With the exception of a spate of injuries at Triple-A Norfolk, the Orioles will look at the first three series of the minor league season quite favorably.
On a nightly basis, they have pitchers who are putting together dominant strikeout performances in their scoreless outings and top draft picks from the past two drafts who are hitting at a level that warrants their selection. All the work that director of player development Matt Blood and his staff did to keep the minor leaguers ready through the pandemic for this moment is paying off.
It’s clear that the Orioles’ top tier of minor league pitchers is at another level. What’s more encouraging is how many of the hitters they’ve used high picks on in the past two years appear to be at the top of their game as well.
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. High-A Aberdeen pitcher Grayson Rodriguez
“Unhittable.” That’s the text that came through Friday night from a scout at Ripken Stadium watching the Orioles’ top pitching prospect and second-ranked prospect according to Baseball America carve through Wilmington. He allowed a solo home run and hit a batter but struck out eight to continue what’s been a dominant season in High-A.
Under normal circumstances, almost every top Orioles pitching prospect who dominated at Delmarva struggled upon going to Frederick for High-A. Not only has Rodriguez avoided the hitters-friendly park there, but he had a year to get better in between. He’s tied for the organizational lead in strikeouts with DL Hall (who struck out eight in four innings Sunday to get himself back on track), placing both in the top 10 in the minors. Rodriguez’s 23.8% swinging strike rate is second-best in all of minor league baseball, according to FanGraphs.
He will be in the high minors in short order, and all of a sudden, a brighter future on the mound for the Orioles will be a lot closer than anyone expected.
2. High-A Aberdeen outfielder Kyle Stowers
The 71st overall pick in the 2019 draft came out of a little funk for his most productive week as a pro for the IronBirds. With three doubles, a triple and a home run, five of his 10 hits went for extra bases as he had a 1.337 OPS in last week’s series against Wilmington. This time last week, Stowers was batting .184 with a .667 OPS. Now, he’s batting .287 with a .910 OPS.
Stowers has always profiled as a prototypical corner power bat despite some center field in his past, but the question coming into the draft and since has been whether he can cut down the swings-and-misses and connect enough to make an impact. Weeks like this are encouraging on that front.
3. Double-A Bowie right-hander Kyle Bradish
Nearly identical weeks for Bradish and Hall made it difficult to choose who to highlight, but the tie goes to the pitcher who struck out 10 around two hits and two walks in four innings and got promoted. Bradish’s next start will be at Triple-A Norfolk after a gaudy first month in the organization.
He impressed the player development staff all last year and backed it up by striking out 26 in 13 ⅔ shutout innings with a 0.88 WHIP in three starts. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year, so it’s possible that if things go well with the Tides, Bradish could get a look in the big leagues in September.
4. Low-A Delmarva infielder Jordan Westburg
There’s been no slowing down for Westburg, the 30th overall pick in last year’s draft, as the season has worn on for the Shorebirds. He achieved his 10-for-19 week and 1.414 OPS in symmetrical fashion: he had two hits in all five of his starts this week, and in eight straight games dating to the previous series. He homered once and added two doubles this week.
For more than just optics, the Orioles like having both Westburg and top infield prospect Gunnar Henderson — who despite another standout week can’t even crack this list — at Delmarva together. They could ostensibly climb the ladder together and grow as they push each other to the big leagues.
More likely, though, Westburg will climb to Aberdeen sooner. He’s batting .400 and getting on base more than half the time, with power.
5. Low-A Delmarva outfielder Hudson Haskin
In taking Haskin with the first pick of the second day of last year’s shortened draft, the Orioles bet that the draft-eligible sophomore’s improvements to put together his massive set of tools at Tulane before the shutdown were legitimate. Things started a little slowly, but haven’t continued that way.
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Haskin was one of several standout Shorebirds this week, going 9-for-18 (.500) with two doubles and a home run for a 1.386 OPS while stealing four bases. He has 18 hits over his current nine-game hitting streak. The Orioles have taken a lot of potential power bats in the outfield with high picks recently, but Haskin has a chance to be someone who does it all out there.
The top prospect not featured so far
It was a quiet week for top prospect Adley Rutschman at Bowie until he came up Sunday with the game on the line and hit a three-run, game-tying home run. Of course, given Rutschman’s lofty standards, a quiet week still carries an .816 OPS.
He’s batting .246 with four home runs and a .908 OPS in 17 games, with 17 walks against 18 strikeouts.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
Before the Orioles had a fruitful Latin American program, they had Ofelky Peralta, a hard-throwing Dominican right-hander who came stateside to pitch in the Gulf Coast League at age 18 in 2015.
He was pushed aggressively early in his career and kept his promise throughout; he was in Baseball America’s top-30 prospects four straight times and peaked at No. 12 in 2017. Still, he didn’t get past High-A Frederick until this year, where his high-octane fastball is playing well. Peralta allowed two unearned runs on three hits and a walk while striking out nine for the Baysox in his start against Richmond this week, and has 19 strikeouts in 12 innings with a 1.08 WHIP in three starts.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
It wouldn’t be a recap of a week on the Orioles farm without Henderson showing up, and he earned it again this week. He was 7-for-21 with a pair of home runs and a double while walking as many times as he struck out (four). By almost any measure, Henderson is one of the best under-20 hitters in all the minors so far.
Time to give some shine to…
It’s going to take some time to figure out what the Orioles have in last year’s undrafted free-agent crop, but in J.D. Mundy, it seems they have an interesting first base bat from the left side. He went 6-for-16 with eight walks, a double and a home run last week to bring him to .321 with a 1.044 OPS in his pro debut for the Shorebirds.