Four levels of the minor leagues are playing their final games this week. Of the Orioles affiliates, only Bowie has a postseason shot.
The Orioles are fresh off another one of those weeks that make you want to think about anything other than the Orioles. There have been a lot of them this season. Saturday’s doubleheader disaster plus Sunday’s drubbing by the Blue Jays might have been the worst yet. One thing that’s made this sting a little less as the season has gone along is that there have been a lot of good stories on the O’s farm. This week is no exception.
For most of the Orioles US-based affiliates, this week is going to be the final week of their seasons. The regular season draws to a close this week for Bowie, Aberdeen, and Delmarva, as well as the two Orioles Florida Complex League teams. Norfolk and the two Dominican Summer League squads will each play for another three weeks.
Of these teams, only Bowie has much of a chance to play in its league’s postseason. In 2021, the Double-A, High-A, and Low-A leagues are having one best-of-five championship series between the two teams with the best records in each league. Triple-A is not doing playoffs, and even if they were, Norfolk does not have a good record.
Delmarva, at 64-50, is five games behind #2 seed Salem. The Shorebirds play Salem this week, but even if they pulled off an unlikely sweep of the Red Sox, they also need to pass Down East and Carolina. Hopes are slim.
Bowie, on the other hand, has a real shot. Their 68-45 record has them within striking distance of both #1 seed Akron (70-43) and #2 seed Somerset (69-44), especially since Somerset and Akron are playing each other in this final week. They just need to play strong against the 56-54 Altoona Curve.
Bowie’s playoff push gets one hopeful boost in the final week. The Orioles are promoting Gunnar Henderson up to Double-A. The 20-year-old who was the O’s second round pick in the 2019 draft batted .230/.343/.432 in 65 games at High-A, where he was three years younger than the average player.
As a reminder, the Orioles prospect list we use to focus these weekly review posts is MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 Orioles ranking. Henderson is the #76 prospect league-wide in this ranking.
Triple-A Norfolk Tides
- This week: 3-4 vs. Durham Bulls (Rays)
- Season record: 46-68, sixth place (26 GB) of seven teams in Southeast division of Triple-A East
Can there be such a thing as a bad week where Adley Rutschman (#1 in baseball) hit two home runs? The mega-prospect catcher had homered just once for Norfolk until this week. Now he’s got three homers in 28 games. Rutschman drew another four walks to keep his Norfolk OBP over .400. If he had five more points of SLG he’d have a .300/.400/.500 line with the Tides. To this I say hooray.
Two other Norfolk players on the prospect ranking delivered multiple dingers for the Tides this past week. Kyle Stowers (#11) is a ferocious windmill who hits the ball real hard when he connects. He struck out 11 times this week to go along with his two homers. He’s homered 26 times across three levels on the O’s farm this year. This week was his Norfolk debut. I’ll be curious how he does in the last three weeks. Tyler Nevin (#30) also homered twice. His .930 OPS was the best of any Tides batter this week. The season OPS of .683 is not great.
In the wake of September roster expansion, there are not many pitching prospects left to be found at Norfolk. Still plugging along at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay is Kyle Bradish (#8), who walked three in a five-inning start this week, but also struck out five and limited Durham to just one run on three hits. Bradish has a 5.02 ERA with Norfolk. The 10.8 K/9 looks better.
Shout out as well to a prospect who fell out of the rankings years ago and is trying to revive himself in 2021. Cody Sedlock struck out eight batters in a six inning start where he allowed just two earned runs. Sedlock has only pitched in four good games since joining Norfolk. It’s a small sample size but a good one, with batters hitting just .219 against him in those four games. Whether the 26-year-old who was the O’s highest pick in 2016 has played his way into the 40-man picture is going to be one of the offseason’s questions.
Other notable prospects:
- OF Yusniel Diaz (#12) – There haven’t been many good weeks for the former Machado trade headliner. This week wasn’t one of them either. Diaz batted 3-15, drew no walks, and struck out seven times. It’s a tough 43 game batting line: .169/.228/.247
- LHP Kevin Smith (#14) – Triple-A hasn’t been kind to Mike Elias’s pickup from the Miguel Castro swap. Smith was torched for five runs in a four-inning outing this week. He walked three batters and hit another; he’s walked 33 and hit five in 48.1 AAA innings. It ain’t great.
Double-A Bowie Baysox
- This week: 7-0 vs. Harrisburg Senators (Nationals)
- Season record: 68-45, second place (2 GB) of six teams in Southwest division of Double-A Northeast
Here’s the good news: Grayson Rodriguez (#2) did not allow any baserunners this week. Here’s what tempers this news: He only pitched three innings. Don’t worry. This was a planned short outing for the purpose of innings management. Rodriguez threw 94 innings in 2019. He’s now thrown 98 innings in 2021. The Orioles are aiming to have him below 110, so he should be able to pitch once this week and once if they make the playoffs. Nightwing (so dubbed by me because of the alias of Dick Grayson in DC Comics) struck out five batters in his three innings this week, giving him 116 in 74.2 Bowie innings. Hot damn.
The other, currently unranked Kyle from the Dylan Bundy trade, Kyle Brnovich, also shut out the opposition this week. Brnovich’s feat is more impressive because he started two games and pitched ten shutout innings. Brnovich, who turns 24 next month, has a 3.65 ERA and 1.129 WHIP in 14 Bowie games.
