Minor league notes on Hall, Smith, Grenier and more

For a Double-A Bowie team that has been winning a lot and bashing the ball all year, another player has emerged recently with a hot bat. And that is infielder Cadyn Grenier, who has made 23 starts for the Baysox at shortstop, with five at second base and one at third base.

Grenier, 24, posted a respectable .740 OPS in 2019 in 106 games between low Single-A Delmarva and high Single-A Frederick. He batted .244/.355/.384. But now the player taken No. 37 overall in the 2018 draft out of Oregon State has taken his offense to a higher level.

It didn’t start that way. After the first 15 games at Bowie this year, he was hitting .151/.258/.170 for a .428 OPS with one extra-base hit. In his last 15 games since late May, however, Grenier is batting .466 (27-for-58) with six doubles, a triple, three homers, 15 runs and 17 RBIs.

So over 30 games for the season, he is batting .315/.394/.477/.871.

O’s director of player development Matt Blood believes Grenier’s improvement is mostly a result of the daily work he puts in with Bowie batting coach Ryan Fuller. Several players have clicked with Fuller and the Bowie offense has produced 6.4 runs per game.

“I think that they have created a really great culture in Bowie when it comes to the hitting approach, the practice and preparation for the games. And I think Cadyn has really bought into that. He’s a really smart player and he is using the information to his advantage and getting results out of the work he is putting in,” said Blood.

Bowie leads its league in OBP (.356), walks (164), slugging (.452), runs (218), homers (49) and OPS (.808).

If Grenier can take his offense to another level, the Orioles could produce a player with a shot to help in Baltimore. His defense is considered very solid at short, and with teammate Joey Ortiz, the Orioles have two players that can really play defense at that spot. Some scouts might even rate Ortiz a bit ahead on defense-only, but Grenier more than holds his own.

“Cadyn is a steady performer at shortstop. He’s a major league shortstop. Because he makes all the routine plays and if you hit it to him and he can reach it, you’re out,” Blood said.

Moving on up: There were a few player moves on the farm Monday, including lefty starting pitcher Kevin Smith moving from Bowie to join a Triple-A rotation that now includes Kyle Bradish, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells.

Smith has gone 0-1 with a 1.04 ERA in six games, five as a starter. Over 26 innings with Bowie, he has allowed 18 hits and three earned runs with 10 walks to 37 strikeouts. His WHIP is 1.08 and his batting average against is .196. Smith has thrown four scoreless outings and allowed one earned run over five innings in his most recent start on Wednesday at Binghamton.

Bowie pitching coach Justin Ramsey told me in a recent phone interview that winter work by Smith has led to these strong results.

“He worked hard this offseason on the body and the delivery, just trying to make sure he moved more efficiently,” said Ramsey. “You kind of see the fruits of his labor, if you will, because you see a bit of an uptick in velocity. It was not something we necessarily thought he needed to have success, but it’s always nice to see. It’s improved his breaking ball, because he is generating better spins. The changeup was a big focus for him, too, giving himself another weapon versus both handed hitters, but definitely the righties. You can see his success on the stat sheet, but he worked hard this offseason to put himself in this position.”

So did Smith get physically stronger to help his pitching?

“I would say it was a combination of the way his body was moving and he’s stronger, but there are also more efficient movement patterns, if you will,” said Ramsey. “Some mobility work is the easiest way to describe it. You can see what it has done with his delivery. It’s not like you watch him now compared to the past and say this is a big difference. It’s just moving more efficiently and generating better weapons.

“And he’s probably up around two miles per hour on the fastball this year from where he was in the short time with us in 2020. It is different playing in games than at an alternate site, obviously, but even if you look back at 2019, he was more consistently 88-90 (mph), touching 91-92, where now he is kind of sitting, 90-91, touching 93 and 94.”

Drafted by the New York Mets in round seven in 2018, the 24-year-old southpaw pitched at High-A and Double-A in 2019. He went 8-7 with a 3.15 ERA in 23 games. He was ranked No. 12 on the Mets’ top 30 prospects list when he was traded to the Orioles in the deal that sent reliever Miguel Castro to New York last Aug. 31. Smith is currently No. 15 on the O’s top 30, via MLBPipeline.com, and No. 18 according to Baseball America.

Jim Callis of MLBPipeline.com has always been pretty high on Smith.

“I was actually shocked they got him in the Miguel Castro trade,” Callis told me during an interview in April. “No offense to Miguel, I was just surprised the Mets gave him up. I think he’s super underrated. He’s got a low 90s fastball that won’t blow you away, but he’s left-handed with high spin rates and he’s got that carry in the strike zone. And guys just don’t hit his fastball. He’s got a quality slider and he’s got a feel for a changeup. He throws a lot of strikes.”

DL-Hall-Throws-Bowie-Sidebar.jpgHall still stands tall with Bowie: Meanwhile, a lefty left behind by Smith at Bowie is DL Hall. The O’s No. 2-ranked pitching prospect is 2-0 with a 3.13 ERA over seven starts for the Baysox. In 31 2/3 innings, he has allowed just 16 hits, including four homers with 16 walks and 56 strikeouts. His walk rate is 4.55 and his strikeout rate of 15.92 per nine innings ranks third in all of minor league baseball among qualified pitchers.

“He’s been fantastic and working really hard,” Ramsey said. “Obviously, the talk going into the season was about throwing strikes. The numbers themselves may say he’s still walking a few too many guys. But what I would say is the way he has walked guys is not the same. This is not the guy who in ‘18 or ‘19 lost feel and had bad walks multiple times in an outing. These are competitive walks. There have been a couple of four-pitch walks, and we’ve all had those. But for the most part, these are very competitive walks that happen during the game and he goes back to work.

“He has really focused on finding that repeatable delivery that allows him to get back into the zone. When he starts to go out of the stretch, he can sometimes find that rhythm and timing that makes it even more repeatable, and he’s then right back in the zone. Really fun to watch and a credit to him with all his work to put himself into this place.”

Right before the minor league season began, I wrote this profile on Hall.

Rodriguez goes tonight: Hall’s teammate, right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, ranks ninth among all pitchers in the minors with a strikeout rate of 14.58. Rodriguez is 2-0 with an ERA of 0.90 after his first two Bowie starts and will start for the Baysox tonight at 6:35 p.m. at Prince George’s Stadium when the Baysox host Akron.

He is 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA for the season after seven combined starts for High Single-A Aberdeen and Bowie, and has walked nine and fanned 54 in 33 1/3 innings with a 0.78 WHIP. I recently wrote more on Rodriguez that you can read here.

Still getting on base: The O’s farm clubs at Bowie and low Single-A Delmarva continue to lead their leagues in team on-base percentage. Bowie has an OBP of .356 and also leads its league with 164 walks. Delmarva’s OBP is .381 to top the Low-A East, and the Shorebirds also lead that league with 186 walks. Single-A Aberdeen ranks third in OBP and fourth in walks in its league. Triple-A Norfolk is 11th in the 20-team Triple-A East in OBP.

Still No. 1: At 25-9, Bowie is playing .735 ball and that remains the best winning percentage of any minor league team in the land. The Baysox, who are 10-1 at home, open a six-game series with Akron tonight. Bowie has won all six series it has played this season.

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