2021 Baltimore Orioles Midseason Top 30 Prospects Update
The Orioles weren’t expecting to compete this season, but the regression from their young major leaguers must sting all the same.
Dean Kremer (7.25 ERA) and Keegan Akin (8.14) have struggled between Triple-A and the big leagues, Anthony Santander has taken a big step back after a breakout 2020 campaign and Ryan Mountcastle had one good month (June) sandwiched between three bad ones (April, May, July).
The return of Trey Mancini from Stage 3 colon cancer has been a bright spot, culminating in a second-place finish at the home run derby, and Cedric Mullins and John Means have each taken big steps forward.
But with a 30-62 record and in the midst of a rebuild, the Orioles must decide what to do with their three best players.
On the minor league side, the Orioles have a talented group at the top of the system and added to it with the 2021 fifth overall pick in Colton Cowser, while continuing a focus of the Mike Elias era by adding bats with 10 of their first 11 picks.
While the team is still years away from competing, the Orioles’ system continues moving in the right direction.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Adley Rutschman, C
Age: 23. Team: Double-A Bowie
The No. 2 prospect in baseball has fared well in an assignment to Double-A, with more walks (44) than strikeouts (39) while showing off his plus-plus power (12 home runs). The face of the Orioles’ rebuild, Rutschman is a dynamic player who combines three plus-plus tools, including his hitting and arm, and consistently earns high marks for his leadership behind the plate.
2. Grayson Rodriguez, RHP
Age: 21. Team: Double-A Bowie
It didn’t take long for Rodriguez, the top pitching prospect in baseball, to reach Double-A after overwhelming High-A hitters, and he’s fared almost as well in the upper minors. Rodriguez is a big-time competitor with elite stuff, including a fastball that reaches triple-digits and two above-average or better secondaries, and he’s posting the best strikeouts (13.2) and walks per nine innings (1.9) of his pro career, thanks in part to working on the consistency of his delivery at the alternate training site.
3. D.L. Hall, LHP
Age: 22. Team: Double-A Bowie
There’s no question that Hall has top-of-the-rotation upside, but his control continues to hold him back from reaching his full potential. He’s posted 4.5 walks per nine innings in seven starts at Double-A this season, but that’s come with a career-high strikeouts per nine (15.9). Hall has missed time with an elbow injury, and the organization is taking a conservative approach—although the rehab process is going well.
4. Gunnar Henderson, SS
Age: 20. Team: High-A Aberdeen
The 2019 second-rounder has an impressive tool set, with five average or better tools including plus power and a plus arm. Henderson cruised through Low-A to earn a promotion to High-A, where he’s experienced some growing pains, albeit with the highest walk rate (18.8%) of his career. The organization wants to see him continue to get acclimated facing more advanced pitchers, and it has been encouraged by his progress this season.
5. Colton Cowser, OF
Age: 21. Team: FCL Orioles
NEW The fifth overall pick in the 2021 draft out of Sam Houston State, Cowser has an impressive collegiate track record that included time spent with the USA Collegiate National Team. The organization believes Cowser is a five-tool player with the ability to play center field at the major league level, with strong bat-to-ball skills, an all-fields approach, an above-average arm and solid-average power that can turn into more in pro ball.
6. Heston Kjerstad, OF
Age: 22. Team: N/A
The 2020 No. 2 overall pick from Arkansas has yet to make his professional debut after developing myocarditis and suffering a setback, according to general manager Mike Elias. Kjerstad had an impressive collegiate track record, and possesses plus-plus power with a hit tool that has the potential to be above-average if he can cut down on his swing and miss, and he’s a solid defender in an outfield corner with an above-average arm.
7. Jordan Westburg, SS
Age: 22. Team: High-A Aberdeen
Westburg has impressed the organization in his pro debut, quickly moving up to High-A while showing the ability to stay at shortstop long term—a question heading into the 2020 draft. The 2020 supplemental first-rounder has a strong work ethic and combines plus power with a plus arm and plus running ability while making the routine plays at shortstop. Westburg needs to cut down on his strikeouts (61 in 56 games) to help his hit tool play up, but the team feels like it got the steal of the draft at No. 30 overall.
8. Kyle Bradish, RHP
Age: 24. Team: Triple-A Norfolk
Bradish is an analytics darling, with high spin rates on his four-pitch arsenal and a vertical attack from a high arm slot that creates uncomfortable at-bats for hitters. He didn’t allow a run in three starts at Double-A—thanks to three above-average or better pitches including a cutting fastball that’s topped out at 97 mph, a curveball and slider—but he’s struggled some at Triple-A. Bradish has long been plagued by walk issues (23 in 48.2 innings this season), but the organization feels like he has the stuff to be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter, although he’ll need to throw more strikes and improve his changeup as a usable fourth pitch to reach that ceiling.
9. Mike Baumann, RHP
Age: 25. Team: Double-A Bowie
Baumann was shut down in September due to a flexor strain in his throwing arm and the injury caused him to miss additional time this season. He’s struggled in his return at Double-A, and the organization wants to see him regain the consistency and feel for his plus mid-90s fastball and plus upper-80s slider. Baumann has shown the ceiling of a mid-rotation starter, but there’s some thought he could also move to the bullpen, where his fastball/slider combo would play up.
