We’re now almost eight full weeks into the 2021 Minor League Baseball season and one thing is very clear, it is a fantastic feeling to have minor league baseball back on my TV every single night.
Hot starts have started to stabilize, cold starts are thawing out, players are now settled back into the routine and daily grind of minor league ball, and we can now begin to make much better judgments about players in this system after not seeing them on a field for more than a year.
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The organization has already been fairly aggressive with a handful of promotions, sending RHP Kyle Bradish to Triple-A Norfolk after three starts with Double-A Bowie, RHP Kyle Brnovich made his first Double-A start on Thursday night, June 24th, after throwing just 34 innings with High-A Aberdeen in his debut as a professional, and SS Joey Ortiz spent just 19 games in Aberdeen before being given a full-time starting role in Bowie. Ortiz posted a meager .612 OPS as a rookie in 2019, but has overhauled his offensive game and is now viewed as a legitimate major league prospect in this system as he begins to set himself apart from the large swath of middle infield prospects down on the Orioles farm. (Update: Ortiz was placed on the IL due to a shoulder injury suffered on a swing).
Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, and DL Hall have come out of the gates very strong in 2021, and nothing is more satisfying than watching three of the top prospects in baseball perform as well as they have, but something that has stood out to me is the growth and development of a handful of former highly regarded prospects who many, myself included, had largely written off heading into the 2021 minor league season. Ofelky Peralta is back on the radar after four seasons of struggling to advance past the High-A level and even Cody Sedlock has again become intriguing, even if it is only as a bullpen option. He’s not going to live up to the first-round hype, but after a series of injuries and struggles, Sedlock is holding is own in Double-A. If he can avoid the high number of walks he’s been allowing this season, Sedlock is at least worth mentioning again.
But just highlighting the very top of this system doesn’t do enough justice to the large amount of growth seen down on the farm over the last year or two. Gone are the days where Randolph Gassaway and Milton Ramos are considered Top 20 prospects. We’re now talking about a system where Joey Ortiz, the 29th-ranked Orioles prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is being discussed as a possible future major league shortstop.
Here are five* Orioles prospects who haven’t been given the “gas him up!” treatment, but have quietly flown under the radar with solid starts to the 2021 season.
Bowie RHP Blaine Knight- Going into the season, I had largely written off Blaine Knight after a disastrous 2019 season in Frederick that saw him go 1-12 6.13 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 10 percent walk rate and a pedestrian 14.6 percent strikeout rate. I was still interested to see if the Orioles could revive Knight’s career with a move to the bullpen. Armed with a fastball that tops out at 96-97 mph and slider capable of striking out major league hitters, using Knight out of the bullpen could allow him to focus on becoming a two-pitch pitcher with higher velo, and any concerns about his small frame holding up would be eliminated. However, the Orioles don’t appear anywhere close to going that direction quite yet.
Knight began the season back in High-A where he proceeded to allow just five earned runs across 18.2 innings, with 16 strikeouts and one walk. He was rewarded with a promotion to Double-A where he has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP across 20 innings, striking out 19 and walking five. Three of those five walks came in his last outing on June 23, his worst outing of the season and only outing where he allowed multiple walks. I say it was his worst outing but he still allowed one run across five innings with four strikeouts against a loaded New Hampshire team. I’ll take that every five days from most pitchers.
Even if Knight ends up in the bullpen at some point, he’s finding noted success in Double-A right now after falling out of every Orioles Top 30 prospects list, sliding down to 38th on Eric Longenhagen’s list on FanGraphs. It’s hard not to take notice and start putting guys back on the radar after watching what the player development staff and pitching coach Justin Ramsey has done with players like Sedlock, Peralta, and others in Bowie.
Bowie LHP Cameron Bishop: Let’s stay in Bowie to talk about Cameron Bishop, who put himself back on the map and drew high praise from minor league fans across the landscape after striking out a career-high 12 hitters in Hartford back on June 1st.
