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Baltimore Orioles

Orioles minor league report: Joey Ortiz completes grand July as Colton Cowser also goes off for Bowie

ARLINGTON, Texas — The past week-plus has been big for the Orioles’ farm system, in several ways.

On Monday, Baltimore finalized its 2022 draft class, adding a fresh wave of talent to the system’s lower rungs. The same day, they traded Trey Mancini, long the face of their major league team, to the Houston Astros in a three-team deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, getting a high-upside minor league pitcher from each team in return. They added more pitching depth Tuesday when they acquired four minor league arms from the Minnesota Twins for closer Jorge López, with left-hander Cade Povich being the apparent centerpiece.

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“When we’re able to get four pitching prospects — particularly Cade Povich is somebody that we’re very, very high on internally. I think we got a possible front-of-the-rotation starter and a guy that’s going to be in the mid-minors here before the end of the year — we do it,” executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said.

Of course, prospects already in the organization played last week, with some impressive performances on the offensive side in particular. The trade deadline pushed this feature back a couple of days, but each week, The Baltimore Sun finds a way to 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. Games already played in this week’s series are not included.

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1. Double-A Bowie infielder Joey Ortiz

To say Ortiz had a good week would be discounting the entirety of his July. He closed a dominant month in grand fashion, with his bases-loaded home run Sunday marking his third of the week and fifth of the month. He ended June with four long balls total. A week in which Ortiz hit .519 and slugged 1.000 rounded out his .405/.438/.674 slash line for July as Baltimore’s No. 23 prospect finally continued the offensive breakout he started last season with before a season-ending shoulder injury.

After Ortiz shared Bowie’s infield with fellow top prospects Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg much of the year, July marked the first month all of his appearances in the field came exclusively at shortstop.

2. Double-A Bowie outfielder Colton Cowser

Ortiz was not alone in his feasting on Altoona’s pitching staff this week at Prince George’s Stadium. Catching duo Cody Roberts and Maverick Handley each had big weeks, as did infielders Connor Norby and Greg Cullen. But Cowser’s continuation of an uptick in performance since joining Bowie snags the headline.

Hitting .524 with a 1.529 OPS and even strikeout-to-walk ratio gave Baltimore’s sixth-ranked prospect a batting line of .342/.491/.683 with seven home runs and 23 strikeouts against 19 walks in his first 24 games in Double-A. It’s a massive leap from the relatively pedestrian numbers he posted with High-A Aberdeen to open the year and represents a better reflection of the player the Orioles believed they were getting with last year’s No. 5 overall pick.

3. Triple-A Norfolk infielder Gunnar Henderson

Before the minor leagues’ midseason break, Henderson was off to an uncharacteristically slow start to July. Halfway through the month, Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect was hitting .171 with no home runs and three times as many strikeouts as walks. Consider his course corrected. Henderson hit .429 with a 1.310 OPS last week, doubling and homering twice each. The 21-year-old ended July on a 12-game hitting streak, finishing a relatively quiet month with a still-impressive .826 OPS.

4. Double-A Bowie right-hander Griffin McLarty

As the Orioles’ eighth-round pick in 2019, McLarty was the first pitcher Baltimore drafted under Elias. The right-hander allowed runs in eight of his first nine appearances with the Baysox, but he came into this week having posted seven straight scoreless outings since mid-June. Last week, he retired all 12 batters he faced, striking out half of them, across two relief appearances.

5. Low-A Delmarva infielder Isaac De Leon

After a couple of days heavily devoted to trades, it seems fitting to include a player acquired by one here. The return from the Miami Marlins for reliever Richard Bleier, De Leon, 20, slugged .773 last week, with half of his 10 hits going for extra bases. It’s been a relatively quiet season as a whole for De Leon, who has gone from playing shortstop and third base to playing first and third. But July was his most consistent month, with his best average and slugging percentage this year by a large margin.

The top prospect not featured so far

Meeting with reporters after the trade deadline Wednesday, Elias said right-hander Grayson Rodriguez is throwing from 120 feet and is progressing toward game action before the season is over. DL Hall, the Orioles’ top pitching prospect among those who are healthy, has now had consecutive rough outings after striking out half of the 80 batters he faced in a four-start span.

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“As expected, he’s had a real up-and-down experience in Triple-A, and I think that’s the type of talent he is,” Elias said. “He’s been inconsistent, but he’s immensely gifted and mentally equipped to be a great big leaguer, and he’s right there. I do plan on and hope on him helping this team this year, but we need him to be consistent in Triple-A. He’s learning. He understands, and I think he’s going to be all the better for having these last two poor starts and adjusting to them.”

International acquisition of the week

Delmarva left-hander Deivy Cruz, part of last year’s international signing class, did not allow an earned run over six innings in last week’s start, his third straight doing so. In four July starts, he has allowed two runs in 18 1/3 innings, an 0.98 ERA, working around some walk troubles by limiting opponents to a .203 average. The 18-year-old has yet to face a batter younger than him this season.

The best former top-30 prospect of the week

Without a particular standout here, we’ll recognize Yusniel Diaz for reaching the majors. Deemed the Orioles’ top prospect when he was the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in July 2018, Diaz has dealt with a series of injuries and struggles with performance in the four years since. But with the Orioles having an open roster spot after trading Mancini, they called him up for the first time.

In his lone at-bat in Tuesday’s major league debut, Diaz struck out on four pitches before being optioned back to Triple-A, where he had a .506 OPS since returning from a right hamstring strain.

“He’s not putting up the numbers in Triple-A that we’d like to see to really say, ‘Hey, you’re ready to go hit in the big leagues for a month and see what happens,’” Elias said. “I’d like to see him perform better in Triple-A. I’m happy that he kind of got up here and made the major leagues. He’s a great kid, he’s been through a lot, and it’s been a disappointing couple of years for him. But we need to see somebody graduate Triple-A before we can just hand them a job in the majors.”

Time to give some shine to …

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High-A Aberdeen first baseman TT Bowens, an undrafted free agent after 2020′s shortened draft, had three doubles and two home runs among his seven hits last week, finishing with a 1.297 OPS. Bowens, 24, has been solid in a league where he’s more than a year older than the average hitter. Relatedly, he’s done much of his damage against pitchers younger than him, with an OPS over .900 and about 250 points higher than what he’s done opposite those who are older.

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Minors moves

>> Right-handed pitching prospects Zach Peek, part of the Orioles’ December 2019 return for trading Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels, and Seth Johnson, who Baltimore received from the Tampa Bay Rays in the three-team Mancini deal, underwent successful Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgeries Wednesday; the Orioles were aware Johnson would need the surgery when they made the trade. Dr. Keith Meister performed the procedures in Dallas, having also handled Orioles starter John Means’ Tommy John surgery earlier this year.

>> Outfielder Shayne Fontana, Baltimore’s 23rd-round pick in 2019, was promoted to Norfolk this week after posting an .898 OPS with Bowie. Outfielder John Rhodes, last year’s third-round selection, and right-hander Gregori Vasquez moved up to Bowie in corresponding moves.

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