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Orioles minor league report: Tyler Nevin, Grayson Rodriguez stay hot at Triple-A Norfolk; Gunnar Henderson shows his power

While the Orioles won a series against the Los Angeles Angels as part of a three-city road trip, several of Baltimore’s minor leaguers put together displays that might warrant looks for the major league roster in the near future.

There are hot-hitting prospects up and down the farm system, and the top pitching prospect in Major League Baseball continued to shine. They all earned places as part of this week’s Baltimore Sun minor league report, as did an international signing who’s making his mark in Low-A ball.

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will analyze the top five performers in the Orioles’ prospect ranks before delivering some superlatives for those who deserve honorable mentions.

1. Triple-A Norfolk infielder/outfielder Tyler Nevin

Nevin is doing a little bit of everything to begin his season with Triple-A Norfolk. Last week, he played right field, first base and third base. And at the plate, he’s been even better, building on an eight-RBI game April 15 with another standout week.

Nevin clubbed a home run and four doubles as part of his 10-for-23 week, posting a 1.219 OPS. The 24-year-old recorded three straight three-hit games, becoming the first Tides player to do so since Jace Peterson in May 2019. Nevin is also the only International League player to do so thus far, and his .382 batting average ranks third in the league.

2. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Grayson Rodriguez

Expect Rodriguez to be a common fixture in this weekly feature — that is, until Rodriguez is promoted to the Orioles. The 22-year-old turned in another near-flawless performance for Norfolk last week, throwing a season-high 76 pitches in 5 1/3 innings.

Rodriguez struck out eight batters and allowed just one walk and one hit in a scoreless outing. Across three starts, Rodriguez has pitched 14 1/3 innings, allowing two runs with an opponent batting average of .109 against him. He’s considered the top pitching prospect in baseball, and he’s playing up to that standard.

3. Double-A Bowie outfielder Dylan Harris

Since Toby Welk landed on the 60-day injured list with a left knee sprain, Harris has slotted into the corner outfield at Double-A Bowie and hasn’t missed a step. In five games last week, Harris hit two homers and batted .500. He added four doubles and four RBIs to his ledger and holds a 1.546 OPS.

The 25-year-old went unselected in the shortened 2020 MLB draft out of North Carolina, but he’s made the jump to Double-A well after posting a .224 average in Low-A Delmarva and High-A Aberdeen last year.

4. Double-A Bowie infielder Gunnar Henderson

When Double-A Bowie infielder Jordan Westburg rattled off the best qualities of each highly touted prospect with the Baysox earlier this season, he said Henderson has the best raw power. The 20-year-old showed that off last week, proving Westburg’s judgment correct.

Henderson blasted his first two homers of the season and added a double, three RBIs and eight walks last week. While he hit just .222, his 1.073 OPS tells the full story. He’s working counts, getting on base and showcasing that raw power Westburg spoke of.

He’s part of a crowded Bowie infield full of prospects, but he’s slotting mostly in at third base and shortstop. Westburg, Adam Hall and Joey Ortiz are all up-and-comers pushing each other toward the next level.

5. Triple-A Norfolk catcher Brett Cumberland

In Cumberland’s first five games this season, the backstop struck out seven times in 17 at-bats with just two hits. But Cumberland broke out of that slump in a big way last week, clobbering three home runs and tallying nine RBIs while registering a 1.533 OPS.

The 26-year-old’s time in baseball has taken plenty of twists en route to Triple-A Norfolk, including a stop in the Australian Baseball League between 2017 and 2018. But Cumberland is off to a better start in Triple-A than the .187 average he managed in Norfolk last season.

The top prospect not featured so far

Much of the weekend update revolved around catcher Adley Rutschman, the top prospect in Baltimore’s pipeline, embarking on a rehab assignment with High-A Aberdeen. But the update provided for left-hander DL Hall was just as important.

Hall is arriving in Aberdeen this week to continue his development, working his way back into game action following a left elbow stress reaction that cut his 2021 season short. Hall, the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America, is a high-velocity starter, touching 100 mph on his fastball during spring training.

He remained in Florida after spring training to continue his progression back from injury, and an assignment with the IronBirds could turn into a rapid rise if he stays healthy. Hall, along with right-hander Kyle Bradish and Rodriguez, is part of a group that could find their way into the big league rotation before the end of the season. With left-hander John Means requiring Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, there’s space in a rotation lacking experience.

International acquisition of the week

Since executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias arrived, the Orioles’ increased focus on international scouting has led to myriad signings. One of those signings came in 2019, nabbing 16-year-old right-hander Juan de los Santos from the Dominican Republic.

Now 19 and pitching for the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds, de los Santos has gotten off to a strong start. In three starts, he’s holding a 1.38 ERA with a 1.00 WHIP. And in his latest appearance last week, de los Santos allowed one run on three hits while striking out five batters in 4 1/3 innings.

This is de los Santos’ first year at an affiliate. He spent 2021 in rookie ball with the Florida Complex League, where he appeared in 13 games with a 4.84 ERA.

The best former top-30 prospect of the week

Just two years ago, right-hander Blaine Knight ranked as the No. 22 prospect in Baseball America’s rankings of Baltimore’s farm system. But the 25-year-old’s development has stalled somewhat since then, and he’s fallen down the prospect rankings as a result.

Even to start this season, Knight struggled in consecutive outings for Triple-A Norfolk, allowing a combined six runs in 3 1/3 innings, but he had a resurgence last week and threw four scoreless innings against the Durham Bulls in an extended relief appearance. He struck out five batters in the process, working around four hits.

Knight featured mainly as a starter last season in the minors with varying degrees of success. Across three levels, he posted a 5.40 ERA and allowed a 1.362 WHIP. He’s featured exclusively out of the bullpen to begin 2022, and with more long relief appearances like his four innings Thursday, that could be his best spot moving forward.

Time to give some shine to …

Right-handers Garrett Stallings and Ryan Watson combined to throw a one-hit shutout Wednesday against the Akron RubberDucks for Double-A Bowie. And while the start from Stallings was a continuation of a strong beginning to the season for the starter, Watson’s outing impressed most.

Watson threw four perfect innings to earn the save, piggybacking off Stallings’ standout performance. Across two outings, Watson has thrown eight perfect innings to begin his Double-A career. In his first appearance April 13, Watson struck out seven batters in four innings before striking out three in his next appearance.

Watson went undrafted out of Auburn in the shortened 2020 draft, but he — as well as Stallings, who holds a 2.00 ERA — are building impressive resumes and could warrant a jump in levels this season.

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