A trio of prospects get long camp look and is the rotation shaping up?

kjerstad picture day

A couple of quick thoughts as the Orioles hit the home stretch of spring training. They have seven spring games remaining over the next seven days and this time next week the spring games will be over.

I have no stats to compare this to past years, but the O’s spring roster for their game versus Philadelphia on Monday was at 51 with 36 from the 40-man and 15 non-roster invitees still officially on the camp roster. That seems like a lot on the roster this late in camp. The Orioles last made spring roster cuts last Tuesday after their game in Bradenton versus the Pirates. (And they did make some cuts late Monday afternoon).

It is interesting that this late in camp, three young prospects, there via non-roster invites, are all still officially on the roster and I speak of Jordan Westburg, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad.

All have been impressive in this camp and all three could impact the O’s roster during the 2023 season. None is likely to be there on Opening Day but the fact the club has kept them around so long I think shows us how they feel about this group of three and that they realize all three could be back later in the year.

Kjerstad has been hitting the entire camp. On Feb. 25, in the first spring game, he homered twice at Ed Smith Stadium just missing a third homer. He went 3-for-3 and now he is 4-for-9 with a homer his last three games. He just keeps hitting the ball hard and with authority.

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The injuries were tough to take but overall the WBC has been great

Cedric Mullins WBC

New York Mets closer Edwin Díaz injured his right knee and may be out for the year. Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve has a fractured right thumb and will need surgery. The first injury happened during a World Baseball Classic postgame celebration and the second during a WBC game.

Those are two key players that will miss significant portions of the coming season – maybe most or all of it – and both were injured as a result of taking part in the WBC.

No doubt fans of those teams may not be that excited about the WBC moving forward. In the game where Altuve got hit by a pitch on Saturday night, the Orioles' Anthony Santander followed him in the batting order and it could have been him that was hit and injured but luckily for the Orioles, he was not.

Despite these injuries, the WBC has been great to watch this year.

It’s great to see the talent around the world in the sport of baseball and more importantly the passion for the sport around the world. The crowds and the cheering and the TV ratings outside of the United States show us how much fans and players alike care about this event. It is a huge deal, maybe more so than it is here.

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Kyle Gibson remembers the phone call that convinced him to become an Oriole


They were rotation mates in parts of the 2020 and 2021 seasons with the Texas Rangers. They became more than teammates, forming a pretty close friendship as well. 

That friendship played out again over the winter when right-hander Kyle Gibson called another righty pitcher, Jordan Lyles. Gibson wanted to know about Lyles' experience pitching for the Orioles in 2022. That is because Gibson was closing in on signing with the Orioles to pitch for them in 2023.

“I think, for the most part I kind of knew that I wasn’t going to be back with Philly," Gibson recalled on a recent day at the Orioles' spring training camp. "Those few days the team has to talk to you and every team has that time where no one else can talk to them. Normally, if you don’t talk to the team then you’re not coming back,”

That led to Gibson to grab the phone and call his former Rangers teammate. Even though if he signed with the Orioles, he might be sort of taking Lyles’ spot in the rotation. He did and he, essentially, is.

Gibson said their friendship made it so that call was not awkward in any way.

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Bruce Zimmermann makes his rotation pitch, plus a WBC update

Bruce Zimmermann throw black away

When I was in Sarasota earlier this week, lefty Bruce Zimmermann talked about his spring performance. He has thrown more innings in spring games, 12, than any other O’s pitcher and has an ERA of 3.75, allowing 11 hits and five runs with three walks and eight strikeouts.

The young man from Baltimore liked how he has been mixing pitches and attacking hitters.

“I like how efficient I have been most of this spring. That is a big thing to show,” said Zimmermann, 28. “Limit walks, get guys out early. The way you get burned as a starting pitcher is going deep (in counts) in certain innings and pitch count racks up, and right now that is a positive for me to take away.”

I asked Zimmermann if he evaluates his spring mostly off the stats and box scores, or does he look at other aspects in grading his own performance?

“That is a tough question," he replied. "Because you don’t want to have an outing where the box score looks horrendous and think, ‘I want to spin this in a positive light.’ As far as box scores go, you take care of what you are wanting to show in the spring, what you work on in the offseason, and how you are attacking hitters is really important. It is still spring and you are still getting tuned up. But you still want positive outings while you tune things up in the spring.

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Don't forget me: Hudson Haskin making his own mark among talented farm group


When we talk about some of the top outfield prospects on the O’s farm, everyone mentions Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, but fewer make note of Hudson Haskin. But after a very solid 2022 season, when he played all year for Double-A Bowie, Haskin deserves to be noticed.

