On Wednesday, Adley Rutschman hit his first Triple-A home run. The same day, MLB Pipeline declared what Baseball America had weeks earlier: that Rutschman represented half of the sport’s top prospect battery.
In the estimation of both entities, Rutschman is the game’s No. 1 prospect and thus its top position player in the minors. Double-A Bowie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, likewise, is baseball’s top pitching prospect, an assertion he agrees with. They are both in the Orioles’ farm system.
But neither has arrived in Baltimore, and it’s doubtful either will during a season in which the big league club’s record has plummeted to the worst in the majors thanks to a 15-game losing streak. In fact, ask manager Brandon Hyde, and he isn’t sure what reinforcements the organization is willing to offer him beyond those who have already stopped by.
Those decisions, he said, belong to the executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and the front office, which has provided Hyde with a 26-man roster that entered Thursday with seven regulars who have performed above league average according to OPS+ and ERA+.
“It’s going to be up to Mike and the group, whether they’re going to bring prospect arms here or not, whether we feel like if somebody like Dean Kremer’s ready to come back here,” Hyde said. “We have some minor league free agent guys down there, but nobody’s really knocking the door down to come back here. We’ve really taken a look at everybody, so I’m going with the group that I got right now, and we’ll see what happens.”
The seven pitchers currently on Triple-A Norfolk’s roster who have pitched for the Orioles combined for a 7.10 ERA in the majors. That group includes rehabbing reliever Hunter Harvey, who will represent an improvement in one spot of Baltimore’s bullpen whenever he is deemed ready for activation from the injured list.
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It remains to be seen whether the organization would rather give more opportunities to the likes of Kremer and Alexander Wells this season or provide chances to Kyle Bradish and Kevin Smith, prospects who Elias acquired in trades who have spent most of the year with Norfolk. Both would need to be added to the 40-man roster, and with major league rosters expanding by only two spots to 28 this September, it’s possible the Orioles would rather shuffle through relievers while letting them take their regular turns in Norfolk’s rotation.
Meanwhile, the highest major league batting average of anyone with the Tides is Ryan McKenna’s .208, while the peak in OPS is Tyler Nevin’s .733 — in six plate appearances. Both could get opportunities in Baltimore down the stretch, with Jahmai Jones, Yusniel Diaz and Rylan Bannon also candidates by virtue of being on the 40-man roster. Diaz and Bannon, who like Kremer are products of the July 2018 trade the sent Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers, have both struggled around injuries this year, though Bannon homered five times last week to earn Triple-A East Player of the Week honors and hit two more Thursday to give him eight in seven games.
But Rutschman and Rodriguez, the top pieces in the system, are unlikely to arrive anytime soon. It’s atypical of teams in the standings where the Orioles are to bring up their top prospects at this time of year, an effort to avoid starting their service clocks and losing a year of team control.
Two players alone won’t change the organization’s fortunes, but they represent bright spots in a system full of them. Jordan Westburg, one of their top picks in 2020, has played well across three levels. A 2021 draft class focused on hitters with good plate discipline who don’t strike out quickly put those skills on display upon arrival to Low-A Delmarva. The Orioles’ investment into the international market has come with the construction of a new academy in the Dominican Republic.
None of these change what Hyde has at his disposal on a daily basis in 2021. But he has hopes of a brighter future.
“We definitely wanted to try to improve our organization as a whole, and Mike and his group have invested a lot of time and money into our player development system,” Hyde said. “Right now, we’re taking a hit at the big league level because we haven’t gotten players here yet really. You definitely want to see your prospects do well, you want to see your organization grow, you want to see your players move up levels like you’re seeing, and I think that’s fantastic. As your organization gets healthier and you have more prospects and they’re performing, then everybody around the league recognizes that.
“We just need to get more talented, bottom line, in this whole organization, and we’ve done that in the last couple of years, so that is exciting.”