Welcome to ‘Down on the Farm’, a minor league spin-off of my weekly article ‘3 Up, 3 Down’. Every week I will highlight the three hottest and three coldest players in the Orioles minor league system from the previous week. Hopefully this will help in keeping track of the progress of the prospects playing for the Norfolk Tide, Bowie Baysox, Aberdeen Ironbirds, and Delmarva Shorebirds. Also be sure to check out my threads on the message board that are tracking both pitching and hitting statistics for the Orioles top prospects.

(You can discuss this on the BSL board here.)

On Fire

Coby Mayo .350/.409/.650 (1.059), 4 R, 3 doubles, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 20 AB (A+ Aberdeen)

I was lucky enough to attend the last game in high A Aberdeen for Mayo, Colton Cowser, and Connor Norby on Sunday and they ended their tenure with the Ironbirds in style, Mayo in particular. He lined a ball to the opposite field gap in his first at bat for a double, pulled a ball to deep left field for a homerun that would’ve been gone at Camden Yards despite the new wall in his third at bat, and then smacked a single in front of the outfield in his fourth time up. It put an exclamation point on a great week for the 20 year old third base prospect as well as a great month of June. For the month with Aberdeen he hit .288 with a .849 OPS, 132 wRC+, an 11% walk rate, and a 19.8% strikeout rate. You love to see the increased plate discipline as he got more comfortable with the level of competition he was facing. He is six months younger than Gunnar Henderson who is excelling in AAA Norfolk at the moment but to put it into context he is one baseball year younger and already in AA Bowie following his promotion with three months left in the season while Henderson only got a cup of coffee at that level to end 2021. Mayo started the season with Aberdeen while Gunnar started in Delmarva and struggled in high A after getting there before making adjustments. This isn’t a criticism of Henderson but a reason to be excited about Mayo who hasn’t necessarily had any extreme ups or downs this year despite hitting into some bad luck based on his batted ball profile. A year ago he had yet to make his professional debut, starting the 2021 season in the FCL after suffering an injury in spring training. The fact that he is going to make his AA debut exactly a year later at such a young age is incredible. It’s the kind of thing top 100 prospects do with helium towards the top of those lists. He will be challenged over the second half of the season but clearly the Orioles feel he is up for it. A successful stint with the Baysox sets him up to start 2023 in AAA at 21 years old, a sentence that should excite any Orioles fan with a pulse.

Heston Kjerstad.421/.500/.684 (1.184), 5 R, 2 doubles, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 19 AB (A Delmarva)

With the development of the above mentioned Coby Mayo as well as Jordan Westburg banging on the door to the major leagues with authority – not to mention the return of RHP Carter Baumler from Tommy John surgery, OF Hudson Haskin performing well in AA, and SS Anthony Servideo finally returning from a rehab stint – the 2020 draft is looking like a big success even if you pretend the Orioles’ first round, second overall pick doesn’t exist. Well it turns out it does and the demise of Heston Kjerstad has been greatly exaggerated. Of course a 23 year old power hitter from a power conference college should be dominating low A, which he is, but the fact that he showed up doing so right out of the gate following two years of no competitive baseball is impressive nonetheless. Fully recovered from his bout with myocarditis and a hamstring injury he suffered in spring training, he is looking like every bit of the player the Orioles thought they drafted. He is batting .422 with a 1.081 OPS, five doubles, a homerun, and a 197 wRC+ over his first 52 plate appearances. His walk rate and strikeout rate are both above average, 9.6% and 19.2% respectively. He has played two thirds of his games in right field and looks smooth and agile out there while playing the other third of his games at DH. I would fully expect him to get a promotion to high A Aberdeen once he is able to play three full games in the outfield consecutively to fill the void left by 2021 first round pick Colton Cowser getting bumped up to AA Bowie. That should be in a week or two, or maybe even a rare mid-week promotion. Getting a resurgent and healthy Kjerstad back in the swing of things and able to start 2023 in AA Bowie at 24 years old would be a boon for the system even if it puts him a little behind the age curve. You can’t put that genie back in the bottle and it doesn’t mean he can’t provide great value to the organization.

Jean Pinto 0-0, 1.00 ERA, 9 IP, 6 H, 2 BB, 8 K, 0.89 WHIP (A+ Aberdeen)

I pointed out a while back that 2021’s breakout pitcher of the year Pinto was going through some bad luck in Aberdeen with a FIP and xFIP much lower than his actual ERA at the time. Well that gap has shortened quite a bit after a spectacular month of June for the 21 year old right handed pitcher. In five starts covering 20 innings he had a 1.35 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 20 strikeouts, and just four walks. That comes out to a 2.33 FIP with batters only hitting .189 off of him in that span. His peripherals are almost exactly in line with his time in Delmarva late last year, the only differences being slightly more walks per nine innings, a higher BABIP against him, and more flyballs going for homeruns. I saw him pitch in late April and again this past Sunday and he looked like the same guy except with an extra few ticks of velocity with the weather warming up. He was sitting 88-89 mph in April and was up to 93 mph on Sunday. He gets a ton of groundballs and fields his position well. At bare minimum I expect him to be a really solid reliever at the upper levels of the sport but I am not ruling out remaining in the rotation long term. His offspeed stuff gets a bunch of swings and misses and he mixes them up effectively with his fastball while working at such a fast pass it has to keep hitter off balance. With the entire Ironbirds pitching staff performing the way they are not everybody can be promoted to AA Bowie I suppose but Pinto could certainly be one that is over the next month or so.