On the hitting side, this was a breakout week at the plate for Jordan Westburg (#6), who lit up the Harrisburg pitchers for six hits in six games, with five of his six hits going for extra bases. Add in three walks and that’s a fine week. And a tip of the hat to Andrew Daschbach (unranked, 11th rounder from 2019) who launched three bombs this week to give him seven in 28 games for Bowie.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Terrin Vavra (#13) – Left one game after two at-bats. MASN’s Roch Kubatko wrote on September 8 that this was precautionary and Vavra was “expected to return quickly.” It’s September 14 now and he hasn’t returned yet. I don’t call that quickly.
- LHP Drew Rom (#26) – Also on the scoreless outing wagon for Bowie this week. Rom, 21, allowed just three hits and no walks while striking out seven batters. He’s got a 4.37 ERA in eight games with Bowie, but I like the 10.3 K/9.
High-A Aberdeen IronBirds
- This week: 1-5 vs. Wilmington Blue Rocks (Nationals)
- Season record: 56-57, second place (11.5 GB) of five teams in North division of High-A East
Two of the top 30 prospects on Pipeline’s ranking are active on the Aberdeen roster, neither of whom are pitchers. There were some interesting names on this affiliate earlier in the year. They did great and got promoted.
Gunnar Henderson (#4) only played in three games this past week, sitting Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before returning Sunday. That was still long enough for him to hit two home runs. Henderson has nine dingers in 65 High-A games. For a 20-year-old at that level, it’s impressive. Henderson also tripled, so all three of his hits were for extra bases. And he walked twice! He closes out his IronBirds tenure – we can hope for good – with a .775 OPS.
Adam Hall (#14) played in four games, batting 4-12 and picking up a stolen base. In 75 games, Hall’s OBP here is .348, which is not bad. However, his slugging percentage is also .348. I don’t know if that’s going to move him up the lists.
Other notable prospects:
As far as the rankings are concerned, that’s it. Tip of the hat to unranked Jake Lyons, 22, for four scoreless innings in his High-A debut.
Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds
- This week: 3-3 vs. Fredericksburg Nationals
- Season record: 64-50, second place (5 GB) of four teams in North division of Low-A East
After a couple of weeks of the 2021 draft pick squad (plus Coby Mayo) blistering the competition, much of the group fell back into the pack with a bit of a power-less slump this week. Indeed, the Shorebirds hit just two home runs as a team in six games.
It was still a good week overall, though, for the O’s top 2021 pick Colton Cowser (#5 prospect in system). Cowser batted 11-20 across five games, drew two walks, and stole three bases. In 20 games, the outfielder is hitting .377/.505/.481, with more walks (18) than strikeouts (15). 20 games is 20 games but that’s an exciting full-season affiliate debut, one that will probably have him ticketed for the Aberdeen roster at the start of next season, and perhaps if he and we are fortunate, Bowie beyond that.
Mayo (#17) was not so far behind Cowser this week, batting 7-20 in five games. The 19-year-old has the .300/.400/.500 trifecta going through 21 games with the Shorebirds. He even stole two bases this week. I am pleased, friends.
Delmarva’s biggest “keep an eye on him” pitcher remains, for me, Jean Pinto (unranked), who the O’s received for Jose Iglesias. Pinto, 20, spun another nice game this week, striking out six batters in six innings while holding the F-Nats to two runs. The 5’11” righty now has eight Low-A outings under his belt and he’s held opponents to a 0.797 WHIP, with a K/9 of 11.4.
Other notable prospects:
- IF Connor Norby (#9) – Hit one of the two Shorebirds homers this week, but it was one of only three hits. Even with this week’s little slump, Norby has an .850 OPS with Delmarva.
- OF Reed Trimble (#21) – 2-21 hitting for the CBB round pick. Trimble’s only played in 11 games with the Shorebirds, so no fretting about .166 hitting yet. He’s not scorching hot like some of these other guys, though.
- IF Darell Hernaiz (#24) – Hernaiz also homered this week, though he only went 3-16 overall. His .267/.326/.348 performance remains interesting considering he’s more than two years younger than the average player in the league.
Florida Complex League
Neither of the affiliates here have a good record. Orioles Black is 18-27. Orioles Orange is below even that, at 11-34. Since the 2021 picks and Mayo were promoted, this level only has one ranked prospect, outfielder Luis Gonzalez (#29). Gonzalez, 18, is OPSing .541 over 26 games in his first US affiliate appearance.
Dominican Summer League
The level below FCL also has two Orioles affiliates, of which neither has a good record. Orioles 1 is 12-27, while Orioles 2 is at 18-23. The quality of the rosters here will hopefully improve once the O’s under Elias can be full players for all of the available talent. The reality is many players have unofficial homes at age 14, so the two signing classes that have happened since Elias was hired really saw the best-regarded players locked up while Dan Duquette’s front office was sleeping at the wheel.
Orioles 1 is where the two seven-figure bonus players from the most recent amateur class are playing. Shortstop Maikol Hernandez (#19) hasn’t found his stride as a pro yet, though he’s also only 17. He’s batted .209/.317/.279, which is, at least, an interesting walk rate. Catcher Samuel Basallo (#25) has fared better, hitting .250/.328/.413 in 31 games. Basallo is nearly two years younger than the average player in this league, but he out-hits the competition. Entering yesterday, DSL hitters had a .679 OPS overall. Basallo’s at .741. He’s a long way from MLB, but it’s a nice beginning for him.
We had four players in last week’s player of the week poll receive over 20% of the vote. The winner was Billy Cook, who was the plurality choice at 32% after a game in which he hit two grand slams. Cook was 1-15 in four games this week, so no chance of a consecutive win for him.
These are our poll winners to date: Two-time winners: Rodriguez, Rutschman, Stowers, Westburg; one-time winners: Henderson, Johnny Rizer, Cadyn Grenier, J.D. Mundy, Mike Baumann, Rylan Bannon, and Ryan McKenna.