The first half of the minor league baseball season came to a close last week, with a four-day respite to coincide with the major league All-Star break. That creates an opportune time for The Baltimore Sun to generate an All-Star list for the Orioles’ farm system, featuring a starter at each position as well as eight pitchers.
They come from a variety of levels, although several of the biggest names on the list are playing for Triple-A Norfolk and making a case for major league debuts.
So instead of the usual list of top performers from the previous week, here’s a breakdown of which Orioles prospects have performed the best so far this season.
Double-A Bowie’s Maverick Handley: There’s more to Handley’s game than catching. His roommate, Andrew Daschbach, is often the beneficiary of Handley’s cooking in Bowie. He’s well-rounded, on and off the field, and it shows. Handley, a sixth-round draft pick in 2019, holds a .787 OPS, the highest of any catcher in the pipeline. And his wRC+ — which encompasses weighted runs created along with other external factors — is 121, or 21 points higher than average.
Adley Rutschman might be the star of the show, but Handley’s first half shows there could be room for him alongside the former top prospect in the future.
High-A Aberdeen’s TT Bowens: Jacob Teter and Bowens often platoon first base for the IronBirds and they have similar offensive outputs, but Bowens has almost twice as many plate appearances. The 24-year-old was an undrafted free agent in 2020, when the draft was shortened to five rounds. In his 75 games this year, he has five home runs, 32 RBIs and a .775 OPS.
High-A Aberdeen’s Darell Hernaiz: Hernaiz earned a midseason promotion from Low-A Delmarva to the IronBirds, and he’s kept the offensive output at a high level despite the rise in competition. Since his call-up, Hernaiz is hitting .304 with an .855 OPS. The 20-year-old, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 draft, can play all over the infield and is ranked as the No. 24 prospect in the Orioles’ organization, according to Baseball America.
Triple-A Norfolk’s Gunnar Henderson: The No. 2 prospect in Baltimore’s pipeline, Henderson has leaped through the system and has succeeded at all levels. Last year, he rose from Low-A to Double-A. This year, he’s gone from Bowie to Norfolk and his .963 OPS is the third highest in the system among batters with at least 100 plate appearances. His 159 wRC+ is also the third best. At 21 years old, the second-round pick in 2019 is pushing for a place in the majors, be it as a shortstop or third baseman.
Triple-A Norfolk’s Jordan Westburg: The former Mississippi State star reached new heights this season after his promotion to Triple-A. In Double-A this season, Westburg hit .247. In his 35 games at the highest level of the minors, that average has jumped to .298 with a .872 OPS. Westburg can play all over the infield while hitting for power (16 homers), displaying the kind of flexibility that could help the No. 4 prospect in the system reach Baltimore, perhaps later this year.
Triple-A Norfolk’s Kyle Stowers: Stowers has already had a taste of the big leagues, playing for Baltimore as a replacement player in Toronto last month for two games and recording his first hit. But he soon returned to Triple-A, where he’s continued to perform at a high level. The 24-year-old Stanford product has hit more homers than any other Baltimore minor leaguer (17), and his .889 OPS is the fifth best. Stowers’ 54 RBIs are behind only Henderson and Westburg.
Double-A Bowie’s Colton Cowser: As the No. 6 prospect in the organization, Cowser is another fast riser. He joined as the Orioles’ first-round pick in 2021 and has found his way to Double-A Bowie a year later, where he has posted a 1.054 OPS in 19 games. He’s walked almost as much as he’s struck out (15 to 19) this season, and his .851 OPS between both levels ranks as the 10th best in the system.
Double-A Bowie’s Shayne Fontana: Fontana has dealt with a few injuries this season, lowering his number of plate appearances slightly. But when he has been healthy, Fontana has done damage. A 23rd-round draft pick in 2019, Fontana’s .856 OPS is the eighth-best mark in the Baltimore pipeline, and his .280 batting average ranks No. 13. He’s not as big of a name as the other two outfield prospects, but he’s performing at just as high of a level.
Triple-A Norfolk’s Terrin Vavra: Taken in the third round of 2018 draft by the Rockies, Vavra arrived in Baltimore’s organization as part of the trade that sent reliever Mychal Givens to Colorado. He’s nearing the highest level now, with a .312 batting average and a .812 OPS in Norfolk — good for the fifth-best average and seventh-best OPS in the organization. He’s doing it while playing all over the field, with most of his appearances coming at second base or in center field.
