Minor league season wrap-up, Part 2:
On Monday, I took a look at Bowie, Delmarva and Aberdeen, three Oriole minor league teams that either qualified for the playoffs or just missed. In Part 2 of the minor league season recap, we’ll examine High-A Frederick and Triple-A Norfolk, teams that didn’t compete for the playoffs but are noteworthy for their prospects. We’ll also take a peek at the Gulf Coast League team.
Gary Kendall knew the challenge that awaited him in Norfolk. After eight years managing in Bowie, he was promoted to manager of the Tides this season. He knew his roster would be in flux without knowing how much.
Of the 64 players who have appeared in a game for Norfolk, 30 have played for the Orioles this year. Although most of those players have been bodies for the Orioles to make it through a rebuilding year, Anthony Santander and Hunter Harvey have shown they’re likely to be a part of the team’s future.
With the Orioles shuttling players as needed, Norfolk’s roster never remained the same for very long. Some nights Kendall would lose a starter hours before he was scheduled to pitch. Other nights it would be a few relievers. He embraced the challenge.
“It’s like a puzzle, and I kind of enjoyed it,” Kendall said.
Despite a 60-79 record, there were bright spots. Ryan Mountcastle became the first Tide to win International League MVP since they became an Orioles affiliate in 2007, hitting .312 with an .871 OPS, 25 home runs and 81 runs batted in. Kendall was impressed with his consistency at the plate, and his ability to produce while being moved around defensively. Mountcastle played third base, first base, and left field.
“Being 22 years old and being in there night in and night out and have no doldrums offensively and have [a] consistent season, it’s quite remarkable,” Kendall said.
Outfielder Austin Hays had an up-and-down year because of injuries but has been more consistent since coming back to Norfolk on July 11. He hit .264 with a .756 OPS after hitting just .216 with a .617 OPS before going on the injured list. Infielder Rylan Bannon has been a pleasant surprise since being called up to Norfolk in August, showing a little more power than he did in Bowie. After hitting eight home runs with a .394 slugging percentage for the Baysox, Bannon hit .317 with three home runs and a .549 slugging percentage in 20 games for the Tides.
On the mound, the same new ball used in the majors had significant effects on the pitching in Triple-A. No team in the International League had lower than a 4.30 ERA, with the Tides coming in last at 5.62. Kendall knows his team hasn’t been helped by hitter-friendly ballparks, but most of the time, mistakes come down to the need to make better pitches.
“You still have to talk to them to make quality pitches,” he said. “The ball is flying in most leagues, but most of the time it’s still the pitch wasn’t executed.”
Keegan Akin posted a 4.73 ERA, but it’s the seventh best in the IL among qualifying pitchers. Kendall said he’s become a more complete pitcher, developing his changeup and slider instead of just relying on his fastball. Bruce Zimmermann showed potential with a 3.45 ERA in the five starts sandwiched between a rough debut and final start, while fellow call-up Dean Kremer struggled to make adjustments and had an 8.84 ERA in four starts.
It was a tough season for the Keys, who finished in fourth place in the first half and fifth in the second half in the Carolina League’s Northern Division and with a 53-84 record. The Keys’ top five hitters were called up to Double-A Bowie at some point this season, though centerfielder Cole Billingsley finished the year in Frederick.
Only infielder Mason McCoy has continued to have success with the Baysox, having a breakout campaign while starting to emerge as a prospect. Shortstop Cadyn Grenier, a 2018 first-round pick, was promoted to Frederick in July but hit .208 with a .652 OPS in 24 games after the promotion. His season was truncated by an oblique injury.
On the mound, DL Hall took his next step forward. The 20-year-old left-hander struggled with control, walking 54 batters in 80 2/3 innings pitched. However, his stuff was nearly unhittable, holding opponents to a .189 batting average and striking out 116. Hall was in a groove in his final six starts before being shut down with a left lat strain, posting a 2.25 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 32 innings, and finished the year with a 3.46 ERA.
Brenan Hanifee, 21, also struggled with consistency, finishing with a 4.60 ERA in 129 innings. Before breaking out in Bowie, Michael Baumann recorded a 3.83 ERA in 11 starts. Blaine Knight, a third-round pick in 2018, was called up after posting an 0.68 ERA in five starts in Delmarva but hasn’t been the same pitcher in Frederick. In 17 starts and one relief appearance, Knight is 1-12 with a 6.13 ERA.
Bonus: Gulf Coast League
The GCL Orioles had a dominant season, posting a league best 38-15 record on their way to a South Division title. The team was managed by Alan Mills, who had a 4.16 ERA in nine seasons as a reliever for the Orioles and spent the previous two seasons as the team’s bullpen coach. There aren’t a ton of recognizable names on the roster, although Adley Rutschman did play five games with the team before heading off to Aberdeen. This year’s second-round pick, Gunnar Henderson, spent the summer in Sarasota and, after starting 2-for-17, slashed .286 with a .771 OPS. Unfortunately, the GCL playoffs were canceled as the region prepares for the impact of Hurricane Dorian.