The Orioles announced their organizational minor league player and pitcher of the year award winners Thursday. And while neither player started the season among the team's top 10 prospects, both worked their way to the doorstep of the major leagues with breakout years.
First baseman Christian Walker was named the team's Brooks Robinson Player of the Year, while right-hander Tyler Wilson is the Jim Palmer Pitcher of the Year recipient.
Walker, the Orioles' fourth-round selection from the University of South Carolina in 2012, hit .288/.357/.489 with 26 home runs and 96 RBIs in 139 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this season.
Walker, 23, was one of the top run producers at the Double-A level. He led the Eastern League in home runs (20) and had 77 RBIs when he earned a promotion to Norfolk on July 17.
Not only did the 6-foot, 200-pound Walker made tremendous strides with his power numbers this season -- he hit just 13 homers in 125 games during his first two professional seasons -- but he also raised his stock among organizational brass by improving his defense at first base.
Wilson, a 24-year-old who was a 10th-round pick out of the University of Virginia in 2011, might have elevated his profile more than any player in the minor league system.
Wilson also played for both Bowie and Norfolk, posting a combined 14-8 record with a 3.67 ERA in 28 starts. He allowed 162 hits in 166 2/3 innings, striking out 157 batters and walking 43.
Wilson began the season with a 5-5 record at Bowie, but he was 5-0 with a 2.65 ERA in five June starts and earned a promotion to Norfolk on July 3.
In other honors, Mark Blackmar (frederick) -- who was traded to the Chicago White Sox last week for Alejandro De Aza -- has been given the Elrod Hendricks Minor League Community Service Award. Jim Richardson has been named the Jim Russo Scout of the Year. And the Delmarva Shorebirds' field staff has been awarded the Cal Ripken, Sr. Player Development Award.
Infielder-outfielder Steve Pearce, who has missed six games with an abdomen strain, was scheduled to hit soft toss and from a tee on Thursday and then take batting practice on Friday at Tropicana Field. If all goes well, Pearce likely could return to the starting lineup Saturday.
Left-handed reliever Andrew Miller, who tweaked his left leg while pitching Monday, was slated to throw from flat ground on Thursday. Showalter said Miller's improving daily and is considered day-to-day. Showalter and Miller likely will need a bullpen session before being used in a game. "Not necessarily, but more than likely.
Showalter said catcher Matt Wieters (season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery) has had improving range of motion and athletic trainer Richie Bancells is encouraged by Wieters' progress. Showalter said he won't handicap Wieters' recovery, but thinks he could be ready for a full spring training.
Orioles re-up with five affiliates
The Orioles announced they have agreed to extensions with their five top affiliates, keeping all of their primary minor league teams within a relatively short drive.
The Orioles agreed to four-year extensions with Triple-A Norfolk, Double-A Bowie and High-A Frederick, which will run through 2018, and two-year deals with Low-A Delmarva and Short-A Aberdeen, which will run through 2016.
"The minor league system is the lifeblood of the major league team," Duquette said. "We are glad to be going back to all of these communities that have welcomed us over the years."
Around the horn
Showalter said the plastic on-deck circles near the dugouts have been removed permanently after catcher Caleb Joseph slipped on one in front of the home camera well while trying to catch a foul pop. MLB mandates a designated on-deck circle, Showalter said, so the Orioles will place chalk outlines or turf circles in place of the plastic ones. … By scoring a run in the seventh inning Thursday, Nick Markakis passed Paul Blair for eighth on the Orioles' all-time runs scored list with 738.