2019 Orioles Minor League Recap: Frederick, Bowie, and Norfolk

This article was originally intended to be published on Baltimore Sports and Life around October 27, 2019. It was never published due to the fact that it was originally supposed to be published a month earlier as a companion piece to Zach Spedden’s article summarizing the 2019 season for the lower levels of the Baltimore Orioles minor league system, and too much time had passed. I am publishing it here to include with the rest of my baseball writing.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

With the minor-league season in the books, Baltimore Sports and Life is recapping the teams in the Baltimore Orioles farm system.

In part one, BSL’s Zach Spedden covered the seasons of the Gulf Coast League (GCL) Orioles, Aberdeen IronBirds, and Delmarva Shorebirds. In Part 2, I will be recapping the 2019 season for the Frederick Keys, Bowie Baysox, and Norfolk Tides.

The recaps will focus mainly on the top prospects in the system, though as we get into the high minors, most of the prospects are leftover from the Duquette regime, so this article will focus on them. Overall, those players mostly had good seasons, or at worst, held their own.

Frederick Keys: 53-84, 5th place in the Carolina League Northern Division

Overall, it was a pretty forgettable year for the Keys. Not only did they finish last in the Northern Division, but both the team’s pitching and hitting left a lot to be desired. The pitching was especially bad, finishing dead last in the league in ERA.

There also weren’t too many prospects of note playing in Frederick in 2019, outside of a couple of rehab assignments. 2018 2nd round pick Cadyn Grenier finished his season in Frederick after playing most of the year in Delmarva. Grenier held his own with a respectable 101 wRC+ in 92 plate appearances. And while he had a strong walk rate of 12% in High-A, his 33.7% strikeout rate is something to keep an eye on moving forward. Robert Neustrom also finished the season in Frederick after strong start in Delmarva, but failed to do much offensively in 130 PA’s. Other than that, there isn’t much to discuss on the hitting side for the Keys, as all of their best hitters in 2019 were too old for the level. It’s also probably safe to say that Jomar Reyes is firmly a non-prospect after a 4th time through High-A without much improvement.

As for the pitching, despite having the league’s worst ERA, there were some bright spots on the mound. Michael Baumann’s 2.34 FIP (3.83 ERA) and 34.4% strikeout rate in 54 IP earned him a mid-season call-up to AA en-route to the organization’s co-pitcher of the year award. Additionally, despite struggling with his control (15.6% walk rate), DL Hall performed well in 80.2 innings. While the walk rate jumps off the page, Hall was able to keep hitters off-balance, holding them to a .185 AVG, with hitters hitting the ball to the opposite field 42.2% of the time. Cody Sedlock pitched himself to AA (2.36 ERA, 3.54 FIP), but at age 24, he should be putting up those numbers in High-A. The Orioles 2018 3rd round draft pick Blaine Knight (who was very good to start the year in Delmarva), did not find any success in Frederick (6.13 ERA, 5.28 FIP), giving up line drives at a rate of 24.3%.

Bowie Baysox: 76-64, 3rd in the Eastern League Western Division

The Baysox completed a very successful 2019. After stumbling in the first half, they won nearly 2 out of every 3 games in the second half and found themselves in the playoffs (despite finishing 3rd in the division, winning the second half of the season put  them in the playoffs due to the Eastern League’s split season format). After beating the Harrisburg Senators in the semi-finals, they lost the Eastern League championship to the Trenton Thunder, 3 games to 1.

On the position player side, all of the players who can be called prospects (or at the very least “prospects”) performed pretty well. Despite dealing with some injuries in 2019, Yusniel Diaz, who was the main piece coming back from Los Angeles in the Manny Machado trade last year hit .262/.335/.472 in 322 plate appearances (good for a 135 wRC+), with strong walk and strikeout rates. Brett Cumberland, who came over in last year’s Kevin Gausman deal with the Braves also showed strong offensive numbers, albeit in only 157 PA’s. He hit .248/.395/.408 (144 wRC+) with a healthy 14.6% walk rate.

Elsewhere, Rylan Bannon (a personal favorite) hit for a 120 wRC+, decreasing his strikeout rate (down to 16.2%), though that contact oriented approach may have come at the expense of his walk rate (down 8 percentage points from his time in AA last year). His power numbers were never going to hold up to the elevation infused numbers of his California League days, but I think he’s still a good bet to contribute to the major league club as a utility player. Finally, 2018 breakout star Ryan McKenna didn’t have the same success as he had in Frederick the year before, but he definitely held his own in 2019 with a slight improvement over last year’s AA numbers (104 wRC+). His defense should eventually bring him to the majors, but he’s likely to start 2020 in AA to see if he can build on that improvement before moving up to AAA.