Ice Cold

Billy Cook .063/.063/.125 (.188), 1 double, 16 AB (A+ Aberdeen)

After a very slow start to the season Cook had a stretch of 69 plate appearances from April 23 to May 19 where he hit .281 with a .991 OPS, 156 wRC+, an 11.6% walk rate, and a .333 ISO. It looked like he was breaking out in a big way after performing very well with low A Delmarva following the draft last year. In 103 plate appearances with the Shorebirds he had a .846 OPS, 124 wRC+, and six homeruns. The problem is he has struck out 32% of the time or more no matter how well he has played as a professional which isn’t ideal for a 23 year old who played college ball. Even worse is since May 20 the bottom has completely fallen out on his production with the Ironbirds. He is batting .137 with a .411 OPS, 14 wRC+, a 5.3% walk rate, and a .069 ISO over his last 113 plate appearances. That isn’t exactly a tiny sample size to struggle so badly. He isn’t exactly in jeopardy of being released or anything, not with being drafted less than a year ago and not a ton of eligible replacements at the moment with Colton Cowser being promoted to AA, but his playing time could easily be cut into with Isaac Bellony, John Rhodes, and Donta’ Williams (when he returns from the IL) still in Aberdeen. Heston Kjerstad should be joining them soon as mentioned above and Trendon Craig is another outfielder that could earn a promotion from Delmarva in the second half. You’re going to have hits and misses with every draft but the last month or so really put a damper on a guy who could’ve been a sleeper prospect that showed some early promise.

DL Hall 0-1, 10.57 ERA, 7.2 IP, 10 H, 10 BB, 5 K, 2.61 WHIP (AAA Norfolk)

After Grayson Rodriguez was shut down with a grade 2 lat strain a few weeks ago it was only natural to look ahead to the next top pitching prospect performing well at AAA Norfolk and monitor his starts in hopes that he would be called up to make his major league debut in short order. Before this week Hall had a 3.82 ERA over 30.2 innings with 54 strikeouts and 18 walks. That was a little more than five walks per nine innings but it still equaled out to a 3/1 K/BB ratio and 3.18 FIP thanks to limiting homeruns and striking out nearly 16 batters per nine. I’m not sure what happened in Lehigh Valley that had him walk more than a batter per inning and strike out less than a batter per inning, which is especially not like him, but I’m not going to get too hung up on it. He is still building up his pitch count after only throwing 31.2 innings in 2021 (and zero in 2020, thanks COVID) and has already surpassed that number this season with 46. As long as he is healthy his stuff is too good and his competitive nature is too strong to let him struggle for long. He may always throw too many pitches per inning to ever be a starter who consistently gives the team six innings or more but there is a reason he is commonly compared to Blake Snell, a five and dive lefty who has electric stuff when he is at his best. Hall’s pure stuff is probably even better with an easy 98-100 mph fastball, change-up that drops off the table, and two distinct breaking balls. Its just a matter of learning to attack hitters in the upper levels of the sport who can actually make contact off of him. He may also be having an adjustment period with the AAA ball which is the same as the major league ball and different than the balls used in AA and below. Yeah, its confusing. There is also a pitch clock he is dealing with in the minor leagues. Despite the struggles I would still be tempted to get him up to Baltimore as soon as possible even if he has to take his lumps. The sooner he can get acclimated to major league hitters the sooner he can make adjustments.

Garrett Stallings0-2, 32.79 ERA, 4.2 IP, 20 H, 5 HR, 2 BB, 6 K, 4.71 WHIP (AA Bowie)

I truly don’t know what to make of Stallings at this point. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a pitcher get beat up the way he has in the month of June, let alone a guy who was in our top 30 prospects list. For the month he has a 28.50 ERA over five starts covering just 12 innings, a 4.17 WHIP, and a .536 batting average against him. If you take it even further back to May 15 he has a 16.96 ERA over eight starts covering 26 innings with a 2.73 WHIP, and a .444 batting average against him. The amazing thing is the start before that stretch on May 8 he pitched six hitless innings as part of a combined no-hitter for the Baysox and had a 2.63 ERA on the season over 24 innings to that point. All the while he has continued to have a great walk rate and strikeout more batters than he ever has as a professional. Its just been the hits that have piled up against him which leads to a 10.08 actual ERA for the season, a 7.22 FIP, and remarkably a 4.32 xFIP. He has gone from a groundball pitcher with an unsustainably high homerun per flyball ratio to a flyball pitcher with an unsustainably high HR/FB ratio that has sustained for quite a while now. No matter how much bad luck might be a factor in these tremendous struggles it is just hard to watch Stallings go out there and get shelled start after start. He turns 25 in August so not exactly a spring chicken. Might be time to go on the development list and try to figure things out in extended spring training and give a guy from the elite Aberdeen pitching staff a shot in AA. Either way his prospect stock is crashing unless he can pull a rabbit out of his hat.

Bob Phelan
Bob Phelan

BSL Analyst

Bob is a co-host of ‘On the Verge’ an Orioles podcast focused on the O’s farm system here on BSL. He used to run the baseball blog ‘The Oriole Report’ before transitioning to podcasting about movies, TV, Video Games, and MMA. ‘The Redbox Report’ movie podcast was started in 2013 followed by ‘The Redbelt Report’ MMA podcast in 2016. Bob has also written for Konsume.com and BaltimoreSportsReport.com and delivers mail for a living in Baltimore County. Follow him on Twitter @TheOrioleReport.