The revelation this week that the Orioles led the majors with eight players ranked among Baseball America’s top 100 prospects, the most in franchise history, illustrated the massive gains made by a farm system that routinely drew heavy criticism for its light weight.
Only the second team to have two different players, catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson, ranked first in back-to-back years, after the Cardinals’ J.D. Drew in 1999 and Rick Ankiel in 2000. The first to do it in consecutive years with players from the same draft class.
The appropriate and predictable focus fell upon the Big Eight: Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez (sixth), Jackson Holliday (15th), Colton Cowser (41st), DL Hall (75th), Jordan Westburg (76th), Connor Norby (93rd) and Joey Ortiz (95th).
Henderson will lose his prospect eligibility early this season. Happens to the best of them. Hall made his major league debut before Henderson and has an excellent chance to break camp with the team, so he’s also on the clock.
Norby and Ortiz shot into the top 100 with huge 2022 campaigns. They seemed neglected. Ortiz is rated 17th in MLBPipeline’s top 30 Orioles prospects.
My mind veered to the players who missed out on making Baseball America’s list, including Coby Mayo, who’s seventh on MLBPipeline.com's top 10 Orioles and 10th in Baseball America, and Heston Kjerstad, who’s ninth on MLBPipeline.com.
Baseball America doesn’t include Kjerstad in its projected 2026 lineup, putting Cedric Mullins in left field, Cowser in center, Stowers in right and Mayo at designated hitter. But he really could take off in 2023 after recovering from his hamstring strain last year and playing at two levels of the system and in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named Most Valuable Player.
Kjerstad was the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft. If there hadn’t been a diagnosis of myocarditis shortly after his selection, we’d be talking about his major league debut rather than wondering if he’s returning to High-A Aberdeen or starting the year at Double-A Bowie.
I’ve been cataloguing the most intriguing storylines in spring training and during the upcoming season. Kjerstad’s progress in 2023 might rank first on the minor league side, especially after hearing scouts who watched him in the AFL rave about his hitting.
Second-overall draft picks aren’t often overlooked, but Kjerstad has special circumstances. Perhaps he’s finally on the verge of just being viewed as special.
As a player who could crack the top 100.
* Infielder César Prieto also will be a must-follow after the Orioles gave him a $650,000 signing bonus as part of last year’s international signing class and he reached Bowie before running out of gas.
Prieto, who defected from Cuba, batted .340/.381/.619 in 25 games with Aberdeen and .255/.296/.348 in 90 games with the Baysox.
Joining Kjerstad in the AFL, Prieto slashed .189/.267/.359 in 15 games.
“I think it was a solid season,” Koby Perez, the Orioles’ senior director of international scouting, said during last week’s “Hot Stove Show” on MASN. “He went out and performed very well in Aberdeen, hit a little bit of a roadblock when he got to Double-A, but I think he still showed a lot of signs of what we liked when we signed him.
“One thing I noticed is that he’s never played this long, ever. The seasons in Cuba are very short, and then when there were international tournaments, they were short tournaments, so I don’t think he’s ever accumulated that many at-bats, and I feel toward the end it caught up to him. From what I understand, he’s preparing really hard this year to try to get through 500 or 600 at-bats.”
Prieto is No. 18 on MLBPipeline.com's top 30 Orioles prospects list.
* Levy is the new hospitality partner of the Orioles, the club announced yesterday. They made the switch from Delaware North, whose contract ended after 12 seasons.
Boog’s BBQ and Jimmy’s Famous Seafood will continue to operate at Camden Yards, according to a team spokesperson. No need to panic.
The company “will welcome fans with new signature offerings highlighting the iconic tastes of Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay, upgraded technology to allow faster and frictionless check-out options, and new culinary training opportunities for up-and-coming hospitality talent,” according to the press release.
“We are thrilled to embark on a new partnership with Levy and bring exciting and innovative options to our ballpark,” Greg Bader, Orioles senior vice president of administration and experience, said in the release. “We will work seamlessly with Levy to elevate the fan experience at Oriole Park from the concession stands to the Club Level suites, all while providing further opportunities to Strengthen Our Community and Empower Our Youth.”
Levy already handles concessions at Nationals Park, FedEx Field and Ripken Stadium, along with Dodger Stadium, Wrigley Field, United Center, Barclays Center, Cypto.com Arena, Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Levi’s Stadium, among others. The company also serves guests at world-renowned events such as the Kentucky Derby, Grammy Awards, Coachella and US Open Tennis Championships.
The Orioles say further details on foods and beverages will be announced prior to the season. The release added that Levy will be “creating opportunities for up-and-coming chefs, restaurateurs, and food and beverage tastemakers in the Baltimore area.”
* Major League Baseball announced yesterday that 10 umpires were promoted to full-time status: Erich Bacchus, Adam Beck, Nestor Ceja, Shane Livensparger, Nick Mahrley, Brennan Miller, Malachi Moore, Edwin Moscoso, Alex Tosi and Junior Valentine.
Bacchus, 32, has been a minor league umpire since 2012 and debuted in the majors in 2020, working 234 games as a call-up during the regular season.
I mention him because he’s a Germantown resident who graduated from Seneca Valley High and the University of Maryland.
* Today marks exactly four years since my father passed away. He received his diagnosis of Stage 4 esophageal cancer in August and was gone by January.
A blessing that he didn't suffer, but also tragic that there wasn't more time to say some of the things I had been saving. I'm sure many of you, sadly, can relate.
There's comfort in knowing that he already knew.
He would have loved the 2023 season and the unexpected playoff run. He would have wanted more details on some of the new players and especially this week's press conference. He would have asked about my departure date for spring training and quietly worried about me.
My mother is much more vocal about it.
I'll probably call up my story from Jan. 20, 2019 and scroll through the comments again. They brought comfort and were greatly appreciated. And then I'll stay ready in case news breaks later. Treat it like any other day. Exactly as he'd want it.