It was a loss, but in many ways, Friday marked one of the most significant days of the Orioles’ rebuild. Right-hander Kyle Bradish became the system’s first top 10 prospect acquired by executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias to reach the majors, a signal of the proximity of the products of the organization’s teardown.
The centerpiece of this effort, catcher Adley Rutschman, was expected to be the first to break through, but his spring training tricep strain delayed his arrival. He’s well on his way, though, thriving at High-A Aberdeen to start his rehab assignment and joining Double-A Bowie this week. Only a stop at Triple-A Norfolk likely remains between him and Camden Yards.
He’s among the positives up and down the farm. 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. High-A Aberdeen third baseman Coby Mayo
Rutschman was the headliner, but the show belonged to Mayo. Ranked as Baltimore’s 10th-best prospect by Baseball America but higher most elsewhere, the 20-year-old hammered two balls to left field for home runs Tuesday in what was technically Rutschman’s High-A debut, then hit one more each of the next two days. He finished the week with those four home runs, a .905 slugging percentage and a 1.269 OPS that narrowly surpassed Rutschman’s 1.225 mark in his first week of action in 2022.
2. Triple-A Norfolk outfielder Robert Neustrom
Neustrom, who had one of the better breakouts on the farm in 2021, started slowly with the Tides, going into April 24 batting .207 with a .379 slugging percentage. With a home run that day in the final game of a series and a .455/.458/.682 batting line last week, Neustrom raised those marks to .275 and .488, above his 2021 numbers.
3. High-A Aberdeen left-hander DL Hall
Like Rutschman, Hall reported to Aberdeen last week to begin his 2022 season coming off an injury. A stress reaction in his pitching elbow shut him down after seven dynamic starts last year with Double-A Bowie, but Hall picked up where he left off by striking out six batters with no walks in four scoreless innings of two-hit ball Friday. Against overmatched competition, Hall shined with Rutschman behind the plate, and he’ll likely be paired with him in his next start with Bowie.
4. Double-A Bowie right-hander Ryan Watson
One of the Orioles’ undrafted free agents signed after the shortened 2020 draft, Watson opened his season with a pair of four-inning relief outings in which he retired all 24 batters he faced and struck out 10. Moved into Bowie’s rotation last week, he finally allowed a base runner but not a run, striking out six in five scoreless innings. He’ll get the ball for the Baysox on Tuesday, trying to extend what’s tied for the fourth-longest active scoreless streak across one level in the minors.
5. Low-A Delmarva right-hander Shane Davis
Davis — another 2020 UDFA — walked or hit five batters in his first outing but also allowed only one hit and struck out six in four shutout innings. Next time out, he completed five innings for only the third time as a professional, having faced one over the minimum before a home run, error and double ended his night. Still, Davis’ final tally for the week was 11 strikeouts over nine innings in which he allowed two earned runs.
The top prospect not featured so far
With Rutschman touched on above, we’ll devote this space to No. 2 prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who showed there remains work to be done in Triple-A before he joins Baltimore’s rotation. In his first outing, he bounced back from a three-run inning that featured some suspect infield defense with three scoreless innings. Rodriguez then allowed nine base runners in 3 1/3 innings Sunday, those six of those — four of his five surrendered runs — came in the second inning. Through five starts, he has yet to throw more than 77 pitches.
International acquisition of the week
Aberdeen infielder César Prieto was trending toward inclusion here before suffering a grade 1 strain of his right hamstring on a double Friday; he’s not expected to need much time on the injured list. Still, his limited action means Delmarva outfielder Isaac Bellony is the official recipient of the honor, having batted .353/.476/.647 with a home run, two doubles and more walks than strikeouts. The 20-year-old switch-hitter, part of Baltimore’s 2019 international signing class, has a .996 OPS batting left-handed.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
Until some of those in Baltimore’s current top 30 graduate, Delmarva infielder Darell Hernaiz figures to frequent this space, given the way he’s playing. Having struck out in 17.1% of his plate appearances last year and 18.2% of them this year entering last week, Hernaiz struck out only three times in 24 plate appearances in which he hit .273/.333/.591, doubled his walk total for the year and had four of his six hits go for extra bases. A 20-year-old selected in 2019′s fifth round, Hernaiz is in his second year with Delmarva and perhaps won’t stick around much longer.
Time to give some shine to …
Here, we’ll highlight a couple of relievers who are part of the Tides’ bullpen because of the difference in status of this offseason’s Rule 5 drafts.
Because of the league’s lockout, the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft was canceled, meaning the Orioles suffered no consequences for leaving left-hander Nick Vespi available for it. With Norfolk, Vespi has yet to allow an earned run in 9 2/3 innings, striking out 15 against one walk. Right-hander Cole Uvila, meanwhile, is only in the Orioles’ organization because the Rule 5 draft’s minor league phase took place during the lockout, allowing Baltimore to snag him from the Texas Rangers’ system. He allowed a hit for the first time last week but has 9 1/3 scoreless frames. At the back of Norfolk’s bullpen, Vespi and Uvila have combined for a 0.00 ERA and 0.632 WHIP in 19 innings with 24 strikeouts and five saves.