Some time next week, the Orioles will likely welcome their minor league award winners to Camden Yards to be feted for their standout seasons on the farm.

There will be plenty of candidates.

Many past winners — such as Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez, Mike Baumann and Jordan Westburg— are currently helping the Orioles fight for their first division title in nearly a decade, and whomever is chosen next week likely won’t be too far behind.

In lieu of projecting a handful of individual award winners, with the rolling end of the minor league season — Triple-A Norfolk will play into next week as it fights for an International League championship — we picked a full all-star team based on the best performances on the Orioles’ farm.

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Players were eligible at their primary positions, with a little leeway at designated hitter. There was no distinguishing starting pitchers and relievers, either; it felt more appropriate just to recognize the top performers no matter how they were used.

Catcher: Samuel Basallo

.953 OPS, 20 HR, 12.6% BB, 19.5% K at Low-A Delmarva, High-A Aberdeen and Double-A Bowie

What matters: Before Jackson Chourio — baseball’s No. 2 overall prospect behind Jackson Holliday — accomplished it last season, the last player to hit at least 20 home runs at Class-A or above in his age-18 season was Padres star Fernando Tatis Jr. in 2016. Basallo’s production for his age is almost peerless.

Further reading: Samuel Basallo’s ‘special’ climb through the Orioles’ system gives the team another impact prospect

First base: Lewin Diaz

.815 OPS, 17 HR 12.6% BB, 19.7% K at Triple-A Norfolk

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What matters: Ryan O’Hearn got the chance to go up to the majors, and then Josh Lester did. Diaz toiled in Triple-A all year and improved his on-base percentage significantly — up to .365 from .323 and .327 in his previous two Triple-A seasons with the Marlins — which could help his chances of securing work next year, be it in the Orioles’ organization or elsewhere.

Second base: Connor Norby

.832 OPS, 20 HR, 8.6% BB, 22% K at Norfolk

What matters: Norby is ending his season in spectacular fashion, with grand slams in back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday. He’s steadily gotten better at Triple-A over the year as he’s adjusted and, even if he’s not matched last year’s system-leading 29 home runs, is showing he might be ready for the next challenge.

Aberdeen IronBirds shortstop Jackson Holliday (11) runs to home plate, scoring a run in a game against the Hudson Valley Renegades at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium on Tuesday, May 9. This game against the Renegades was Holliday’s home debut for the IronBirds.
Jackson Holliday has looked like he belongs at every level at just 19 years old. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Shortstop: Jackson Holliday

.942 OPS, 11 HR, 17.1% BB, 20% K at all four affiliates

What matters: Besides a 19-year-old reaching Triple-A in his first full season? How about a 19-year-old taking a week to adjust to the level and then looking like he’s been there all year. Holliday had a .613 OPS in his first six games for Norfolk, and a .906 OPS with a home run and more walks (six) than strikeouts (five) in his next seven.

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Further reading: Orioles’ top prospect Jackson Holliday’s ‘unheard of’ season is far from over. Where might it end?

Third base: Coby Mayo

.967 OPS, 28 HR, 15% BB, 23.9% K at Bowie and Norfolk

What matters: What an insane season that, somehow, isn’t getting enough credit. He’s the only player 21 or younger with an OPS over .950 in the high minors anywhere in the game. By comparison, Gunnar Henderson had a .947 OPS between Bowie and Norfolk last year, with similar strikeout and walk rates. Henderson got promoted to the majors because the Orioles had a need. If a need arose this year, Mayo would have been more than deserving.

Further reading: Inside the meeting that transformed Orioles prospect Coby Mayo into the minors’ hottest power hitter.

Left field: John Rhodes

.744 OPS, 17 HR, 11.3% BB, 26.3% K at Bowie and Norfolk

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What matters: Rhodes was a draft-eligible sophomore when the Orioles took him 76th overall in 2021, meaning his actual peers in terms of age were the 2022 draftees who joined him late in the season at Bowie. Rhodes showed better in-game power this year and made himself a sleeper breakout candidate for 2024 as he builds off that success in the offseason.

Orioles outfielder Colton Cowser swings for the ball during the second game of their series against the Yankees at Camden Yards on July 29, 2023.
Center fielder Colton Cowser hit 17 home runs with a .957 OPS at Norfolk, and he made a cameo with the Orioles. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

Center field : Colton Cowser

.957 OPS, 17 HR, 16.4% BB, 26.1% K at Norfolk

What matters: Cowser spent most of this year in Triple-A, improving in plenty of facets on his way to making his major league debut, and was squeezed out after a tough start to his major league career. The good news is nothing outside that cameo in the majors would put either the Orioles or other teams off the idea that Cowser can be a fixture in a major league lineup for the foreseeable future.

Further reading: Colton Cowser is in the bigs, but he’s not going to change his quirky ways

Right field: Heston Kjerstad

.904 OPS, 21 HR, 7.7% BB, 18.4% K between Bowie and Norfolk

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What matters: We’ve seen what matters with Kjerstad in the majors over the last week, and it’s what he showed in the minors all summer. He can drive the ball out of the park to all fields and isn’t going to have the most attractive set of swing decisions, but he simply needs to attack the pitches he can drive and make good contact. So far, he has.