Overall, Bishop is 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA (2.88 FIP), a 1.14 WHIP, 29.5 percent strikeout rate and a 5.8 percent walk rate. In the month of June, Bishop is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 0.78 WHIP, with a save. He’s sat down 28 hitters via the strikeout, while walking four and allowing ten hits. Not bad for a former 26th round draft pick out of UC-Irvine.
Bishop isn’t a name you have ever heard much about since the Orioles drafted him in 2017. He was ranked 14th on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 list in 2017, just behind Michael Baumann, Cody Sedlock, and Zac Lowther, but dropped to 20th in the 2018 version of their list and was off the list by the end of the season. Going into 2021, Bishop wasn’t ranked among Eric Longenhagen’s Top 45, and was not one of the additional 10 pitchers noted by Longenhagen in his blurbs of “others to watch” he includes on all of his lists.
Perhaps, we should have been having Bishop in the conversation all along. The lefty does have some velo (t94-95) and has a four-pitch arsenal. And he was good with Delmarva in his first pro season (9-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) and showed some signs with Frederick in 2019. His ERA jumped to 4.67 in Frederick, but his strikeout rate jumped more than two points to 21.5 percent, his groundball numbers remained consistent (48 percent) and his xFIP of 3.99 was similar to his xFIP the year before in Delmarva (3.64).
I’ve said many times on episodes of On The Verge that I’m very happy knowing Orioles pitching prospects never have to see Frederick again and Bishop is just another name on the very long list of arms showing noted improvements after making the jump from a less than stellar year in Frederick to a big rebound season in Bowie.
Aberdeen 1B JD Mundy: I have to be upfront and honest about JD Mundy before I begin and say he had a few strikes against him in my book as soon as the Orioles signed him. One, he’s a former Virginia Tech and Radford guy and as a JMU alum, I can’t have that. Two, he gave me big Seamus Curran vibes. I can now confirm that JD Mundy is nothing like Seamus Curran.
Mundy is a 2020 UDFA, but there’s no doubt that he would have been a senior-sign pick somewhere in the round 6-10 range if Rob Manfred didn’t exist (maybe that’s harsh, but I don’t think anyone would object to sending Manfred to live on the moon). He’s done nothing but rake since stepping on the field in 2021.
Entering play on June 25th, Mundy leads all Orioles minor league hitters with a 1.066 OPS, a 186 wRC+, and 12 home runs. He passed Adley Rutschman for the home run lead on Thursday night. He appeared in just 20 games with Delmarva, hitting .324 with a 1.038 OPS. four home runs, and more walks (17) than strikeouts (13) before being promoted to High-A Aberdeen, where he got off to a bit of a slow start and missed some time due to a minor injury, but he’s been extremely hot over the last two weeks or so.
In 16 games with Aberdeen, Mundy is hitting .279 with a 1.091 OPS and eight home runs. Against the Rome Braves on Wednesday, June 23rd, Mundy was intentionally walked in the bottom of the 10th inning with first base open. That turned out to be a good decision as Aberdeen tried really hard not to win by having Adam Hall bunt with the bases loaded and only one out in extra innings. Mundy came back up to bat the next inning and secured the walk-off with this nice piece of hitting.
He’s performing like you expect senior-sign type players to perform, excelling in the lower minors against younger competition. The real test will come when he’s promoted to Double-A. In the meantime, he’s been one of the more fun bats to watch down on the farm, and that’s saying a lot considering who all is in the system now.
Bowie RHP Kyle Brnovich – Anyone know what Dylan Bundy has up to lately? It really doesn’t matter. The early return on the Bundy deal has been one of the top storylines of the minor league season and two arms from that deal are on this list. Let’s start with Kyle Brnovich, one of the ever-growing number of arms out of the Colonial Athletic Association that Mike Elias has brought in and someone who is having great success in his very first taste of professional baseball.
Brnovich, like most Angels draft picks out of the college ranks, didn’t pitch after being drafted and was then forced to sit out 2020 due to the pandemic. Regardless, the Orioles began Brnovich in High-A where he did nothing but go 4-1 with a 2.36 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and a .144 average against in eight starts.