He was on Monday in Sarasota. Needing more players on a split-squad day, the Orioles brought him over from minor league camp at Twin Lakes Park, and he went 1-for-3 with a homer against the Detroit Tigers. He didn’t get a non-roster invite to big league camp this year, but given a small chance this week, he flashed some of his considerable talents.

Talents that make Haskin the O’s No. 15 prospect by MLBPipeline.com and fourth among their list in the outfield, behind only Cowser, Kjerstad and Dylan Beavers. Haskin is ranked No. 21 by FanGraphs.com and No. 26 via Baseball America.

He made some news for Bowie last April 10, when he hit three homers against Richmond in the third game of the year. He hit one out to left-center, one to right-center and one to right.

“That was a surreal experience,” Haskin recalled when I interviewed him recently at Twin Lakes Park. “Something I am definitely going to remember for the rest of my life. Was just happy to do something to help the team, and it was cool how supportive all my teammates were.”

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Strong spring impression: Heston Kjerstad has been raking under the Florida sun

Heston Kjerstad Aberdeen batting white

For Orioles outfield prospect Heston Kjerstad, late last year was a bit of a turning point and it was a time when he started to truly feel comfortable again in a batter’s box.

We have to remember that due to his bout with myocarditis and a spring hamstring issue this time last year, he went 27 months between games. That is crazy. But Kjerstad played March 11, 2020 for the University of Arkansas and not after that due to the pandemic that season. He then missed the 2021 season and the hammie delayed his start to last year. He finally debuted in a pro game on June 10, 2022 for low Single-A Delmarva and proceeded to go 37-for-80 over 22 games. By July 13 he was with High-A Aberdeen. But his OPS there was just .674 in 43 games.

But with the IronBirds, his swing was looking good and his bat was heating up again late in the year. He went 7-for-16 in his last four regular-season games. Then in six Aberdeen playoff games he hit .261 (6-for-23) with two doubles, a triple, six RBIs and four runs. He was driving the ball and it carried big-time into his play in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .357/.385/.622/1.007 and hit five homers in 22 games. He was named the AFL’s MVP.

He has picked up where he left off there in this spring camp in Sarasota. Not a stretch to say he’s made as strong an impression as any player there.

“Just, you know, been able to cover the whole plate, inside and outside, and been driving the ball well to both sides of the field so far,” he said this week at Ed Smith Stadium. “Playing well always helps. Showing people that haven’t seen you play much what you have and what type of player you are. It helps them make decisions down the road.”

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Gunnar Henderson on slow batting start, being the No. 1 prospect and more

henderson swing home debut black

SARASOTA, Fla. – Almost any major outlet that ranks the top 100 prospects in baseball has the Orioles' Gunnar Henderson topping their list at No. 1.

In fact, he tops the rankings for Baseball America, MLBPipeline.com, ESPN, FanGraphs.com and Baseball Prospectus.

But it won't surprise anyone around the O’s minor leagues, or O’s fans that are getting to know the 21-year-old Henderson, that accolades won’t change him.

“I mean, it’s really humbling to hear that,” he said of No. 1 rankings. “Growing up, those are things you dream of, but to accomplish it is really cool. But it doesn’t mean anything until you go out there and do the work. That is what I’m going to do, and just looking forward to helping this team win.

“No, sir (accolades won’t change me). I feel that is just what my parents taught me: No matter what happens, good or bad, stay the same. Just know it could all change in an instant. Keeping a humble mindset.”

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Bautista returns, Lester has big day as O's beat Pirates (plus roster moves)

Felix Bautista throwing white

BRADENTON, Fla. – It had to be a pleasing sight to everyone in an Orioles uniform today as they played the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton. Closer Félix Bautista was back on the mound and was touching 99 mph and throwing pitches by hitters in his spring debut.

To better control exactly when he would pitch today, the Orioles had Bautista start the game and would let him throw as many as 25 pitches. He needed just 15 in a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts. His fastball averaged 97.9 mph and topped at 99.0. He looked as good as he had last year.

“Fastball velocity was there, good splits,” manager Brandon Hyde said after the game. "His first time out and it looked like he had been out there for a while. Real positive for today.

"Let's see how he is tomorrow and after his next few outings, but today went as well as it possibly could."

The Orioles won the game 7-6 heading into an off-day on Wednesday to improve their spring record to 2-1-1 versus Pittsburgh and 8-9-2 for the spring overall.

