This offseason, the Orioles had Baseball America’s top-ranked farm system for the first time since the publication began ranking them in 1984. In total, eight Baltimore prospects were recognized among the 100 best in baseball.
On Monday, all those youngsters who still have prospect eligibility moved up in Baseball America’s updated rankings, and a slugger who is scorching hot at the plate was added to the list.
The organization’s top prospects — including pitcher Grayson Rodriguez, shortstop Jackson Holliday and outfielder Colton Cowser — all got modest bumps in the rankings. Double-A Bowie outfielder Heston Kjerstad, whose eight home runs are tied for most among all Orioles minor leaguers this season, is ranked No. 98.
One major difference in the current list compared with the one from January is that the Orioles no longer have the No. 1 prospect in baseball. After catcher Adley Rutschman topped the list in 2022, infielder Gunnar Henderson earned No. 1 prospect status earlier this year. But the 21-year-old is a regular in the major leagues and has graduated from prospect status.
Rodriguez, who is also in the majors but hasn’t pitched enough to graduate yet, is now the organization’s top prospect and highest-ranked pitcher on the list, moving up one spot to No. 5. Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Jackson Chourio is the sport’s new top prospect, while St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker, Cincinnati Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz and New York Yankees shortstop Anthony Volpe round out the top four.
The most significant jump for a Baltimore prospect was by the youngest Oriole to appear on the list. Holliday, the 19-year-old shortstop who was selected first overall in the 2022 MLB draft, leaped several prospects on the list, jumping eight spots to No. 7. Despite being one of the youngest players in High-A, Holliday has an .894 OPS in his first two weeks with Aberdeen after dominating at Low-A Delmarva.
Cowser, who is slashing .304/.448/.509 in Triple-A, moved from No. 41 to No. 34. Left-handed pitcher DL Hall jumped eight spots to No. 67 as he continues developing with Norfolk, where he has posted a 3.38 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings this year. The stacked Triple-A infield of Jordan Westburg, Connor Norby and Joey Ortiz all got bumps, now ranking Nos. 68, 81 and 88, respectively.
Kjerstad, who has a whopping 1.044 OPS in Double-A, was mostly left off prospect lists this offseason because of how much time the 2020 No. 2 overall pick missed with heart and hamstring ailments. Now, he rounds out the Orioles’ prospect ranks and keeps Baltimore on top with eight players inside the top 100, more than any other organization.
That deep farm system is why 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. High-A Aberdeen first baseman Maxwell Costes
Maxwell Costes celebrated his promotion last week with a home run party. The Baltimore native was moved from Low-A Delmarva to High-A Aberdeen last week, and it didn’t take him long to show he was ready for the jump. Costes hit three home runs in four games for the IronBirds, blasting two in his second game and then launching a grand slam in his third. The former University of Maryland and Gilman slugger tallied nine RBIs last week, the second most of any player in the Orioles’ minor league system. Costes was signed by the Orioles as an undrafted free agent last summer after a distinguished college career as one of the best hitters in Terps history. The 23-year-old hit .368 in six games with Delmarva to earn his promotion to Aberdeen, where he ended his first week 4-for-13 with three home runs, nine RBIs, two walks and a stolen base for a 1.500 OPS.
2. Double-A Bowie outfielder-second baseman Billy Cook
The only player on the farm to drive in more runs last week than Costes was Cook. The 24-year-old also hit three home runs — his first three of the season — to end the week with a whopping 1.344 OPS, even beating out Kjerstad, who tallied five extra-base hits for a 1.158 OPS. Cook, a 10th-round draft pick in 2021, was hitting .098 entering Wednesday’s game and had just one hit in his past 35 at-bats. But the two-run home run Wednesday propelled the outfielder-second baseman to a five-game hitting streak. Cook went 2-for-4 with a double Thursday, 1-for-4 with two RBIs Friday and compiled five hits, including two homers, with six RBIs over the weekend.
3. Triple-A Norfolk infielder Jordan Westburg
Would it even be a minor league report without including Westburg? The 24-year-old continued his strong start to the season to help lead Norfolk to a 5-1 week and improve the Tides’s record to 24-8. Westburg went 9-for-25 (.360 average) with three home runs, six RBIs and three walks for a 1.189 OPS. He has a .988 OPS in 26 games and ranks top 10 in the International League in several offensive categories. His eight home runs are tied with Kjerstad and Norfolk infielder Josh Lester for most among Baltimore minor leaguers.
4. High-A Aberdeen right-hander Daniel Federman
Federman had one of the best starts of any Orioles farmhand last week, and it was perhaps the best outing of his professional career. The 6-foot-1 right-hander struck out 10 in just four shutout innings Thursday, allowing two hits and two walks. It was Federman’s first time racking up double-digit strikeouts in a game in his three-year professional career, as he sat down 62.5% of the batters he faced. Federman, an undrafted free agent in 2021, has a 3.66 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings this season. In March, he competed in the World Baseball Classic for Team Israel alongside Orioles starting pitcher Dean Kremer.
5. Triple-A Norfolk left-hander Drew Rom
The only Orioles minor leaguer to strike out more batters than Federman in a start last week was Rom. The 23-year-old lefty struck out a career-high 11 of the 22 batters he faced Wednesday, twirling six shutout innings while scattering two hits and three walks. Most of the other pitchers in Norfolk’s rotation have major league experience, but Rom has been the Tides’ best starter this year. The 2018 fourth-round pick has a 4-1 record and a 2.87 ERA — the sixth-best figure in Triple-A — with 32 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings.
The top prospect not featured so far
Holliday’s second week in High-A went just as his first week did. The shortstop went 7-for-20 with a double, two RBIs, five walks and three stolen bases for a .880 OPS. The organization’s top prospect still in the minors also extended his on-base streak to begin the season to 23 completed games. In those 23 contests between Delmarva and Aberdeen, Holliday is slashing .352/.487/.580 with a 1.066 OPS and more walks (23) than strikeouts (22).
International acquisition of the week:
César Prieto struggled in his 90 games in Double-A Bowie last season with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and a .643 OPS. In 25 games this year, Prieto has demonstrated the bat-to-ball skills that earned the Cuban a signing bonus of $650,000 when he signed with the Orioles as an international free agent in January 2022. The infielder continued that last week, going 9-for-23 with two doubles and a home run. Prieto, who turns 24 this week, is hitting .364 with a .896 OPS this season.
Time to give a shout-out to …
Aberdeen pitcher Ryan Long. The 6-foot-6 right-hander has been one of the best pitchers in the Orioles’ system this season with a 2.45 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 18 1/3 innings with 23 strikeouts. Last week, Long continued his success with four innings of long relief Friday, striking out six and allowing three hits. Like Federman, Long also participated in the World Baseball Classic this spring, pitching for Team Great Britain.
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