Orioles' top minor league prospects finally return to action on Tuesday - BaltimoreBaseball.com

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Orioles’ top minor league prospects finally return to action on Tuesday

Photo of Matt Blood courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

Matt Blood can feel the excitement.

The Orioles’ director of player development is counting down the days to when the team’s minor league affiliates get back on the field after games were shut down last year because of Covid-19.

There’s much hype surrounding the organization’s top prospects, who begin play with their teams on Tuesday.

“We’re extremely excited,” Blood said. “You can just feel it with the players, the coaches. Everyone has just extra energy about getting to go. The work we did down in spring training was fantastic. The players had a great attitude. The coaches worked really hard. I think it paid off. There’s kind of a buzz going on.”

Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias prioritized strengthening the team’s minor league affiliates when he took over in late 2018  by adding young arms and international talent to the organization. So far, that strategy has been a success.

According to MLB Pipeline, the Orioles have the fifth-best minor league system in the major leagues. Baseball America rates it seventh.

“We have more talent, we have more depth of talent and so we’re working with those guys on the things they need to work on,” Blood said. “What is different is we have a significant amount of competition going on, which is very healthy. The players are pushing each other. They see the talent around them and it’s raising their skill level as well.”

The Orioles four affiliates are:

  • Triple-A Norfolk, affiliated since 2007; GM Joe Gregory, manager Gary Kendall

  • Double-A Bowie, 1993; GM Brian Shallcross, manager Buck Britton

  • Class A Advanced Aberdeen, 2002; GM Jack Graham, manager Kyle Moore

  • Class A Delmarva, 1997; GM Chris Bitters, manager Dave Anderson

In addition, the Orioles have two Rookie ball teams in the Florida Complex League.

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Frederick is no longer the Orioles Class-A Advanced affiliate. Instead, the Keys are part of a new six-team MLB Draft League that functions as an unaffiliated showcase league for college juniors eligible for the MLB draft.

“The difference is the 180-player limit and so you have to fit your players into that,” Blood said. “But at the affiliates we’ll have actually larger roster sizes so we’ll be able to have more players at full-season clubs than ever before. It’s not really a big deal.”

There is more buzz surrounding the IronBirds, owned by Hall-of-Famer Cal Ripken. Aberdeen will have an even bigger role in the development of players.

“What’s exciting is that each roster we have, there are several prospects that are very interesting, likeable guys on the roster — a bunch, actually,” Blood said. “These teams are going to be fun to watch because they’re going to be competitive and playing good baseball. You’re also going to be able to say, ‘that’s a prospect, and that’s a prospect and I want to follow how they are doing.’ That makes it really fun. It’ll be good to see the communities get back and follow us live.”

The lack of minor league games last season was detrimental to the game, but the players made adjustments to make the best use of the time. The front offices, coaches and players are excited to get back on the field in a true competitive environment.

“Certain players need failure, different types of failure,” Elias said. “They need game experience. They need to face unpredictable, different competition on different nights. They need to get used to the professional game, whatever that may be. We’ve all kind of been accustomed to what minor league baseball provides in terms of rearing these guys for big-leaguers and also showing us who are the big-leaguers and who aren’t. [This year] is not going to be the same as 2019, but it’s going to be better than 2020.”

The Orioles’ top 15 prospects heading into the minor-league season are:

  1. Adley Rutschman, catcher (Bowie)

  2. Grayson Rodriguez, right-handed pitcher (Aberdeen)

  3. Heston Kjerstad, outfielder

  4. DL Hall, left-handed pitcher (Bowie)

  5. Gunnar Henderson, shortstop (Delmarva)
  6. Jordan Westburg, shortstop (Delmarva)

  7. Dean Kremer, right-handed pitcher (Orioles)

  8. Michael Baumann, right-handed pitcher

  9. Yusniel Diaz, outfielder (Norfolk)

  10. Keegan Akin, left-handed pitcher (Norfolk)

  11. Zac Lowther, left-handed pitcher (Norfolk)

  12. Terrin Vavra, second base (Bowie)

13. Adam Hall, shortstop/second base (Aberdeen)

14. Kyle Bradish, right-handed pitcher (Bowie)

15. Ryan McKenna, outfielder (Norfolk)

The Orioles’ pitching prospects will get plenty of action with the team embracing the concept of piggybacking, which means having two starting pitcher candidates split time in a game — one opens, the other pitches the middle innings. This will allow the minor league affiliates to have at least a half-dozen starters on each team without having a six-man rotation.

“You’ll do that on a regular basis throughout our system,” Blood said. “It’s a good way to manage innings while also building up more length types of pitchers versus one-inning guys. It gives you an opportunity to give more guys longer outings.”

To further strengthen the infrastructure of the minor league system, the Orioles are building a new Dominican training academy in Guerra, which will span 22.5 acres and house the Orioles’ Dominican player development operations.