He doesn’t have the high velo numbers but he does have a knuckle-curve that was regarded as one of the top breaking balls in the entire 2019 draft class, and he can put hitters away with while creating very uncomfortable looking swings. When he’s really on his game, hitters routinely find themselves fishing at 55-foot breaking balls and walking away in disbelief. Brnovich is a high-floor prospect who doesn’t have much, if any, projection left, but he’s a well-polished competitor who has been a poised figure on the mound since I began watching him as a freshman at Elon.
His first start with Bowie was a very good outing, especially when you consider it was only his 9th start in the professional ranks. Brnovich struck out six across four innings, allowing one earned run and one walk. If he can continue to build on his successful Double-A debut, I could see Brnovich getting an opportunity to work out of the Orioles bullpen sometime in 2022.
The Delmarva Shorebirds pitching staff: I know I said I was going to discuss five prospects but I’m going to throw a few names into this final section. If you’re familiar with my writing, you should know I always break my own rules, because I can.
No one is talking about this group of arms and it’s unfortunate. We do have our weekly “under-the-radar” segment over at On The Verge which has essentially turned into a weekly highlight of Delmarva pitchers, but beyond that not much is said.
I do want to highlight a few specific names for different reasons. RHP Zach Peek has been very good this season. He’s been one of those arms where the underlying data just hasn’t matched up with his baseball card numbers, but that’s starting to change as Peek has finally been able to avoid an early string of rain-shortened outings and rehab outings from other prospects interrupting his routine. Peek owns a 3.07 ERA (2.91 FIP), with a 1.16 WHIP and a 33.1 percent strikeout rate in his first 29.1 professional innings (another former Angels prospect who didn’t pitch after being drafted in 2019) and is coming off a five inning, one-hit performance where struck out eight. He put a lot of work into his changeup this offseason and it’s paid off so far. A promotion has to be soon.
Elsewhere on this roster, Shane Davis (2020 UDFA) has used his impressive curveball to help lead him to a 2.72 FIP and 26.4 percent strikeout rate in 29 innings. He also owns a 61.7 percent groundball rate. Walks have been an issue, but he’s allowed just one free pass over his last two outings. He has also yet to allow a single home run.
Griffin McLarty was the first pitcher selected in a Mike Elias draft and is one of the top strikeout arms in this system in 2021. McLarty owns a 31.8 percent strikeout rate and has all of the makings of a high-floor arm who can be a successful depth arm in this system. Home runs have been McLarty’s bug-a-boo, but over his last three outings, McLarty has allowed two earned runs, walked just one, and struck out 14. After watching him more closely lately, it appears that he’s starting to put a few things together and if he can keep his pitch counts down, we could start seeing a stretch of longer, more dominant outings.
One of my favorite prospects to watch in 2021 has been Ignacio Feliz. Feliz was a third-round pick in the 2020 minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft (yes, minor league phase), yet the former shortstop owns a 1.16 ERA, a .147 average against, a 25 percent strikeout rate, and a 60.8 percent groundball rate. Feliz not only has a fun personality on the mound, but his secondary offerings have been effective at limiting damage and his insanely high walk numbers have subsided tremendously over his last few outings (15/3 K/BB in last 11.1 IP). Don’t be so quick to overlook Feliz. He was ranked 44th on Longenhagen’s preseason list and won’t turn 22 until October. That means Feliz was ranked higher than names like Toby Welk, Brett Cumberland, Peek, Brnovich, and Peralta.
Lastly, I have no clue why Adam Stauffer and Shelton Perkins are still in Low-A. Stauffer is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17.1 innings of work out of the bullpen (with a lot of Low-A experience under his belt), while Perkins owns a 1.93 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, and a 37.5 percent strikeout rate in 14 innings. He’s been a shutdown closer for Delmarva and should be a fast riser through this system as a high-floor college reliever with ridiculous breaking stuff.
A former high school teacher and coach in the mountains of Virginia, Nick Stevens has been writing about the Baltimore Orioles and their minor league system for five years. When he isn’t at a minor league stadium, he’s enjoying a Wizards game or supporting his alma mater, James Madison University. Co-Host of The Verge.