'This could be the future:' Spring Breakout lets O's field a prospect superteam

February 16th, 2024

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Connor Norby has a memory from Spring Training 2022 that sticks with him to this day.

That spring, a large group of Orioles prospects played an intrasquad game at the club’s Minor League complex at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota. They split into two teams -- both loaded with talented youngsters due to the incredible depth of the organization’s highly ranked farm system.

“That was fun,” recalled Norby, the O’s No. 6 prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

Now, imagine if all of Baltimore’s top prospects came together and formed one superteam. It would be an even more stacked group of young talent, especially because the farm system remains one of the best -- if not the best -- in baseball.

Imagine no longer.

MLB’s new Spring Breakout initiative will feature 16 exhibition games showcasing baseball’s future stars this spring. Each of the league’s 30 clubs will assemble a team of top prospects to take on a squad formed by another organization. The seven-inning contests will occur from March 14-17 at Spring Training ballparks across Arizona and Florida.

The Orioles’ team of top prospects will face the one created by the Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton on March 14 at 7:05 p.m. ET as the second end of a doubleheader with the 3:05 p.m. Grapefruit League contest. The Spring Breakout exhibition will air live on MLB Network and across MLB’s digital platforms (MLB.com, MLB.TV and the MLB app), and tickets for the game are on sale now.

The Spring Breakout rosters will be revealed during an MLB Network special on March 7 at 11 a.m. ET., co-hosted by Matt Vasgersian and Harold Reynolds. The broadcast will be simulcast on MLB’s digital platforms.

“I think it’s a really cool idea,” said right-hander Chayce McDermott, Baltimore’s No. 9 prospect. “Especially with an organization like ours, where I think we could field our top nine prospects all on one team, something like that.”

McDermott is exactly right. The Orioles have the ability to assemble a lineup using their top nine prospects at proper positions. However, 19-year-old catcher Samuel Basallo (MLB Pipeline’s No. 17 overall prospect) is recovering from a stress fracture in his right elbow and may not be ready for game action by the time of Spring Breakout.

The lineup could still be loaded. Here’s one possibility:

C: Creed Willems (O’s No. 20)
1B: Coby Mayo (MLB No. 30)
2B: Connor Norby (O’s No. 6)
3B: Mac Horvath (O’s No. 11)
SS: Jackson Holliday (MLB No. 1)
LF: Colton Cowser (MLB No. 19)
CF: Enrique Bradfield Jr. (O’s No. 7)
RF: Dylan Beavers (O’s No. 8)
DH: Heston Kjerstad (MLB No. 32)

The pitching staff may include McDermott, left-hander Cade Povich (O’s No. 10) and right-hander Justin Armbruester (O’s No. 18), all of whom are non-roster players in big league camp this spring.

“I think you could look at that lineup and be like, ‘Oh, this could be the future of the Orioles.’ Like, it’s really good,” Mayo said. “Really good catchers, really good outfielders, infielders, pitchers. Just all-around, high-talented prospects.”

It’s a testament to Baltimore’s front-office staff (led by general manager Mike Elias) and its player development system.

The Orioles are having repeated success in the MLB Draft. Catcher Adley Rutschman (the No. 1 overall pick in 2019) and infielder Gunnar Henderson (a second-round selection in ‘19) have reached the big leagues and become core players in Baltimore.

The talent continues to graduate from the Minors to the Majors, with right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, Cowser and Kjerstad among those who made their MLB debuts in 2023.

As prospects reach the big leagues, the farm system gets replenished. Holliday was selected No. 1 overall in the 2022 Draft. Basallo was signed out of the Dominican Republic in January of ‘21. The O’s continue to add impactful players from the high school, college and international ranks, then excel at getting them prepared for the big leagues.

In 2023, the Orioles won the American League East while Triple-A Norfolk (where many of the organization’s top prospects finished the season) captured both the International League title and Triple-A national championship.

“They drafted well, they brought in the right guys, they brought in the right staff. They do things right here,” Norby said. “It’s extremely exciting because it’s not just a one year, you win [101] games, win the division, Triple-A team wins a title -- it’s not just that. Ten years down the road we’re going to still be talking about how the last five years was the mark that changed it.”

That’s why baseball fans will want to watch Spring Breakout games, and especially the matchup featuring O’s youngsters. It’s an advanced look at players who could become the next Rutschman or Henderson within the next few seasons.

It should be as entertaining for Baltimore’s prospects as the intrasquad game from two years ago that Norby recalled -- and probably even more so.

“I know that this one will be just as enjoyable,” Norby said. “Especially because we’re all on the same team at that point, not playing against each other.”