“I think our whole baseball operations is improved, including all of our minor leagues and affiliates. Our minor league system is showing [improvement],” said Koby Perez, the Orioles international scouting director. “That’s definitely helped. I think a lot of what’s helped is Mike Elias has made about four trips down to the Dominican Republic with me.”

The new site, scheduled to be completed in 2022, will include three full fields, an agility turf field, batting and pitching tunnels, administrative buildings, dormitories and educational facilities.

“This is a long time coming, and a major milestone in this organization’s commitment to a full and aggressive and correct approach to acquiring and developing international talent,” Elias said. “A big part of our strategy going forward. It’s a big part of being successful in major league baseball today.”

33 Comments

33 Comments

  1. Orial

    May 3, 2021 at 8:23 am

    Now THIS is the article I’ve been anxiously lookiing forward to–beginning of MILB. Yay. Now the “real deal” begins. Let’s finally see what we’ve got. Couple of questions–I see Baumann without a team. Why? And I see Rodriguez at Aberdeen instead of Bowie. Again-why? Players I’ll be closely watching–Henderson/Westburg,DL Hall,and of course the Jones/Martin duo. Good luck Boys–we need ya.

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2021 at 8:27 am

      Todd did a fine job, and you’ll read him every week.

      Baumann had a flexor mass injury, and he didn’t pitch in major league spring training.

      Rodriguez is moving up one level from Delmarva. If he does as well as expected, he can move to Bowie this season.

  2. Bman

    May 3, 2021 at 9:02 am

    When will we find out the severity of Baumanns injury and how long he’ll be out? He’s a big piece of the puzzle as far as I’m concerned. I’m super excited for the beginning of minor league season and checking box scores everyday. Delmarva is going to be very interesting with a lot of big name draft picks and a slew of undrafted picks. It’s going to be a fun season across the board for all of the affiliates. Norfolk and Bowie should crush it. Aberdeen will be very good too. Who are the 60 guys still down in Florida and filling the rookie ball teams? I’m excited to watch the Os in person tonight for first time in two years.

  3. Beachdogs

    May 3, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Hi Todd
    Where is Graedon Fentner assigned this year?

    • Rich Dubroff

      May 3, 2021 at 11:53 am

      Gray Fenter is at Bowie.

  4. dlgruber1

    May 3, 2021 at 11:39 am

    Well, so much for my much anticipated trip halfway across the river to beautiful City Island in Harrisburg to watch Bowie play. Oh, they’ll be there, just not until the last week of the season in September. By then I’m thinking Rutschman could be in Baltimore. Also, I see the teams are all playing each team once at home and once on the road and all are 6 game series, Tuesday thru Sunday with Monday the day off all season. So when I now got to Bowie to see them I probably have almost no chance to see Rutschman as that’ll most likely be his off day since Sunday’s are probably all gonna be day games following Saturday night games. Well, there’s other prospects I look forward to seeing as well and I’m sure Bowie is an ok place but I REALLY had hoped to see them in Harrisburg.

    • Shamus

      May 3, 2021 at 12:16 pm

      I was looking forward to the same thing, then I saw the schedule for the Senators. Oh well, I’m still going to go cause City island is a great venue…. Sure wish York PA could have accommodated a triple A ball team

    • dlgruber1

      May 3, 2021 at 12:40 pm

      Harrisburg, and even more so York, have always been hotbeds for O’s fans. I’ve been to City Island a few times when Bowie was in town that reminded me of Camden Yards when the Yanks or BoSox were in town, almost more Bowie/O’s fans than Senators fans, although Harrisburg does love its Senators, the baseball players, not the actual politicians.

    • Beachdogs

      May 3, 2021 at 1:38 pm

      Looking forward to seeing 22 games at Delmarva this year. Fun stadium to watch a game

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    May 3, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    With as many at bats as Urias is getting, I don’t understand why Martin and/or J. Jones aren’t on the Orioles right now.

    Super excited about prospects Hall, Henderson, Vavra and Grayson Rodriguez and Bauman. Not so sure of Diaz … I’m beginning to think he may have some issues we don’t know about. Would like to see what McKenna has to offer THIS year.

    If Kjerstad ever suits up … wake me. I’d like to see just why he’s rated number 3 before he has ever swung a wooden bat.

    Fun article to read.

    • Bhoffman1

      May 3, 2021 at 1:00 pm

      I was thinking the same thing about Kjerstad number three and only had the uniform on at signing if at all. The only problem Diaz has is Elias if he was on any other team the Dodgers included he wouldn’t be taking buses at Norfolk

    • Shamus

      May 3, 2021 at 1:48 pm

      I feel the same about Diaz, BRR. If he’s 5 tool how did Kjerstad get rated higher than him? I’m smelling something rotten in Norfolk.

