With so many of the Orioles’ top prospects coming from the past few drafts, the calendar turning to August this week represents a unique challenge as those players experience the grind of five months of daily games for the first time in their professional careers.
For college players, that adjustment is a little easier considering they had a full college season in 2019 and then went to pro ball to continue playing for a month or two there. For everyone else, this is a time when physical challenges need to be managed.
The Orioles, however, will be glad that so many of their top prospects are powering through.
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. Double-A Bowie catcher Adley Rutschman
So much for a rough July. Rutschman had a .590 OPS this month entering last week’s series with Hartford, and to say he was back to normal does a disservice to just how productive he was. Rutschman homered three times and had three doubles with seven walks and four strikeouts while batting .409 with a 1.506 OPS. He was one of three Baysox to homer three times last week, including Patrick Dorrian and Toby Welk, but Rutschman’s overall impressive showing made him the Double-A Northeast Player of the Week.
Even with the scuffles of the previous few weeks, the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball has been as-advertised this season. He’s batting .281 with a .927 OPS and 15 home runs while walking more times than he’s struck out in his first full season.
He remains in the stark minority of top Orioles prospects who have remained healthy and still not been promoted to Triple-A, but Rutschman’s timeline is different from anyone else’s. It should be a matter of time.
2. Double-A Bowie pitcher Kyle Brnovich
In his first four starts for Bowie, Brnovich had 17 strikeouts. In his fifth, he had 10 as he pitched five shutout innings and allowed just three hits without a walk Thursday against Hartford, the best performance in what’s been an eye-opening season for the 23-year-old right-hander.
One of four pitchers acquired for right-hander Dylan Bundy in December 2019 in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels, Brnovich has a 2.40 ERA and a 0.83 WHIP in 13 games (12 starts), a total of 56 ⅓ innings. He ranks second in the organization behind Grayson Rodriguez among full-season players with 11.98 strikeouts per nine innings, and is also second in WHIP.
3. Double-A Bowie pitcher Mike Baumann
Baumann’s season turnaround continued Friday at Bowie with seven strikeouts in six shutout innings while allowing two hits and a walk, giving him a 2.05 ERA with 26 strikeouts and a 0.77 WHIP in 22 July innings.
Entering the month, Baumann, who is coming off elbow issues last summer and this spring but was the organization’s third-best pitching prospect entering the season, had an 8.64 ERA in six starts at Bowie. If he’s not back to his best form, he’s certainly close — and that’s good news considering some of the struggles the Orioles rookie pitchers have had. If they can get Baumann to the big leagues this year and have him succeed, he’d be set up well going forward. He took the next step Tuesday, when the Orioles promoted him to Triple-A Norfolk.
4. High-A Aberdeen infielder Gunnar Henderson
It’s been a steep adjustment period for Henderson after he dominated Low-A Delmarva, but the 20-year-old infielder might have had his steadiest week yet for the IronBirds against Hudson Valley. He walked twice in the first two games of the series, then had eight hits the next four games, including two doubles and a triple, to bat .381 with a 1.119 OPS and three steals last week.
Henderson, who went hitless for over a week to start his time in Aberdeen, is now batting .243 with a .783 OPS. Those first seven games without a hit can’t be erased, but including the game he finally singled against Brooklyn on June 30, Henderson is batting .291 with an .861 OPS since.
5. High-A Aberdeen infielder Jordan Westburg
One of the steadiest producers in the Orioles’ system all summer had another week that fit that bill, batting .381 with a pair of extra-base hits and a 1.030 OPS last week against Hudson Valley.
Westburg was above the level at Delmarva to begin the season, and while he hasn’t put up the gaudy numbers he did there in April since coming to the IronBirds to begin May, he has a .297 batting average with an .850 OPS in 45 games at High-A.
The top prospect not featured so far
Rare are the outings in which Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in the Orioles system, is hit around a bit. But this one qualifies. Pitching Saturday against the Yard Goats, Rodriguez allowed a solo home run while striking out three in the first inning but didn’t finish the second after hitting a batter, walking two and allowing two more hits. He was charged with four earned runs in 1 ⅔ innings in the second-shortest start of his dazzling full-season career.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
Baltimore Orioles Insider
Typically reserved for a draft pick or trade acquisition from the past few years, this space could easily be used every week to showcase a pitcher who the Orioles targeted late in (or in this case, after) the 2019 draft who is performing well. This time, it’s right-hander Noah Denoyer at Low-A Delmarva, who struck out five without a walk and allowed four hits, including a solo home run, in six innings Thursday against Lynchburg.
The 23-year-old Denoyer, an undrafted free agent from 2019, has a 0.86 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP with 22 strikeouts and three walks in 21 innings in July and a 2.70 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP this season.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
Lamar Sparks was an intriguing do-it-all center field prospect when the Orioles took him in the fifth round in 2017, and he entered the following season as their No. 25 prospect before a shoulder injury shut him down for the whole year. Sparks returned to complex league ball in 2019, lost 2020 to the shutdown and has completed his first month at an affiliate at age 22.
He went 11-for-26 (.423) with a home run and two doubles and a 1.115 OPS for his best week yet for Delmarva, bringing his season line to .242 with a .742 OPS. The Orioles’ focus on drafting college outfielders over the past few years certainly makes it a tough path for Sparks going forward, but after so many delays, it’s good to see him back on the path to begin with.
Time to give some shine to …
Robert Neustrom was leading the prospect-laden Baysox lineup in RBIs and was batting .284 with an .831 OPS and 25 extra-base hits when he was promoted last week to Triple-A Norfolk. In his first week there, he hit .300 by going 6-for-20 with two home runs and a double.
Every week, I check his Baseball America player page to make sure he doesn’t qualify for the former top-30 category, as his name often came up for the back-end of the list as a good natural hitter who was going to produce up the ladder. He never made it, but now he’s as close as one can get to the big leagues.
Coby Mayo, the Orioles’ fourth-round pick in 2019, hit three home runs last week in the Florida Complex League — one for the Orange team then two for the Black team. … Infielder Moises Ramirez, who signed for $225,000 when the Orioles returned to the international market in the 2018-19 signing period, is batting .361 with a .932 OPS in 17 games for the Orange team.