After a season in which the Orioles farm system was ranked No. 1 in the majors by MLBPipeline.com and No. 2 by Baseball America - reaching heights they had never before seen - some of the players responsible for such a lofty ranking took home some hardware at Oriole Park on Tuesday night.
In a pregame ceremony, the O’s honored catcher Adley Rutschman and outfielder Kyle Stowers as co-winners of the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year Award, and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, who won the Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award. Rodriguez went 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA between high Single-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie. Over 103 regular season innings, he allowed 58 hits, including 10 homers, with 27 walks, 161 strikeouts, a .159 batting average against and a 0.83 WHIP.
Rutschman has hit .286/.399/.513/.912 between Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk with 25 doubles, two triples, 23 homers and 75 RBIs. Stowers hit .283/.387/.526/.914 with 23 doubles, a triple, 27 homers and 84 RBIs between three teams, starting at Aberdeen and moving to Bowie and then Norfolk.
The Orioles also honored Bowie manager Buck Britton who was named the Cal Ripken Sr. Player Development Award winner. And Brandon Verley won the Jim Russo Scout of the Year Award. He was the signing scout of both Rutschman and 2020 draft pick Coby Mayo.
Britton said the honorees represent the cream of the O’s crop on the farm.
“You are talking about elite players at the top, but this system as a whole has gotten a lot better,” he said before the game in the Orioles dugout. “The influx of talent, just in the last couple of years, has been incredible. So, yeah, to have these guys at the top, I think they are going to represent that next wave that gets here and hopefully fit in with the guys playing well here and hopefully this thing turns around pretty quick.”
And Britton said his message to fans would be that better times are coming for Birdland.
“Just the talent that we have,” he said. “Look how fast these guys are moving through the organization. We had a 20-year-old in Gunnar Henderson that came up for our playoffs and was one of our better performers for two weeks. We’re getting there. You even see up here - what (Cedric) Mullins has done, what (Austin) Hays has done through a full season. There has to be some excitement. What (Ryan) Mountcastle has done. So to have these guys really on the cusp to come up here and supplement those players has got to be exciting.”
Rutschman said he was proud that he was able to play so much this year. He’s logged 118 games and his 522 plate appearances lead all O’s minor leaguers.
“It was a goal of mine coming into the season to stay healthy,” said the player the O’s selected 1/1 in 2019. “And I’d like to think that is a result of offseason work and staying in shape. Also just doing little things day in and day out to make sure I could be 100 percent ready to play every single day. That’s been a huge positive and a huge win, I think. And I’m very fortunate to stay healthy this year and hopefully continue to stay healthy. Knock on wood, yeah, there you go.”
Rutschman said it was special to share his award with a close friend in Stowers. He added that fans have talked to him often this season about his group being the one to bring consistent winning back to Camden Yards.
“Yeah. I mean we always talk about winning, winning together,” Rutschman said. “And having a group of guys around us like I was talking about earlier that enjoy each other’s company, are playing for each other and enjoy winning. It is definitely something to look forward to. I’m very excited to continue to progress and create relationships with the guys around me and just hopefully continue to work together.”
Rutschman said there are things for fans to take pride in on the O’s farm.
“I think the most noticeable thing for me has been one, the people, and two, just the mindset that the whole organization has toward player development,” he said. “And that comes with just the process-oriented mindset that everyone has here. I really appreciate that because I feel like guys don’t get the sense of everything being such a failure. They see it as a learning opportunity (when they struggle). Making that switch in their mind has been huge and I think guys really appreciated that about the staff. We have a phenomenal group of people here, and I think the guys in our organization here have tremendous character and so does everyone in the front office and the coaching staff and everyone in development. Yeah, just great people.”
When asked where he made the biggest gains this year, Stowers didn’t cite a baseball skill.
“Definitely my mindset mentally,” he said. “Staying resilient. I think that my early stretch in Double-A - I got off to a slow start and just kind of didn’t get into bad habits of feeling bad for myself. Just stay resilient. Kept that belief in myself whether I start the game off with a hit or a strikeout, it didn’t change my confidence going into the next at-bat. Or if I had a bad game, it didn’t change my confidence going into the next. I had full belief that I was going to perform to the best of my ability each time I got the chance.”
And Stowers said the sky is the limit for the O’s farm and the team’s future.
“Oh, man, there is a lot of talent at every level I’ve been at,” he said. “I think the Orioles are in a good spot with what is being taught to us and what is being emphasized. I think we’re focusing on the right things and I think the fans have something to be really excited about.”
By the way, during an interview on the MASN telecast last night, Stowers said he will play next month in the Arizona Fall League.
Verley has been with the Orioles for over 10 years, covering the Pacific Northwest - including Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington - from 2010 to 2019. Since 2020, Verley has covered south Florida and Puerto Rico, recommending players for the First-Year Player Draft.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Verley said. “You know, as a scout, we are never really in this position, in the spotlight. It’s a great honor. It feels a little underserved because scouting is such a team effort. So for one guy to be... to have credit like this is a little out of character for what we do. But I’ll take it, it’s pretty cool and a great honor. Really happy to be here and represent the whole staff.”.
During his interview session with reporters, Rodriguez was reminded that his next trip to Camden Yards could be to make his major league debut next season.
“You know, that’s special,” he said. “Obviously, the dream is to pitch in Camden Yards. It’s been like that ever since I was drafted by the Orioles and that’s pretty special to think about.”
What could the future hold for him and O’s present and future?
“Hopefully a lot of wins and a couple rings,” Rodriguez said with a big smile on his face.
And the big club won, too: The Red Sox began Tuesday night leading the majors in doubles and extra-base hits and fourth in runs per game. But they were held to three hits by four O’s pitchers as the Birds beat Boston 4-2.
The Orioles are 3-2 on this homestand, 4-4 over the last eight games and 10-16 in September. They have played 16 games among their last 27 that were decided by two runs or less, going 8-8.
Mountcastle’s 32nd homer tied the game 2-2 off Chris Sale in the sixth. The home run was his third career game-tying homer, second against the Red Sox and first since May 31 versus Minnesota. His five career longballs against Boston are his second-most against any opponent behind the Toronto Blue Jays (nine). According to Statcast, it was his seventh-farthest (414 feet) and sixth-hardest-hit (109.0 mph) home run of the season.
The future’s here tonight. pic.twitter.com/QNctnClUBW-- Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 28, 2021