Will 2023 be the summer of Gunnar?

January 27th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Adley Rutschman soaked in the atmosphere at Camden Yards for the first time. DL Hall stepped onto the mound at Tropicana Field for his first big league start. Gunnar Henderson lost his helmet and showcased his long head of hair as he belted his first MLB home run at Progressive Field.

The Orioles' 2022 season was filled with memorable debuts. Because the club's farm system is still loaded with talent, plenty more will occur in '23 ... and '24 and likely '25.

MLB Pipeline released its updated Top 100 Prospects list for the start of the 2023 season on Thursday night, and Baltimore has eight representatives, the most of any team. That group includes Henderson and Hall, but the other six have yet to get even a taste of MLB.

When can O’s fans expect to see these youngsters in the bigs? Let’s break down the projected timelines for the team’s top prospects.

Locks for 2023: Gunnar Henderson (No. 1), Grayson Rodriguez (No. 7), DL Hall (No. 97)
Henderson will make the Orioles’ Opening Day roster and should be the starting third baseman. The 21-year-old is the front-runner to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2023, as he impressed during a 34-game stint with Baltimore at the end of ‘22.

Rodriguez would have made his big league debut last year, but he missed three months due to a right lat strain and ran out of time to get to the Majors. The 23-year-old right-hander will pitch for the O’s this year, and he has a strong chance of leaving Spring Training as one of the team’s five starters to open the season.

Hall reached the big leagues for the first time in 2022, posting a 5.93 ERA over 11 games (one start). The 24-year-old lefty will battle for a rotation spot in camp, but it’s more likely he’ll open ‘23 either in Baltimore’s bullpen or Triple-A Norfolk’s rotation. He’ll surely pitch for the Orioles again at some point this year, though.

Probably in 2023: Colton Cowser (No. 40), Jordan Westburg (No. 74)
It’s unlikely Cowser will immediately break into the O’s crowded outfield picture (Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Kyle Stowers, Ryan McKenna) to open ‘23. Same with Westburg in a busy infield mix (Ryan Mountcastle, Adam Frazier, Jorge Mateo, Henderson, Ramón Urías, Terrin Vavra).

But it may take only one injury for Cowser or Westburg to get the call to the bigs, as they should be at the front of the line for promotions. If that happens in the spring, either could land an Opening Day roster spot.

Cowser, 22, posted an .874 OPS in 138 games across the top three Minor League levels last year. The 23-year-old Westburg was named the 2022 Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year by the Orioles.

Possibly not until late 2023 or ‘24: Heston Kjerstad (No. 80), Joey Ortiz (No. 99)
Of Baltimore’s eight players on the Top 100 Prospects list, these two were the only ones not already ranked at the end of 2022. Neither is a favorite to make the team out of camp, but either could force his way into the big league picture in ‘23 -- just as they did with the Top 100 list. They may at least get small tastes of the Majors when rosters expand in September.

Kjerstad, 23, posted an .851 OPS in 65 Minor League games last season (his first in the pros after missing all of ‘21 due to myocarditis) and then was named Arizona Fall League MVP. Ortiz, 24, recorded an impressive .346/.400/.567 slash line over his first 26 games at the Triple-A level and is a plus defender.

2025 or later: Jackson Holliday (No. 12)
Holliday, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, is 19 and has only 20 games of pro experience. The son of former All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday is super talented, but he’s nowhere close to the Majors yet and should spend the next two full seasons in the Minors.

Don’t be surprised, though, if Holliday becomes the No. 1 prospect in baseball at some point.