, with eight homers and 24 RBIs, even better than his numbers at Low-A Delmarva before that.
First round pick Enrique Bradfield Jr. (#8) didn’t get his bat cooking at Aberdeen — going just 2-for-17 with four walks — but his speed is as advertised. He was 4-for-4 in steal attempts with the IronBirds, making him 25-for-27 across three levels. Second rounder Mac Horvath (#12) had a better time at the plate, hitting two home runs and drawing six walks. In his first 22 professional games, Horvath batted .321/.455/.603 with five dingers.
The Aberdeen rotation set the tone for the sweep, with the six starters combining for a 1.14 ERA (three earned runs in 23.2 innings). Recovering-from-injury right-handers Seth Johnson (#15) and Zach Peek combined for seven scoreless, hitless innings, striking out 11. Johnson, the prize of last year’s Trey Mancini trade, was promptly promoted to Bowie alongside Basallo. Another trade acquisition, Kyle Virbitsky, worked six shutout innings, picking up eight strikeouts and allowing just one hit. The righty came to the Birds from Oakland in the Cole Irvin/Darell Hernaiz deal.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- Last week: 2-4 vs. Fredericksburg Nationals
- Final season record: 56-74 (28-37 in first half, 28-37 in second half)
It was a mostly forgettable season in the standings for the Shorebirds, who finished with the worst overall record in the 12-team Carolina League. They put up identical 28-37 records in each half. Still, there was no shortage of exciting prospects making their way through Delmarva this year, with everyone from Holliday to Basallo to Bradfield gracing the roster at various points.
The Shorebirds were, though, a bit light on pitching prospects, as evidenced by the club’s league-worst 1.49 WHIP this season and 4.54 ERA, third-worst out of 12 teams. The final week was no different, with the Shorebirds posting a 5.04 ERA in six games, better only than the team they were playing against, Fredericksburg. Perhaps the staff’s most intriguing hurler was 19-year-old lefty Deivy Cruz, who more than held his own while being nearly three years young for the level. Cruz, an international signee from the Dominican in 2021, finished the year with a 3.62 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 9.56 K/9 in 25 games (16 starts). As with other O’s pitching prospects, he just needs to cut down on the walks (4.64 BB/9). This week he wrapped up his season with 5.2 innings of one-run ball.
Delmarva didn’t finish the season with any top-30 hitting prospects on the roster, but 2023 20th-round pick Jalen Vasquez put up some good numbers in a small sample. In 24 games, the 21-year-old posted a .409 OBP with almost as many walks (17) as strikeouts (19), albeit with no home runs. Vasquez had three doubles, a triple, and four free passes this week. Fifth round pick Jake Cunningham was just 4-for-17 this week, but certainly flashed the leather.
Last week, Coby Mayo’s three-homer week made him the runaway winner in our poll with 76% of the vote. It was his third Player of the Week win this year, joining Holliday and Jordan Westburg in the three-timers club. Ortiz has won twice, and Norby, Kjerstad, Fabian, Díaz, Grayson Rodriguez, McDermott, Bright, and Gillispie once apiece.
Cowser is the highest-ranked O’s prospect who has yet to win Player of the Week. His 10-RBI performance this time would normally be good enough to at least get him on the ballot, but this week two guys stood head and shoulders above the rest. Who ya got?
Who was the Orioles’ minor league player of the week from September 5-10?
This poll is closed
Billy Cook, Bowie (5 HRs, 11 RBIs, .348/.500/1.000, back-to-back walkoff HRs, Eastern League Player of the Week)
Samuel Basallo, Aberdeen (3 HRs, 7 RBIs, .474/.545/1.105, South Atlantic Player of the Week, promoted to Bowie)