As for the pitching, there were some positive signs there as well, which is probably expected considering the team led the Eastern League in ERA. The aforementioned Baumann continued to pitch well in AA, throwing 70 innings with a 2.31 ERA (2.63 FIP). Other performances of note include Zac Lowther and Alex Wells. Wells spent the entire season in Bowie and built on a promising 2018 in Frederick, pitching 137.1 innings with a 2.95 ERA (3.20 FIP). In the process, he increased his K rate (up 1.1%), decreased his walk rate (down 1.5%), and got more groundballs (GB% up 6.8%), which also helped lower his home run rate. Lowther also spent the entire year in Bowie, and had a season nearly as successful as Wells pitching 148 innings with a 2.55 ERA (3.17 FIP). While his walk rate increased 3.6% over the previous year in High-A, his K rate held steady and he reduced his LD% by nearly 4% points.

Finally, after starting the year on the injured list, Dean Kremer posted a strong season for the Baysox, with a 2.98 ERA (3.56 FIP) in 84.2 innings. His performance earned a late season call up to AAA that didn’t go that great in a small sample (19.1 innings), but the BABIP and LOB% point to some bad luck. He’s a candidate to start the 2020 season in Norfolk with a late season call-up to the majors if all goes well.

Norfolk Tides: 60-79 overall, 4th place in the International League South Division

Similar to Frederick, the 2019 season for the Orioles’ AAA affiliate was a somewhat forgettable one. The team struggled overall, though there were some individual performances that are worth talking about.

Almost every hitter that you could have hoped to have hit well (or at least average) did so in 2019, with DJ Stewart (139 wRC+), Chance Sisco (134 wRC+), Rylan Bannon (120 wRC+), and Ryan Mountcastle (117 wRC+). Anthony Santander’s struggles in AAA (82 wRC+) were mostly forgotten after he turned in an offensively average performance in the major leagues (20 HR’s in 405 PA’s!). Austin Hays had a very similarly disappointing stint in AAA, only to look like a really good bet to be in the 2020 major league outfield based on his September call-up.

Despite strong AAA seasons, Stewart (whose name I always seem to accidentally type as “Stewrat”), Sisco, and Bannon look like they will contribute to the major league team in the short term, but are not players the team should build around (in my opinion). Mountcastle, who was arguably the Orioles best position prospect prior to the start of the season, performed well in 2019 (117 wRC+), but did not hit well enough to look like a cornerstone for the next great Orioles team, especially considering he’s been primarily playing at first base now. His bat will have to be his carrying tool at first base, and while it still might be able to carry him, I personally would’ve liked to have seen a little more out of him in 2019, particularly with his on-base percentage. He’s shown at every level that he is a great hitter with good power at every level during his time in the minors, but his low walk rate (4.3% in 2019), and defensive limitations may prevent him from becoming an All-Star type player.

On the pitching side of things, it was a rough season for Norfolk, who had a team ERA of 5.58, good for last in the International League, although “good” probably isn’t the best word to use in that last sentence. As one can imagine, aren’t too many positives to report here. Both Hunter Harvey and Tanner Scott pitched well in AAA. Scott finished with a 2.98 ERA (2.81 FIP) and a 30.8% strikeout rate in 45.1 innings, though that success didn’t carry over to his time in the big leagues. Harvey didn’t pitch as well as Scott in Norfolk, with 4.32 ERA (3.62 FIP) and 31.4% strikeout rate in 16.1 innings, but he had better results in Baltimore. Keegan Akin was the only qualified pitcher for the Tides, throwing 112.1 innings, with a 4.73 ERA and a 4.13 FIP. He may have had a bit of bad luck (.331 BABIP and a 68.3% LOB). A strong start to the 2020 season could see Akin up in Baltimore for a look in the season’s second half.

Overall, I think the Orioles minor league affiliates had a productive season (not the teams necessarily, but the higher profile players). The 2019 season was a good step forward for the organization. And while the performances didn’t skyrocket the system into the top 5 (or even 10) systems in baseball, I think they’ll definitely move up a few spots. And when a team is at the beginning of starting a rebuild like the Orioles, every little bit of improvement helps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: