During spring training, the Orioles remained committed to stretching out left-hander DL Hall as a starting pitcher rather than converting him to a reliever. In mid-May, the Orioles decreased Hall’ s pitching workload, having him throw about 50 pitches once per week while increasing his weight training regimen. “Credit to DL for being on board with this,” Ramsey…
During spring training, the Orioles remained committed to stretching out left-hander DL Hall as a starting pitcher rather than converting him to a reliever.
Their recent decisions continue to prove that commitment.
Because of Hall’s diminished fastball velocity, Baltimore is having the young pitcher take a step back on the mound with the hope he can take two steps forward in the weight room.
In mid-May, the Orioles decreased Hall’s pitching workload, having him throw about 50 pitches once per week while increasing his weight training regimen. On Saturday, the organization sent Hall down to its training complex in Sarasota, Florida, to focus more on his strength training while still throwing on back fields and in live-game situations.
A lower back injury limited Hall’s weight training this offseason and gave him a slow start to spring training, where he didn’t pitch in games during the first few weeks and displayed diminished velocity.
Triple-A Norfolk pitching coach Justin Ramsey said the thought process behind having Hall focus on gaining strength rather than pitching — or “deloading” — is about what’s best for the 24-year-old in the “long term.”
“Credit to DL for being on board with this,” Ramsey said last week before the Orioles sent Hall to Sarasota. “We know it’s tough when you’re having some success, but we know his best version requires him to get stronger. The best way to do that effectively is to make this ‘sacrifice,’ if you will.”
In his most recent start, Hall’s fastball ranged from 91.9 to 94.7 mph for an average of 93.2 mph. A lefty throwing 93.2 isn’t anything to scoff at, but for Hall, that number is a bit perplexing. In 13 2/3 innings with the Orioles last year, Hall’s fastball averaged 96.2 mph — the high-octane four-seamer that’s integral to a repertoire that made him a first-round draft pick in 2017 and the organization’s second-best pitching prospect.
“When you look at overall workload from a season, it’s really hard to truly get into a strength phase,” Ramsey said. “There’s just so much wear and tear on the body when you’re throwing 80 to 100 pitches every five or six days. Making that his priority to get his strength back, knowing he wasn’t able to lift [weights] for an extended period of time, you have to step back somewhere.
“That’s something that we as an organization put a lot of thought into … to kind of say this is more of a priority for the long term of getting this guy back to being ready to help the major league club win.”
In his first 30 1/3 innings this season before the deloading process began, the 6-foot-2 lefty posted a 3.56 ERA with 44 strikeouts, including five straight starts with two or fewer runs allowed. He also struck out seven in three innings of two-run ball while pitching in relief for the Orioles in late April. In 14 innings since across five outings at Triple-A, Hall has allowed 13 hits and 12 walks while giving up 11 runs.
The hope is this process can improve Hall’s ability to pitch — locate and mix his offerings — while also getting his velocity back to where it once was.
“When it was first brought up, obviously there was some question in his eyes if this was really the right move,” Ramsey said. “But once we sat down as a group and had the conversation and explained not only the thought process but also the science behind this plan, he was on board. Credit to him for trusting the organization and himself for knowing that it was best for him in the long run.”
The long run, though, includes many more prospects than just Hall. That’s why each week, The Baltimore Sun will break down five of the top performers in Baltimore’s prospect ranks and hand out some superlatives for those who didn’t make that cut.
1. Double-A Bowie left-hander Cade Povich
For the third time this season, Povich was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week after striking out more than 10 batters in a game. Povich, who previously won the award after striking out 10 on April 29 and on May 11, pitched a career-high seven innings Thursday, taking a perfect game into the seventh, and struck out 13 batters, the most in his three-year minor league career. He allowed just one hit and walked none while throwing a season-high 93 pitches. Povich, one of four pitchers the Orioles received from the Minnesota Twins in return for closer Jorge López, is Baltimore’s third-best pitching prospect, according to Baseball America. While he was an obvious choice for the award, another Baysox pitcher was in the running, as right-hander Chayce McDermott — another player acquired via trade — struck out 10 over 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
2. Double-A Bowie third baseman Coby Mayo
Povich wasn’t the only Bowie player to earn weekly honors. Mayo, Baltimore’s ninth-best prospect according to Baseball America, had one of the best weeks of his professional career to be named Eastern League Player of the Week. The 21-year-old homered in three straight games, ending the week 10-for-24 with two doubles, one triple and eight RBIs. Mayo, a fourth-round pick in 2020, is slashing .295/.417/.562 this season. He was recently included in Baseball America’s top 100 list, coming in at No. 96 as one of nine Orioles prospects among the rankings.