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Hyde pregame on Henderson, Bautista, and Kjerstad and other notes

Gunnar Henderson

BRADENTON, Fla. – Confirming what was already assumed, the Orioles are absolutely not worried in the least that Gunnar Henderson is off to a 2-for-21 batting start this spring. Henderson, considered the favorite to win the American League Rookie of the Year award and the consensus No. 1 prospect in the sport, is batting .095 with nine strikeouts.

“You know I just think he’s honestly pressing a little bit,” manager Brandon Hyde said this morning. “I didn’t see his game yesterday, I was at the other place, but I think he’s got a typical young person’s spring honestly. I just want him to relax and play. He’s such a good player, he’s going to be fine. I think he is just having young guy at-bats right now, he’s trying to get hits and I’m not worried about it all.”

After going 0-for-2 versus Detroit yesterday, Henderson is 0-for-13 his last five spring games.

Henderson told me recently he feels his swing is fine but that he is playing catchup in getting at-bats because he missed some time early in camp with a minor wrist issue. Hyde said his wrist is fine now.

“I didn’t get too many at-bats leading up to the games,” he said. “Pretty much all my live at-bats this spring have been in the games. Just working through that process. Just a progression thing going right now. Just need to see pitches and get as many at-bats as I can. But I feel comfortable in the box right now," said Henderson. 

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Orioles lineup in Bradenton against Pittsburgh (update, Diaz scratched)

Felix Baustista White Jersey

BRADENTON, Fla. – The Orioles have taken the short ride north for their latest road game, taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Orioles (7-9-2) split two games on Monday, beating Detroit 11-7 at home and losing to Atlanta 6-5 in North Port in a game that was shortened to seven innings by rain.

The Orioles hit eight homers yesterday, six in Sarasota and two in North Port. They have scored 67 runs the past 10 games. 

Orioles closer Félix Bautista will make his long-awaiting spring debut today and is scheduled to pitch the first inning after being held out of games to this point. He has thrown several bullpen sessions and checked all the boxes he needed to get to this point. Now the Orioles hope the final two weeks plus will be enough time for him to be ready for Opening Day and they are confident he will be. It’s a nice step for him today here in Bradenton.

Right-hander Tyler Wells (0-1, 7.71 ERA) is expected to follow Bautista to the mound this afternoon at LECOM Park. Wells has allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings. He last pitched last Thursday in Clearwater against the Phillies allowing one run over 2 2/3 innings. Bruce Zimmermann is also scheduled to pitch for the Orioles.

Terrin Vavra, who is batting .474 (9-for-19) is leading off today and playing second base. Adley Rutschman hits second and will catch. Heston Kjerstad, who hit his third homer Monday against Atlanta, will bat eighth and play in right field and Colton Cowser hits ninth and plays in center.

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Austin Hays takes an up-the-middle approach to reverse second-half struggles

Austin Hays Black Jersey

SARASOTA, Fla. – After his OPS took a nosedive in the second-half of last year and the strong season he was having was tarnished, O’s outfielder Austin Hays came to this spring camp with a pretty simple offensive approach. Less pulling the baseball and more of using the whole field, especially working to drive balls gap-to-gap.

Hays saw his OPS+ drop a bit, from 107 in 2021 to 103 last season. His WAR per baseball-reference went from 3.1 to 2.2. And after the All-Star break he had a .626 OPS that had been .834 in late June.

“Want to be able to use the whole field rather than be more pull-side like I was later (in the year). Just a very standard middle-of-the-field and be able to drive the ball the other way approach. Nothing crazy. Just sticking with the basics.

“Been hitting the fastball to the other side of the field so far. Hit a lot of balls to the right side early on in camp and like I said that has been my focus, to use the whole field. It’s showing, what I did in the offseason and what I am trying to focus on.”

What caused Hays to get away from that as last season went on?

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Kyle Gibson is solid, O's hit six homers in split-squad win over Detroit


SARASOTA, Fla. – With his pitching every fifth day schedule lining up closely where he could pitch nearly on schedule on Opening Day at Boston, right-hander Kyle Gibson made his third spring start and threw well in the Orioles' 11-7 win over the Tigers this afternoon.

The Orioles split their squad and played twice. The other half of the roster lost 6-5 to Atlanta in North Port in a game called in the top of the seventh due to rain.

Here at Ed Smith Stadium, the Orioles hit six homers, some seemed to be helped by the gusting wind toward left field. They had 15 hits in all and the 11 runs is their most this spring after they had scored 10 runs three times. O’s batters have scored 67 runs the past 10 games.

Gibson allowed some hard contact, including on a solo homer to Akil Baddoo, the second batter of the game. But that was the only run he gave up in four innings. He allowed three hits with no walks and two strikeouts on 46 pitches, 33 for strikes.

