Just like afternoon tee times and off days on a boat, the prospect B game is part of the fabric of spring training. Teams will often schedule separate games for their depth or younger players to get extra work, and MLB co-opting the concept for its Spring Breakout series — which began Thursday with the Orioles showcasing the game’s top farm system against the Pirates’ prospects — is just a formalization of that.

It made me think of the last one I saw, which featured no branding but perhaps even more potential — March 7, 2021, at Pittsburgh’s Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Florida. Prospects from the Orioles and Pirates played five innings on a warm Sunday morning, a diversion from a strange, pandemic-influenced spring training.

You’ll know some of the names from that day’s Orioles lineup — Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg among them. When the Orioles ultimately won, someone with the club remarked to me that they’d just won the battle of the rebuilds.

Evidence has certainly shown as much to be true, and the sheer volume of talent the Orioles still boast — as shown Thursday night — speaks to the hard part: sustaining it. The group on display Thursday shows that may not be too tough.

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That was obviously the hope in 2021, when the Orioles were entering their third season under Executive Vice President Mike Elias and, because of the pandemic, didn’t have a 2020 minor league season for his first two draft classes to show its worth. They’ve proven to be stellar already, with Rutschman and Henderson — the top two picks in 2019 — among the game’s stars. The top two picks in 2021, Heston Kjerstad and Westburg, also reached the majors to begin what should be promising careers, though Kjerstad’s heart condition kept him out of that prospect game in 2021.

The rest were part of a group known as camp reserves in 2021 who were based at Twin Lakes Park — the Orioles’ minor league facility — due to space restrictions. They were theoretically part of major league camp, and appeared in Grapefruit League games, but largely worked separately for health and safety reasons. There were promising players outside that headlining group, but many more were high-minors depth players.

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That’s a bit how it was back then. There were only a handful of young prospects, such as Rutschman and Henderson, at the team’s alternate site in Bowie during the 2020 season. Westburg joined the mix as a camp reserve for 2021, but logistical and roster considerations meant the full scope of what the Orioles were building at that point wasn’t yet on display.

Truthfully, it wasn’t even possible to understand what was happening. Rutschman’s star power was clear, but Henderson was just 19 without any affiliated baseball experience. I’d heard about how large the strides he made against older players at the alternate site were but didn’t know for sure. Similarly, Westburg was among the more talked-about players out of the team’s fall instructional league in 2020. Few expected him to climb as fast as he did.

Two 2019 draftees who would ultimately become top-10 prospects in Kyle Stowers and Joey Ortiz hadn’t yet demonstrated the pandemic strength gains that would lead to minor league power surges. Kjerstad hadn’t swung a bat as a pro, and Coby Mayo was waiting for his professional debut.

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Now, so many of those players have made their marks on the Orioles or are about to, and there’s a whole new batch of prospects behind them. Those were the ones on display Thursday, mostly the products of 2021 and 2022 drafts that have the potential to be just as impactful as the previous two.

The Orioles have a young core on the major league roster that’s the envy of most teams around the league, and with Jackson Holliday, Samuel Basallo and Mayo atop their prospect lists, arguably the brightest future crop of talent of any team as well.

Six of the players in their lineup for the traditional Grapefruit League game were onetime top-10 prospects in the organization — Rutschman, Henderson, Stowers, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander. Five from the Spring Breakout starting lineup are as well, according to Baseball America — Enrique Bradfield Jr., Holliday, Connor Norby, Mayo and Basallo. There’s leaguewide top-100 pedigree in both lineups as well.

Two years into this project, with a pandemic interrupting the progress, not even the most optimistic Orioles employee or fan could have envisioned this much talent growing in the organization. It’s been a lot of fun, and yet it’s not about winning a prospect showcase game or simply having that talent anymore.

The Orioles’ goals are far larger now. Thursday was a glimpse of the next wave of players who can help get them there.

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

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