Like I said last week, this is an exciting time of the minor league season.
Teams are beginning to sign the players they selected earlier this month in Major League Baseball’s first-year-player draft. And they’re also rewarding prospects with promotions.
The Orioles did both over the past week.
Through Friday, when the club announced it had agreed to deals with left-handers Yelin Rodriguez (20th round) and Tyler Erwin (23rd round), the Orioles had publicized signings with 25 of their 41 picks. And that’s not including deals with four other players, by my unofficial count, that have been agreed upon but not announced yet.
Of the players already signed, many have debuted with either the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles or short-season Single-A Aberdeen.
Because of the influx of players into the organization, some promotions also occurred.
The biggest move happened Thursday when the Orioles sent outfielder D.J. Stewart, last year’s top pick, from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Frederick to start the second half.
Joining Stewart with the Keys were two South Atlantic League All-Star relievers who excelled in the first half for the Shorebirds.
Left-hander Garrett Cleavinger, the club’s third-round pick a year ago, was 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA in 17 appearances for Delmarva before the promotion. The organization’s Pitcher of the Month in April, he struck out 53 hitters in 39 innings for the Shorebirds. Cleavinger, 22, allowed one run and three hits in two innings during his debut with Frederick on Thursday.
Right-hander Ryan Meisinger, who was selected in the 11th round last June, had given up just three earned runs in 34 2/3 innings (0.78 ERA) for the Shorebirds. The Calvert County native had 48 strikeouts and only nine walks in that span. Meisinger, 22, allowed three unearned runs after walking three batters and allowing a hit in two innings during his first game with the Keys on Sunday.
The club’s flurry of moves also included promotions for right-handers Jason Stoffel and Michael Zouzalik (more on both of them in the “Surging” category below). Stoffel went from Double-A Bowie to Triple-A Norfolk, while Zouzalik moved from Frederick to Bowie.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get to this week’s update. Regular readers know “The Dean Jones Report” is my way to keep Orioles fans updated every Tuesday on how the organization’s top prospects, according to Baseball America, are playing.
Right-handers Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens are currently in the major leagues, so they’re not included in this list. And I added right-hander Mike Wright this week, since he has now made two starts for Norfolk.
The players each receive a bullish (rising stock) or bearish (falling stock) rating, based on their recent performances. For each prospect, I’ve listed notable statistics and a link to his MILB.com Player Page.
I’ve also picked a handful of players who are either surging or falling in the Orioles’ system. At the bottom of the post, I’ve listed the upcoming schedules for the club’s affiliates.
No. 2: Hunter Harvey, RHP, GCL Orioles
Statistics: 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 5 Ks, 1 H, 0 BBs in 2 innings
MILB.com Player Page
For the first time in nearly two years, the 2013 first-round selection (22nd overall) pitched for an Orioles affiliate. Harvey, 21, started Saturday in the GCL Orioles’ 5-2 win over the GCL Rays. Overall, he struck out five of the seven batters he faced in two innings. After getting the first two batters on strikeouts in the first inning, Harvey – who officially remains on the disabled list at Frederick as he continues to recover from sports hernia surgery – gave up a double to the Rays’ Chris Betts before ending the frame with a third strikeout. And he retired the side in order in the second inning before being removed. It’s a big first step – and a successful one – so I’m listing him as bullish this week.
No. 3: Chance Sisco, C, Bowie
Statistics: .309 average, 0 HRs, 23 RBIs, 16 2Bs, 28 runs in 62 games
MILB.com Player Page
On an almost-weekly basis, I’m torn about how I should rate the 2013 second-round pick. On one hand, Sisco continues to rank among the Eastern League leaders in batting. He has been near the top for most of the season and remains third in the league with a .309 average. But on the flip side, the 21-year-old left-handed-hitting catcher hasn’t homered since August 30 of last season. And he has gone deep just twice in 291 career at-bats for Bowie. Maybe it’s just me, but if the Orioles are going to count on Sisco to play every day in the major leagues at some point, I’d like to see a little more pop. Again, there’s still plenty of time for it to happen. But a power surge would be welcomed.
