With top prospect Adley Rutschman beginning his time at Triple-A Norfolk this week, there’s only one place left for him to eventually move: the big leagues.
It was always a when, not if, proposition for the 2019 top overall pick and the game’s newly crowned top prospect. But for so many others on the Orioles’ farm, it’s become a similar conversation after their performances this year.
For Rutschman and several others, they showed why pretty recently.
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
Rutschman certainly made his last week at Bowie count, batting .273 with a .970 OPS and two home runs with two doubles while walking twice. His final accounting at Double-A is an impressive one, with a .271 batting average and a .901 OPS with 18 home runs, 16 doubles and 55 walks against 57 strikeouts. He had the best walk-to-strikeout rate of any Double-A hitter, and was in the top-10 at the level in most offensive categories among qualifiers.
Rutschman now gets around two months at Triple-A to end the season and will be entering a much more challenging environment with the struggling Tides, though it stands to reason that if he helps pitchers as much as he’s touted to, they could have used him a long time ago.
2. Double-A Bowie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez
The Orioles’ top pitching prospect, who doubles in many estimations as the top pitching prospect in all of baseball, saw his ERA spike nearly a full run with a pair of short starts in which he struggled with his command at the end of July.
Rodriguez, however, was back on track Thursday with 4 2/3 innings against Somerset in which he struck out nine and didn’t allow a run while walking one with one hit. The sturdy right-hander has had his innings managed carefully this year, and is now at 71 1/3 through his first start in August.
It hasn’t affected his performance, though. Over two levels, Rodriguez has 114 strikeouts with a 0.81 WHIP and a 2.27 ERA in 16 starts. When it became apparent the gains he made over the shutdown last year were legitimate, it became a matter of just delivering him through the season with no setbacks and preparing him to make an impact at the major league level in 2022. So far, so good.
3. Triple-A Norfolk pitcher Mike Baumann
With his six innings of one-hit, shutout ball with six strikeouts Friday at Jacksonville, Baumann has as many starts post-turnaround in the high minors as he had before he got back on track.
In his first six starts at Bowie as he returned from an elbow issue, he had an 8.64 ERA and a 1.800 WHIP in 16 2/3 innings. In his last six starts at Bowie and Norfolk, he’s struck out 36 in 33 innings with a 1.91 ERA and a 0.727 WHIP.
This is the Baumann who player development staff raved about at the alternate training site last summer and who would be in the majors right now if not for the elbow issue that cropped up this time last year. The only question now is how long the Orioles let him season at Triple-A before bringing him up to see what he has.
4. Low-A Delmarva right-hander Jean Pinto
One of two pitchers the Orioles acquired for shortstop José Iglesias in last December’s trade with the Los Angeles Angels, Pinto has been a bit of a revelation so far. He made quick work of the Florida Complex League, striking out 28 in 20 innings there with a 1.80 ERA, and has shown no signs of letting up now that he’s at Low-A Delmarva.
In his second start there Aug. 3, Pinto struck out six in six shutout innings, allowing just two hits without a walk. He has a 0.73 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 30 innings between the two levels, and is emerging through a muddle of low-minors pitching prospects as one who could make an impact down the line.
5. FCL Orioles third baseman Coby Mayo
They don’t play often because of the weather down in the Florida Complex League, but the Orioles’ over-slot third baseman has made it count this year when he’s gotten to play. He played four games last week, and went 5-for-13 with three doubles and a home run to continue his impressive start to his professional career.
Mayo, 19, is batting .347 with a 1.051 OPS and 10 extra-base hits in 86 plate appearances. He might warrant a promotion to Delmarva when this year’s college picks head north, if only so he can start playing every day again.
The top prospect not featured so far
Infielder Gunnar Henderson has had a much tougher time at High-A Aberdeen than he did at Delmarva, and after a strong July pulled him back above water, it was a difficult week for Henderson to begin August.
The 20-year-old infielder went 3-for-24 with seven strikeouts and no extra-base hits in six games, and through 39 games, he’s batting .208 with four home runs and a .680 OPS for the IronBirds.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
No college hitter really has any business being in the rookie-level complex league, and that goes especially for the high-level college hitters they took this year. Colton Cowser proves that point.
The Orioles’ top pick has played four FCL games so far, and is 9-for-13 with three doubles and a home run. Delmarva is on the road this week, then has a week at home before two more road series. Their homestand against Fredericksburg seems like a good time to get some new players acclimated to full-season ball before they hit the road for a few weeks.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
Outfielder Lamar Sparks took some time to settle in at Low-A Delmarva, but continued a good stretch this week for the Shorebirds. The Orioles’ No. 25 prospect entering 2017 hit .318 with an .830 OPS, four steals and a home run last week against Down East. He’s batting .290 with an .824 OPS and four home runs in the past four weeks.
Time to give some shine to …
Rutschman wasn’t the only catcher the Orioles used some draft capital on in 2019, and one, Maverick Handley, had a good week for the IronBirds. He came off the injured list last week and went 5-for-12 (.417) with a home run and four walks for a 1.196 OPS in four games. Handley didn’t have the best start of the season, but had an .899 OPS in July before he went on the injured list and doesn’t seem to have missed a step in his return.
The two crown jewels of the Orioles’ international operation are playing in games in the Dominican Summer League, and their first two seven-figure international prospects have shown promising signs there. Shortstop Maikol Hernández is batting .167 with a .522 OPS but has more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight), while catcher Samuel Basallo is batting .268 with a .738 OPS.