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Perhaps the next time Heston Kjerstad and Coby Mayo share a field will be in Baltimore, where their slugging should supplement the Orioles’ playoff push later this summer. If so, Kjerstad’s recent assessment of Mayo may help explain why.

The pair have spent much of the last two years hitting together, both breaking out at Double-A Bowie early last season and spending a majority of the time since mashing at Triple-A Norfolk (though Kjerstad was recalled Monday and had two hits in a loss to the Guardians).

Kjerstad told me Mayo, the Orioles’ No. 3 prospect and one of the most promising young sluggers in all of baseball, is playing at a “really high level” right now.

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And Kjerstad is most impressed by a trait he knows well: that Mayo keeps adding more power, and is showing it to all fields.

“I think sometimes he kind of presses a little bit because he wants to play better and at the level he plays at, it’s kind of tough to perform at a higher level than what he is because he’s already one of the top guys down there,” Kjerstad said. “Overall, each year, he keeps getting better. You think you saw as much power as he could hit for last year, and this year, he comes back and it’s even more power than he had last year. It’s awesome.”

Mayo, a 2020 fourth-round draft pick who hit 31 home runs with a .996 OPS between Bowie and Norfolk a season ago, is similarly overwhelming Triple-A pitching this season. He missed some time with a broken rib after running into the dugout in pursuit of a foul ball, but has a .972 OPS and 14 home runs for the Tides. And in so many key metrics, the 22-year-old slugger is showing progress against higher-level pitching this year.

He’s increased his 90th-percentile exit velocity from 107.1 mph to 107.5 mph this season, and both his actual slugging percentage and expected slugging percentage (.604 and .539, respectively) are up from his time in Norfolk a season ago (.548 and .409). Mayo continues to crush fastballs and punish any pitch he can turn on, but his progress covering the outer third of the plate and using the whole field is bringing his production to another level.

He’s hitting the ball far harder to the opposite field at Triple-A this year (88.4 mph, on average, versus 84.3 mph)’ and his expected stats on balls in play the other way are higher across the board.

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“When he’s going the other way and hammering that right-center gap and everything like that, his pull-side is even better, too,” Kjerstad said.

That progress has made for a player who is getting to that familiar place for high-performing Orioles prospects: worthy of a call-up but waiting for one. His 409 plate appearances at Triple-A mean he’s accumulated more there than Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Colton Cowser, Kjerstad, and Jackson Holliday had before their debuts but fewer than Jordan Westburg, Connor Norby and Kyle Stowers.

Kjerstad noted Mayo’s improvement at third base, and as impressive as the offensive output is, the fact that a teammate feels compelled to praise it speaks to how deeply rooted the discourse is about where Mayo will ultimately play the field. To view it myopically from an Orioles-only lens, I never found it super relevant, since there are not many infield alignments of current or future Orioles that would have him as a first-choice third baseman. He’ll see most of his time at first and as designated hitter; the ability to be at least serviceable at third would be a welcome development.

There are many lineup configurations that will really value his power from the right side. Westburg is providing more slug than expected from that side of the plate, and Rutschman continues to improve against lefties. Switch-hitting free-agent-to-be Anthony Santander likely won’t be here for long, Austin Hays is also nearing the end of his club control, and that basically leaves Ryan Mountcastle as the team’s preeminent right-handed power hitter at the moment.

Near-term, there may be some redundancies there. But beyond Mayo, there’s no one who has the offensive profile from the right side in the Orioles’ system. That’s why I view Mayo as a core piece for the Orioles’ future more than a July trade chip. And the more he keeps improving, the more strongly held that belief will be.

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Ballpark chatter

“You don’t want to say a ticking time bomb, but you knew he had a tear in there. It was a matter of how long he’d get before this happened.”

– Danny Coulombe, speaking on Foul Territory, on Kyle Bradish’s elbow injury

I don’t think there’s anything groundbreaking here, but I just want to credit Danny Coulombe for using plain English to describe something that feels like it’s been lost here. Bradish’s UCL sprain in January was a tear.

Mike Elias said last week that surgery wasn’t a serious consideration at that point. Bradish proved he was incredibly tough and motivated in pitching through it, but I have a hard time believing the Orioles weren’t planning for this from the moment he called to tell them his elbow hurt this winter. And that’s why I find it strange that anyone thinks losing him to this month’s re-aggravation would add any more motivation for the front office to bolster the rotation before or at the trade deadline. They already made their corresponding move. It was acquiring Corbin Burnes.

The Talent Pipeline

Years of investment in international scouting has delivered a promising group of prospects to Low-A Delmarva, where some well-regarded names from several classes are getting a taste of full-season ball and enjoying success. One is infielder Aron Estrada, a switch-hitting, 19-year-old infielder signed in January 2022 out of Venezuela who earned Carolina League player-of-the-week honors Monday.

He hit two home runs with a 1.214 OPS last week for the Shorebirds, and is one of the hottest hitters in the organization at the moment. Estrada had a .415 OPS in April, but has a .932 OPS since May 1 to give him a .779 season OPS.

By the numbers


Recently, I noticed just how gaudy Adley Rutschman’s stats were on four-seam fastballs, and at the risk of seeming like someone who goes looking for negatives — which I am not — I wondered how he was faring on all other pitches. The answer was a respectable .247 average with a .711 OPS. That’s not the absolutely elite .337 average with a 1.020 OPS he has on four-seamers, but is certainly good enough that teams can’t just feed him non-fastballs. If they’re in the zone, he’ll hit them, too.

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For further reading

🎟️ Take me out to the ball game: I am glad the enthusiasm for this Orioles team is translating to fans in the seats. I pay for baseball tickets when I go to games with my family and understand how much the outing can cost, so it shows the product is worth it. The last attendance story I wrote was mere days after fans were allowed back into Camden Yards in 2021 as pandemic restrictions eased. Capacity went from zero to low, fans came back slowly, and it was an absolute nightmare of a story. I have no idea why I even wrote it. Anyway, it won an award.

🤾‍♂️ The Orioles best pitching prospect: This was a nice look at Cade Povich’s path to Baltimore. I remember when he was first acquired and I recoiled at a tweet I saw about a lefty who throws 89-91 mph, as similar pitchers had very, very little success with the Orioles in the majors in recent years. I was not interested in another, and I still am not. Povich developing physically and averaging 92.1 mph on his fastball seems like a continuation of his story, and has obviously elevated him above that prior group.

😍 The O’s have a type? The meme of Rutschman, Henderson, Holliday and Kjerstad all looking relatively similar took story form last week. I had a mediocre parent moment and read this during my daughter’s bath last week, and laughed out loud at the part where Povich looks like Colton Hyde. I definitely see that one.