If you’re sad about the coming end of the minor leagues for the year, take heart, because there will still be some more chances to keep track of Orioles prospects this year for the truly dedicated. The team announced its roster of Arizona Fall League players on Friday afternoon, a group of eight players who will be headed to Arizona to play for the Mesa Solar Sox alongside of prospects from the Astros, Athletics, Cubs, and Yankees.
Five Orioles pitching prospects and four position player prospects are going to join Mesa for the AFL season that begins on October 2 and runs through November 9. The pitchers are: righties Carter Baumler, Zach Peek, Carlos Tavera, and Peter Van Loon. The position players are: infielder TT Bowens, super-utility man Billy Cook, catcher Connor Pavolony, and outfielder John Rhodes.
In contrast to the past couple of years, this is not a group of players with anyone who has recently been ranked among the top prospects in the Orioles system. Last year, the Orioles sent Heston Kjerstad to the AFL, and two years ago, their contingent included Kyle Stowers and Yusniel Diaz. These are players who you probably had opinions about.
For months, there have been some hopeful comments here on this website and elsewhere that maybe the Orioles would send 2022 #1 overall pick Jackson Holliday out to the AFL, or perhaps 19-year-old catching prospect Samuel Basallo. These were not names that fit the pattern of who Mike Elias has sent to the AFL. Most teams don’t send their top prospects; MLB Pipeline’s rundown of the AFL rosters shows just 10 of the top 100 prospects headed to Arizona.
If it is a top prospect, it’s generally someone who had dealt with injuries and missed time during the season. Otherwise, their lists tend towards fringier players who may have also had injuries, or who need to be evaluated before their Rule 5 time comes up, or both. That’s the kind of players who are headed out to Arizona for the Orioles this year. Holliday in particular would probably have nothing to gain from the AFL play, as he was already facing more advanced competition than this at Triple-A Norfolk.
A bit about each of these players, in alphabetical order by last name:
RHP Carter Baumler
Drafted by the Orioles in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, Baumler signed with an overslot bonus and needed Tommy John surgery not long after beginning his pro career. The 21-year-old righty battled issues through this season and has just 28.2 pro innings under his belt. He needs to get experience and the AFL is an opportunity for him to do so. Baumler, as a 2020 high school pick, is not Rule 5 draft eligible until after next season.
INF TT Bowens
Signed as an undrafted free agent after the shortened 2020 draft out of mighty Central Connecticut State University, the 25-year-old Bowens has mostly played first base in the Orioles minor leagues. He posted a strong on-base percentage for High-A Aberdeen last season, but getting the bump to Bowie this year, batted just .226/.317/.402 in 47 games. He did miss some time and is Rule 5 eligible this winter, so the 6’4” righty batter will be trying to show the Orioles or some other team that he belongs on a 40-man roster.
INF/OF Billy Cook
This 24-year-old who was drafted by the Orioles from Pepperdine in the tenth round of the 2021 draft played all of the following positions at Double-A Bowie this year: First base, second base, center field, left field, right field. That’s a lot of versatility, and he also socked 24 homers for the Baysox in 120 games this season. Cook, at age 24, was old for the Double-A level, and the team probably hopes to sharpen his defensive skillset with this extra AFL experience.
LHP Trey McGough
McGough is a product of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. He was originally drafted by the Pirates, but the O’s chose this now-25-year-old lefty in last year’s minor league Rule 5 draft. McGough pitched in just seven games this season and only two at Double-A, so there’s not much to say about his performance. He’d be Rule 5 draft eligible this winter. The Orioles have tended to add at least one random reliever who you’ve not thought much about the last few years. Perhaps McGough will pitch his way into being that guy this year.
C Connor Pavolony
A seventh round pick by the Orioles in 2021 from Tennessee, Pavolony will be turning 24 during the AFL season. He played just 27 games during this minor league season and posted a .455 combined OPS in those games. A clear “give this guy some playing time” assignment.
RHP Zach Peek
From my perspective, Peek is the most notable prospect of the group going out to Arizona this year. The 25-year-old Peek arrived in the Orioles organization in the same Dylan Bundy trade that brought Kyle Bradish here, but Peek had to get Tommy John surgery and missed extended time. He threw just 10.2 innings this season. A sixth round pick in 2019, Peek is Rule 5 eligible this winter. The O’s need the extra opportunity to make a decision about him.
OF John Rhodes
Third round selection by the Orioles in 2021 out of Kentucky. Rhodes, 23, played in 108 games for Double-A Bowie this year, batting .228/.323/.422 with 17 home runs. If he added 20 points to each of those triple slash numbers, that would be interesting. Rhodes will not be Rule 5 draft eligible until after next season.
RHP Carlos Tavera
Until the Orioles drafted and signed Jackson Baumeister this year, the 24-year-old Tavera, taken in the fifth round in 2021, was the highest round drafted-and-signed pitcher by the O’s under Mike Elias. Tavera spent the full season with Bowie, posting a 4.86 ERA and 1.607 WHIP in 24 games. His immediately obvious problem is walks with a 6.6 BB/9. That was a problem for him at Aberdeen last year, too. If he doesn’t harness more command, the O’s might not be looking to add him to the Rule 5 draft after next season.
RHP Peter Van Loon
Another 2021-drafted pitcher, Van Loon came to the Orioles in the 16th round of that draft. Van Loon, 24, also spent this season with Bowie, where in 18 games he had a 6.04 ERA and 1.421 WHIP. Unlike Tavera, Van Loon’s strikeout and walk rates both look pretty good, but Van Loon was really victimized by the long ball, with 12 allowed in 53.2 innings. He also will not be Rule 5 draft eligible until after next season.
Best of luck to these eight players when the AFL season begins in a week and a half. They’ll be joined with the Solar Sox by Bowie pitching coach Forrest Hermann.