Here’s a fun thought: The Orioles just might have played their final home game before Adley Rutschman’s debut.
With baseball’s top prospect progressing back to Triple-A this week, only one step remains between Rutschman and Camden Yards. With how quickly he’s moved back up Baltimore’s system since returning from a right tricep strain — and the success he’s had while doing so — it’s feasible a week spent with Norfolk while the Orioles are on the road will be all Rutschman needs to establish “he is himself,” as executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias phrased it recently in describing what it will take for Rutschman to put himself on the major league radar.
In a week split between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk, Rutschman showed little remains between him and his long-awaited debut. Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down five of the top performers in the Orioles’ prospect ranks and hand out some superlatives for those who didn’t make that cut.
1. Triple-A Norfolk catcher Adley Rutschman
Rutschman’s stay with Bowie was perhaps shorter than expected, but he clearly was ready for Triple-A pitching. For the week, the catcher hit .364 with a .936 OPS as he walked twice as much as he struck out. He went 3-for-10 for the Tides, getting his first action this year at first base; the position will give Orioles manager Brandon Hyde another option to keep Rutschman’s switch-hitting bat in the lineup on days he doesn’t catch.
2. Double-A Bowie infielder Gunnar Henderson
Taken with the Orioles’ second-round selection in 2019, Henderson has established that draft class will be about more than first overall pick Rutschman. After a brief stint with Bowie to end last season, the 20-year-old has reached base in all 25 of his games with the Baysox this year. Last week, he rode a pair of three-hit games to a slash line of .529/.600/.765. He also stole four bases without being caught, with three of those coming in the first half of a doubleheader Sunday, to earn Eastern League Player of the Week.
3. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Grayson Rodriguez
Reunited with Rutschman, baseball’s top pitching prospect worked 5 1/3 scoreless innings. Rodriguez did that despite lacking top command, issuing three walks for only the third time in the past two seasons with a season low in strike percentage. He also matched his lowest output of the season with six swinging strikes. But he reached a season high with 82 pitches, continuing to build up toward an eventual debut.
4. Double-A Bowie right-hander Garrett Stallings
Stallings worked six of the seven innings in Bowie’s no-hitter of the Washington Nationals’ Double-A affiliate Sunday, striking out five and walking two. One of two pitchers acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for José Iglesias, Stallings has pitched well for Bowie after struggling last year in Double-A. Through five starts, he has a 2.63 ERA, with four of the seven earned runs he’s allowed coming in one start.
5. High-A Aberdeen outfielder Billy Cook
It was a short week for Cook, but after he was essentially the odd man out of last week’s report, we’ll include him here. Cook, Baltimore’s 10th-round pick last year, appeared in only three games for the IronBirds but homered in two of them. During Aberdeen’s two-week homestand, Cook hit .348 with a .913 slugging percentage while playing all three outfield spots.
The top prospect not featured so far
Left-hander DL Hall was promoted to Triple-A along with Rutschman after coming an out shy of a second straight start of four scoreless innings, with two runners he left on base scoring after he came out of his lone outing for Bowie. He’ll continue his progression from last year’s stress reaction in his left elbow while pitching for Norfolk for the first time Tuesday. In his first two starts, he’s struck out 12 of the 28 batters he’s faced.
International acquisition of the week
One of many young players the Orioles picked up late in the international signing period after Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez took over, Luis Valdez, 22, got a hit in all five games he played in this week for Low-A Delmarva. Playing four positions — second, third, left and center — Valdez hit .333/.417/.476, walked as much as he struck out and was caught on only one of his six steal attempts. His 13 steals this year lead all Orioles minor leaguers.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
Most of the prospects acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Manny Machado trade were well regarded when they entered a system largely bereft of talent but have since fallen down rankings. In infielder Rylan Bannon’s case, he’s fallen out completely after a disastrous 2021 season with Norfolk. He’s having more success in his return to Triple-A and was particularly impressive this past week, slashing .261/.370/.565 with a pair of home runs. Being on the 40-man roster means there’s still a chance for Bannon to play his way to Baltimore.
Time to give some shine to …
One disastrous outing spoiled what would otherwise be a brilliant start to the season for Aberdeen right-hander Ignacio Feliz. In his second appearance, he allowed eight earned runs while recording five outs, but over three outings since, he’s given up only two hits in 12 innings while striking out 23 of the 42 batters he faced. Although his punchout-heavy ways slowed this past week, Feliz still struck out five while allowing one hit in five scoreless frames to be named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Week.