This time next week, a new batch of Orioles prospects will join the organization through the 2021 MLB draft, meaning it’s the last week as the shiny new toys for the 2020 draft class. Even more, the preceding ones have to get used to even more competition on their climb to the majors.
The last few draft classes, however, are well-represented in this week’s minor league roundup as they near the halfway point of the 2021 minor league calendar.
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. High-A Aberdeen infielder Jordan Westburg
Westburg was a player who was particularly impressive during the three games I got to see this week at Ripken Stadium. His team-high 10 hits in 24 at-bats for a .417 average and 1.059 OPS is in line with what he’s done all season offensively as it seems he’s getting his footing in Aberdeen.
What can only be gleaned in person, though, is that he plays a true, calm, shortstop and handles the position like a big leaguer even at this young stage of his career. Other observers from outside the organization remarked as much as well.
So much of the frustration around the Orioles right now is with their infield, but when Westburg arrives, he’ll have a chance to grow into the total package — an impressive get with the 30th pick in last year’s draft.
2. High-A Aberdeen infielder Adam Hall
Being in Aberdeen also did plenty to assuage concerns about the start of Adam Hall’s season, which saw him start slowly at the plate after a limited spring training and has featured a whirlwind of infielders getting promoted past him and up to compete with him on a daily basis.
Last week against Brooklyn, Hall went 7-for-18 (.389) with a 1.022 OPS, a pair of doubles and four steals to bring his season mark up to .241 with a .647 OPS. He played just once this week in center field, a position that could allow him to create some value at going forward. There’s been a lot of progress in building infield depth in the last few drafts with Gunnar Henderson, Westburg, Joey Ortiz, Anthony Servideo, and others. Hall shouldn’t be forgotten.
3. Double-A Bowie right-hander Mike Baumann
It’s a little strange to see Baumann still at Bowie entering July after a reoccurrence of his elbow issue in spring training slowed down his progression to the season, but he had his best start of the season there Friday. Baumann struck out six and allowed a run on three hits in five innings, throwing a season-high 81 pitches.
The 25-year-old right-hander was dominant at the end of 2019 and impressed in the summer secondary camp last year. It was expected he’d start this year at Triple-A and possibly be in the majors by now if not for his injury.
Perhaps the Orioles are trying to get him fully built up before bumping him to the new level, which would not only be a challenge but would put him in line for a call-up if he meets it. Seeing a pitcher like him on the mound at Camden Yards would certainly create some buzz for the organization.
4. Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Alexander Wells
The up-and-down nature of being a young pitcher on the 40-man roster can be a difficult one, but handling it well is a mark in any player’s favor. So it’s a good sign that Wells was able to give the Orioles eight outs on Tuesday then, when he was sent down for a fresh arm the next day, regroup to rejoin the Norfolk rotation Sunday and pitch five scoreless innings while striking out four and allowing three hits and two walks.
Wells struggled early in the season for the Tides, but had a 2.45 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP in June before this start to begin July. It might not be the first time he goes up and down from the majors this year, but it will help his cause if he handles it like this.
5. Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Kevin Smith
It hasn’t been too steep an adjustment to Triple-A for Smith, the 24-year-old left-hander acquired last summer in a trade with the New York Mets for Miguel Castro, though it hasn’t been perfect.
Still, he struck out nine and allowed a run on two hits including a home run in five innings Saturday for the Tides, marking the best outing of his three since he was promoted from Bowie. Smith has made nine appearances (eight starts) and struck out 56 in 40 innings with a 1.13 WHIP and a 2.03 ERA across two levels.
The top prospect not featured so far
Top prospect Adley Rutschman’s uncharacteristic spell continued at Bowie this week as the organization’s top prospect had five hits, three of them doubles, in 23 at-bats. He struck out just twice and walked once, but is batting .222 (10-for-45) with a .705 OPS in his last two series.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
The group of undrafted free agents identified after last year’s five-round draft produced plenty of interesting players, including the organization’s player of the month for June in slugger J.D. Mundy. He’s not the only player in that group with some pop, though.
TT Bowens, an undrafted first baseman, joined Delmarva on June 1 and is batting .253 with an .866 OPS. Last week against Lynchburg, he homered three times while going 12-for-22 with four walks for a 1.675 OPS to earn Low-A East Player of the Week honors.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
No one cried foul for using Brett Cumberland’s former top-30 status in the Atlanta Braves organization for this category before, so it’s time to do it again. The switch-hitting catcher hit three home runs with a double in 20 at-bats last week against Charlotte, and added to his minors-leading hit-by-pitch total with four. Cumberland has been hit 20 times in 185 plate appearances. He’s batting .233 with eight home runs and an .826 OPS this season, and it might be time before long to see if it plays at the major league level, catching questions aside.
Time to give some shine to…
The Orioles have made a handful of picks in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft that are turning out nicely so far. Outfielder Cristopher Cespedes, selected in 2019, showed his big-time power by homering twice with two doubles this week for Delmarva and is batting .239 with a .788 OPS and eight home runs this season.
On the mound, 2020 minor league Rule 5 pick Ignacio Feliz doesn’t blow batters away, but has a 1.06 ERA with a 0.97 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 34 innings over 10 appearances for the Shorebirds. Both players were originally signed by Cleveland out of the Dominican Republic when Orioles senior director of international scouting Koby Perez was part of their international operation.
A wet week in Florida meant limited action for the Orioles’ two Florida Complex League teams, but there were some noteworthy performances. Left-hander Yeancarlos Lleras, a sixth-round pick in 2018, struck out five in four shutout innings for the FCL Orioles Black team. Coby Mayo, the 2020 fourth-round pick, had three hits including a double and drove in a pair of runs in two games for FCL Orioles Black as well.