Recently I wrote here about some players that were surprises this year for the Orioles as they made their way to an AL East title. On the farm there always seem to be a few surprises, if for no reason other than we have more teams and players to choose from.
This year was no different, but I think two of the biggest surprises on the farm were two players that both ended their years with Double-A Bowie in outfielder Billy Cook and right-handed pitcher Alex Pham.
Both ended the year in the O’s top 30 via MLBPipeline.com with Cook at No. 27 and Pham at No. 29. Cook is currently unranked by Baseball America, but Pham made it all the way to No. 17 via BA.
They were players on the rise during the 2023 season and both are hidden gems no more. They’ve found their way onto the radar and will be watched closely in 2024.
Both were college draft selections in the 2021 MLB Draft – Cook out of Pepperdine in round 10 and Pham in round 19 out of San Francisco. So, neither will need to be added to the 40-man roster to be protected from the Rule 5 draft until the Rule 5 draft in 2024.
Pham began the 2023 season at High-A Aberdeen, ending with Bowie. After two years in the organization as reliever, he was mostly a starter this season making 19 starts among 26 appearances. He went 3-5 with a 2.57 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and .182 batting average against. Over 112 innings he walked 3.4 per nine, fanned 10.5 and allowed a .548 OPS.
Those were strong numbers, and he was also named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Month for May when he went 2-0 with a 1.54 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings.
His fastball often sits in the mid 90s, touching the mid 90s and the guy has several solid secondaries, throwing a curveball, sweeper, cutter and splitter/changeup. MLBPipeline.com ranked all those pitches at 50 on the scouting scale which is MLB average.
In June, as he was promoted to Double-A, I talked with O’s director of player development Matt Blood about Pham.
“He has really taken his development seriously and worked really well with the pitching coach in High-A,” said Blood then. “He has refined some of his pitch shapes and is a very competitive guy. He pretty much dominated the High-A level and was ready for another challenge.
“He’s got weapons. He throws a slider and a curveball that are really tough and has a changeup for lefties and his velocity has been low to mid-90s. He’s got weapons and he throws strikes and now we’ll see what he can do at Double-A.”
He did well there, pitching to a 2.67 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 60 2/3 innings.
Among all O’s farm pitchers throwing 80 or more innings this season, Pham ranked No. 1 in ERA and WHIP, No. 2 in batting average against and No. 5 with a 29.4 K percentage.
Cook, 24, played this entire season at Double-A and is playing right now in the Arizona Fall League. For the Baysox he batted .251/.320/.456/.776 with 16 doubles, two triples, 24 homers, 64 runs, 30 steals and 81 RBIs. He lowered his K rate from 31.8 in 2022 to 25.0 and produced a 8.4 walk rate. Cook improved his numbers from 2022 when he hit .221 with a .720 OPS at Aberdeen with 15 homers and 65 RBIs.
He is a player with a nice speed-power combo who can play all three outfield spots and gets 60 grades for his arm. He made his most outfield starts in right field but also made 35 starts at second base and eight at first base.
Among all O’s farm players with 300 or more at-bats he tied for second in homers behind Coby Mayo who hit 29. He was fourth in steals, fifth in RBIs and 16th in OPS. He led the Eastern League in RBIs and tied for third in homers.
Bowie manager Kyle Moore is a real fan of Cook’s talents and feels he can be a future big league player.
“He started out with some early-season struggles and now he is one of our top offensive producers,” Moore said in a July interview. “Made some good adjustments. Cook is the one guy that is doing all of the offensive production things well. He gets on base a lot, he’s stealing a whole bunch of bases and he’s driving in runs. I’ve hit him everywhere from leadoff to eighth and have asked a lot of him. Super adaptable. And so, I think he’s been our guy that has produced the most runs in a bunch of different ways.”
Heading into last night in the Arizona Fall League, Cook was batting .196 but with an OPS of .816 in 16 games with three doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs.