The first two months of the minor league season featured plenty of player movement as the Orioles sought to find appropriate levels of competition for their top prospects after the loss of the 2020 season to the pandemic.
Now, just past the halfway point, is the more traditional promotion of players. If the first half of the season is any indication, they’re liable to hit the ground running and stay among the top performers on a weekly basis in an improving Orioles farm system.
After a one-week hiatus to hand out midseason minor league honors, this marks the return of the traditional minor league roundup, where we break down five of the top performers in the Orioles’ prospect ranks last week and hand out some superlatives for those who didn’t make the cut.
1. Double-A Bowie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez
A dominant season for Rodriguez, the Orioles’ 2018 top pick and their top pitching prospect, now has a signature start to go with it. Rodriguez, pitching against a stacked Erie lineup Sunday, struck out 12 while allowing an unearned run on two hits and a walk in five innings.
The 12 strikeouts were a career high, and of his 83 pitches, 24 were swinging strikes. Rodriguez, who in Baseball America’s top prospect list is the highest-ranked pitching prospect in the game, has a 2.04 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP over eight starts for Bowie. In 63 innings over two levels, he has 97 strikeouts with a 0.75 WHIP and a 1.86 ERA.
2. Triple-A Norfolk second baseman Jahmai Jones
No one is beating the drum louder for Jones to get called up to the Orioles than Jones himself, as evidenced by a week where he hit .346 with a 1.101 OPS and five extra-base hits, including two home runs.
He had at least one hit in every game and two in three of them, and in 33 games since returning from the injured list with the Tides, Jones is batting .298 with a .900 OPS. The Orioles are making it clear he’s in the minors so he can work on his second base defense as he learns the position. Still, Orioles second basemen are batting .191 with a .470 OPS in that same span.
3. Double-A Bowie outfielder Kyle Stowers
Before the Orioles loaded up on college outfielders early in last week’s draft, they did so in 2019, and Stowers is one of many standouts from that group this week. The Stanford slugger has been on a tear at Bowie of late, hitting two more home runs this past week while batting .350 with a 1.185 OPS in Erie.
Stowers has been at Bowie for nearly a month after beginning the season at High-A Aberdeen, and is batting .309 with six home runs and a 1.022 OPS in 24 games since his promotion. With the IronBirds, he homered seven times in 36 games while batting .275 with a .900 OPS.
4. Double-A Bowie outfielder Johnny Rizer
Rizer was an early senior signee in that 2019 class of outfielders but is proving to be a valuable piece in the high minors as he — like Stowers — gets his first crack at Double-A in his delayed first full season.
Last week in Erie, Rizer homered twice while batting .412 with a 1.347 OPS to pace all the productive Bowie outfielders. (Robert Neustrom gave them three outfielders with an OPS over 1.000 for the series.)
5. Low-A Delmarva right-hander Brandon Young
An undrafted free agent out of Louisiana-Lafayette last year, Young started getting buzz as an emerging rotation prospect after the fall instructional camp and has pitched up to that billing this year for the Shorebirds.
He pitched four shutout innings Wednesday at Down East and struck out seven while walking one and allowing one hit, lowering his ERA to 2.96 and his WHIP to 1.14. The 6-foot-6 Young has 57 strikeouts in 45 ⅔ innings for 11.53 strikeouts per nine innings, a rate that somehow is third-best among Delmarva’s starters.
The top prospect not featured so far
Adley Rutschman returned from the MLB All-Star Futures Game after a good showing there and continued what has been a slow spell for the Orioles’ top overall prospect. Rutschman went 3-for-22 with a double and six strikeouts against one walk in Erie this week. He’s batting .192 with a .590 OPS in 14 July games after entering the month with a .947 OPS, and at this point, the struggles might be what are keeping him from a promotion to Norfolk.
Mike Elias acquisition of the week
It’s not easy to be a corner infield or outfield prospect the way the Orioles’ roster is constructed, but Tyler Nevin is hitting in a way that’s hard to overlook. He hit his 12th home run of the season last week and doubled three times while batting .333 with a .968 OPS for Norfolk. The 24-year-old Nevin, acquired last August for Mychal Givens from the Colorado Rockies, is batting .249 with an .800 OPS.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
The Blaine Knight/Cody Sedlock start day sometimes produces two good performances and at other times only one, and this week it was Sedlock’s turn. He came in after Knight had an uncharacteristically tough outing and struck out six while allowing two hits in four shutout innings.
Sedlock, the Orioles’ top pick in the 2016 draft, has a 3.83 ERA with a 1.48 WHIP and 42 strikeouts in 40 innings for the Baysox.
Time to give some shine to …
It’s incredibly challenging to make a team as a Rule 5 draft pick, and probably equally difficult to get returned and have to get reestablished with your old organization after that experience. It’s been tough on Gray Fenter, who was selected in the winter and returned in the spring by the Chicago Cubs, but he’s rounding back into form. He struck out nine in 5 ⅔ innings of two-run ball last week for Bowie.
Neustrom was promoted Monday from Bowie to Norfolk, while outfielder Zach Watson and right-hander Ryan Conroy are making the jump from Aberdeen to Bowie.
Four Shorebirds — outfielder Hudson Haskin and right-handers Ignacio Feliz, Zach Peek and Ryan Watson — were all promoted from Delmarva to Aberdeen.
Right-hander Jean Pinto, one of two pitchers the Orioles acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for shortstop José Iglesias, continued an impressive start for the FCL Orioles Black with nine strikeouts in five innings without an earned run Thursday. … Infielder Roberto Martinez, a member of the 2019 international class, hit .417 with a 1.083 OPS for FCL Orioles Black last week to lead all hitters.