3. Triple-A Norfolk outfielder-first baseman Heston Kjerstad
After a modest first week at the new level, Kjerstad was back to his dominant self in his second week at Triple-A. The 2020 No. 2 overall pick went 8-for-21 with two homers, two doubles and one triple. Kjerstad missed the first two years of his professional career because of heart and hamstring ailments, but he’s proved over the past year that he’s the impact bat the Orioles thought they were getting. The 24-year-old has played in four minor league levels over the past 11 months.
4. High-A Aberdeen outfielder Dylan Beavers
Beavers’ 1.101 OPS was one of the best on the farm last week, but most of his damage came in one game. Last Tuesday, the 21-year-old went 4-for-5 with a double, a home run and four RBIs. On the week, Beavers, ranked as Baltimore’s No. 19 prospect, went 6-for-19 with three extra-base hits (two homers, one double) and eight RBIs. The organization’s second selection of the 2022 draft is hitting .228 with a .722 OPS this season.
5. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Grayson Rodriguez
Seeing Rodriguez in a minor league report might be a disappointment, but the way he pitched Friday wasn’t. In his third start since being optioned to Triple-A after posting a 7.35 ERA in 10 major league starts, Rodriguez struck out 11 in six innings. The 6-5 right-hander didn’t allow a hit through five innings before giving up a two-run homer in the sixth. In three starts back in Triple-A, one of the best pitching prospects in baseball has a 2.50 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 18 innings.
The top prospect not featured so far
After dominating Low-A to open the season, Jackson Holliday performed just as well in his first month at High-A, a surprise considering that’s perhaps the largest jump in the minor leagues. But the struggles have arrived for No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, although it would be unfair to call it a slump. In his past 21 games dating to May 24, the 19-year-old shortstop is 14-for-73 (.192) with just two extra-base hits, including 4-for-20 last week. During that span, though, Holliday has walked 20 times and posted a .379 on-base percentage. In 44 games in High-A, Baltimore’s top prospect is slashing .308/.452/.500 — good for a .952 OPS.
International acquisition of the week
Although he is one of the best base stealers in Baltimore’s farm system, Luis Valdez has had trouble getting in position to take them. He has stolen 32 bases for High-A Aberdeen despite reaching base in just 26.1% of his plate appearances. Last week, though, the 23-year-old utilityman posted the second-best OPS of any Orioles minor leaguer at 1.302. Valdez, whom the Orioles signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, went 6-for-13 with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs and four stolen bases. He was caught stealing twice, the first time he’s been thrown out this season.
Time to give a shout-out to …
The other right-handed pitcher Baltimore acquired from the Oakland Athletics this offseason. The Orioles gave up infield prospect Darell Hernaiz mostly to get left-hander Cole Irvin, who is back in the majors after a rough start to the season. But they also got Kyle Virbitsky in that deal, and the 6-7 right-hander pitched five scoreless innings for the IronBirds on Sunday. He allowed just one hit and walked two while striking out five, giving him a 5.62 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 41 2/3 innings this year.
Outfielder Braylin Tavera, an 18-year-old the Orioles signed as an international free agent for a then-organizational record $1.7 million in January 2022, went 6-for-14 with a double and a home run in four Florida Complex League games over the past week. … Infielder Rolphy Cruz, a 20-year-old the Orioles signed as an international free agent in 2019, hit two home runs and two doubles in three FCL games. … In the second start of his professional career, 17-year-old right-hander Cesar Espinal, whom Baltimore signed last summer, pitched six shutout innings with six strikeouts for the Orioles’ Dominican Summer League team.
Six prospects ranked inside Baltimore’s top 30, according to Baseball America, were promoted a minor league level Tuesday. Infielder César Prieto (No. 16) and right-hander Justin Armbruester (No. 22) were moved up to Triple-A after hitting .364 and posting a 2.47 ERA, respectively, in Double-A. Outfielder Jud Fabian (No. 13) and right-hander Jean Pinto (No. 28) are going to Double-A after posting a .882 OPS and 2.86 ERA, respectively, in High-A. Right-hander Juan Nuñez (No. 29) was promoted to High-A after striking out 72 batters in 55 innings in Low-A. And right-hander Zack Showalter (No. 24) moved up to Low-A after a dominant 10 innings with Baltimore’s FCL team.