The Orioles should feel great about what the IronBirds have accomplished.
The Orioles have little chance of making the playoffs, but the Aberdeen IronBirds reached the South Atlantic Championship Series. The High-A affiliate faced the Bowling Green Hot Rods, affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. After the Hot Rods raced out to a 1-0 lead in the series, the IronBirds offense woke up to take game 2. Unfortunately, they fell back asleep last night.
Aberdeen could not carry over their momentum from defeating the Brooklyn Cyclones in the first round, and they lost 4-0 in the winner-take-all game 3. Peter Van Loon, a 16th rounder in 2021, pitched four scoreless innings but got no help from his offense or relievers. Connor Gillispie was pulled in the fifth with the bases loaded, and Kade Strowd sort of limited damage. He was called for a balk at the worst time but then got out of the inning.
Strowd fell apart in the seventh when Mason Auer hit a two-run double off him. Auer played for Frederick in the Draft League last year then went in the fifth round. In the seventh, Nick Richmond allowed an RBI-single to prospect Tanner Murray. Hopefully Richmond does better in the AFL. The Baby Birds only mustered four hits, included a triple by second rounder Max Wagner, but obviously none of them ended up scoring.
Watching the Hot Rods is a lot like watching the Rays. They use a variety of little-known pitchers and still shut down opposing offense. Ben Peoples pitched 2.2 innings, Austin Vernon got the win with 3.1 innings, Evan Reifert went two, and Antonio Menendez finished it out. Two of these guys are on the Rays prospect list, but you have to go pretty far down to find them. Regardless, the Hot Rods win their second straight Sally League title.
It’s too bad the IronBirds lost, but they still had an outstanding season to get to the final. They are the only Orioles affiliate to reach the playoffs this year, and they did so by winning their division in the first half to clinch a playoff spot. I’m not certain this is the reason, but because minor league rosters change so much over the course of a season, it makes sense to reward teams for how well they played at the start of the year.
To the point, the only real prospects in the Aberdeen lineup are Wagner, Heston Kjerstad, Dylan Beavers, Jud Fabian, and singles machine Frederick Bencosme. The rotation only has Jean Pinto and Carlos Tavera. None of those hitters began the year with the IronBirds. Cal Ripken’s team was unstoppable for three months due to the talented 2021 draft class, many of whom have since been promoted. Colton Cowser, Connor Norby, John Rhodes, and Donta’ Williams all played part of the year in High-A, in addition to Cesar Prieto, Darell Hernaiz, and Coby Mayo.
Even though the IronBirds could not bring home their first title, the team and the Orioles front office should feel really good about what they have accomplished this year. There is still a lot of talent in the farm system and coming one game short is good evidence of that.