After a three-game sweep at Durham over the weekend, Norfolk opens its home season against Gwinnett on Tuesday night, and DL Hall is the Tides’ starter.
A minor league roster with the top two Orioles pitching prospects, Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, who had an uneven performance in Norfolk’s opener last Friday night, wasn’t supposed to happen.
Rodriguez wasn’t supposed to be in Norfolk’s rotation. He was supposed to be with the Orioles, getting ready to finally make his major league debut on Tuesday night against the Texas Rangers.
His debut is probably not far away despite a rocky spring training and that disappointing first start.
For now, Rodriguez and Hall, who’ll be gradually stretched out as a starter, are part of an intriguing Triple-A rotation that also includes Spenser Watkins and Bruce Zimmermann, who often started for the Orioles in 2021 and 2022, and left-hander Drew Rom, who is also on the 40-man roster.
When the Orioles began spring training, executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that the Orioles had 12 candidates for the starting rotation.
Five of those candidates — Kyle Bradish, Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin, Dean Kremer and Tyler Wells — are in the rotation to begin the season.
Two others, Mike Baumann, who was converted into a short man late in spring training, and Austin Voth are in the Orioles’ bullpen.
The other five are the Tides’ starting rotation. Although Elias never specified the 12th candidate, it was assumed to be Rom, who started and pitched two innings in the Orioles’ Grapefruit League opener, never to be seen again before he was sent down to Norfolk.
When Elias was discussing Rodriguez’s unexpected demotion, he emphasized how important he was to the Or’oles’ future, and other members of Norfolk’s rotation.
“We’re going to need more starters,” Elias said. “We’re going to need Grayson. We’re going to need DL Hall. We’re going to need Watkins. We’re going to need Zimmermann. We’re going to need all these guys.”
Norfolk’s roster is full of major league prospects. Besides Hall, the Orioles’ top draft choice in 2017, and Rodriguez, the first selection in 2018, there’s another first pick, outfielder Colton Cowser, who was the fifth overall selection in 2021.
Infielders Connor Norby, Joey Ortiz and Jordan Westburg, who like the other three are on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospect list.
Traditionally, Triple-A teams are more veteran-laden, but perhaps because of the elimination of an affiliated team in 2021, there aren’t many on Norfolk’s roster who could be defined as career minor leaguers.
In many other years, first basemen/outfielder Ryan O’Hearn would have made the Orioles, but there’s much more talent on the team now, and O’Hearn has spent most of his time in the major leagues since 2019.
Josh Lester, who belted three home runs on Saturday and who, like O’Hearn, also played well in spring training but didn’t make the Orioles, has only five major league at-bats, all last season with Detroit, but at 28 isn’t quite a career minor leaguer yet.
Only 30-year-old pitchers Kyle Dowdy and Reed Garrett, who both were invited to spring training and have some major league experience, could fall into that category.
Prospects everywhere: In recent years, baseball has seemingly placed its best prospects in Double-A and used Triple-A teams as a way station for those players who can immediately provide temporary help.
That’s not the case with the Orioles this year. Seventeen players, just over half of Norfolk’s opening roster, don’t have major league experience.
Interesting players seem to be everywhere in the Orioles’ minor league system, rated No. 1 by MLB Pipeline. Besides those three No. 1 picks at Norfolk, Bowie has outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the top pick in 2020 and the second overall. After having his debut delayed until June 2022 because of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, and a hamstring injury, Kjerstad was impressive during spring training.
The Baysox also have infield prospects Coby Mayo and César Prieto, who got long looks during spring training, and left-handed starter Cade Povich, who came to the Orioles from Minnesota in the trade for closer Jorge López.
Aberdeen has three high draft picks from the class of 2022 — outfielders Dylan Beavers and Jud Fabian and third baseman Max Wagner — all of whom received calls to join the Orioles for late Grapefruit League games.
Delmarva has the latest No. 1 pick, shortstop Jackson Holliday, last year’s overall top selection. Some fans were surprised when he was sent to the Shorebirds after getting an invitation to spring training and not looking overmatched. Holliday has just 20 games of professional experience and if he does as well at Delmarva as expected, the 19-year-old should move on to Aberdeen quickly.
Organizational favorite catcher Samuel Basallo, an 18-year-old, is also with the Shorebirds. Like infielder Frederick Bencosme, who’s with the IronBirds, Basallo could be the first Orioles’ international signee of the new regime to reach the major leagues.