Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski debuted in Triple-A Norfolk on Monday night, a reward from the Orioles organization for spending parts of three seasons at Double-A Bowie and starting well there this year.
Yastrzemski was batting .268/.361/.449 with six home runs this season, matching his 2015 home run total and improving on what he did in 2014 in almost every statistical category. It appeared he had leveled out in Double-A after being promoted through three levels in 2014 and ending his season there, but he's now just one call away from the majors, even if the outfield in Norfolk is crowded.
The Vanderbilt product (and the grandson of Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski) had two hits, including a triple, in his debut for the Tides on Monday. It was clearly time for a promotion.
Which other Orioles prospects could be in line for a bump this month?
Here's the rundown on which prospects are candidates to move up soon, and how close they are to doing that.
Right-hander Parker Bridwell
Bridwell has already been passed over once for promotion, with the organization opting for right-hander Joe Gunkel to jump up to fill in the Triple-A rotation in its time of need. Both Gunkel and Bridwell had about the same amount of Double-A time when they began this season at Bowie.
This season, Bridwell has gotten results, but doesn't look quite ready to make the next step. His 3.48 ERA in six games (31 innings) would be his best of any full season in his career. But Bridwell has 20 walks to 15 strikeouts this year, and his 1.48 WHIP suffers because of those walk totals.
It's not like there's much keeping him out of the Triple-A rotation at this point, but the walk problems should probably be resolved before that happens. Bridwell has a starter's stuff, with a fastball that sits at times in the mid 90s, an above average changeup and a breaking ball that he has focused on more this season. It's all about consistency with Bridwell, and considering how slowly the organization has brought along the 2010 draftee, the Orioles might let him find it in Double-A.
Relief pitcher Ashur Tolliver
This particular moment might not be the time to call for Tolliver to make the move from Bowie to Norfolk, considering he has allowed a run in each of his past three appearances. But to allow three runs in 3 2/3 innings and still have an ERA of 2.31 speaks to what Tolliver was doing earlier in the season. He has 24 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings in his third season in Bowie. Last year, he struck out 61 in 58 2/3 innings with a 2.91 ERA.
That's not exactly Mychal Givens-esque Double-A numbers that require someone to get promoted right to the majors, but Tolliver's fast, compact, left-handed delivery is similarly difficult to pick up. He mixes a mid-90s fastball with two good secondary pitches. They're loaded with lefties in Norfolk, including Andy Oliver, Zach Phillips and Edgar Olmos in the bullpen, but Tolliver seems to have done all that can be expected in Double-A.
Starting pitcher Brian Gonzalez
The Orioles' top pick in 2014, the third-rounder took his lumps in the South Atlantic League with Low-A Delmarva last season, and returned this year after ending 2015 with a 5.71 ERA. He's cut that number dramatically this year, as he boasts a 2.33 ERA in seven starts. The left-hander improved on every stat across the board, and as a result, is pitching deeper into games than he was able to last year. He retired a batter past the fifth inning in just five of his 23 starts last year. Now, he has gone six innings over each of his past three starts. He might not be long for Delmarva at this rate.
Catcher Yermin Mercedes
Mercedes, at age 23, is a bit old for Delmarva, but having spent three years in the Dominican Summer League with the Washington Nationals organization without ever making it to America before he was released in 2013, it was the appropriate place for him.
But judging by the box scores, he has been raking. Mercedes is batting .363/.392/.584 with 17 extra-base hits to lead the Shorebirds. He has 375 plate appearances there between this year and last. The presence of Jonah Heim, Austin Wynns and Wynston Sawyer could make him surplus at the next level, High-A Frederick.
Outfielder Jay Gonzalez
One of the bright spots for the Keys this year in Frederick is outfielder Jay Gonzalez, who is batting .299/.415/.430 with a dozen extra-base hits and 23 steals in 25 attempts. The 2014 10th-round pick plays both left and center field, which presents a problem because of how crowded the outfield is in the Orioles' high minors.
Even with Yastrzemski out of the fold in Bowie, the Baysox still have Glynn Davis, Quincy Latimore, Henry Urrutia, Julio Borbon and Joey Terdoslavich getting outfield time. Gonzalez, with 312 at-bats in High-A, could be knocking on the door by the All-Star break.
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Good, but not yet
The following players are off to great starts this year, but might need to continue their success for another month or so before anyone starts talking about them moving.
- Left-hander Chris Lee has a 2.41 ERA in six games (five starts) for Bowie, with just 13 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings but 2.59 groundouts for every flyout he induces. In his most recent start, he had 14 groundouts and just one flyout. But with six appearances this year, he has only had 13 total outings in Double-A. It's a little early for a move there.
- Catcher Chance Sisco is batting .333/.439/.409 with seven doubles, but has played just 48 games in Bowie and might not get regular catching reps with Audry Perez and Francisco Pena in Norfolk.
- College relievers Garrett Cleavinger (2.18 ERA, 31 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings), Christian Turnipseed (2.03 ERA, 13 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings) and Ryan Meisinger (0.59 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings) were all drafted last year, and look to be handling Delmarva well. When the need arises, there's probably no hesitation promoting any of them.