He is rounding into form nicely with an ERA of 2.00 in nine spring innings after outings of two, three and four innings. In that time, he has yet to walk a batter with six strikeouts.

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Keegan Akin out to prove "I still belong on this team"

akin fires black

SARASOTA, Fla. – Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said lefty Keegan Akin “has thrown the ball as well as anyone in camp, this whole time.” He likes Akin’s mid-90s velocity, his breaking pitches and said he is having a great camp.

Akin appreciates hearing that, but after a second half in 2022 where his stats fell off, he is trying to get back in attack mode on the mound and find the form he had in the first half last year.

Before the All-Star break, the 27-year-old Akin had an ERA of 2.36, WHIP of 0.881 and OPS against of .580. But in the second half, his ERA jumped to 4.76 with a 1.482 WHIP and .768 OPS against.

This spring he has thrown five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and one walk with five strikeouts. In the fifth and sixth here against Boston on Sunday, he threw two scoreless, retiring six of seven batters.

“Just throwing strikes,” he said this morning in the Baltimore clubhouse of his solid spring to this point. “It is something I could praise myself for the beginning of the year last year. Feel like I got away from that in the second half and paid for it. Trying to get back on track, throw strikes and fill the zone up. It has worked so far.

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Orioles' split-squad lineups against Detroit and Atlanta (pitchers added)

watkins throws white

SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles will play the first of two scheduled split-squad game days today. Part of their roster will be at Ed Smith Stadium hosting the Tigers and part of the roster heads to North Port to play the Braves.

The Orioles (6-8-2) will also play two games on March 19, facing the Yankees and the Pirates.

Right-hander Kyle Gibson (0-0, 1.80 ERA), a possible O’s Opening Day starter, gets the home start in Sarasota versus the Tigers. Right-hander Spenser Watkins (0-0, 1.80 ERA) starts against the Braves.

O’s home lineup vs. Tigers
Austin Hays CF
Adley Rutschman DH
Ryan Mountcastle 1B
Gunnar Henderson SS
James McCann C
Adam Frazier 2B
Franchy Cordero LF
Nomar Mazara RF
Jordan Westburg 3B

Kyle Gibson RHP

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O's had strong vet leadership last year and 2023 group wants to carry that on

Kyle Gibson White Jersey

SARASOTA, Fla. – Some of them may not have produced big numbers for the Orioles on the field last year, but veteran players like Rougned Odor, Robinson Chirinos and Jordan Lyles all were big for the Orioles young group of players. They encouraged them, they cheered them and at times led them and helped show them how to win.

Their veteran presence – something we hear a lot about in this sport – made a big difference for the 2022 Orioles.

Now a new group of veterans are on the team. They have heard about the group that was here last year and want to pick up the ball where they left off.

Right-handed starter Kyle Gibson, 35, a vet of 10 MLB seasons and 261 career starts, said the O’s young clubhouse has impressed him this spring. He is ready to lead and help where he can, but he also sees a young core group that collectively approaches the game in a very professional manner.

“You know what for having such a young team it just seems like a lot of guys understand the process of getting their work done and the process of being focused during the workouts and getting your reps,” he told me recently at Ed Smith Stadium. “Sometimes you have to do more work as young team because of simple mistakes or mental mistakes that are made a lot. This team doesn’t do that. It’s quick work and in and out because we are getting the job done and are doing it right.

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Rodriguez struggles in fourth, Rutschman hits grand slam as O's top Boston

rutschman w chain white

SARASOTA, Fla. – In the first few innings today, Orioles right-hander Grayson Rodriguez was getting swings and misses, putting up zeros, hitting the high 90s at times and showing why he is one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. But it got away from him a bit in the fourth as Boston scored four runs.

The Orioles ended the day with a win, thanks in large part to Adley Rutschman’s grand slam to left in the last of the fourth. That turned a two-run deficit into a 6-4 Baltimore lead and they won by that score. The Orioles improved to 6-8-2 in front of a sun-splashed crowd of 6,959 at Ed Smith Stadium.

Boston (9-3-3) lost for just the third time in 15 games.

Rodriguez fanned two batters in each of the first three innings. Through three he had faced one batter over the minimum with a shutout on one single allowed. He needed just 26 pitches the first two innings as his fastball touched 97 and 98 mph on the stadium radar gun.

But Boston put the first five batters on against him in the fourth, scoring twice to gain the lead. He left down 2-1 with the bases loaded and no outs. Right-hander Morgan McSweeney inherited the huge jam and two more runs scored on his watch, both charged to Rodriguez.

