Labor Day traditionally marks the end of the minor league regular season, at least, with those teams lucky enough to make the playoffs rolling on into September.
But this year, there’s plenty more baseball to be played: two weeks at the lower levels and four more at Triple-A, where Norfolk will be used to get some of the team’s top prospects a little extra game action before they break for the winter and the players return with designs at the big leagues in 2022.
One of those players might not have been on that radar earlier this season, but is now: outfielder Kyle Stowers. He began the year at High-A Aberdeen and was promoted this week to Norfolk.
His climb has been a regular feature of this weekly report, where 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 outfielder Kyle Stowers
With three home runs in six games and a 1.191 OPS last week in Bowie, Stowers left the Orioles no choice but to move him up to Norfolk for the final four weeks of the season. Why wouldn’t they? Stowers, a slugging corner outfield whose value as a prospect coming into the year basically hinged on whether the consistent hard contact he’s capable of would outweigh whatever swing-and-miss concerns he had, and they absolutely have.
His 17 home runs at Bowie gave him the organizational lead for the season, with 24 total between Aberdeen and Bowie. Only one player had 17 home runs at Double-A in fewer plate appearances, and by wRC+ (146), he’s been the most productive full-season player on the Orioles’ farm this year. Stowers is tied with top prospect Adley Rutschman, who he’ll join in Norfolk, in that category.
There’s a clear top tier of Orioles hitting prospects with Rutschman, Colton Cowser, and Gunnar Henderson entering this offseason. With Heston Kjerstad as a wild card, it’s fair to wonder whether Stowers or Jordan Westburg will be considered best of the rest.
2. Double-A Bowie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez
Without the opportunity to pitch deeper than five innings at this point, Rodriguez’s starts are often occasions to wonder what he could have done if he had seven innings available to him. His most recent, on Friday against Somerset, was one of those. Rodriguez struck out seven and allowed a hit and three walks in five shutout innings, needing just 81 pitches to do so.
Eventually, the reins will be off Rodriguez and he’ll start to face batters a third time more often and learn the craft of pitching deep into games. Until then, the 21-year-old right-hander widely regarded as the top pitching prospect in all of baseball has a 2.76 ERA with a 0.91 WHIP and 111 strikeouts in 71 ⅔ innings in Double-A.
3. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Mike Baumann
The Orioles are in no rush to get Baumann to the major leagues to make up for the fact that, in good health, he’d have already most certainly been in the rotation at Camden Yards. But good for Baumann for making that hard for them. He struck out seven and allowed one run in six innings, scattering five hits without a walk Tuesday.
In six Triple-A starts, Baumann has a 2.00 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP in 27 innings while striking out 26. His bouts of losing his delivery, leading to walks and high pitch counts in some outings, are reason enough not to expose him to major league plate discipline if he’s not fully ready. Baumann, however, could benefit from a start or two in the majors just to see what it’s like as the season winds on.
4. Low-A Delmarva infielder Coby Mayo
A half-dozen Shorebirds hitters could fill this space, and that’s not hyperbole. Five had an OPS last week over 1.000 — Jacob Teter, Mayo, Donta’ Williams, Connor Norby, and Billy Cook — and the sixth-most productive hitter on the team was top pick Colton Cowser, who had a home run and a double and walked seven times last week.
But Mayo, the-19-year-old prep slugger who ascended to Delmarva with all of this year’s college bats, had quite a week himself. He homered twice with three doubles and three walks for a 1.264 OPS, and improved his OPS from .817 to .985 during his three weeks with the Shorebirds.
The Orioles’ 2020 draft class has been snake-bit from a health perspective, but Mayo showing signs that he may prove fruitful as a high-risk, high-reward pick could make the whole group look better when evaluated years down the line.
5. High-A Aberdeen right-hander Zach Peek
The weekly review of minor league numbers can be deceiving when it comes to Peek, who picked up a restarted game from last month to begin the week for Aberdeen and thus had two “starts,” even though only one was in a game that counts for this week.
In those two outings against Jersey Shore, Peek struck out 13 while scattering 11 hits with four walks but allowing just three earned runs in 9 ⅓ innings, often pitching out of danger and using an interesting pitch mix to do it.
One of four pitchers acquired in the December 2019 trade of Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels, the 23-year-old right-hander has a 3.63 ERA with 45 strikeouts and a 1.39 WHIP in 34 ⅔ innings for the Ironbirds.
The top prospect not featured so far
Nearly a month into his time at Triple-A Norfolk, Rutschman isn’t overwhelmed by the more advanced pitching that faces him at the level; the organizational Player of the Month award he earned for August shows that. This week, he with 5-for-16 with a pair of doubles and four walks against three strikeouts for an .892 OPS.
His OPS by week over four weeks in Triple-A tells a pretty consistent story: .885, 1.049, .879, and now .892, for a .933 OPS overall. The story all that tells? With four weeks of Triple-A time left before Norfolk’s season ends, there could be plenty of success on Rutschman’s Triple-A resume to make for some interesting conversations for the Orioles this winter.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
It’s safe to say Henderson never really got settled at Aberdeen after his flying start for Delmarva, but the hard contact, athleticism, and defense that makes him more than just a big bat were on display this week for the Ironbirds. Technically, Henderson was 5-for-16 with a pair of doubles, a home run, and a four walks for a 1.015 OPS last week. But add in a pair of hard-hit doubles in the continuation of the suspended game this week, in which he had two doubles and a walk in four trips, he actually had a 1.239 OPS.
Such weeks are the kinds of performances that will keep the Orioles’ minds at ease that these are just growing pains for the-20-year-old Henderson in High-A.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
As September rolls on, with the Orioles handing starts to Zac Lowther and now Alexander Wells as they look to fill out their rotation, it’s hard to see Kremer not possibly getting another look as well.
He pitched Friday and struck out five in five shutout innings for Norfolk, his first outing as a starter since Aug. 11. The Orioles have been trying to limit his innings to have him be an option in September, and if Kremer is indeed pitching better and being more aggressive with the Tides, he’ll be much more likely to feel good when he heads home in the fall if he is able to translate that to the big leagues once or twice.
Time to give some shine to …
Outfielder Robert Neustrom’s surprising season continues at Norfolk, with a pair of home runs and a 1.135 OPS last week for the Tides. His home run Sunday was a rare one at Harbor Park, but such is life when the Orioles’ new hitting program has helped unlock mammoth pull power that’s resulted in 13 home runs and 27 doubles between two levels. Only Henderson and Stowers (45) have more extra-base hits among Orioles farmhands than Neustrom’s 43.
Outfielder Mishael Deson was promoted to Low-A Delmarva for the final two weeks of the season after winning the Florida Complex League’s Player of the Month award for August. Deson, a 19-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic who was acquired in last August’s trade of right-hander Mychal Givens to the Colorado Rockies, hit .429 with a 1.102 OPS last month.
He wasn’t the only award winner the Orioles recently acquired either, as right-hander Jean Pinto was the Low-A East Pitcher of the Month while winning that award for the Orioles’ organization as well. He struck out 29 with a 1.35 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP in 26 ⅔ innings.
Stowers and Deson were the headliners of these late-season promotions to get players a taste of a higher level late in the year, but right-hander Jake Lyons was a notable promotion from Delmarva to Aberdeen. Lyons struck out 10 in his most recent start for the Shorebirds, and has 85 strikeouts in 68 ⅓ innings with a 3.69 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP.
Latest Baltimore Orioles
Outfielder Mason Janvrin was moved from Delmarva to Aberdeen, and infielder Willy Yahn went from Aberdeen to Bowie.