The fact that Heston Kjerstad is playing at all is noteworthy, given the breadth of injuries that have set back his development. His early production, then, is only more encouraging.
The Orioles’ first-round pick from the 2020 draft made his affiliate debut earlier this month for the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds, taking the field for competitive baseball for the first time in two years. Kjerstad has navigated several health problems, including a heart condition. A hamstring strain suffered early in spring training pushed back his debut more.
But now that the former Arkansas star is on the field, success is quickly following.
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 did not make that cut. And after Kjerstad’s fast start to the season, he leads this week’s report.
1. Low-A Delmarva outfielder Heston Kjerstad
Kjerstad has played only seven games, but that small sample size has been impressive. The outfielder marked his debut with an opposite-field single and an RBI, then had multiple hits in three of his next six outings. Across five games last week, Kjerstad hit .421 with a .981 OPS, doubling twice and walking twice while driving in six runs. To see him playing is one thing. To see him playing well is another altogether.
2. Triple-A Norfolk infielder Rylan Bannon
After the Orioles optioned right-hander Mike Baumann to Triple-A on Monday to reduce the major league roster to the new maximum of 13 pitchers, another position player will be on his way to Baltimore for Tuesday night’s matchup with the Washington Nationals. Bannon, who made his big league debut in St. Louis earlier this season, will fill that role while infielder Ramón Urías remains out with an oblique injury.
Bannon hit three homers in a six-game span last week, leaving him with an OPS of 1,423 in that stretch. He was part of an impressive Norfolk infield that also included Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg, who were moved up from Double-A Bowie earlier this month. Westburg had four extra-base hits last week and Henderson worked five walks around his homer and three doubles.
Double-A Bowie first baseman Andrew Daschbach
Daschbach is hitting just .199 in 52 games, but the 24-year-old turned things around at the plate last week, part of a seven-game hitting streak. An 11th-round selection in the 2019 draft out of Stanford, he hit .350 with a 1,080 OPS last week, adding a home run and seven RBIs to the mix.
4. Double-A Bowie right-hander Chris Vallimont
Vallimont is just 25, but he’s bounced around since he was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 draft by the Miami Marlins. Since then, he was included in a trade that sent him to the Minnesota Twins before the Orioles claimed him off waivers in May. His start to the season has not always been steady, but his two starts last week were impressive; he threw a combined 10 shutout innings with 10 strikeouts compared with just one walk in his second appearance, leading to a promotion Monday to Triple-A.
5. High-A Aberdeen outfielder Colton Cowser
The Orioles have high hopes for Cowser, whom they selected out of Sam Houston with the fifth overall pick of the 2021 draft. Early in his first full season of affiliate play, he has an .805 OPS, and his last week especially stood out. Cowser hit two homers and two doubles and drove in five runs in five games, a stretch that included eight hits overall and a 1,171 OPS. That production included two three-hit games while playing center field.
Top prospect not featured so far
It feels like a matter of time before left-hander DL Hall, coming off a career-high 11 strikeouts Thursday on 89 pitches, receives his promotion to the Orioles. That pitch count, his highest of the year, was more than left-hander Bruce Zimmermann had in any start this season for Baltimore.
But those 89 pitches came in just 4 1/3 innings, displaying a lack of efficiency attributable to the fact that Hall does not pitch to contact. With as many swings and misses as he’s induced at Triple-A, his pitch count naturally balloons.
There’s a hole in the rotation after Zimmermann’s demotion, but executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said the demotion of Zimmermann will not necessarily lead to Hall’s promotion.
International acquisition of the week
After just two games in the Florida Complex League, infielder Frederick Bencosme was promoted to Delmarva. The 19-year-old has hit the ground running. Last week for the Shorebirds, Bencosme recorded nine hits in 21 at-bats, striking out just once. The middle infielder also drove in three runs, but he was caught stealing twice. The Orioles signed Bencosme in 2020 and he hit .310 in the Dominican Summer League last year.
The best former top-30 prospect of the week
Finding space in a crowded Bowie infield has been a difficult task for Adam Hall this year, necessitating plenty of time in the outfield or at DH. But his bat is deserving of a place, and he made a point of that last week with a 1,214 OPS in five games, hitting two doubles and a homer while walking twice. Hall is batting .271, and while the 23-year-old has slid down prospect rankings since he was selected in the second round of the 2017 draft, his production has rebounded after a slow 2021.
Time to give some shine to…
Right-hander Connor Gillispie started for Aberdeen for the seventh time this season, and he put together his best performance yet. The 24-year-old completed six innings and allowed three hits, one unearned run and no walks while striking out seven hitters. Gillispie, a ninth-round pick in the 2019 draft, has a 2.65 ERA overall this season.
Outfielder Braylin Tavera, a 17-year-old playing in the Dominican Summer League, hit the second homer of his season last week but struck out seven times in a four-game span. Second baseman Aron Estrada, a 17-year-old from Venezuela, had a 1,692 OPS last week in the DSL, with six hits and three walks in four games. Left-hander Deivy Cruz, an 18-year-old pitching in the Florida Complex League, combined to allow four runs in eight innings.
Minor league moves
Vallimont earned a move to Norfolk after an impressive week on the mound, but he was hardly the only player promoted. Right-hander Justin Armbruster was summoned to Bowie; catcher Andres Angulo and right-handers Dan Hammer, Nick Richmond and Thomas Girard were sent to Aberdeen; Outfielder Yusniel Diaz and catcher Brett Cumberland are also headed to Aberdeen to begin rehab assignments; shortstop Anthony Servideo left the Florida Complex League to head to Delmarva.
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