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O's mourn passing of Luis Andrés Ortiz Soriano (plus other pregame notes)


SARASOTA, Fla. – The Orioles announced today the passing of Luis Andrés Ortiz Soriano, a 20-year-old minor league player from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 

A team statement read: "Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of minor league pitcher Luis Andrés Ortiz Soriano. Luis was an inspiration to all who knew him, especially as he courageously battled cancer. Our hearts go out to his family and friends."

The young man did not have any stats for the 2022 season. In 2021 in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League he went 1-2 with a 5.52 ERA in 14 2/3 innings.

Manager Brandon Hyde passed along his thoughts to start his pregame press update.

"Want to pass on condolences to the Luis Ortiz family. Sad news last night. From all of us here - our major league staff and players - we want to give our condolences to the Ortiz family," he said. 

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Notes on prospects still raking, pitcher disengagements and Rodriguez's home start


SARASOTA, Fla. – When Connor Norby slammed an RBI single to left at 94.1 mph and later Heston Kjerstad smoked an RBI double to center at 105 mph Saturday in Dunedin, those were the two most recent examples of the young kids continuing to swing the bat well and impress at O’s spring camp.

Some of these prospects won’t make the Opening Day roster this time around but they are nonetheless making an impact and starting to make a mark on this team and its future. Yes it’s just spring and a small sample, but some of the OPS figures for this group of talented young players are strong: 

1.447 – Heston Kjerstad
.884 – Jackson Holliday
.857 – Joey Ortiz
.809 – Connor Norby
.793 – Colton Cowser

Norby hit the ball hard twice Saturday, going 2-for-2. He is 7-for-21 this spring with three doubles and two RBIs. He led the O’s minors last year with 29 homers and produced an .886 OPS between High-A Aberdeen, Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

“He has swung the bat extremely well (this camp),” manager Brandon Hyde said after the Orioles lost 8-6 in Saturday’s matchup with Toronto. “He’s making strides defensively, but we like the bat a lot. Had a really good minor league year last year at the upper levels and he’s going to have a chance to hit.”

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Voth works on his sweeper, Baumann struggles as O's fall to Toronto

austin voth throwing gray

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Sometimes in spring training games a pitcher could be working on something new or trying to add his repertoire. O’s right-hander Austin Voth did that today as the Orioles faced the Toronto Blue Jays.

Toronto hit two-run homers in the sixth and seventh off right-hander Mike Baumann as the Blue Jays beat the Orioles 8-6.

The O's rallied in the ninth on Connor Norby's RBI single and Heston Kjerstad's 105 mph RBI double, but fall to 5-8-2. They host Boston tomorrow with right-hander Grayson Rodriguez on the mound.

Voth, who allowed two runs and three hits in 2 2/3 innings, threw a sweeper for the second time this spring today. It’s a pitch with big movement that often breaks the width of the plate. Per Statcast, his sweeper today sat right between his cutter and curveball in velocity. The sweeper averaged 83.2 mph with his cutter at 89.2 and curve at 77.9 mph.

“This is the second outing that I started throwing a sweeper,” Voth said outside the Baltimore clubhouse. “I want to incorporate that a bit more. I know that is going to be a big pitch for me down the road. And then, backdoor cutters to lefties and also throwing it frontdoor as well. Just trying to get a better feel for my spin right now.”

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O's pregame updates on Joey Ortiz, Félix Bautista and more from Dunedin


DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Orioles will be without infield prospect Joey Ortiz for likely a few days at least. Manager Brandon Hyde told reporters here today at TD Ballpark that Ortiz is now in concussion protocol. He took a bad-hop groundball off his head in drills a few days ago and has not yet been cleared to return to the field.

The club’s fourth-round pick in the 2019 draft, Ortiz is 3-for-12 with a double, triple, one run scored and two RBIs in six spring games.

He is ranked as the No. 66 prospect in the FanGraphs.com top 100 list and is also rated No. 71 by ESPN, No. 95 via Baseball America and The Athletic and No. 99 by MLBPipeline.com.

Left-hander Cole Irvin threw to hitters today on an Ed Smith Stadium back-field, Hyde said, but he did not get a chance to see the outing before he headed to today’s game. Nor did he have a report yet on it.

O’s lefty pitching prospect  DL Hall was also scheduled to throw to live hitters for the first time today as well back in Sarasota. Hall keeps progressing toward getting into a spring game after being slow played earlier in camp. He dealt with some lower back discomfort before spring training began but all is fine now. Soon he will get into game action.

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