No. 4: Jomar Reyes, 3B, Frederick
Statistics: .229 average, 4 HRs, 26 RBIs, 29 runs, 56 Ks in 68 games
MILB.com Player Page
Reyes, 19, had just three hits in his first 15 at-bats after the Carolina League All-Star break, but he did score three times in that four-game span. In the Keys’ 5-1 win over Salem – a game that started Thursday and didn’t finish until Saturday because of rain – Reyes singled to lead off the fourth inning, moved to second base on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI single by catcher Jonah Heim. In Frederick’s regularly-scheduled game Saturday – a 2-1 loss to the Salem Red Sox – Reyes doubled to start the fifth inning and scored his team’s only run on a double by shortstop Erick Salcedo. In the series finale Sunday, Reyes went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts as the Keys fell, 6-1.
No. 6: Chris Lee, LHP, Bowie
Statistics: 5-0, 2.98 ERA, 19 Ks, 1.05 WHIP in 51 1/3 innings
MILB.com Player Page
We haven’t received any updates on the 23-year-old left-hander since he went on the disabled list at Bowie on June 5 because of a lat-muscle strain in the upper part of his back. And it has now been more than a month since he last pitched for the Baysox – with a career-high eight innings in a 2-1, 12-inning loss at Hartford on May 23. For Lee, who was stating his case for a possible promotion to the major leagues at some point this year before the injury, it’s obviously not good news. Missing a month (or more) is not good in the short term. But from what I’m hearing, his return could be close. And when considering the long-term health of one of your top pitching prospects, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
No. 7: Ryan Mountcastle, SS, Delmarva
Statistics: .288 average, 5 HRs, 20 RBIs, 13 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 29 runs in 59 games
MILB.com Player Page
After an incredible tear that saw him hit .419 (26-for-62) with four home runs, nine RBIs, six doubles and 14 runs scored in his final 14 games of the first half, the 2015 first-round pick (36th overall) has started slow after the South Atlantic League All-Star break. Mountcastle, 19, has just three singles and two strikeouts in 17 at-bats (.176) over the first four games of the second half. He also walked once in the Shorebirds’ 3-2, 11-inning loss at Kannapolis on Thursday. Keep in mind that Mountcastle only played in 53 games –split between the GCL Orioles and Aberdeen – after being drafted last June. He has already played in 59 games this year. It’ll be interesting to see if fatigue plays a role in his performance over the final two-plus months of the season.
No. 8: Trey Mancini, 1B, Norfolk
Statistics: .298 average, 9 HRs, 24 RBIs, 12 2Bs, 59 Ks in 60 games (at Norfolk)
MILB.com Player Page
Once again, the 2013 eighth-round pick is on fire. After not hitting a home run in more than two weeks, Mancini went deep twice in a five-game span from last Tuesday through Saturday. And perhaps most encouraging, Mancini struck out just two times in that stretch. He then went 3-for-4 with another home run and two RBIs on Monday. The 24-year-old first baseman has hit safely in 13 of his past 16 games, batting .397 (25-for-63) in that span. In a three-game series at Columbus over the weekend, Mancini went 6-for-10 with a home run, four RBIs and three runs scored. It’s a wonderful sign for the Orioles to see Mancini swinging the bat right now for the Tides in the same way that he started the year for Bowie.
No. 9: D.J. Stewart, OF, Frederick
Statistics: .313 average, 0 HRs, 2 RBIs, 2 2Bs, 2 runs, 3 Ks in 4 games (at Frederick)
MILB.com Player Page
As I mentioned above, the Orioles are seeing what the 2015 first-round selection (25th overall) can do at the next level to start the second half. Stewart, 22, wrapped up the first half with a .231 average, four home runs and 26 RBIs in 65 games for Delmarva before his promotion. And he hit safely in his first four games with the Keys, including two doubles. In 21 games overall in June, Stewart has a .275 average, six doubles and nine RBIs. He’s not dominating the competition as some top picks can do – and I’ve talked before about his struggles against left-handers – but Stewart is on the right path for now. A promotion is never a bad thing.
