This all could change because there are a couple of weeks to go in the minor league season, and it’s just one man’s opinion, but at this point there are probably four to five strong contenders for the Jim Palmer Award. It goes to the O’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Right now in some order you can list Single-A Delmarva’s Grayson Rodriguez, Double-A Bowie’s Michael Baumann, Alex Wells and Zac Lowther as prime contenders. I’ll add to that a pitcher who has flown under the radar but probably should not in Delmarva right-hander Gray Fenter. There are plenty of other hurlers with strong seasons going. This is just my take at this point.
Rodriguez, the club’s No. 1 pick in 2018, has been real good since opening day for Delmarva and has helped lead the Shorebirds to a great season. He is 9-3 with a 2.69 ERA in 17 starts. Over 80 1/3 innings he’s allowed just 51 hits with 33 walks, 111 strikeouts, a 1.05 WHIP and .179 batting average against. How about 13 starts allowing one earned run or none? In his last outing he threw five no-hit innings and touched 99 mph on the stadium radar gun. Did we mention he’s just 19? Yikes, what a great year.
He can throw hard, but his changeup has been a huge pitch this year as Rodriguez told me earlier this season in this entry.
Baumann has probably seen his prospect status take the biggest leap forward this year. Between Single-A Frederick and Bowie, he’s 4-6 with a 2.85 ERA over 21 games. In 107 1/3 innings he’s given up 71 hits with 41 walks, 127 strikeouts, a 1.04 WHIP and .189 batting average against. In 10 games since he moved to Bowie he’s 3-2 with a 1.86 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. He pitched a no-hitter July 16 and Wednesday night threw a complete-game four-hitter.
Bowie manager Buck Britton and pitching coach Kennie Steenstra spoke about Baumann and all their starters when I wrote this recent profile on the Bowie rotation.
Wells has won this award before, with Delmarva in 2017, when he walked just 10 batters over 140 innings. For the Baysox over 20 games he is 8-3 with a 2.31 ERA. In 116 2/3 innings he has yielded 100 hits with 21 walks, 89 strikeouts, a 1.04 WHIP and .228 average against.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote this profile on Wells.
Lowther was the co-O’s Pitcher of the Year last year with Keegan Akin. For Bowie over 22 games he is 12-6 with a 2.71 ERA. In 123 innings he has allowed 82 hits with 58 walks, 124 strikeouts, a 1.14 WHIP and .192 average against.
Lowther talked about his 2019 season during a recent visit to Camden Yards.
He may be a longshot for this award, but Fenter has had one strong season for Delmarva, continuing his comeback from Tommy John surgery in April 2016. In 20 games he is 7-2, and his 1.98 ERA leads all O’s minor league starters. In 86 1/3 he has allowed 61 hits with 43 walks, 108 strikeouts, a 1.20 WHIP and .200 average against.
Earlier this year I profiled Fenter in this story.
By the way, at a time when the Orioles are giving up a ton of homers, several of their top minor league pitchers are very stingy in allowing the longball:
* Baumann 2 homers allowed in 107 1/3 innings.
* Rodriguez 3 in 80 1/3.
* DL Hall 3 in 80 2/3.
* Fenter 4 in 86 1/3.
* Wells 6 in 116 2/3.
* Lowther 7 in 123.
Also worth nothing is where several O’s farm teams rank in their respective leagues in team ERA. Bowie leads the Eastern League at 3.26. Delmarva is first in the South Atlantic League at 2.96 and also ranks first in strikeouts. Aberdeen tops the New York-Penn League at 2.51 and is first in strikeouts. The Gulf Coast League Orioles rank second in the GCL at 2.83.
Rutschman note: The No. 1 pick in the June draft is heating up with the bat. Short season Single-A Aberdeen’s Adley Rutschman produced two more doubles last night for Aberdeen. Rutschman is 6-for-11 with five doubles and five RBIs his last three games. Over his past seven games, he is batting .423 (11-for-26). In 17 IronBirds games for the year he’s batting .281/.385/.391 with seven doubles, 10 RBIs and an OPS of .775.