With the Orioles’ draft class fully signed last week and the trade deadline passed, the current group of Orioles prospects won’t change much over the last two months of the minor league season when it comes to high-profile additions.
What could change, however, is who populates a weekly list of top performers like this one. With 2021 draftees starting to get game action after a long layoff between the college season and the draft, they’ll all get a chance to show what they can do and begin the process of joining what the Orioles call the rising tide of homegrown talent across the system.
There were some significant first steps on that front already this week. Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down five of the top performers in the Orioles’ prospect ranks and hand out some superlatives for those who didn’t make that cut.
1. FCL Orioles outfielder Colton Cowser
The Orioles’ top pick in last month’s draft made his debut in the Florida Complex League on Monday with a single in his first at-bat and a home run in his second. In what was a weak week for the top prospects on the Orioles’ farm, that certainly is worth some notice.
Cowser and second-round pick Connor Norby got a week of uninterrupted work after their unveiling at Camden Yards on July 23, and will continue to build back up to game action and be steeped in daily baseball and the Orioles’ methods at the complex level before they get some affiliated action at Low-A Delmarva later this season.
2. Double-A Bowie Outfielder Kyle Stowers
If Cowser was drafted for his natural hitting ability this year, Stowers was the Orioles’ competitive balance round pick in 2019 for his elite hard contact skills and the power it can produce. This was another week that showed why he, as one of the breakout stars on the Orioles farm, was 9-for-25 (.360) with a home run and two doubles for a .989 OPS.
Stowers has as many games at Double-A as he did at High-A Aberdeen to begin the season — 36 — and his productivity at the higher level is impressive. He’s batting .313 with a .992 OPS and eight home runs. In July, Stowers’ 1.076 OPS was fifth-highest among qualifiers in Double-A Northeast. His 64 total bases were third in the league and his 34 hits were second.
It would be aggressive for someone like Stowers, who lost the 2020 minor league season, to end the year in Norfolk — to the point that even the idea is a nonstarter. But if anyone deserved it, he might be approaching that.
3. High-A Aberdeen Infielder Jordan Westburg
Less aggressive, with each passing week, would be the idea that Jordan Westburg could end this season in Double-A. He barely lasted a month at Low-A Delmarva before earning a promotion to Aberdeen. This week, he was 7-for-22 (.318) with three home runs and a pair of doubles with a 1.318 OPS against Bowling Green to help lift him to a .299 average with a .904 OPS in 51 games with the IronBirds. He has a 14-game hitting streak and has reached base in 28 straight games.
Westburg, the 30th overall pick in 2020, has impressed the Orioles since he showed up at fall instructional camp last year. Little has happened to change that since, and Westburg’s combination of defensive prowess and offensive impact potential have elevated him to be one of the team’s top hitting prospects.
This kind of full-season debut in more traditional circumstances or on a team that was closer to trying to win might warrant a move to Double-A for an advanced college player like Westburg. This year on the Orioles farm falls under neither of those categories, but there’s nothing wrong with Westburg putting together a comprehensive first full season where he is.
4. Double-A Bowie right-hander Cody Sedlock
With his tandem starter Blaine Knight off welcoming his first son last week, Sedlock got a pair of starts and pitched well in each. He struck out seven in five innings of one-run ball July 27, then came back Aug. 1 and allowed two earned runs in six innings with six strikeouts.
He lowered his ERA from 4.70 to 4.25 over those two starts in Richmond, and made good on pitching coach Justin Ramsey’s prediction that he’d bounce back better after allowing six runs in his most recent home start.
5. Triple-A Norfolk outfielder Robert Neustrom
One of the biggest breakouts in the Orioles system made his way to Triple-A Norfolk in the middle of last month and showed no signs of slowing up. Neustrom was promoted July 20 and hit two home runs in his first week before adding a third with two doubles and four walks for an .822 OPS in his second week at Triple-A.
Neustrom had a .608 OPS in May with Bowie, then hit .310 with a .957 OPS and 19 extra-base hits in 41 games there until his promotion. He’ll have to crack a crowded outfield with plenty of top picks from recent drafts pushing to the majors as well, but if he makes it, his story will be one the Orioles’ revamped player development department will tell proudly.
The top prospect not featured so far
Top prospect Adley Rutschman followed what might have been his best week of the season with one of his worst, going 4-for-24 with a home run and two walks against five strikeouts for a .551 OPS, bringing his season OPS down to .898 for Double-A Bowie.
Still, he has 16 home runs and is one of the best prospects in baseball. He’ll be at Triple-A Norfolk before long.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
Second baseman Jahmai Jones didn’t have the most comprehensively productive week, but did hit two home runs to account for half of his hits over seven games against Durham. He’s cooled a little bit after starting very well on his return from the injured list at Norfolk, but is still batting .260 with a .797 OPS since and has an .811 OPS in his first crack at Triple-A this year.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
It’s been a tough year for a lot of players at Norfolk, and shortstop Mason McCoy hasn’t been exempt from that. This week, though, he homered twice and stole a pair of bases while going 5-for-20 (.250) with a .925 OPS in seven games against Durham. McCoy was the Orioles’ No. 29 prospect entering the 2020 season, and has been a fixture at the last two spring trainings. But getting a chance to play every day at Triple-A is an opportunity that feels a lot more likely after weeks like that.
Time to give some shine to …
Konner Wade’s major league debut was spoiled by a tough time on the mound, but since returning to Norfolk after the Orioles took him off the roster, he’s been pitching like he wants another chance. Wade has a 1.78 ERA in 25 ⅓ innings of six appearances (three starts), and allowed three runs in 11 innings with eight strikeouts over two starts last week.
Outfielder Stiven Acevedo was one of the more impressive “late bloomer” types the Orioles signed with all their unspent money from the 2018-19 signing bonus period that senior director of international scouting Koby Perez got to use after he was hired in January 2019. The 19-year-old is batting .352 with a .909 OPS for FCL Orioles Black. … Third baseman Coby Mayo, the Orioles’ fourth-round pick in 2020, is batting .339 with a 1.002 OPS and three home runs in 20 games between the two FCL Orioles clubs.
With a cap on how many domestic minor leaguers a team can have beginning this season, 2021 draftees debuting means the Orioles had to let some players go. Relievers Cody Carroll and Evan Phillips, two 2018 trade deadline acquisitions when the team’s rebuild fully began, were among them, as was Norfolk infielder Chris Shaw, Aberdeen left-hander Kevin Magee and Delmarva right-hander Jonathan Pendergast. As 2021 draft picks debut, the Orioles will need to make similar decisions on other players to remain under the 180-player cap.