    • orf_nac_slaPslaC

      May 3, 2021 at 2:34 pm

      Urias ranks 11th on the Orioles in plate appearances with 49 so far this season. While struggling at the plate so far this season, Urias had better batting stats in the minors than Martin or Jones.

      CalsPals-here is where you interject that clever “what season is it?” comment to keep your rep as Mr. Sunshine going strong…

    • CalsPals

      May 3, 2021 at 2:50 pm

      FRO, why do you need to drag me into your crapfest…go O’s…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        May 3, 2021 at 3:56 pm

        Can’t figure out the FRO thing … or Dorf’s alias … I’m soooo old.

    • CalsPals

      May 3, 2021 at 4:06 pm

      Far as I know FRO is part of this weeks name, I could make something up as an acronym, but I’d rather not…I’m old as well…go O’s…

  6. millboy

    May 3, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    So do we just trade Santander and Stewart and assume Diaz is 100% ready for the big leagues or do we give him some time to play some real games in the minors so when he’s ready he comes up to play and stays. If we bring him up and he sits, he can’t be evaluated.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      May 3, 2021 at 2:20 pm

      My GOD don’t even suggest trading Santander!

      If there were a player I’d move on from, it would probably be Mancini. That would open up 1st for Mountcastle, then you’d have room to rotate the 4 or 5 promising outfielders you have, making use of the DH as well.

      That being said, I don’t mind keeping Diaz down on the farm a while longer either.

    • orf_nac_slaPslaC

      May 3, 2021 at 2:24 pm

      Diaz hit 0.262 at Bowie in 2019, so yeah he’s the real deal. Obviously Elias is an idiot and is blocking Diaz. And McKenna, Elias is blocking McKenna too. Mullins, Hays, Santander, and Stewart have nothing to do with it…

      • Boog Robinson Robinson

        May 3, 2021 at 5:02 pm

        Have you ever once heard anybody around here state or insinuate that Elias is an “Idiot”?

        I’ve been on this site since ’16, and I certainly haven’t.

    • Shamus

      May 3, 2021 at 2:54 pm

      Right.. and the COVID vaccine has a micro chip in . Dude, a GMs resume looks better when you build winning teams. Why would Elias do anything to make his job fail?

    • Icterus fan

      May 3, 2021 at 3:23 pm

      Shamus bringing’ the heat right there. Concise and logical. No conspiracy.

  7. Jim-Considine

    May 3, 2021 at 2:14 pm

    Todd,
    Do you know if the teams are streaming the audio portion of their games? Norfolk was available in 2019. Not so sure about the other teams.
    Thanks,
    Jim Considine
    CHC ’73

    • Shamus

      May 3, 2021 at 2:56 pm

      Jim did you work at the Black Pearl Restaurant?

  8. millboy

    May 3, 2021 at 4:21 pm

    Right on Shamus…I cannot understand why some are saying that Mike Elias is holding back this team.

    • Boog Robinson Robinson

      May 3, 2021 at 4:44 pm

      He’s been tanking for the past 2 years is why. Not sure if he still is, but players like Ramon Urias being on the squad makes me wonder.

    • CalsPals

      May 3, 2021 at 5:17 pm

      There are better players in the minors, do the math…go O’s…

    • Icterus fan

      May 3, 2021 at 7:08 pm

      Transitive verb. (Tanking) 1 : to make no effort to win : lose intentionally.

      Yeah. Total organizational hierarchy change featuring new state of the art training facility underway and #6 farm system in MLB. In 2 years.
      Those are good efforts at tanking. Grand conspiracy afoot.

    • CalsPals

      May 3, 2021 at 7:31 pm

      IF, I get what you’re saying, I believe we’re talking about two different things, we’re referring to this team, you’re referring to the organization, as I said earlier, we’ve better players than some on the O’s in the minors, not sure if that means we’re tanking, but we’re not putting our best product on the field, the “Organization” is headed forward, but this yr the O’s could be better, but it looks like better players are being held back…just trying to make sense of everything…it’s a crapshoot at best…playem if ya gottem….go O’s…

    • Icterus fan

      May 3, 2021 at 7:41 pm

      Maybe we’re splitting hairs. This is kinda like texting, but with an audience. Dangerous waters of course.
      I’m looking at it as finally we have some leadership instead of a derelict ship drifting aimlessly signing crappy has been players. (Don’t bring up CD). I want to see Jamai Jones and Richie Martin too, but after so many years of laughable teams, I’m willing to wait. It’s happening before our eyes.

    • CalsPals

      May 3, 2021 at 7:48 pm

      Not gonna argue, love talking O’s baseball with respectful people, will agree headed in a better direction, just getting old, hope I’m around to see them win…go O’s…

  9. johninbethany

    May 3, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    disappointed that Grayson is still slated for single A. I was hoping to see him in Bowie this year.

    • Beachdogs

      May 4, 2021 at 4:22 pm

      He will be in Bowie by August I believe.

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