Rebuild Rolling Along

The early returns are in and things are looking up throughout the Orioles minor league system. While the big league club is showing their ceiling, it looks like the levels below them are demonstrating limitless potential. Double plays made and plate appearances in which batters see a lot of pitches are certainly a welcome change, but the pitching has been in some ways absolutely off the charts.

D.L. Hall controlled the zone in start number one and he didn’t have his best stuff. Grayson Rodriguez had five Ks in four innings in his debut for Aberdeen. Both Kyles (Brnovich and Bradish) along with Zach Peek showed well as returns for Dylan Bundy in their first time through lineups. Lefty Nick Vespi came out of the pen firing strikeouts in relief. It’s easy to view this as a great early sign for O’s fans eager to see these guys meet their potential.

At this stage of the rebuild, and after a long layoff, it’s crucial to ensure players are at the right level for them to excel and it seems like every Ironbird is in need of a trip up to Bowie! On Saturday night, which was Blaine Knight’s first start, the four pitchers in the game collaborated on a shutout and allowed just six base runners. Connor Gillespie, Luis Perez and finally Easton Lucas took the Birds to 4-0.

There have been so many great signs in the first few days, and players are showing their fit on particular rosters. Adam Stauffer is another example. The tall righty had five Ks and no walks in relief of Shane Davis. Ofelky Perez was showing great movement above the zone.

Pedigree picks like Zach Watson, Drew Rom, Joey Ortiz and especially Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman have provided glimpses of how things can look when their games get going. Adley has shown quick feet and solid lateral movement, controlling pitches that could get away. He’s also, interestingly, played a bit of first base. I like the team prioritizing his bat, but his eye at the plate and comfort in the box, spitting on pitches, are excellent signs.

Another catcher off to a nice start is Jordan Cannon. A pair of homers is in line with his slugging profile, but he’s been agile behind the dish and quick to pop up and communicate. I liked the battery of him with several of the Shorebirds arms, especially Stauffer. Gunnar’s first and later second home run went opposite field and fans are getting to see his skills in person. He can field, make the throws, and he can steal bases too. What a show. He’s mixed in smoothly with Jordan Westburg and neither seem crowded by the other guy being next to him. Lots and lots of supremely skilled infielders is not a bad problem to have.

Players acquired in deadline deals are playing in O’s colors and one who stands out to me is Terrin Vavra. Not a shred of nervous in him as he strides into the front of the batter’s box where he shows balance throughout a short stride. He’s never played above A ball but looks just fine at Bowie.

There’s no way to look at an organizational shift in pitch viewing and not mention Anthony Servideo. Eleven walks in his first 15 AB shows an obvious skill in strike zone recognition. His bat has yet to get started in a big way, but the eye is a vital foundational skill and he has shown better than good range and quickness in the infield.

The good start doesn’t include players yet to be added to rosters who are still at extended spring training.  Also, there have been international players arriving stateside so they’ll play a part in the season as well. There is so much positive baseball momentum. Solid fundamental play is just all over the place. The coaches and game planners who’ve had the year off have stayed ready and there’s still room for improvement. Handfuls of players have missed early opportunities but the overall improvement has certainly justified the rise in the system’s rankings. Yusniel Diaz hasn’t looked great at the plate, but he demolished a random mistake from out of the strike zone to out of the Earth’s atmosphere this weekend so maybe he and the Tides can start to reflect some of the talent they have. There are many more names who have started well however and the season has barely begun. Oriole fans have a whole summer to watch their Birdland dynasty be built.

Cedric Mullins mashing makes the O’s games worth watching and Austin Hays has an arm one shouldn’t run on, but you can see the future coming quickly from the farm on MiLB any game you choose and there’s no longer a need to squint. Seeing several players from the system break through and reach a big league diamond represents prideful milestones reached. Zach Lowther, Isaac Mattson, Jay Flaa and others now get to do their learning in the majors with Dean Kremer. Others like Bruce Zimmermann will get seasoning at a pair of levels. There will be many more to cross that threshold into Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Their top arm is by every measure a legitimate ace on the ascension so the Orioles provide storylines even when their hustle doesn’t earn W’s.

There are two leagues yet to get started this season in addition to the ones playing currently. The former Gulf Coast League and Dominican Summer League both kick off in a matter of weeks. The organization’s strong start portends success at those lower levels in 2021 and beyond where the Orioles feeder system can expect to collect and mold some elite amateur talent.

In lots of ways the future is bright Orange. But in 2021 the door is already being knocked on just one week into the minor league season.

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