The Orioles knew that it was time.
The individual performances and the calendar dictated that outfielder Colton Cowser and infielders Coby Mayo and Connor Norby should rise to the next level of the farm system. Putting them together at Double-A Bowie. And in the same lineup last night, occupying the top three spots.
Three of the top 10 prospects in the organization, according to MLBPipeline.com.
Cowser, the fifth-overall selection in last year’s draft, homered in his first at-bat and went 3-for-3 with a walk. Norby, batting leadoff, singled and walked.
“We’re looking forward to seeing what these guys are going to do in Bowie,” said executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias.
“It was the official halfway point of the minor league season, so that’s always a good time to look at people you want to promote. And these are guys that were performing well, doing well-above league average. I think their production is probably a little bit better than their raw numbers show, just looking at some luck and the offensive environment at Ripken Stadium and that league in general, and they were ready for the challenge. Everything that we use to evaluate whether a minor leaguer is ready for the next step told us this is the right move for these guys.”
Sixteen of the system’s top 17 prospects are playing in Double-A or higher. Infielders Jordan Westburg and Gunnar Henderson have graduated to Triple-A Norfolk, where the rotation included the top two pitching prospects, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez and left-hander DL Hall.
Rodriguez was nearing his major league debut before suffering a Grade 2 lat strain. He’s rehabbing at the spring training complex in Sarasota.
Henderson turns 21-years-old today after hitting for the cycle last night in only six at-bats, as Austin Hays did last week with the Orioles.
“I think it’s fun for us to see so many of our top prospects at the upper levels of the minor league right now at the same time that the major league team is gelling,” Elias said.
“We’ll see where it goes. We’re in a mighty division and we’re going to need players coming in from all angles to compete with those four teams. They’re all run so well that all had a bit of a head start on us in some areas, and they all have a lot of talent. But it’s pleasing to see the scouting department having done well with draft picks overall. Seeing these guys perform, seeing the player development department doing a good job.
“Not every single player is off and flying. We have injuries up and down the system, and some key ones, but on the whole I feel like the scouting and player development apparatus is working pretty well, and it’s nice to push some reinforcements closer to the major league level at a time when Adley (Rutschman) is there, when Tyler Wells is pitching like he did (Monday) night, when Hays and (Cedric) Mullins and (Ryan) Mountcastle and (Trey) Mancini and the whole gang are hitting well. I think it’s been a nice couple of days in the organization.”
Hall’s next start for Norfolk is Friday against Gwinnett. He has a 5.17 ERA and 1.591 WHIP in 10 games, walking 28 batters and striking out 59 in 38 1/3 innings. The Orioles have been able to extend his pitch count, but he’s totaled 7 2/3 innings in his last two appearances and allowed nine earned runs (12 total) with 10 walks.
“His stuff’s been incredible,” Elias said. “I think his performance has been good overall. He’s had a couple of bad lines lately, with some more walks than strikeouts, and this has been a theme for him, but you also realize that he’s pitching in Triple-A and punching out hitters and doing well in Triple-A without having much of a minor league base underneath him.
“He missed some time in 2019, we have the alternate site in 2020, he missed a lot of time in 2021, and now he’s in Triple-A and he’s got some of the best stuff in the league. The strikeout rate is very high. The reports there are good. So, I think he is doing what we wanted him to do this year. I think we’re seeing Triple-A growing pains, but also just growing pains in general that he may be playing catchup on with some of the missed time.
“I think he’s in a great spot and we’re watching every start of his with the idea that this guy’s in Triple-A, he’s one of the top arms in the system, if not the minor leagues, and we want him helping the major league team as soon as we possibly can.”
The club doesn’t have any updates on Rodriguez other than his rehab is “going fine,” Elias said.
“We have not done any reimaging, but everything seems to be healing well and his rehab is going well and it’s just kind of in rest mode.”
The Orioles tend to announce their minor league promotions on Mondays when games aren’t played. Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in 2020, is tearing up the Carolina League since receiving clearance to begin his professional career following a diagnosis of myocarditis after the draft and a hamstring injury in March. But his return is only a few weeks old and there’s no urgency to move him to high Single-A Aberdeen.
“We’re so happy for him,” Elias said. “It’s not surprising that he’s found his stride so quickly, just because we think he’s such a natural hitter, but what he went through, it was really a long amount of time and two different types of rehabs. I don’t think this is something that most people could have gotten through and gotten back out on the field, so it’s pretty incredible. And we’re going to be mindful that, even as well as he’s hitting, he’s coming off a pretty severe hamstring in the spring, and a year-plus of not playing at all.
“We’ll take it as it comes. There’s not going to be a playbook on how to handle him, but certainly it’s not something we’re going to rush.”
Elias is traveling again this week as the draft nears.
The board hasn’t changed, with the Orioles narrowing the first-overall pick to five possibilities. Baseball America’s latest mock draft has Elias taking Oklahoma prep shortstop Jackson Holliday, son of former major league outfielder Matt Holliday. MLBPipeline.com’s Jim Callis has Elias choosing Georgia prep shortstop Termarr Johnson, considered the best pure hitter in the draft.
There’s also Georgia high school outfielder Druw Jones, son of 10-time Gold Glove outfielder Andruw Jones, IMG Academy outfielder Elijah Green, son of former NFL tight end Eric Green, and Cal-Poly shortstop Brooks Lee.
“I think we’re going to roll that all the way into the meetings,” Elias said, “just so we’re prepared for anything and prepared for the debates.”