A miserable week at the major league featured plenty of positive movement on the Orioles’ farm, with several promotions for some of the organization’s top performers over the first month of the season.
Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, right-hander Blaine Knight and outfielder Johnny Rizer, were promoted from High-A Aberdeen to Double-A Bowie, and infielders Jordan Westburg and J.D. Mundy were promoted from Low-A Delmarva to Aberdeen.
Earlier in the week, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said such promotions would happen once the development the Orioles thought they were seeing at the alternate site and in spring training was legitimate, and in these cases, they were.
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
Once the Orioles call up their top prospect and install Rutschman behind the plate at Camden Yards, it might be prudent to buy a package of Sunday tickets. He has shown a knack for big performances on Sunday afternoons, and hitting two home runs in Sunday’s doubleheader to cap a week in which he hit .500 (7-for-14) with five walks and a double was just another example of that.
Rutschman is showing himself to be just the kind of player the Orioles hoped they’d be getting with the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 — strong behind the plate with elite plate discipline, not a lot of swings-and-misses and power from both sides. It’s going to be hard keeping him down in the minors for a full year, but they’ll be up for the job.
2. Double-A Bowie left-hander DL Hall
Pitching the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader with the Baysox, Hall, their No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America, was racking up the strikeouts at a typically impressive rate with eight in five innings of shutout ball with three walks and one hit allowed.
Among all qualified pitchers, Hall’s 16.71 strikeouts per nine innings are the most in the high minors and fourth-most in all of minor league baseball. He’s struck out 45.9% of the batters he’s faced this year.
3. High-A Aberdeen right-hander Grayson Rodriguez
With nine strikeouts of his own in five innings of one-run ball at Brooklyn on Thursday, Rodriguez is also striking out a gaudy 45.5% of the batters he’s faced in five starts for the IronBirds.
His short-lived stint at Ripken Stadium was dominant. Rodriguez, the Orioles’ No. 2 prospect, struck out 40 in 23 ⅓ innings with a 1.54 ERA and a 0.69 WHIP, limiting base runners at a rate that’s best in the Orioles’ system and eighth-best in all of minor league baseball.
With him at Bowie joining Hall and Rutschman, the Orioles have quite a talent base building in the high minors.
4. Double-A Bowie left-hander Kevin Smith
Miguel Castro is having a career year out of the Mets bullpen, but the Orioles will be glad to have a piece of starting depth in Smith climbing the minor league ranks in their system. The left-hander, acquired for Castro last summer, struck out five in four shutout innings Wednesday to lower his ERA to 1.06.
Smith, the Orioles’ No. 18 prospect according to Baseball America, has slightly different stuff than the Orioles’ other finesse lefties in the high-minors such as Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells, with a little more behind his fastball and the ability to use a two-seamer and four-seamer to mix and match there. But like them, he’ll still have to show he can get hitters out at every level. He’s doing that at Double-A so far.
5. High-A Aberdeen infielder Adam Hall
It had been a difficult start to the season for Hall, who was one of the Orioles’ top infield prospects and an intriguing low-minors name to know after the 2019 season but was struggling after a year away from the game.
The club’s No. 16 prospect, according to Baseball America, started building some steam with five hits in the series two weeks ago against Wilmington, then had seven hits, including a pair of doubles, and three walks against two strikeouts last week at Brooklyn.
The infield outlook in the organization has changed a lot since Hall was taken as the 60th overall pick in 2017. The last two drafts have brought in Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, Joseph Ortiz and Anthony Servideo on the infield, among others. Hall has played some center field of late, and could find his way to the big leagues by having more of a do-it-all role.
The top prospect not featured so far
Henderson, the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect according to Baseball America, has been a fixture near the top of these lists but had an uncharacteristically quiet spell last week. He still had a double and a home run, of course, but was 4-for-22 with six strikeouts overall. Even with that, Henderson is batting .313 with a 1.004 OPS.
Now that Westburg has been promoted out of Delmarva, it’s expected that Henderson could get a good run of games at shortstop after alternating between there and third base. He remains one of the best teenage prospects in full-season ball, and it will be interesting to see when the Orioles deem him ready to join Westburg at the next level.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
Rutschman’s former Oregon State teammate who was drafted 37th overall in 2018, Cadyn Grenier was the Orioles’ No. 19 prospect entering the 2019 season on his defensive reputation alone, but his slow-developing bat has put a damper on his prospect status.
That’s what made his week at Bowie stand out so much. Grenier was 7-for-16 in five games, including a pair of home runs, a double and a triple. All those hits came in the Baysox’s last three games, making that power display all the more impressive.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
Garrett Stallings, part of the Orioles’ return for shortstop José Iglesias in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels, got back on track with five strikeouts in five innings of one-run ball Saturday for Aberdeen. Stallings has been strong in four out of five starts, though he owes his 4.43 ERA to a six-run state May 16. His 1.16 WHIP over five starts suggests he’s been keeping runners off the bases well.
Time to give some shine to…
Starting back at High-A for Blaine Knight must have been a tough pill to swallow, but spending a month in Aberdeen and getting promoted will put him right back on a clear development path, should he pitch well at Double-A Bowie. He struck out 16 in 18 ⅔ innings with a 2.41 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP in four starts for the IronBirds to prove he was ready for the challenge.
Knight struck out six in 4 ⅔ innings while allowing a run on four hits and a walk in his last start for Aberdeen.