Triple-A Norfolk’s DL Hall: Hall’s last five starts have displayed the swing-and-miss skill set he commands. In those 21 2/3 innings, he struck out 42 of the 85 batters he faced — 49.4%. His season has been just as strong, as he pitched in one game each at Aberdeen and Bowie before settling in at Norfolk, where he has 3.60 ERA after missing the second half of last year with a stress fracture in his elbow. Hall’s 113 strikeouts are the most of any Oriole minor leaguer, and he has allowed 26 earned runs in his 67 1/3 innings. As the No. 3 prospect in the organization, his promotion to Baltimore should come soon.
Triple-A Norfolk’s Grayson Rodriguez: Rodriguez replaced Rutschman as the top-ranked prospect for Baltimore, but shortly before his expected rise to the major leagues, Rodriguez suffered a Grade 2 right lat muscle strain. While his progress in Sarasota, Florida, has been steady, including a clean MRI earlier this month, there isn’t a precise timeline for his return.
Still, what he did for the Tides before his injury was impressive. Even without pitching for more than a month, his 56 innings are tied for the 14th-most in the Orioles’ minor league system. Few were more dominant than Rodriguez, either, with a 0.84 WHIP, a 2.09 ERA and 80 strikeouts.
Double-A Bowie’s Noah Denoyer: Beyond Hall and Rodriguez, few pitchers in Baltimore’s farm system are treated as full starters. The same goes for Denoyer, who frequently piggybacks off another pitcher and averages 3 1/2 innings this season. Those appearances have been strong, regardless of whether they come as a starter or reliever, with a 2.25 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP in his 56 innings. The 24-year-old joined the organization as an undrafted free agent in 2020.
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Double-A Bowie’s Ryan Watson: A 39th-round pick in 2016 by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Watson is starting to find himself with the Baysox as a starter. His 76 1/3 innings are the second most in the organization and his 84 strikeouts are the fourth most. He couples those with the eighth-best WHIP (1.07) and the seventh-fewest walks per nine innings (1.89).
Triple-A Norfolk’s Nick Vespi: Vespi made his major league debut this season and returned to Baltimore on Monday, striking out four of the five batters he faced. His work for the Tides has been even better. He’s yet to allow an earned run in his 21 1/3 innings, adding six saves to go with his 0.56 WHIP. The left-hander’s slider is his best pitch, and he’s used it frequently as part of his 28 strikeouts.
High-A Aberdeen’s Ignacio Feliz: Feliz has averaged 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings this season with the IronBirds, as his 96 strikeouts trail only Hall in the organization. He joined Baltimore as a waiver pickup following stints as a minor leaguer with the Cleveland Guardians and San Diego Padres. The 22-year-old allowed eight runs in his second appearance of the year, which elevates his ERA. But since then, Feliz has a 2.90 ERA in 59 innings.
High-A Aberdeen’s Xavier Moore: A 16th-round pick by the Texas Rangers in 2017, Moore joined the Orioles in 2019 as part of a trade. And this year, Moore is tied for the most saves of any Orioles minor leaguer and his 1.10 WHIP is the ninth lowest. Moore’s 1.52 ERA across 23 2/3 innings comes in as the third-best mark in the system.
Double-A Bowie’s Justin Armbruester: Armbruester has risen swiftly this season, taking the No. 26 ranking in Baltimore’s prospect pipeline as he posts gaudy strikeout numbers as a starting pitcher. In 78 1/3 innings, the 12th-round pick in the 2021 draft has held opponents to three earned runs or fewer in 16 of his 18 appearances.
There was plenty of competition in the outfield, with Hudson Haskin and John Rhodes deserving of recognition. Haskin, a 2020 second-round pick, has produced 10 homers and an .804 OPS for Double-A Bowie and Rhodes has hit 11 doubles with a .789 OPS for High-A Aberdeen.
Infielder César Prieto performed well for Aberdeen, with a 1.000 OPS in 25 games. That has dipped to .684 since his promotion to Bowie, although he’s still hitting .276 at that level. Right-hander Connor Gillispie is also performing well for Aberdeen, recording 83 strikeouts and a 3.27 ERA in 71 2/3 innings.