Checking in on the Orioles prospects in the Arizona Fall League

How are the Orioles prospects in the AFL doing this year?
Oct 26, 2022; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Overall view of Surprise Stadium during an Arizona Fall League
Oct 26, 2022; Surprise, Arizona, USA; Overall view of Surprise Stadium during an Arizona Fall League / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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November 1st marked Game 5 of the 2023 World Series which saw the Texas Rangers defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks. With the win in game five, the Rangers clinched their first ever World Series title and Corey Seager became the second position player to win more than one World Series MVP over the course of his career.

The World Series ended with a backdoor breaking ball from Rangers relief pitcher Josh Sborz to strike out Ketel Marte looking to ignite the celebration for Rangers fans. The decisive game five occurred in front of a sold out Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. However, the final pitch from Josh Sborz was not the final pitch to be thrown by a professional baseball player in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area in November.

As a matter of fact, the same night that the Rangers shut out the Diamondbacks in Phoenix, the Mesa Solar Sox completed a shutout of their own as they defeated the Scottsdale Scorpions 7-0 behind a strong pitching performance from Tyler Santana and a 3-hit game from Orioles prospect TT Bowens.

All 30 teams in Major League Baseball send a few of their prospects to Arizona every fall at the conclusion of the regular season to compete in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). For the Orioles, they sent eight prospects to play for the Solar Sox in Mesa behind four pitchers and four position players.

As mentioned earlier, TT Bowens has spent the fall in Mesa after climbing the ladder in a shortened 2023 regular season where he appeared in 59 games between three teams in the O's organization. Plate discipline has been a strength for Bowens throughout his minor league career as he drew 66 walks over 106 games for the Aberdeen IronBirds in 2022.

In Mesa this fall, Bowens is slashing .217/.325/.420 in 18 games and 80 plate appearances. He has shown off the power with three homers, three doubles, and a triple while also showing off the plate discipline with 11 walks for a 13.8% walk rate.

Strikeouts have also been an issue throughout his career and continue to be an issue this fall as he has a 32.5% strikeout rate with 26 strikeouts so far. All in all, Bowens has shown flashes of solid play in the AFL but has also struggled with the strikeouts and with some inconsistent play defensively.

The AFL did hold their All-Star Game last week and the Orioles' lone representative was left-handed pitcher Trey McGough. McGough has appeared solely in relief for Mesa and has pitched well to a 3.00 ERA in nine innings pitched and seven appearances. In that time, Trey also has accumulated a 1.11 WHIP and 12 strikeouts to three walks.

Similar to Bowens, McGough was used sparsely but played for four different Orioles affiliates between rookie ball and Double-A where he accumulated only 20.2 innings between those four teams. McGough is also a local product as he attended Mount St. Mary's in Maryland and has significantly improved his strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio since being acquired by the Orioles from the Pirates before the 2023 season. If McGough can continue this improvement and find a way to stay healthy, he is a potential option as a lefty specialist in the bullpen at the Major League level sometime in the future.

The Orioles sent two other highish-level pitching prospects in Carter Baumler and Zach Peek. Baumler was a fifth-round pick out of high school in the 2020 draft and has been seen as a high-risk, high-reward prospect who has struggled to stay healthy as a professional.

Peek came to the organization as part of the trade that sent Dylan Bundy to the Angels and accumulated multiple pitching prospects including Peek and Kyle Bradish. The acquisition of Bradish alone has made that trade an undeniable steal for Mike Elias and the Orioles, but Peek has shown some success in the minors in the AFL.

2023 has been a struggle for the Winthrop alum which is part of the reasoning of sending him to Mesa to help him end the season with some positive takeaways. Unfortunately, he has struggled with command to a 5.63 ERA in eight innings along with four walks and two homers given up.

As mentioned earlier, health has always been a concern for Baumler, but he is finally healthy enough to pitch in the AFL where his fall has been a microcosm of his professional career thus far with an extraordinarily high strikeout rate as well as high walks as well as some struggles with BABIP.

Interestingly, he actually allowed his first homer as a professional earlier this fall which shows just how little opportunity he has had to pitch since being drafted. He holds a 4.50 ERA in 10 innings pitched across two starts this fall with a 13.5 strikeout-per-nine inning ratio.

The biggest hitting prospect in Mesa for the Orioles is outfielder John Rhodes who is a former third-round pick out of the University of Kentucky. Rhodes had an inconsistent season in Bowie this year with a .228/.323/.422 slash line and 17 homers in 108 games.

However, the AFL has gotten the best of Rhodes, as he is hitting a mere .111/.211/.270 in 71 plate appearances in fall ball. Despite the struggles, Rhodes is still an intriguing outfield prospect for a team that is overloaded with similar prospects, and he could be a potential trade candidate if he starts playing well in the minors.

The other two prospects representing the Orioles in Mesa are infielder Billy Cook and pitcher Peter Van Loon. Cook has had a solid fall with four home runs and 13 RBIs along with a .215 batting average. The fall has been less kind to Van Loon who has a 10.24 ERA and a 2-2 record for the Solar Sox.

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