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Orioles minor league report: As Grayson Rodriguez ascends to top pitching prospect, Adley Rutschman, others star

There were times when the Orioles farm system has been top heavy with a few first-round draft picks on the fast track and a lot of question marks otherwise. This is not one of those times.

Grayson Rodriguez, the team’s top pitching prospect, was elevated in Baseball America’s most recent revision of their Top 100 prospects list to No. 11 overall Monday. He made his Double-A debut and pitched well, and along with four other prospects (Adley Rutschman, DL Hall, Heston Kjerstad and Gunnar Henderson) represent the team well on that list.

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But only Rutschman makes this list of the top five performers on the farm this week, which speaks to the level of depth and performance the Orioles’ prospects have put together this year.

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.

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1. High-A Aberdeen right-hander Kyle Brnovich

One of the four pitchers the Orioles acquired in December 2019 for right-hander Dylan Bundy in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels, Brnovich continued his eye-opening start to the season with a dominant outing Sunday for Aberdeen. Brnovich struck out 13 in six innings of two-hit, two-run ball, and combined with his series-opening performance Tuesday, allowed five runs on seven hits with three walks against 18 strikeouts in two starts against Hickory last week.

Brnovich has a 0.76 WHIP, the lowest among qualified pitchers in the Orioles organization, and he’s only behind Hall, Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish with 12.65 strikeouts per nine innings.

2. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Kyle Bradish

Bradish, who the Orioles view as the centerpiece of that Bundy trade, turned in his best start since his mid-May promotion to Triple-A Norfolk with five innings of four-hit, shutout ball with four walks and eight strikeouts Sunday for the Tides.

Thanks to a unique arm angle and uncommon cutting four-seam fastball that the rest of his pitches play well with, Bradish has been the breakout pitcher in the Orioles’ system this year. In six starts over two levels after starting at Double-A Bowie, Bradish has a 1.00 ERA with 43 strikeouts and a 1.22 WHIP in 27 innings.

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3. Double-A Bowie outfielder Johnny Rizer

Rizer was the third outfielder the Orioles took in the 2019 draft after Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson, and after showing well in his two months post-draft, Rizer is already at Double-A thanks to a great May this time around.

In his first week at Bowie, Rizer went 12-for-28 (.429) with a home run and a triple after batting .288 with a .916 OPS and nine extra-base hits in May for Aberdeen. He’s played all three outfield spots at both stops.

4. Double-A Bowie catcher Adley Rutschman

The Orioles’ top prospect is expanding his Sunday slugging feats into Saturdays, with home runs Saturday and Sunday to end his second straight series this week in Hartford. He has home runs in his last four Sunday series finales as well, and this week’s final-game blast capped a week in which he also doubled twice.

Rutschman, 23, is batting .293 with a 1.035 OPS and is tied for the system lead alongside Henderson with eight home runs. It’s been made clear by the Orioles that they want him to get used to a full minor league season, even if his talent would play in the big leagues now. The question is whether he’s better off catching Bowie’s dynamic rotation on a daily basis and moving up to Norfolk later in the season or whether it’s worth giving him as much Triple-A time as possible to allow him to check that box early.

5. Triple-A Norfolk catcher Brett Cumberland

The Tides have had a tough season with injuries and uneven performance and thus haven’t been represented here much, but one of their most consistent offensive performers has been Cumberland, the 25-year-old switch-hitting catcher.

Cumberland was the batter when Durham pitcher Tyler Zombro was hit in the head by a line drive Thursday, forcing that game to be abandoned and Friday’s to be postponed. But he still homered Sunday and ended the week with a team-high five hits, batting .313 with a 1.063 OPS over five games. He’s batting .264 with an .854 OPS this season.

The top prospect not featured so far

Just a dozen pitchers age 21 or younger have made it to the high minors this year, and with his start Wednesday for Bowie, Rodriguez joined those ranks in impressive fashion. He allowed a run early but settled in to strike out eight while allowing four hits and a pair of walks.

The Orioles’ top pitching prospect and No. 2 overall prospect has always been held in high esteem internally, but his steady dominance climbing the minor league ladder is obviously taking hold nationally. He seems to be on the fast-track to Camden Yards.

Aberdeen's Mason Janvrin connects with a base hit against Brooklyn during a game at Ripken Stadium on Aug. 30, 2019.
Aberdeen's Mason Janvrin connects with a base hit against Brooklyn during a game at Ripken Stadium on Aug. 30, 2019. (Brian Krista/Baltimore Sun Media)

Mike Elias acquisition of the week

An elite runner who the Orioles drafted in the 14th round of the 2019 draft, Mason Janvrin showed some power this week in Fredericksburg with a pair of home runs and a triple while batting .375 and walking at least once in each of his five games, giving him six during the week.

He began the year on the injured list but was activated by the Shorebirds on May 11. The Orioles will hope his breakout week puts a difficult month of May behind him.

The best former top-30 prospect of the week

Left-hander Cameron Bishop’s signing in 2017 was a curious one after a paperwork issue delayed his above-slot $605,000 bonus as a 26th-round pick. Still, he was seen as a good value after receiving early round buzz before he lost his junior year to injury.

Bishop was Baseball America’s No. 21 prospect in the Orioles system in 2018 and had a 2.94 ERA at Delmarva in his first full season, but progress slowed of late — until this week. Bishop struck out 12 while allowing two hits and two walks in five shutout innings, fanning one fewer batter in his first appearance of June than he did in all of May put together.

Time to give some shine to…

With the piggyback starter system in place and relatively limited innings available to everyone on the Delmarva staff, it’s really difficult to get a sense of who is pitching well on a week-to-week basis there. Over the first month-plus of the season, though, the Shorebirds are striking a ton of batters out. Sixteen of the 20 pitchers to appear in a game for them this year have more than a strikeout per inning, though 11 of them are also walking more than four batters per inning.

Ryan Watson, an undrafted free agent from the 2020 class, is striking out 13.86 batters per nine with a manageable 2.92 walks per nine to lead the way on that front.

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