Orioles Minor League Storylines to Watch
The Baltimore Orioles’ four full-season affiliates all feature some players that will be worth watching over the course of the year. From prospects on the doorsteps of the majors to those making their full-season debuts, the Orioles’ minor league depth offers a bit more intrigue than it has in previous seasons. Here is a look at some of the storylines emerging early in the season.
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Austin Hays Looks to Build on 2017 Success
By the end of spring training, it was not a surprise that the Orioles opted Hays to the minors. After all, a shoulder injury cut into his spring, and it was clear that the club had more experienced options in the fold for the beginning of the season.
What might have been most surprising was that Hays was optioned to Double-A Bowie—where he excelled during a stint in 2017—rather than Triple-A Norfolk. Hays is off to a slow start through his first 19 games, but there is no indication at this point that his struggles over that small sample size are indicative of a larger problem. If he does start to bounce back, a stint at Norfolk could follow and—with the Orioles not getting much production in right field at the major league level—that could put Hays on the path to Baltimore at some point this season.
Rotation Prospects in Delmarva
At 15-7, the Low-A Shorebirds are off to a solid start, with Zac Lowther and D.L. Hall headlining their rotation. Lowther turned in a promising stint at Short Season-A Aberdeen after being drafted last year, and he has been nothing short of dominant thus far. In 16 innings over three starts, he has struck out 31 batters and walked only two.If he maintains a steady level of production, Lowther could be promoted before too long.
Hall, however, is working a bit more slowly—having thrown just eight innings over three starts. A move to Delmarva is a big leap for the 19-year-old left-hander after being chosen in the first round of last year’s draft, so the Orioles will likely take things slow in the early phases of the season (Hunter Harvey and Dylan Bundy followed similar paths in their full-season debuts). So far, he has allowed just one earned run over eight innings (1.13 ERA) while striking out six and walking six.
Hunter Harvey’s Progress at Bowie
Harvey did get promoted to Baltimore this year after a long series in New York left the Orioles with a shortage of available relievers, but he was optioned back to Bowie without getting into a game. He has made three starts at Bowie, throwing eight 1/3 innings over that stretch and posting a 1.08 ERA.
That approach might be construed as taking caution to an extreme but moving slow with Harvey makes sense on a few levels. His long history with injuries—including Tommy John surgery in 2016—combined with his relative inexperience means that he will need to be eased into the Double-A level, so look for him to build his innings gradually over the early stages of the season. Whether he reaches Baltimore this year will hinge on a variety of factors, but his performance at Bowie will be watched closely as the season progresses.
Ryan Mountcastle’s Recovery
Mountcastle was a highly anticipated prospect after his strong 2017 season between High-A Frederick and Bowie, but a hairline fracture in his right hand has sidelined him so far. His return at this point is uncertain, though Bowie is a likely landing spot once he is healthy.
Offense has always been Mountcastle’s calling card, and that is still the case. That said, his injury may mean that he needs more time to get fully into gear at the plate, especially given that the late-spring injury prevented him from being ready on Opening Day.
With the Orioles struggles come questions about how their major league will or will not change over the coming months. Should the club have holes to fill over the course of the season, some of the current crop of players at Triple-A Norfolk could be called upon. Joey Rickard, Alex Presley, and Michael Saunders are all outfielders with previous experience, while the likes of Donnie Hart and Jimmy Yacabonis could step up as bullpen options.
For potential debuts, Norfolk presents some options among hitters and pitchers. Coming off his best professional season, outfielder DJ Stewart has produced respectable results early in his first stint with Norfolk. David Hess, meanwhile, could provide extra depth on the pitching side. The right-hander has gotten off to a solid start at Norfolk and was recently recalled by the Orioles to serve as extra bullpen depth, only to be opted back to Triple-A after not appearing in a game.