The Orioles minor league home run leaders for 2022 were Connor Norby with 29 and Jordan Westburg with 27. No one else on the Baltimore farm hit more than 19.
Norby and Westburg battled down to the last game for that season homer honor. But during the year they showed similar approaches with a strong ability to drive the ball to right-center to produce a lot of their homers.
Now both are showing up on top 100 prospects list. In the latest one out yesterday, Norby got his third top 100 recognition. After coming in earlier at No. 82 via Baseball Prospectus and No. 93 via Baseball America, Norby was ranked No. 92 by ESPN.
A second baseman, Norby played at three levels last year, with 48 games at High-A Aberdeen, before playing 64 with Double-A Bowie and ending the year with nine games at Triple-A Norfolk, where he both homered on the first pitch he saw at that level and also hit two in his last two Tides games. He homered nine times in his last 25 games.
For the year, he batted .279/.360/.526/.886 over 121 games, adding 23 doubles, four triples, 92 runs and 16 steals to his home run total. Not bad for the Birds’ second-round pick (No. 41 overall) out of East Carolina in 2021. Among O’s on the farm with 250 or more plate appearances last year, Norby ranked second in OPS, behind only Gunnar Henderson’s .946. Pretty strong numbers for a player listed at 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds.
“The No. 1 thing I liked about his game was the ability to drive the ball to right-center field,” Double-A Bowie skipper Kyle Moore said in a recent interview. “Absolutely drive the ball with power to the middle and big part of the field. He does that as well as anyone I’ve ever seen in the minor leagues. And I think that plays when you start facing elite pitching. Facing real major league starters, I think that plays. Norby is a real hitter. He’s still young and will continue to develop, but in my opinion, that plays.
“Plus, Norby made a tremendous amount of improvement at Bowie on defense, and I was proud of that and our staff. Proud of Norby for showing up and not just saying 'I want to hit homers and drive in runs.' He showed up for defense every day and, I feel like, made himself into possibly an average big league defender, and he needs that to stick.”
Triple-A skipper Buck Britton was Norby’s manager for nine games to end the year. Norby homered four times in that span and logged a 1.123 OPS.
“I made a joke when he first joined us in Durham," Britton recalled. "I said, ‘I don’t have many rules, but one rule is, you’re leading off the game, so you have to hit the first pitch for a home run. That’s all I ask.’ You can call and ask him. The first pitch of the game he hits a homer. I was sold.
"At least this kid listens,” Britton said with a laugh.
“Let me tell you, offensively when he came up, it was loud. Out of college, people were saying this kid could really hit, and we saw it this year. What a season he had. Really drives the ball to right-center field, and a fierce competitor.”
So where does the power come from?
“I think he’s a bit bigger than perceived," said Moore, who saw Norby produce a .960 OPS for his Baysox.. "He’s wide and athletic. And his swing works with really good bat speed. He’s not lacking on physicality. He can really whip it through the zone and does a good job of maintaining his approach.
“Norby also has the mental discipline to realize he has to hit two or three different pitches, two or three locations, and in order to cover all that he has to go right-center with the fastball. He never varies from that, and that is why he hit so many homers. He took a good approach in the box 500 times this past season.”
Added Britton: “From what I saw from Norby, he’s got a chance to really, really hit.”
Outside of two innings at shortstop for Aberdeen, Norby’s time last year in the infield was all at second base. But the O’s love versatility, and he did play elsewhere in 11 games, making eight starts in left field.
Nine players on this top 100: The Orioles had eight top 100-ranked players on the Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com and Baseball Prospectus lists, and six ranked via The Athletic.
When the ESPN top 100 came out Wednesday, there were nine O's ranked on this list (subscription may be required).
Gunnar Henderson got another No. 1 ranking, and was joined on the list by Grayson Rodriguez (No. 12), Jackson Holliday (No. 17), Colton Cowser (No. 30), Coby Mayo (No. 47), lefty Cade Povich (No. 54), Westburg (No. 66), Joey Ortiz (No. 71) and Norby (No. 92).
Kiley McDaniel, the author of the list, said the O's farm is the best in Major League Baseball.
Said McDaniel: "The O's have back-to-back best prospects in baseball and their farm system is the class of the sport, thanks in large part to a really strong pipeline of scouting and developing hitters. Baltimore could be a scary team at the major league level sooner than you might think."
Seeing Povich in the top 100 was a surprise, and he made it to the middle of the list. That gives the O's 11 players overall getting top-100 recognition. This group of nine plus Heston Kjerstad and DL Hall.
Birdland Caravan begins today: Birdland Caravan will bring the magic of Orioles baseball to your hometown. And it begins later today at Bel Air High School, where general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde will appear at the Kickoff Fan Rally at 5 p.m., with doors opening at 4:30.
Fans can interact with the team through a variety of fan rallies, happy hours, autograph sessions, O’s bowling, and O’s Topgolf. Birdland Caravan will make stops in Baltimore City, Bel Air, Bowie, College Park, Columbia, Frederick, Odenton, Salisbury, Towson and Westminster, as well as York, Pa.
Click here for more details.
There was some news last night on the Orioles lease situation at Camden Yards. Click here for the update.
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