Further reading: Heston Kjerstad shows his power, joining Orioles’ homer parade in 9-5 win over the Astros

Designated hitter: Dylan Beavers

.850 OPS, 11 HR, 13.3% BB, 22.1% K at Aberdeen and Bowie

What matters: The swing changes have worked. Even with a six-week stretch in May when he had a .569 OPS, Beavers was a South Atlantic League all-star for Aberdeen, and he had a .971 OPS from the moment he broke out of that slump to the end of the season in Bowie. That’s a reflection of the upside here.

Further reading: Swing School: How Orioles prospect Dylan Beavers’ year of adjustments helped get his season back on track

Pitcher: Chayce McDermott

119 IP, 3.10 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 1.151 WHIP at Bowie and Norfolk

What matters: McDermott came from the Astros in the Trey Mancini trade with a reputation for having great stuff but not commanding it as well as you’d want. He reduced his walk rate from 5.6 per nine innings in 2022 to 5.1 per nine in 2023, with only 4.3 walks per nine after his promotion to Triple-A. That type of improvement could help McDermott remain a rotation candidate long term.

Further reading: Arms on the Farm: Breaking down Orioles pitching prospect Chayce McDermott

Pitcher: Alex Pham

112 IP, 2.57 ERA, 10.4 K/9, 1.018 WHIP at Aberdeen and Bowie

What matters: A converted reliever who was one of the best breakout stories on the Orioles’ farm this year, Pham used a low-90s fastball and elaborate pitch mix to move two levels and impress at every stop. Orioles pitching coaches love his work ethic and application, which made him one of the best starters in the system.

Further reading: Arms on the Farm: Highlighting the Orioles’ breakout pitchers at Aberdeen

Trace Bright's 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings is his standout statistic. (Kadalena Messiano/Aberdeen IronBirds)

Pitcher: Trace Bright

99 2/3 IP, 3.97 ERA, 13.3 K/9, 1.314 WHIP at Aberdeen and Bowie

What matters: That strikeout rate, mostly. Bright’s results steadily improved as the season went on at Aberdeen, and he made a great impression in his cameo at Bowie. He struck out 33.9% of batters faced while expanding his pitch mix and learning how to better utilize his weapons, having primarily focused on his fastball and curveball in college.

Further reading: Arms on the Farm: Breaking down Orioles pitching prospect Trace Bright

Pitcher: Cade Povich

121 2/3 IP, 4.96 ERA, 12.2 K/9, 1.356 WHIP at Bowie and Norfolk

What matters: Povich wasn’t far behind Bright in terms of strikeout rate, fanning 31.3% of hitters faced, though the results weren’t always there. Based on expected stats, Povich was much better this year. His FIP, which replicates ERA based on what a pitcher can control (walks, strikeouts and home runs) was 4.23, and his xFIP, which uses the league-average home run rate instead of an actual one, was 3.66. Those gulfs portend better from Povich going forward.

Further reading: The Orioles have always had faith in Cade Povich, and he’s delivering on it

Pitcher: Luis De Leon

53 2/3 IP, 2.01 ERA, 11.2 K/9, 1.304 WHIP at the Florida Complex League and Delmarva

What matters: De Leon started in the Florida Complex League, moved to Delmarva and turned heads at both stops. He boasts a mid-90s fastball from the left side and, in one scout’s estimation, the makings of an above-average changeup and slider. The same way Basallo has been the first breakout international star on the hitting side, De Leon might be on the mound. His 21.4% swinging strike rate is jaw-dropping.

Pitcher: Justin Armbruester

120 IP, 3.38 ERA, 8 K/9, 1.28 WHIP at Bowie and Norfolk

What matters: Armbruester was a candidate to be the Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year last season, and he followed with another impressive campaign. His strikeout rate spiked when he reached Triple-A , and while the rest of his numbers suffered, that’s where the Orioles tend to focus.

Further reading: Arms on the Farm: What do the Orioles really have in prospect Justin Armbruester?

Pitcher – Keegan Gillies

40 2/3 IP, 2.43 ERA, 13.5 K/9, 0.811 WHIP at Aberdeen and Bowie

What matters: It’s a tough life for a true reliever in the Orioles’ system, given they have so many bulk pitchers. Someone like Gillies might get into only one or two games a week, but he made his appearances count with a mid-90s fastball and an attack mindset that helped him strike out 38.9% of batters faced.

Pitcher – Dylan Heid

45 1/3 IP, 2.58 ERA, 13.5 K/9, 1.103 WHIP at Aberdeen and Bowie

What matters: Like Gillies, Heid pitched mostly in short relief and was a prolific strikeout pitcher, striking out 36.4% of batters faced. He did it without much fanfare, but his promotion to Bowie at the end of the season showed the Orioles were paying attention.

jon.meoli@thebaltimorebanner.com

Jon Meoli is the Baltimore Banner's Orioles columnist and head women's ice hockey coach at Loyola University Maryland. 

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