Orioles minor league report: Which prospect will be next to make his MLB debut?

12 July 2023

The Orioles called up Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser in a span of 10 days. The organization’s other top prospects are jostling to be next.

From prospects who have yet to make their MLB debuts — Heston Kjerstad, Connor Norby and Coby Mayo — to those who have already gotten a taste of the show — Joey Ortiz and Grayson Rodriguez — Baltimore has plenty of talent to choose from in Triple-A.

Who could be next? And is there even space (or playing time) for any of those players on the 2023 Orioles?

Westburg and Cowser were both putting up massive numbers in Triple-A — the former for essentially a full season’s worth of games, the latter reaching base at an otherworldly pace. Throughout the first three months of the season, there was clamoring for the club to promote the two prospects who rank inside Baseball America’s top 40. Whether the timing was correct or not, they’ve now been added to an impressively long list of prospects the Orioles have promoted in the past 14 months: Adley Rutschman, Kyle Stowers, Gunnar Henderson, Rodriguez, Ortiz, and now Westburg and Cowser.

The five players in question — Kjerstad, Norby, Mayo, Ortiz and Rodriguez — all have different paths to Baltimore, some more likely than others.

Norby and Mayo are perhaps the least likely to make their debuts this year. Mayo, one of nine Orioles prospects on Baseball America’s top 100 list, is 21 years old and was just promoted to Triple-A, although he was dominating Double-A to the tune of a 1.026 OPS. Meanwhile, Norby, who is ranked as Baltimore’s No. 11 prospect, is clearly behind Ortiz and Westburg on the infield prospect pecking order, on top of the established big leaguers already on the Orioles — Jorge Mateo, Adam Frazier, Gunnar Henderson and Ramón Urías. While Norby isn’t putting up Westburg or Cowser-esque numbers, he’s still hitting .282 with a solid .795 OPS with the Norfolk Tides.

The other player still looking for his first big league call-up is Kjerstad, who alongside Jackson Holliday played in the MLB All-Star Futures Game on Saturday, going 1-for-2 with a single. A year ago, Kjerstad was still in Low-A after missing the previous two years with heart and hamstring ailments. In the 365 days since, he’s zoomed through Baltimore’s minor league system and up prospect lists, where he now ranks No. 73 in the sport, according to Baseball America.

After hitting .310 with a .960 OPS in Double-A, Kjerstad is slashing .323/.414/.602 — good for a 1.017 OPS — in 25 games in Triple-A. However, the emergence of switch-hitting outfielder Aaron Hicks and left-handed first baseman Ryan O’Hearn — plus the return of first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and the overall health of the Orioles’ outfield — makes it hard to find a place for Kjerstad to get everyday at-bats in the majors. His outfield defense is also worse than that of most of Baltimore’s outfielders, and he’s played just 20 career games at first base.

Perhaps the most likely prospects to make their way back to Baltimore are Rodriguez and Ortiz after neither could stick in the majors (for vastly different reasons) earlier this year. Rodriguez, the Orioles’ top pitching prospect, was largely ineffective in his 10 starts, posting a 7.35 ERA and a 1.743 WHIP before being optioned back down to Triple-A. Ortiz was called up to the majors three times in two months, but he totaled just 34 plate appearances during his 24 games on the roster and was optioned in favor of Westburg, who ranks one spot ahead of Ortiz among Baltimore’s prospect corps.

Despite their challenging circumstances in the majors, Rodriguez and Ortiz have dominated Triple-A upon their returns. Rodriguez, who won the International League Pitcher of the Month Award for his dominant June, has posted a 1.69 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 37 1/3 innings since rejoining Norfolk. Ortiz, meanwhile, is hitting .333 this year, and his career .951 OPS in Triple-A is better than that of any other Orioles prospect who has played at least 40 games at the level.

But Ortiz will continue to have the same problem he’s faced during his previous stints with the big club: finding the field. That is, unless the Orioles trade from their infield depth at the deadline. And Rodriguez also appears to be the odd man out of the club’s solid — but far from spectacular — rotation as No. 5 starter Cole Irvin has a 2.92 ERA since returning to the majors a month ago.

While those five prospects have the best chance of playing in the majors this year, they’re not the only players on the farm who matter. That’s why each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down five of the top performers in Baltimore’s prospect ranks and hand out some superlatives for those who didn’t make that cut.

