3 … 2 … 1: Orioles 2021 Minors Report

October 18th, 2021

BALTIMORE -- Success and accolades were enjoyed throughout the Orioles’ Minor League system in 2021, when the farm rose to the top of industry rankings and watched its most decorated prospects reach the doorstep of the Majors.

The Orioles slogged through another difficult season at the big league level, but that might be changing soon. Their system is ranked baseball’s best by MLB Pipeline, sports the game’s top overall prospect and pitching prospect and has enviable depth.

Several of those top prospects, including and , are projected to arrive in Baltimore in 2022.

“We think that this team will continuously get better from this point forward,” general manager and executive vice president Mike Elias said. “We have a lot of young talent, and young talent tends to get better.”

With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at where the Orioles’ system stands and what it means for 2022 and beyond.

3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year

Club ranking: No. 6
The Orioles were thrilled with what they saw from Westburg in alternate site work in 2020, after drafting the bat-first shortstop 30th overall out of Mississippi State earlier that summer. Those results translated smoothly in Westburg’s first season of pro ball, when he was one of several Orioles prospects to climb three levels. Westburg excelled in a 20-game stint at Low-A Delmarva, earning a promotion to High-A Aberdeen in early June. He then posted an .858 OPS with eight homers and nine steals in 62 games for the Ironbirds before finishing the year at Double-A Bowie.

All in all, the 22-year-old slashed .285/.389/.479 with 15 homers and 17 steals while playing both shortstop and third. Quickly, he looks like the most polished infield prospect in a system suddenly full of them.

Club ranking: No. 11
Who led the Orioles’ system in homers in 2021? It wasn’t Rutschman. It was Stowers, the organization’s co-Player of the Year and fastest-rising outfield prospect. The sweet-swinging Stowers socked 27 homers across three levels, including 17 at Bowie, and reached Triple-A Norfolk in September. He also reached base at a .383 clip overall, posting an OBP of at least .366 in High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. Stowers could be playing one of the corner outfield spots at Camden Yards before next year’s All-Star break.

Club ranking: No. 17
When the Orioles went underslot to take Heston Kjerstad second overall in the 2020 Draft, they used a good chunk of those savings to take Mayo in the fourth round and sign him out of the Florida high school ranks. They only got a glimpse of his loud tools -- huge power, and a big arm from third base -- at their instructional camp that fall, and Mayo was slowed by a knee injury early this season.

Those setbacks made Baltimore even happier to see Mayo’s production when he finally made his pro ball debut in late June and reached Delmarva in August. The power played; Mayo homered nine times in his first 53 professional games, including five times in 27 games with Delmarva. He also showed impressive on-base skills given his age (19) and swing-and-miss profile.

Also worth noting: OF , INF

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2022

Club ranking: No. 5
The Orioles like placing their recent draftees at Low-A Delmarva, where Cowser was far from the youngest player when he debuted in August less than a month after Baltimore selected him fifth overall out of Sam Houston State. It was still a positive development when he performed well, hitting .375 with a .490 OBP and more walks (25) than strikeouts (23) in 32 games. A more challenging level likely awaits Cowser in 2022. If he continues to hit like the Orioles think he can, he could rise quickly through the ranks.

Club ranking: No. 20
Despite its success, the Orioles’ system was hit hard by injuries in 2021. One of the more disappointing ones was the torn left labrum Ortiz suffered, which ended his season in July. The club’s fourth-round pick in 2019, Ortiz was starting every day at Bowie and appeared to be developing some power. He underwent surgery and is expected to be ready for Spring Training 2022, when he’ll likely still be considered one of the best defenders at any position in the Orioles’ system.

1 big question for next season: When do Rutschman and Rodriguez arrive?
It’ll be the main talking point come spring, after Rutschman finished his sensational year (.899 OPS, 23 homers) at Triple-A and Rodriguez (2.36 ERA, 161 strikeouts in 103 innings) matured to widespread acclaim at Bowie. Does he need work at Triple-A? Does Rutschman, who turns 24 in February? So much of the Orioles’ future is wrapped up in their super-prospect battery. When does it become their present?

“Both players had spectacular years,” Elias said. “They're two of the better Minor League talents in the entire sport. We're very excited about them. They're on schedule despite losing a full season with the pandemic. Grayson has not pitched in Triple-A yet. I don't think it's 100 percent necessary to pitch in Triple-A. So it doesn't preclude anything, but you know, that's gonna be a consideration. And Adley spent a short amount of time there as well, and played really well there. So we're going to consider all factors.”