Birdland has likely noticed and no doubt enjoyed some great starts by both individual players and teams on the Orioles farm. Through Sunday’s games, three of the O’s four full-season affiliates are playing .667 ball or better. The four teams have a combined record of 29-18 (.617) and the Orioles rank seventh among major league organizations in minor league win percentage.
Among several players off to great starts are two of the club’s best young prospects. Pitcher Grayson Rodriguez is 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings for high Single-A Aberdeen. Infielder Gunnar Henderson is batting .341/.404/.659 with four doubles, three homers and a league-leading 16 RBIs at low Single-A Delmarva. Yesterday he was named Low-A East Player of the Week after driving in 13 runs the last five games.
Is it too soon to promote these and other players?
In the next two or three days, the answer is probably yes, but that could change in the next two or three weeks. There is one thought in the industry that, after missing the 2020 minor league season, some clubs will promote players sooner this year. We could see movement in some organizations around the beginning of June.
Nice start in the OBP department: The O’s clubs are putting up some big offense to start the year. Double-A Bowie, at 9-2, leads its 12-team league in runs (81), home runs (18), on-base percentage (.385), slugging (.478) and OPS (.864). Bowie scored 55 runs in a six-game sweep of Reading.
Aberdeen (8-4) leads its 12-team league in stolen bases (26), is second in OBP (.345) and third in runs. The IronBirds host Wilmington tonight in their home opener.
Delmarva (9-3) scored 56 runs in a six-game sweep over Fredericksburg. The Shorebirds lead their league in homers (18) and OBP (.373) and are second in runs, slugging and team OPS.
There is a theme here of good on-base percentage, with Bowie and Delmarva first in their respective leagues and Aberdeen second.
O’s director of player development Matt Blood said OBP has been a point of emphasis for the farm hitters.
“Very much so. We value on-base percentage,” he said. “We value making good swing decisions and it’s something we practice every single day. And our hope is that it will reflect itself in the results of the players. There are things we’re excited about and things we’d like to improve upon. I think we are off to a good start, not a perfect start. But our coaching staff has done a great job and the players have really bought into the messaging.”
Here are just a few early walk-to-strikeout totals and OBPs:
* Terrin Vavra, Bowie, 8 walks to 10 strikeouts and .533 OBP.
* Patrick Dorrian, Bowie, 11 walks to eight strikeouts and a .511 OBP.
* J.C. Escarra, Bowie, nine walks to 11 strikeouts and a .444 OBP.
* Adley Rutschman, Bowie, 13 walks to 12 strikeouts and a .444 OBP.
* Shayne Fontana, Aberdeen, 12 walks to 11 strikeouts and .500 OBP.
* Kyle Stowers, Aberdeen, 13 walks and strikeouts and a .404 OBP.
* Anthony Servideo, Delmarva, 17 walks to 11 strikeouts and a .521 OBP.
* J.D. Mundy, Delmarva, seven walks to six strikeouts and .420 OBP.
“We provide the players with daily feedback and we also emphasize it org-wide in our practice,” Blood said. “You know, we’re two weeks in. I don’t want to overreact to anything. But three of our four full-season teams are right at the top of their league in on-base percentage. I would like to think that is because of the training that has been put on it. Players are striving to be better with pitches they can drive.”
They stole another bag: Aberdeen leads the 12-team High-A East with 26 steals in 33 tries, which is a .788 success rate. Delmarva has stolen 18 of 20 (.900) and ranks fifth in its league.
“I would say basestealing and aggressiveness is something we are putting an emphasis on across our organization, and especially in the lower levels of the minors,” Blood said. “And I think you are seeing that at Aberdeen and Delmarva. We want to run and we want our players to learn how to steal bases and how to run. Sometimes that is going to lead to mistakes, but that’s how you learn.”
“He has great instincts and technique and he’s working on it,” Blood said of Handley stealing bases. “It is something he is getting good at. You don’t have to be a plus runner to be a good basestealer.”
Home sweet home: The Triple-A Norfolk Tides have gotten off to a rough start, going 3-9 to begin the year. That includes a pair of six-game series on the road at Jacksonville and Charlotte. But tonight, the Tides play their home opener, facing Jacksonville at Harbor Park at 6:35 p.m.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Tides manager Gary Kendall, who needs 35 wins for 1,000 in his career. “I haven’t been back to Norfolk for a game since 2019. The fans play a pretty big part of this. They were waiting, just like we were waiting, to go out and play. Started on the road with 12 games, now it will be really nice to see some familiar faces.”
Added Tyler Nevin, who leads the club with four homers: “It is going to be a fun thing that we missed for the last 600 or some days. I didn’t play an affiliated game last year, just the alternate site. So, it’s going to be a sight for sore eyes.”
While the O’s farm teams have a collective .617 win percentage to start the year, the Tides have lost nine of 12 and their pitching has been an early issue. Their team ERA of 6.48 ranks 18th out of 20 clubs in the Triple-A East, and their rotation ERA of 8.55 is last among the 20 clubs.
The Tides’ Stevie Wilkerson is batting .357 with a .914 OPS, and switch-hitting catcher Brett Cumberland is hitting .282 with an .851 OPS and is hitting .345 versus right-handed pitching. Rylan Bannon leads the club with nine RBIs. Austin Wynns is hitting .320 with a .913 OPS.
Spread the wealth: The Orioles have a talented young infield at Delmarva, and they wanted the players to move around the diamond. They have been doing just that. Four different players have started at shortstop. Henderson has been at short four times and also started at third base four times. Jordan Westburg has six starts at third and four at shortstop. Darell Hernaiz has started six times at second base and two each at short and third. Servideo has six starts at second and two at short.