1. High-A Aberdeen outfielder Kyle Stowers

Sure, Stowers isn’t actually a High-A player, but he is still prospect-eligible with 121 at-bats — nine away from graduating from such status. During his rehabilitation stint after missing more than a month with inflammation, Stowers dominated the lower level, going 9-for-18 last week with three home runs and eight RBIs.

2. Double-A Bowie outfielder Billy Cook

Stowers’ eight RBIs, however, weren’t enough to lead all Orioles minor leaguers. Cook, who isn’t among Baltimore’s top 30 prospects, drove in 10 runs for the Baysox, including four with a grand slam Sunday — his ninth homer of the season. The 24-year-old went 5-for-18 last week to boost his season-long slash line to .257/.331/.431.

3. Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Drew Rom

Rom, the Orioles’ sixth-best pitching prospect, had an outstanding start to the season. But in his eight appearances since he was called up to the majors and sent back down after not taking the big league mound, he struggled with an 8.91 ERA. The 23-year-old lefty got back on track Wednesday by pitching 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts to lower his ERA to 5.58.

4. High-A Aberdeen outfielder Dylan Beavers

It wasn’t just Stowers who raked for the IronBirds last week. Seven players, including Beavers, posted an OPS north of 1.000 across the club’s five games. Beavers, Baltimore’s No. 19 prospect, went 6-for-16 with three doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs to boost his OPS to .771.

5. Double-A Bowie left-hander Cade Povich

Povich, the Orioles’ third-best pitching prospect, has had a perplexing 2023 season. His 35.1% strikeout rate is elite, but he’s allowed 11 home runs in just 71 1/3 innings and has a subpar 4.92 ERA. It wasn’t the 13-strikeout start he posted a month ago, but Povich pitched five innings of one-run ball with nine punchouts Saturday.

The top prospect not featured so far

Holliday might not have been featured in this report until now, but he was heavily involved during the Futures Game on Saturday. Holliday, the 19-year-old who is the sport’s No. 1 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, conducted more interviews during the Futures Game broadcast on Peacock (two) than at-bats he received (one). Before flying to Seattle for the game that features the sport’s top minor league talent, Holliday continued his strong season by going 8-for-14 with two doubles and two walks for Aberdeen, earning his promotion to Double-A.

International acquisition of the week

In his first four years in the Orioles organization, infielder Noelberth Romero struggled at the plate, posting an OPS below .700 at every stop since 2019. That continued with Bowie this year, but since he was sent back down to Low-A Delmarva in mid-June, Romero has hit .321 with seven extra-base hits in 15 games. Last week, the 21-year-old the Orioles acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the Andrew Cashner trade went 8-for-19 with two doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs.

Time to give a shoutout to …

Two more Aberdeen hitters. No players in the organization posted a higher OPS last week than first baseman Maxwell Costes (1.806) and catcher Silas Ardoin (1.881). Costes, a former Terps and Gilman standout, went 4-for-8 with two home runs and four RBIs, while Ardoin, a fourth-round pick in 2022, went 6-for-13 with three solo home runs, a double and seven walks.

Short-season snippets

Cristian Benavides, a shortstop the Orioles signed out of Venezuela in January 2022, hit the lone home run for Baltimore’s Florida Complex League team over the past week. He went 3-for-9 with two runs, two RBIs and a walk. … In the Dominican Summer League, right-hander Alberto Leandro, a 21-year-old Venezuelan the Orioles signed in May, struck out six batters in 2 1/3 scoreless innings. … Also in the DSL, 17-year-old left-hander Francisco Morao, who the Orioles signed out of Venezuela in January, struck out eight batters in five innings of one-run ball. … Infielder Victor Celedonio, a Dominican Republic native who signed with Baltimore in January 2021, went 6-for-13 with three doubles and three RBIs in the DSL.

Minors moves

This weekend was filled with several promotions, with Mayo and right-hander Chayce McDermott going from Double-A to Triple-A and Holliday from High-A to Double-A. But there was disappointing news about a member of the Orioles’ 2019 draft class. Four of Baltimore’s first five picks in that draft — Rutschman, Henderson, Stowers and Ortiz — have made their MLB debuts. The one who hasn’t was released Monday. Zach Watson, a third-round pick, had a .660 OPS in Double-A a year after posting a .577 OPS with Bowie.


Need help?

If you need support, please send an email to [email protected]

Thank you.