Orioles minor league report: Gunnar Henderson’s strong season continues; good starts for Grayson Rodriguez, Alexander Wells

·8 min read

Before long, a new crop of draft picks will flood the Orioles system and make for a dizzying time trying to sort out all the names to know and top performers across their farm system.

Baseball America reported that the new Florida Complex League, where the Orioles will have two teams, will begin June 28, and the mid-July draft will supplement those rosters with more top talent in addition to those training down in Sarasota preparing for the start of that season.

If what’s happened so far on the Orioles’ farm is any indication, there will be plenty worth paying attention to. This past week featured another mix of holdover talent from the old regime and top prospects selected by the new front office under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias among the best of their minor leaguers.

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down five of the top performers in the Orioles’ prospect ranks and hand out some superlatives for those who didn’t make that cut.

1. Low-A Delmarva shortstop Gunnar Henderson

After a bit of an absence from this space for the past few weeks, Henderson was back in top form last week with eight hits, including two doubles and a triple, in 20 at-bats for Low-A Delmarva. The most recent of his eight home runs was eight games ago now, but Henderson, one of the breakout prospects on the Orioles farm this year, is still batting .328 with a 1.002 OPS.

As impressive as his power production has been, so too has been his consistency. Henderson’s all-fields approach is helping him handle whatever he’s thrown. He has hits in 21 of 30 games this year, and among players age 20 or younger in full-season ball, his 1.002 OPS is third-highest out of 107 players.

Henderson, still two weeks from his 20th birthday, is having one of the most impressive seasons of any teenage minor leaguer in the game right now.

2. Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Alexander Wells

It’s been better at Triple-A Norfolk of late for both Wells and fellow lefty Zac Lowther, but Wells hasn’t had his time with the Tides interrupted by any pesky major league appearances, so he’ll be featured here.

After allowing just a solo home run among three hits with five strikeouts in five innings this past week against Jacksonville, Wells hasn’t walked a batter in two June starts and has 10 strikeouts in nine innings over two appearances this month. He ended May with a 9.88 ERA and a 2.20 WHIP — both very unlike him — but it seems he’s starting to settle into the higher level of competition.

Like Lowther, Wells is due to get an extended look in the big leagues this year considering where he is in his development and the fact that he’s on the roster. It will be fascinating to see whether a finesse pitcher with fly-ball tendencies can make it work in Camden Yards, though it must be noted Wells has made it work everywhere he’s been so far.

3. Double-A Bowie right-hander Grayson Rodriguez

Baseball America’s top pitching prospect in all of baseball made his second start for Double-A Bowie during the past week and gave the Baysox five innings of shutout ball, allowing two hits and walking two with six strikeouts.

Rodriguez has a 1.35 ERA with 54 strikeouts and a 0.78 WHIP in 33 ⅓ innings over two levels this year, and no matter how it’s sliced, he’s having one of the best seasons of any pitcher in the minors.

He’s in the top 10 among qualifiers in WHIP, strikeout rate (14.58 per nine) and ERA, while his swinging strike rate of 23.1% is the highest among any minor leaguer, according to FanGraphs.

4. High-A Aberdeen outfielder Kyle Stowers

Stowers played only three games for High-A Aberdeen during the past week, but homered in each of them. He added a double Saturday for his fourth hit in 14 at-bats in that stretch, though he also struck out six times.

That combination of power and swing-and-miss has been there since the Orioles took Stowers 71st overall in the 2019 MLB draft, and after the latter overtook the former in his pro debut, it’s been a little steadier this year.

5. Low-A Delmarva infielder Darell Hernaiz

A fifth-round shortstop in 2019, Hernaiz was bumped by some of the recent trades out of the Orioles’ top 30, but he’s certainly one to watch. Hernaiz didn’t get on base the first two games of the season, then started what’s now a 26-game on-base streak.

He went 7-for-17 with a double and just two strikeouts with four steals in five games for Delmarva during the past week, raising his average to .296.

That double was just his fourth extra-base hit of the season, but Hernaiz is still young at age 19 and showed plenty of raw power in the draft process to help the Orioles think there’s still some to come. He might not come along as quickly as Henderson, but there’s plenty to dream on here.

The top prospect not featured so far

It speaks to the standards that Adley Rutschman has set for himself that another week with two home runs while going 8-for-27 doesn’t really rate anymore. It should, though. He’s been a constant in the Bowie lineup and is batting .294 with a .999 OPS while helping shepherd a pitching staff full of top prospects.

Working with this group of pitchers might be what keeps Rutschman in Bowie for a while, along with the fact that if he hits like this in Norfolk as well, there won’t really be anything to quiet the calls that he should already be in the big leagues.

Mike Elias acquisition of the week

Tyler Nevin collected his first big league hit as an injury replacement in a two-game cameo late last month, and he’s hitting like someone who wants to go back to the majors since returning to Norfolk.

Nevin had a home run and a double while going 7-for-18 with four walks during the past week for the Tides, and is batting .387 with a 1.000 OPS after rejoining Norfolk at the beginning of June. Nevin, still just 24, has a crowded path to get to the big leagues as a corner bat. Stretches like this will make him harder to ignore.

The best former top-30 prospect of the week

After Cadyn Grenier struggled in the first year-plus of his professional career, the 37th pick in the 2018 MLB draft is on the run of his life at Bowie.

He was batting .154 with a .423 OPS on May 26 before home runs in three straight games started a stretch during which Grenier has hit .466 with 10 extra-base hits and 1.282 OPS in his past 15 games. During the past week, he went 11-for-23 with three steals. The former No. 19 prospect in the Orioles system has a lot more competition on the infield than he used to, but he’s making quite a case of late to be back on the radar.

Time to give some shine to …

Depending on what you think of inflated Triple-A stats, small sample sizes in the big leagues, and the Orioles’ cast of second basemen, mileage certainly varied on the reaction to the club’s claiming Domingo Leyba from the Arizona Diamondbacks the first week of June.

He’s certainly showed he’s interested in a chance to play in the big leagues, though. Since reporting to Norfolk and going into the lineup early last week, Leyba has had three multi-hit games out of five and homered in each of those, batting .333 with a 1.216 OPS.

That Leyba has played mostly third base and first base with Jahmai Jones back at Norfolk playing second every day indicates that Jones is the priority. Still, that might not prevent Leyba from being a second base option if things go sour again at that spot in the majors.

Minor moves

Universal Mondays off allow for some roster movement, and the Orioles announced three promotions. Left-hander Kevin Smith, who came over from the New York Mets in August in the Miguel Castro trade, was promoted to Norfolk after striking out 37 with a 1.08 WHIP and a 1.04 ERA in six games for Bowie.

Infielder Greg Cullen was promoted to Bowie and infielder Jean Carmona was promoted to Delmarva from the Florida complex. Additionally, outfielder Yusniel Diaz will rehab in Bowie this week and catcher Nick Ciuffo is coming off the injured list at Norfolk after breaking his hand.