As the Orioles continue to add new players to an already highly ranked farm system through the MLB draft, the prospects among the ranks currently continue to perform. Baltimore has been in this position before, with its second first overall pick in four drafts under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias.
In 2019, the Orioles chose catcher Adley Rutschman, and now he’s emerging at the major league level. On Sunday, Baltimore drafted shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of seven-time MLB All-Star Matt Holliday, out of Stillwater High School in Oklahoma. It begins another cycle for the Orioles, rejuvenating a prospect corps in which several recent top draft picks are nearing the majors.
“A combination of having all the data available to us, communication, effective logistics and resource planning has kind of allowed us to ultimately get to this point,” Orioles director of draft operations Brad Ciolek said. “Clearly, our player development coaches do a tremendous job on that side of the organization.”
Entering the All-Star break, it was another strong week for Baltimore minor leaguers. The fresh crop — with 12 selections between the first two days of the draft — will report to the Florida Complex League for rookie ball after signing their contracts.
Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down five of the top performers in the Orioles’ prospect ranks and hand out some superlatives for those who didn’t make that cut.
1. Triple-A Norfolk left-hander DL Hall
As Baltimore’s first-round pick in 2017, Hall is hitting his stride with Triple-A Norfolk, and a promotion to the Orioles appears to be coming sooner rather than later. The 23-year-old southpaw dealt with pitch tipping in two starts in June, leading to nine earned runs against him in 7 2/3 innings. But with that behind him, Hall has gone on a tear.
In his last four starts, Hall has struck out 40 batters, walked eight, allowed eight hits and given up only one earned run. His two performances last week featured no earned runs on four hits, five walks and 18 strikeouts. There’s no denying his ability to cultivate swings and misses. Perhaps there’s still pause regarding the walk numbers, but he allowed just one free pass in five innings Sunday.
2. Triple-A Norfolk infielder Gunnar Henderson
On top of playing in the MLB Futures Game in Los Angeles, Henderson had a strong week for Norfolk. In the Futures Game, he batted leadoff and scored two runs. He showed off his speed when he ran from home to first in 4.19 seconds, according to Statcast. Henderson, who ranks as the Orioles’ second-best prospect, according to Baseball America, also knocked two triples as part of his three hits in three games for the Tides, bringing his season OPS to .889 since being promoted to Triple-A.
3. Double-A Bowie infielder Joey Ortiz
Since the promotions of Jordan Westburg and Henderson to Norfolk, Ortiz has found himself more regular playing time at shortstop for Bowie. And beyond what he’s done in the field, Ortiz’s production at the plate has been especially impressive. The former fourth-round pick in 2019 out of New Mexico State recorded seven hits last week, including two home runs, to post a 1.283 OPS.
4. Double-A Bowie outfielder Colton Cowser
For the second straight week, Cowser finds himself in the minor league report, building on a strong July since his call-up from High-A Aberdeen to Bowie at the end of June. In five games last week, Cowser clubbed three home runs as part of five hits, and while his strikeout rate has been a concern, he struck out just twice in 19 at-bats. Cowser was Baltimore’s first-round pick in 2021, and he ranks as the sixth-best prospect in the organization. He’s starting to climb closer to the pinnacle.
5. High-A Aberdeen right-hander Ignacio Feliz
Feliz started the year as a reliever for Aberdeen, but the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic has more routinely been used as a starter since the end of May. He produced the best outing of his season last week, completing six innings for the first time while allowing just one hit with two walks and seven strikeouts. Feliz has bounced around, from the Cleveland Guardians to the San Diego Padres before the Orioles grabbed him off waivers. His development has been slow, but he looked strong last week.
Top prospect not featured so far
With Rutschman graduating from the prospect rankings and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez rehabbing his right lat muscle injury in Florida, the top-ranked prospect yet to be discussed at length is Westburg, the infielder from Mississippi State who plays for Triple-A Norfolk. By his standards, the No. 4 prospect had a quiet week: Westburg hit .211, with four singles and one walk with five strikeouts. But his overall performance has been better — he has a 0.903 OPS in 32 games with Norfolk.
International acquisition of the week
With an ability to play all around the infield, Roberto Martinez has found more of a home at first base for Low-A Delmarva, and that’s where the 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic did most of his damage this week. He recorded eight hits with five doubles while driving in three runs. Martinez struck out five times in five games, which is a knock on his game — in his 25 games for the Shorebirds, he has 27 strikeouts and six walks.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
After Baseball America updated its midseason prospect rankings, outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Robert Neustrom dropped from the top-30 list. But both batters struggled this week with Norfolk, leaving outfielder Zach Watson as the former top-30 prospect of the week. In nine at-bats with Double-A Bowie, he hit a home run and a single, driving in two runs in the process. Overall, Watson’s work at the plate has been lacking, with a .190 average despite six homers showing some pop from the former third-round pick in 2019 out of LSU.
Time to give some shine to …
Featuring mainly as a starter for Low-A Delmarva, right-hander Ryan Long compiled the best start of his season Friday. He completed six innings for the first time, allowing three hits and one walk without giving up a run. He fanned five batters, too. A 17th-round pick in 2021, Long is playing his first season with an affiliate.
There will be a new crop of players in short-season ball later this summer following the draft, but a few standouts this week include 18-year-old outfielder Wilmer Feliciano in the Dominican Summer League. In four games, he had a homer and a double as part of four hits. Angel Tejada, a shortstop in the Florida Complex League, added four hits in three games. And third baseman Toby Welk, in the FCL on a rehab assignment, recorded two hits in two games.
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
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