As the 2019 minor league season comes to a close, there are some incredible things happening down on the Baltimore Orioles farm.
If you haven’t been paying attention to what is going on down on the farm in Birdland, what exactly have you been doing? The growth of development of players up and down the farm, with the addition of new high-profile prospects, it’s been a fun year to watch minor league baseball this year. No matter how “elite” a prospect is graded out, there are always risks, slow developers, injuries, yips, or any other number of variables that can derail a once promising career, but you have to have hope and as Baltimore Orioles fans, that’s largely all we have to hang our hats on right now.
The Orioles farm system has jumped from a bottom dweller to a Top 10 system, according to various national outlets. Adley Rutschman is a major reason why, but baseball requires numerous working pieces to come together before the World Series tickets are printed. From the Norfolk Tides to the Gulf Coast League Orioles, big things are happening right now that need to be noted and celebrated.
Are there holes in this system? Plenty of them. But improvement has been the keyword down on the farm in 2019 and there is a long list of individual players who have taken steps forward in their development this season, and a few who have re-emerged as prospects of note (Cody Sedlock, for example).
We have highlighted a few individual performances and will continue to during the offseason, but let’s take a step back and look at what these players are doing collectively on the field. You often hear that minor league records don’t mean much, and that’s true, to an extent. You can’t underestimate what it means to be on winning minor league teams as you work your way up the ladder. It’s a contagious feeling that makes you want more.
Many of the Baltimore Orioles affiliates are not only winning, but breaking records. With the final week of the regular season underway, here are five impressive happenings down on the farm which Orioles fans should take note of.
1) The Bowie Baysox are one of the hottest teams in minor league baseball.
The Baltimore Orioles Double-A affiliate plays their final seven games of the season on the road, but there’s still an opportunity to listen to an Adam Pohl broadcast. Every Bowie Baysox game can be found on MiLB TV, but when they are on the road, I often turn the volume down and play the Baysox radio feed alongside the away team broadcast to hear one of the more knowledgeable and enthusiastic broadcasts in minor league baseball.
Adam Pohl and his partner, Justin Gallanty, have taken fans on quite the journey in 2019. The Baysox needed an 8-2 finish to the first half of the regular season to finish at 30-38. The offense was largely non-existent as opposing pitchers often cruised through starts against Bowie. That’s no longer the case.
Bowie is 43-22 in the second half of the season and is currently tied with the Erie Seawolves (Detroit Tigers affiliate) for first place in the Western Division. The playoff push has been led by one of the more dominant pitching staffs in minor league ball.
The staff leads the Eastern League in ERA (3.25) and WHIP (1.20), while Zac Lowther sits atop the leaderboard with 13 wins and ranks second in strikeouts (137) and ERA (2.71). Both Alex Wells (8-4, 2.81 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) and Michael Baumann (5-2, 2.24 ERA, 0.96 WHIP) have also been dominant, while the bullpen has found an anchor in new closer Cristian Alvarado, with 12 of his last 13 outings being scoreless affairs.
Bowie has closed the gap and is in a tight race for the playoffs, all without Yusniel Diaz in the lineup for big chunks of the season. He’s currently on a rehab assignment, so the Baysox will hopefully have a big offensive piece returning just in time to make a last-second statement and an Eastern League playoff appearance.
2) The GCL Orioles have made a huge turnaround.
We haven’t touched on the Gulf Coast League Orioles for obvious reasons. There’s no broadcasting of games, I live 14 hours away from the complex, and Gulf Coast League stats oftentimes don’t tell us much. But we can take note of some positive trends.
Here’s what we do know. The GCL Orioles are 37-14 and one of just two teams with at least 30 wins. The pitching staff owns a 2.62 ERA (next lowest team ERA is 3.19), they have given up just seven home runs in 378 innings, and they have the second-lowest WHIP in the league at 1.18.
Last season, the GCL Orioles were 13-42. What a job by first-year manager and former Baltimore Orioles bullpen coach Alan Mills. The Orioles are literally rebuilding this franchise from the ground up and the first year has been positive at the ground level.
3) The Delmarva Shorebirds are record holders.
On Monday night, Delmarva pitcher Adam Stauffer recorded one of his four strikeouts in his two innings of relief, but this particular strikeout in the 7th inning wasn’t just any strikeout. Stauffer helped to push the Shorebirds to 1,306 strikeouts on the year…and counting. It’s not only a team record, but a South Atlantic League Record.
Orioles general manager Mike Elias took note.
Here are some of the leaders who heavily contributed to this record:
- Grayson Rodriguez– 122 in 88 IP.
- Drew Rom– 116 in 90.1 IP
- Gray Fenter– 112 in 89.1 IP
- Ryan Wilson– 99 in 87.2 IP
- Nick Vespi– 96 in 88 IP
Collectively, the Shorebirds pitching staff owns a 2.90 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, both tops in the SAL. As Will DeBoer points out here, the Shorebirds are looking to become the first SAL team to reach 90 wins since 2006 and they have already broken the franchise record for wins (previously 83).
4) The rookies are rolling in Aberdeen.
The GCL Orioles and Shorebirds have already clinched postseason births and Bowie’s bid could come down to the final day of the season on September 2, but they aren’t the only Orioles affiliates who could extend their season past next Tuesday.
The rookie-level Aberdeen Ironbirds are currently 39-29 and sit in a three-way tie for first place in their division with the Staten Island Yankees sitting just 1.5 games back. Much like the race in the Eastern League, the final few days in the New York-Penn League are going to provide some thrilling action.
Adley Rutschman and Toby Welk are no longer in Aberdeen, but the Ironbirds do still have 2019 draft pick Maverick Handley behind the plate. The former Stanford Cardinal has thrown out 15 of 24 base stealers and has caught eight shutouts since joining the team. He’s helping to lead a young pitching staff to a 2.49 team ERA, the best mark in the NYPL by an extreme margin. Second place on this list owns a 3.04 ERA.
5) Rookie pitching domination.
Last week, I tweeted out a some numbers from this 2019 pitching draft class brought in by Mike Elias in his first draft at the helm of the Orioles.
Those numbers look even better since then. These 18 rookie pitchers have combined for a 1.68 ERA, with 441 strikeouts and just 8 home runs allowed in 389 innings of work. The numbers are from the Gulf Coast League and New York-Penn League, but they are fantastic baseline numbers. Not only are these rookies playing well, but they are winning together. It’s going to be fun to keep an eye on many of these arms as they progress through the system.
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There are many more storylines we could have discussed here, but these are just a few big ones to watch as the season winds down. End of year honors will continue to roll in over the next few days, but earlier on Tuesday, it was announced that Norfolk Tides first baseman/outfielder Ryan Mountcastle has been named the MVP of the International League. Heading into Tuesday night’s game, Mountcastle is slashing .308/.340/.528 with 25 home runs, 80 RBI, and 32 doubles.
Much of the focus has been on the lower minors this year, but there is some talent getting ready for their first taste of the major leagues very soon. Mountcastle is one of the top talents of this group, with guys like Yusniel Diaz, Keegan Akin, and Rylan Bannon not far behind.
Follow along on Twitter @BirdsWatcherFS as we continue to follow these teams on their quest for playoff glory!