A few minor league O's that can fly under the radar

Can a pitcher who has thrown for three of the last four seasons for the Aberdeen IronBirds - both when they were in the short-season New York Penn League and now in the full-season South Atlantic League - be considered a prospect?

OK, probably not, but he can be considered a player with a good arm that the Orioles like who clearly flies under the radar. Maybe well under it.

Right-hander Kade Strowd put together impressive stats this past season, when he was healthy and showed a fastball that can touch the high 90s with some solid secondaries. You won’t find him on anyone’s top 30 prospects list, but the scouts must have noticed the stuff and the stats this season with Single-A Aberdeen.

The Orioles selected Strowd, 25, in round 12 of the 2019 MLB Draft out of the University of West Virginia. The same school that produced their 11th round pick in the 2014 draft in lefty John Means. In three seasons with WVU as mostly a starting pitcher, Strowd went 10-16 with a 5.31 ERA.

In his first O’s season in 2019 after that draft, when Aberdeen was still a short-season club, he made his pro debut, throwing 17 innings for the IronBirds without allowing an earned run. He didn’t pitch in 2020. Nobody on the farm did, as the pandemic forced the cancellation of all minor league games. For whatever reason, Strowd took a step back in 2021, going 0-3 with an 8.05 ERA for Aberdeen.

But this year, again for the IronBirds, he pitched well, although he was out with arm issues between mid-May and Aug. 12. He went 2-1 with a 1.06 ERA in 17 innings, 16 for Aberdeen and one for the Florida Complex League Orioles on rehab. He gave up 10 hits and just two earned runs, with six walks to 24 strikeouts and 0.94 WHIP.

Strowd's fastball ranges from 94 to 98 mph and he mixes in a slider, curve and changeup. Some say he has “electric stuff.” By now he’s got to be very ready to move up to Double-A and take a shot in a new league with a new team when next year begins. And he could be a fast mover next season. He is 4-4 with a 4.50 career ERA over 72 innings with 28 walks, 88 strikeouts and 1.33 WHIP.

Here are a few other names that can fly under the radar on the farm:

* First baseman TT Bowens went undrafted during the shortened five-round draft in 2020. The Orioles signed him after that draft as a non-drafted free agent from Central Connecticut State. Last year in 106 games with Aberdeen he batted .248/.376/.392/.768 with 20 doubles, five triples, seven homers and 45 RBIs. A right-handed hitter, Bowens, 24, produced a 15.2 walk rate with a 29.0 strikeout rate.

In two years on the O’s farm, Bowens has 25 homers and a .775 OPS.

He was a key cog in the Aberdeen lineup this year and helped them beat Brooklyn in the playoffs last September. But before their SAL championship series loss, he suffered an oblique issue and missed that series.

“He was our MVP all season,” Aberdeen manager Roberto Mercado said on the eve of that championship series in September. “Been here all year and got some big hits. He had big hits in the last two (playoff) games against Brooklyn. That is a big loss for us.”

* Infielder Luis Valdez can fly under the radar. But he can fly, as in he’s very fast with what some consider 80 speed. Think Jorge Mateo-like speed. Valdez, 22, from the Dominican Republic, stole 71 bases this past season. That was second most among all minor league players, behind only San Diego’s Esteury Perez, who had 86. The 71 steals are more than 10 major league teams had all year in 2022, and more than double the total for any other O’s minor league player. Darrel Hernaiz was second on the Baltimore farm this year with 32.

Valdez, signed by the O’s as an international free agent in May 2019, played 95 games at Single-A Delmarva and 20 at the end of the year for Aberdeen. He batted .265/.339/.339/.678 with three homers and 25 RBIs. He stole his 71 bases in 86 attempts. At Delmarva, he stole four in one game to tie a Shorebirds single-game team record.

“He is probably the fastest guy in the org. He and Mateo would be a nice race,” O’s director of player development Matt Blood told me in July. “He’s got 43 stolen bases before the All-Star break, pretty electric. And he’s a versatile player. Switch-hitter. He plays middle infield and center field and can play all over the outfield. He’s a little bit old for that level, but he’s got some skills and is showing the ability to get on base more and more. He’s a really exciting player to watch.”

* Two catchers who flew a bit under the radar this year and drew some praise, mostly for their defensive skills, were Ramon Rodriguez and Maverick Handley.

Rodriguez, 24, was originally drafted by the Dodgers out of Puerto Rico in round 30 in 2016. He has played two years on the O’s farm. Last season he was mostly at Aberdeen, with a handful of games also at Bowie and Norfolk. He batted .272/.326/.350/.676.

Handley, 24, was the Orioles’ sixth-round pick out of Stanford in 2019 and signed for $250,000. He spent all of 2022 with Bowie and in 78 games batted .236/.352/.417/.769 with 12 doubles, a triples, 11 homers and 45 RBIs. He was known for having a good eye at the plate in college, and last year had an 11.7 walk rate with the Baysox. Handley quietly had some decent offensive numbers to go with his defense and above-average arm. If he continues to progress here, that could get him to the majors one day.

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