10. Connor Norby, 2B
Age: 21. Team: N/A
NEW One of the best hitters in the country during the 2021 season who led Division I in hits (102), Norby is a plus hitter who spreads the ball all over the field with a good approach at the plate and a tool set filled with average or better tools. He’s a solid defender at second base, with the versatility, speed and arm strength to move to the outfield if needed. Once he signs, Norby should be a quick riser through the system thanks to his productive bat.
11. Maikol Hernandez, SS
12. Joseph Ortiz, SS
NEW Ortiz was drafted as a plus defender out of New Mexico State in 2019, but his bat took a step forward this season prior to him going down with a season-ending shoulder injury. Ortiz hit for more power and got on base at a higher rate this season between High-A and Double-A.
13. Kevin Smith, LHP
14. Jahmai Jones, 2B/OF
15. Coby Mayo, 3B
16. Samuel Basallo, C
17. Kyle Stowers, OF
18. Carter Baumler, RHP
NEW The 2020 fifth-rounder is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but he has the athleticism and pitch mix to impress once he steps on the field. Baumler has gotten up to 96 mph on his fastball with a clean delivery, a curveball he shows feel to spin and an advanced changeup.
19. Yusniel Diaz, OF
20. Reed Trimble, OF
NEW The 2021 supplemental second-rounder has four average or better tools, including 70-grade running ability, and the Orioles believe he can develop more power at the pro level to make him a five-tool player.
21. Hudson Haskin, OF
22. Terrin Vavra, 2B
23. Hunter Harvey, RHP
24. Darell Hernaiz, SS
25. Adam Hall, SS/2B
26. John Rhodes, OF
NEW Rhodes had a down year in his draft-eligible sophomore season, but that didn’t stop the Orioles from taking him in the third round out of Kentucky. The team believes he’s an advanced hitter who could move quickly, although he’ll need to work on his defense in center field.
27. Zac Lowther, LHP
28. Alex Wells, LHP
29. Drew Rom, LHP
30. Garrett Stallings, RHP
Did Super Two Status Affect Recent Prospect Callups?
Looking at recent history, it seems like this week’s promotions were not service time-influenced decisions.
Joseph Ortiz, SS: The 2019 fourth-rounder out of New Mexico State was always regarded as a strong defender, but the Orioles were encouraged by what they saw from him on the offensive side of the ball between High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie before he went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in June. Ortiz has added more power to his tool set and become a better hitter, in addition to being the best defensive shortstop in the system.
Kyle Stowers, OF: The 2019 supplemental second-rounder from Stanford struggled in his pro debut with short-season Aberdeen, but he’s fared much better in 2021. Stowers hit his way out of High-A Aberdeen, and since arriving in Double-A Bowie he’s been even better, posting a 1.022 OPS in 24 games. Stowers has plus power and is a solid defender in an outfield corner, but he’ll need to cut down on his swings and misses.
J.D. Mundy Jr., 1B: The Orioles signed Mundy as a nondrafted free agent out of Radford in 2020 and all he’s done in his first minor league season is hit. The 23-year-old is limited to first base or DH, but his bat has impressed between the Class A levels. Mundy has some power and can get on base, but like most sluggers he strikes out at a high clip.
Yusniel Diaz, OF: The centerpiece of the Orioles’ return in the Manny Machado deal with the Dodgers is having his worst year to date with the organization. Diaz has missed time with injury and is sitting below the Mendoza line through 27 games between Triple-A Norfolk and Bowie, with an increased strikeout rate.
Zac Lowther, LHP: Lowther struggled in fall instructional league after nursing an oblique injury during the coronavirus shutdown, and he’s continued that trend between the big leagues and Triple-A in 2021. Given that Lowther doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, he needs to have good command. In 2021 he’s posting the highest walks per nine innings of his pro career.
Hunter Harvey, RHP: Harvey first appeared as a prospect following his selection in the first round in 2013, and he’s still on the Orioles’ Top 30 list in 2021. Harvey hasn’t been able to shake off the injury bug, with his latest setback being a right lat strain that occurred in early July.
Keegan Akin, LHP: Akin had an encouraging debut in 2020 while striking out 35 batters over 25.2 innings, but he’s struggled mightily in 13 appearances (eight starts) this season, with an 8.19 ERA and 67 hits allowed in 48.1 innings.
Bruce Zimmermann, LHP: The local kid was having his best month to date in June through three starts before going down with biceps tendinitis.
Dean Kremer, RHP: Like Akin, Kremer is having a much harder time of it in his second big league stint, proving much more hittable through 12 starts this season.
Ryan Mountcastle, 1B: Mountcastle recovered from a rough first two months this season to win AL rookie of the month honors for June. He’s still showing big power, but with real swing-and-miss concerns (28.6%).
D.L. Hall, LHP: Hall hasn’t pitched since June 12 due to an elbow injury, but he’s on track to return in August.
Heston Kjerstad, OF: The 2020 No. 2 overall pick is yet to make his pro debut due to further complications from myocarditis. There’s no timetable for Kjerstad to appear in his first minor league game.
Joseph Ortiz, SS: Ortiz impressed members of the organization before going down with a season-ending labrum injury in June that required surgery.
Hunter Harvey, RHP: Harvey went down with a right lat strain in early July and is expected to miss a month.