No. 10: Mike Wright, RHP, Norfolk
Statistics: 1-0, 1.29 ERA, 9 Ks, 4 BBs, 11 hits in 14 innings
MILB.com Player Page
You might be wondering how I can list Wright as bullish after he was demoted to Norfolk from the Orioles earlier this month. Well, to me, it’s encouraging to see the 26-year-old right-hander rebound from an 8.84 ERA in 18 1/3 innings across four major league starts in June with back-to-back impressive outings for the Tides. In his first Triple-A start last Wednesday, the 2011 third-round pick didn’t factor in the decision after he held Lehigh Valley to one run and five hits in six innings of Norfolk’s 2-1 loss. And then Monday night, Wright pitched a strong eight innings, holding Toledo to just one run and six hits in the Tides’ 7-4 win.
Cristian Alvarado, RHP, Delmarva: The Venezuelan has excelled this month with a 3-0 record and a 1.61 ERA in five starts. Alvarado, 21, has struck out 31 batters and walked just three in 28 innings over that stretch. Overall, Alvarado – who has thrown 12 scoreless innings over his past two games – ranks second in the South Atlantic League with 87 strikeouts this year.
Jason Garcia, RHP, Bowie: Speaking of great June performances, the 23-year-old right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in four starts this month. He was 1-6 with a 6.07 ERA in nine starts before that. Opponents are batting just .177 against last season’s Rule 5 pick in June after hitting above .340 versus him in each of the previous two months. Like Alvarado, Garcia also hasn’t allowed a run in his last 12 innings.
Ariel Miranda, LHP, Norfolk: Miranda, 27, fared slightly better than both Alvarado and Garcia in his last two starts. The Cuba native held his opponents scoreless in 13 innings over that stretch, striking out 14 batters and giving up just four hits. On June 18, Miranda gave up only one hit in seven innings during a 1-0 win against Durham. Five days later, he scattered three hits in six innings in a 6-0 victory over Lehigh Valley.
Zach Muckenhirn, LHP, Aberdeen: The 21-year-old left-hander could turn out to be one of the Orioles’ biggest steals of this year’s draft. Ranked just outside of Baseball America’s Top 200, the North Dakota alum fell to the 11th round over concerns that he was going to transfer to an SEC school as a senior. In his professional debut Sunday, Muckenhirn – who throws three pitches, including a fastball in the low 90s – struck out three batters and gave up one hit as the IronBirds beat Connecticut, 6-5.
Jhon Peluffo, RHP, GCL Orioles: In his season debut Monday, the 19-year-old from Colombia had eight strikeouts in five innings as the GCL Orioles blanked the GCL Twins, 4-0. Peluffo allowed two hits in the game. Over the past two years, the 6-foot-3, 140-pound right-hander was 5-8 with a 3.08 ERA and 83 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings for the club’s Dominican Summer League affiliate.
Jason Stoffel, RHP, Norfolk: The Orioles initially acquired the 27-year-old right-hander from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash considerations last August. Stoffel re-signed with the club in December after he had a 1.42 ERA in 11 appearances for the Baysox last year. This season, he was 3-3 with a 3.14 ERA and 12 saves in 27 appearances as Bowie’s closer before earning the promotion last week. In his first four appearances with Norfolk, Stoffel had a 1.50 ERA and five strikeouts in six innings.
Alex Wells, LHP, Aberdeen: After his first three professional starts, the 19-year-old Australian is 2-1 with a 1.50 ERA. Through 18 total innings in those three games, Wells has given up 16 hits and one walk while striking out 13. Monday night, in the IronBirds’ 3-2 victory over Connecticut at Ripken Stadium, he allowed one run in seven innings. Wells threw 63 of his 82 pitches for strikes, allowing five hits and collecting six strikeouts.
