A number of top prospects and potential major league contributors for the Baltimore Orioles are performing well down on the farm with the AAA Norfolk Tides.
As the Baltimore Orioles began reassigning players to minor league camp near the end of spring training, it quickly became clear that the Norfolk Tides would be the minor league affiliate to watch in 2019.
Typically, the Tides’ roster is made up of your Paul Janish, Henry Urrutia, and David Washington types of players as the Orioles shuttle guys between Norfolk and Baltimore so often it’s hard to keep up, sometimes. But the 2019 Norfolk Tides are a different story.
The Tides feature a number of top prospects and intriguing names, including Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, DJ Stewart, and Anthony Santander. All of these names will likely be with the Baltimore Orioles at some point in 2019, especially if they continue playing the way they have.
Norfolk faced a brutal gauntlet of starting pitchers to begin the season, including Mike Foltynewicz, Bryse Wilson, Mike Soroka, Touki Toussaint, Dylan Cease, and Beau Burrows. The Tides started 1-7 in their first eight games, but have been red hot lately, winning three of their last four before wrapping up their 11-game homestand this weekend.
Will Ryan Mountcastle take over first base for the Baltimore Orioles?
Let’s start with the top name on the list, Ryan Mountcastle. The infield prospect is hitting .231 with a .276 OBP, which isn’t impressive on the surface, however, he’s quickly settling in and becoming comfortable with AAA pitching.
Mountcastle has logged two home runs and driven in a team-leading 11 runs through his first 14 games. He’s done a much better job of picking up pitches and making solid contact in his last few games, things which just needed a bit of time to develop. Mountcastle has relied heavily on his pull power, sending all but two of his hits into left field. It’s only a matter of time before he sends one the opposite way, through the right field wind tunnel where balls go to die, and deposits it into the bullpen.
Defensively, he has played first base in all but one game. He’s held his own at the position. There have been a few players where you can clearly see he’s taking a moment to think to himself, “what am I supposed to do in this situation.” However, Mountcastle has shown a little range and the ability to pick the ball well. He won’t be in the majors anytime soon, but he may have the highest ceiling of any position player prospect in the system and he’s worth waiting for.
Pair of outfielders have been unstoppable this week.
Since the Baltimore Orioles used a first-round draft pick on DJ Stewart in 2015, one thing the outfielder has always one well is get on base. Stewart has a career .350 on-base percentage in 438 minor league games and is currently reaching base at a .393 clip for the Tides.
The 25-year-old has hit safely in eight of his last ten games, reached base in nine of his last ten and is currently hitting .261 with three home runs and two doubles. He’s drawn nine walks, compared to just seven strikeouts in 46 at-bats, showing more patience at the plate than he has at times in the past. On the basepaths, Stewart was a perfect 3-3 before getting caught for the first time last night.
Playing both left and right field, Stewart has made a few tough plays, but has also made a few careless mistakes, typically in left field. His speed always surprises me, even after watching him numerous times up close and personal at every stop he’s made in the organization.
Stewart posted a 20 home run/20 stolen base season in Double-A back in 2017 and recorded a .340 OBP and .890 OPS in his 17 games with the Baltimore Orioles at the end of last season. It’s hard to imagine DJ remains in Norfolk for very long.
Pete Michaud, who broadcasts the Norfolk Tides home games on radio, pointed out changes the O’s wanted to see with Stewart, including a more upright stance at the plate. Early results get an A+. Joey Rickard isn’t losing his job in the next few weeks, however, the hot-hitting start for Stewart is highly encouraging.
Another Norfolk outfielder playing pretty well recently, Anthony Santander. The former Rule 5 pick doesn’t have the upside Stewart does, but he had a hot spring and is starting to settle in down in AAA.
In his last seven games, the switch-hitter has 11 hits (including a four-hit night), one home run, and eight RBIs. He has just one walk in 12 games, but I’m fine with focusing on his hitting, for right now. I’d like to see him hit higher quality pitching before getting too excited. However, here are a few VERY early numbers: 5-12 and eight RBIs with runners in scoring position, 5-14 with three doubles when hitting with two outs. Again, very early, but good to see.
Keegan Akin is close to reaching the majors with the Baltimore Orioles and is extremely fun to watch.
The first time I saw Keegan Akin, I was hooked. A stocky, hard-throwing lefty with a command of the bottom of the strike zone, Akin didn’t have standout 2017 with the Frederick Keys. He posted a 4.14 ERA and was limited to 100 innings with injuries. Both Akin and Cody Sedlock (the first two picks of the 2016 draft for the Orioles) were hurting and struggling- we’ve seen this over and over again.
However, Akin came back stronger than ever in 2018 with the Bowie Baysox. The 2018 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year won 14 games, posted a 3.27 ERA, and struck out 142 hitters in 137 innings. He’s continued his hot season with the AAA Tides.
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Akin throws this afternoon (Thursday), looking to build on his six inning, 10-strikeout performance he put up against the Toledo Mud Hens last week. In his two starts, Akin has fanned 13, walked three, and given up three earned runs on seven hits.
He will be given a chance with the Orioles at some point in 2019, an opportunity he is earning. You don’t see many left-handed pitchers throw it as hard as Keegan Akin. Is there top of the rotation potential here? Not likely. Are there control issues? Yes. But there is a back of the rotation arm here who can go deep into games and have a long career.
Other statistics of note:
- Stevie Wilkerson– .310 average, .356 OBP, home run, triple, 2-2 in stolen base attempts
- Sean Gilmartin– 10.1 IP, 3.48 ERA, 2 BB, 11 K, 0 HR allowed
- Yefry Ramirez– 9 IP, 0.00 ERA, 3 BB, 8 K
- Branden Kline– 6.1 IP, 8.53 ERA, 2.05 WHIP, 2 HR allowed
If the rain holds off, I will be at Harbor Park to see the Tides in person on Saturday. If you’re around Norfolk at any point, you cannot miss out on the opportunity to enjoy an O’Connor beer and take in a game on the water.