Heading into last night’s last game of the Triple-A season, the Orioles' last minor league game of the year, O’s prospect Connor Norby was the organization’s home run leader with 28 for the season. Norfolk teammate Jordan Westburg had 27.
Could Norby hang onto his lead for one more game?
He would be, perhaps, a bit of a mild surprise as O’s farm homer leader. Norby goes 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, and most analysts have rated his hit tool over his power tool. He hit over .400 twice in college at East Carolina. And then he went in the second round of the 2021 draft, No. 41 overall, to the Orioles.
And yes, some players with big homer numbers on the farm - Kyle Stowers and Gunnar Henderson - moved on to the big club. But Norby’s year has been pretty darn good.
And he ended it with one last homer, a two-run shot in Norfolk's season-ending 5-3 home loss to Jacksonville. That was Norby's 29th homer of the year. Westburg finished with 27.
Norby's season began with 48 games for High-A Aberdeen He hit eight homers for the IronBirds. Then he hit 17 for Double-A Bowie over 64 games before ending at Norfolk for nine games with four more homers.
Over 121 games at those three levels, Norby batted .279/.360/.526/.886 with 23 doubles, four triples, 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 92 runs and 16 steals.
During an interview yesterday, it was clear how much Norby likes and respects his Tides teammate Westburg, and he said they didn't even really have a friendly homer competition going.
“We don’t really look at that much," Norby said. "There may be some bragging rights a little bit if I end up getting it. But as we have talked before when we were going back and forth when I was in Bowie and he was here, ‘Doubles are cool too.’ But it’s been fun. And getting to work with him every day and play with him and learn from him is awesome. I have been watching how he goes about his work. He’s extremely talented and what he has done this year doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve seen the work he puts in and how he cares.
“Honestly, if he ties me (last night) or gets two and beats me, I know I’ve had a good year and he’s had a great year. I will look forward to going into the offseason and looking at the things we can work on. I know he will be the same way.”
Yesterday the Orioles' Gunnar Henderson was named the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year. The publication has handed out the award since 1981, and Henderson and Matt Wieters in 2008 are the only Orioles farmhands to win it. The award over the years has gone to players such as Mike Trout, Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer and Frank Thomas. And most recently, players such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bobby Witt Jr. last year.
Norby said it’s a big deal that Henderson took home this hardware.
“I mean it’s huge for the organization to have Adley (Rutschman) and then have Gunnar follow right behind him. Same thing with Westburg, I’ve seen it firsthand. He’s an unbelievable player too. Couldn’t be happier for Gunnar. Sky is the limit for him.”
Norby was born and raised in Minnesota, and his family moved to North Carolina when he was 14. He now makes his winter home in Winston-Salem, N.C. I asked him what the focus of his offseason will be.
“I want to build my strength back up," he said. "During the year your body gets a little weak at times. So hitting the body parts that were giving me some trouble throughout the year, that’s one thing. And trying to perfect my swing any way I can. There is no perfection in this game, but I’m a perfectionist and will do anything I can to try and get as close to perfection as I can. I hope I get to go to big league camp in the spring. Next year will be a big year for me, but I have to handle my business in the offseason first.”
I had a long interview with Norby, and much more of that interview and his thoughts on his big season will be published in this space in the days ahead.
Norfolk, seeking its first .500 or better season since 2015, came up short with last night's loss and ended the year at 74-76.
Final O's farm homer leaders:
29 - Connor Norby
27 - Jordan Westburg
19 - Gunnar Henderson, Kyle Stowers, Joey Ortiz, Colton Cowser, Coby Mayo
Final O's RBI leaders:
106 - Jordan Westburg
85 - Joey Ortiz
78 - Kyle Stowers
76 - Gunnar Henderson
73 - Connor Norby
Among O's farm players with 250 or more plate appearances, Henderson led all in OPS at .946, with Norby next at .886, followed by Stowers at .884 and Cowser at .878.