Early Returns are In – This is Fun!

The minor league teams are off and running in Birdland and it’s clear that the changes implemented with the arrival of Mike Elias, Sig Mejdal and a cast of new scouts, instructors and trainers is working out quite well. Pre-quarantine, both Bowie and Delmarva won half of their respective leagues and the rookie league team in the Gulf Coast League took that title to show things may be looking better a bit sooner than expected.

Still, it’s gotten better. The way the farm teams are playing here in 2021 through a pair of series is both thrilling and significant. As Oriole fans, we needed to see some proof that great things are in the future and after an exciting weekend, this particular pessimist is just now convinced.

A four-hour plus victory on Sunday for Bowie over the Reading Phillies was good enough, but the way it happened was a celebration all the way through. Starter DL Hall was electric to begin the game, but a small strike zone and a few close calls went against him and his day ended early. As a young pitcher there will be plenty of times that his stuff makes all the difference, but on days it doesn’t, learning that his team has his back is a crucial lesson. He shouldn’t doubt that they do after Sunday’s win.

The game went on after Hall’s exit, and thanks to some poor Reading pitching and a couple keystone moments, the Baysox ended up winning in their final at-bat by a score of 13-12.

Adley Rutschman has started making strides, and walking can help the counting stats but the blast off his own video board face out in right field was the homer that gave his team a fighting chance. Showing off his elite contact skills and that high level pop on one swing he recharged his dugout, prepping them for the comeback.

Capping it all off was JC Escarra, another guy who’s OK with walking his way to first. This time he got a flat heater right in his kitchen and drove it deep to the right field wall, emptying the bases and initiating a celebration that made it very tough to sleep even hours later. His teammates charged him like defenders trying to sack a quarterback before the coaching staff continued their celebratory assault in short center. You as an Oriole fan need to watch every day for moments like these.

There really has been so much good baseball stuff squeezed into these short weeks that it’s hard to focus on one aspect or player. Guess what? That’s the whole idea!

When Hall is down, or out, there’s Terrin Vavra to start a rally. Or Escarra to finish one off. Picking up your teammates and making plays all over the place are what we need to get used to watching these four teams plus the ones whose games start in June. The minors are where this rebuild is happening, and it’s accelerating. The bandwagon is taking applications and everyone is accepted so subscribe to milb.tv and enjoy everyday of this Orioles minor league season.

Something I’ve noticed about rising infielder Gunnar Henderson are his baseball intangibles. A reminder here that he’s only 19. Against Fredericksburg, Gunnar was situated at first after a walk and the next batter grounded into what looked like an easy double play. Gunnar wasn’t going to let it happen, and he slid through the defender cleanly and prevented any outs at all. I smiled and thought “wow, that’s pretty advanced.” Another item that stood out was how he usually takes a long at bat and sees a pitch or two before getting started, kind of thinking the strike zone through while seeing it.

A situation happened in the Frederick Nats series where he came up with a runner on 3rd and less than two outs. Not working the count at all, he drove a sac fly deep for a run on the first pitch. Even later he battled through a lengthy AB against righty Jordan Bocko fouling off close pitch after close pitch to the tune of 12 total offerings. After his 7th foul, he took the next pitch, which walked in a run. How can you not like that? Showing off the makeup and intelligence on the field that made him a high school draftee is one thing, but putting those qualities towards winning baseball is what makes me think that one day he and the Oriole farmhands going to do it to the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Rays.

Is it too early to dream? Maybe it is. The foundation for sustained success is finally clear and evident so believe in a future where Baltimore’s homegrown talent is fortifying a strong roster for years to come.
The minor league season is 120 games long plus the postseason. Enjoy all the teams and players who have begun to raise our expectations and the ones who are weeks from getting started like Coby Mayo and Elio Prado among many other talented names.

O’s fans…we can have faith again, and nothing feels better than that on a Monday with no Tides, Ironbirds, Baysox or Shorebirds games scheduled.

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