Baltimore Orioles: MiLB Opening Day Features Intriguing Pitching

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 03: Josh Rogers #65 of the Baltimore Orioles delivers in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 3, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 03: Josh Rogers #65 of the Baltimore Orioles delivers in the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 3, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /

Four minor league affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles will be in action on Thursday. This will be the first opportunity to get a look at a number of exciting Baby Birds.

For the first time in two seasons, I won’t be watching Baltimore Orioles minor league baseball and discussing top prospects and player performances with readers of Baby Birdland (a now-defunct site dedicated to the Baltimore Orioles minor league system). Luckily, when one door closes, another opens.

I’m not a scout and have no interest in being a scout. I just really love minor league baseball and loved what we did at Baby Birdland, giving notice to professional baseball players often labeled as “organizational filler.” I think I can speak for fellow Birds Watcher writer and former Baby Birdland partner, Chuck Boemmel who would echo those sentiments.

This season down on the farm should be exciting with the likes of Yusniel Daiz, DL Hall, Grayson Rodriguez, Ryan Mountcastle, and a plethora of other notable prospects. Most national writers are have an incorrect view of the O’s minor league system. There is talent in this organization. There are major league contributors in this organization. There are some real sleepers in this organization.

Opening Day gives us our first look at a few of these prospects, but I want to take a moment to focus on the Opening Day starting pitchers. Chuck and I will highlight every affiliate team and discuss the vast majority of these prospects throughout the season, however, here’s a special nod to those guys climbing the bump for Opening Day.

If you are a subscriber to MiLB.TV, you will be able to see three of these four series live. Every Norfolk Tides and Bowie Baysox game can be seen live this season. The Frederick Keys and Delmarva Shorebirds do not broadcast home games on MiLB.TV, no matter how many times you tweet at them. However, the Shorebirds are on the road against the Lexington Legends, a franchise that does televise their games.

All four full-season affiliates of the Baltimore Orioles are in action.

Norfolk Tides @ Gwinnett Stripers: 7:05 pm- LHP Josh Rogers

Rogers joined the organization with Dillon Tate and Cody Carroll as part of the Zack Britton trade with the New York Yankees last July. He made three starts late in the season at the big league level, going 1-2 with an 8.49 ERA and 1.89 WHIP. The 24-year-old lefty fought for a roster spot until the end of spring training, but will now begin the season in AAA as part a Norfolk rotation which will change frequently.

Rogers isn’t a high strikeout pitcher but he won’t walk you either. A fastball, slider, changeup pitcher, Rogers’ best pitch is his slider. It held major league hitters to a .133 average in his brief stint last season. The fastball won’t blow you away, sitting around 90 mph.

Two things I’ll be watching closely with his Norfolk starts are the effectiveness of his changeup and his ability to keep the ball on the ground. He will make his way back to the big leagues at some point in 2019. It won’t be long if he puts up the same type of performances we saw when he first joined the Tides.

Bowie Baysox @ Harrisburg Senators: 6:30 pm- RHP Marcos Molina

When the starting rotations for each of the minor league affiliates were released, I saw Marcos Molina at the top of the Bowie Baysox rotation and completely blanked on who he was and where he came from. All it took was a quick trip to his MiLB player page and one look at his glorious mane to quickly remember.

Molina was a highly regarded prospect with the New York Mets, working his way onto the 40-man roster before being released last summer. The Baltimore Orioles signed him to a minor league deal, but Thursday will be his first start in the organization after serving a suspension for PEDs.

His 2018 numbers don’t invoke a lot of intrigue. Between AA and AAA ball with the Mets, Molina went 1-10 with a 6.94 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, and a .328 opponents’ batting average. Without having seen Molina live, I scoured around for scouting reports on the Baysox Opening Day starter. They all tend to agree, noting his powerful, mid-90s fastball, changeup, and slider. Two years removed from missing all of 2016 recovering from Tommy John, the scouting reports can be glowing, while his actual numbers have not been. I’m excited to finally see him for myself.

Frederick Keys vs Winston-Salem Dash: 7:00 pm- RHP Brenan Hanifee

The most exciting Opening Day starter won’t be televised. I had the opportunity to meet Hanifee at a James Madison University baseball game before he left for spring training. He’s every bit of 6’5″ and added some solid weight this offseason while spending a portion of his offseason training here in Harrisonburg, VA, where I get to call home.

Hanifee went 8-6 with a 2.86 ERA with Delmarva last season. He issued just 22 walks in 132 innings and opponents in the South Atlantic League hit .244 against him, five points lower than what he allowed in the New York-Penn League during his rookie season. The former fourth-round pick of the Orioles features a mid-90s fastball with extreme sink, a slider, and changeup. He’s also a groundball pitcher who does a fantastic job of keeping the ball in the ballpark.

One of the more underrated aspects of his game is his athleticism. There have been more instances than I can remember where his athleticism and ability to field his position has saved him a run. He’s a legitimate prospect who has the potential to find himself in a major league starting rotation. Let’s see if a new analytical approach and a possible slight uptick in velocity will bring about a few more strikeouts.

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Delmarva Shorebirds @ Lexington Legends: 7:05 pm- RHP Blaine Knight

A third-round pick in last year’s draft out of Arkansas, Blaine Knight is one of those sleeper prospects I mentioned earlier. He threw just 10 innings with the short-season Aberdeen Ironbirds last season, so this will be his first full year in the organization.

As with Molina, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch Knight live so I relied on trusted scouting reports from other sources. One common concern among all of them is his durability. Listed at 6’3″ and 165 pounds, can Knight’s frame hold up as a starting pitcher? According to Fangraphs, Knight throws a four-pitch mix with his fastball and slider being his strongest two pitches.

There are a lot of questions surrounding Knight, however, MLB Pipeline ranked him as the 10th best prospect in the system. Delmarva is the longest trip for me, of all four full-season affiliates, and they don’t broadcast their home games on TV so this game will take priority on Thursday night.

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With the Baltimore Orioles taking on the Yankees at 3:00 pm on Thursday and having Friday off, it’s the perfect time to check out some of the minor league action down on the farm. If you check out a game, head on over to @BirdsWatcherFS on Twitter and let us know your thoughts!