Michael Zouzalik, RHP, Bowie: The Orioles signed the 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander, who will turn 26 in two weeks, out of the independent American Association last September. On Thursday, the club rewarded Zouzalik for his strong first-half performance by promoting him to Bowie. In 22 appearances for Frederick, Zouzalik was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA and eight saves. He had 34 strikeouts and walked eight batters in 34 2/3 innings. He gave up one run in 5 1/3 innings over his first two games with the Baysox.
Jeff Kemp, 2B-SS, Bowie: The 2013 33rd-round selection and Archbishop Spalding alum has inched his way through the Orioles’ minor league system over the past few years. Last season, he batted .260 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 107 games for Frederick. Kemp, 26, hit two home runs for the Baysox on June 15, but he’s batting just .186 with 50 strikeouts in 145 at-bats this year.
Max Knutson, LHP, Aberdeen: Baseball America called the Orioles’ 12th-round pick “a project” in its scouting report before the draft. And that’s exactly what the 21-year-old left-hander has been so far with the IronBirds. In his first two appearances, Knutson gave up five runs (three earned), four hits, one walk and one hit batter in 2 1/3 innings.
Audry Perez, C, Norfolk: The 27-year-old journeyman catcher, who played briefly in the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 and 2014, is hitting .308 for the Tides this season – including a three-hit performance Friday in a 10-7 loss at Columbus. But he has just those three hits in his last 22 at-bats (.136). And since the club chose Francisco Pena to replace Caleb Joseph a month ago, it’s clear where Perez stands.
Mike Yastrzemski, OF, Norfolk: After hitting .321 in 14 games in May for the Tides, the 2013 14th-round selection has cooled off this month. Although he had two hits Monday, the 25-year-old outfielder is batting just .187 with 27 strikeouts in 25 games in June. From June 13 through June 19, Yastrzemski went hitless in 19 straight at-bats and struck out seven times.
THE WEEK AHEAD
June 28 – at Toledo, 7:05 p.m.
June 29 – at Toledo, 12:05 p.m.
June 30 – vs. Durham, 7:05 p.m.
July 1 – vs. Durham, 7:05 p.m.
July 2 – vs. Durham, 7:05 p.m.
July 3 – vs. Durham, 6:05 p.m.
July 4 – at Gwinnett, 7:05 p.m.
June 28 – at Harrisburg, 7 p.m.
June 29 – at Harrisburg, 12 p.m.
June 30 – at Altoona, 7 p.m.
July 1 – at Altoona, 7 p.m.
July 2 – at Altoona, 6 p.m.
July 3 – at Altoona, 7 p.m.
July 4 – vs. Trenton, 6:35 p.m.
June 28 – vs. Carolina, 7 p.m.
June 29 – vs. Carolina, 7 p.m.
June 30 – vs. Salem, 7 p.m.
July 1 – vs. Salem, 7 p.m.
July 2 – vs. Salem, 6 p.m.
July 3 – vs. Salem, 6 p.m.
July 4 – at Lynchburg, 6:30 p.m.
June 28 – vs. Greensboro, 7:05 p.m.
June 29 – vs. Greensboro, 7:05 p.m.
June 30 – at Hagerstown, 7:05 p.m.
July 1 – at Hagerstown, 7:05 p.m.
July 2 – at Hagerstown, 7:05 p.m.
July 3 – at Hagerstown, 7:05 p.m.
July 4 – vs. Lakewood, 6:35 p.m.
June 28 – at Vermont, 7:05 p.m.
June 29 – at Vermont, 7:05 p.m.
June 30 – at Vermont, 7:05 p.m.
July 1 – at Lowell, 7:05 p.m.
July 2 – at Lowell, 5:05 p.m.
July 3 – at Lowell, 5:05 p.m.
July 4 – vs. West Virginia, 7:05 p.m.