Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

Orioles' Cowser, Westburg thrive at upper levels

Another batch of top talent makes its way toward Camden Yards
Jordan Westburg led the Orioles system with 39 doubles and 106 RBIs while playing 30 or more games at three different positions. (Ken Iness/
October 19, 2022

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Baltimore Orioles.

Each offseason, goes position by position across each organization and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in each farm system. Next up in our 2022 Organization All-Stars series are the Baltimore Orioles.

2022 Organization Summary

Triple-A Norfolk: 74-76
Double-A Bowie: 68-70
High-A Aberdeen: 78-54 (winner, North Division)
Single-A Delmarva: 49-81
FCL Orioles: 16-39
DSL Orioles Orange: 26-34
DSL Orioles Black: 23-34
Overall: 334-388 (.463 winning percentage, 26th among MLB organizations)

Orioles Organization All-Stars

Catcher: Cody Roberts

Roberts enjoyed his best professional season since being drafted in the 11th round in 2018, leading all Orioles catchers with a .429 slugging percentage and .776 OPS while batting .271 with eight homers and 42 RBIs. He finished with a flourish following his first promotion to Triple-A with nine hits in 24 at-bats over seven games. The 26-year-old set a career high with 80 games played, including 67 behind the plate, and threw out 20 of 62 would-be base stealers.

First base: TT Bowens

The shortened 2020 Draft left a lot of talented players available in free agency, and Baltimore seems to have found one with Bowens. Among Orioles first base prospects with at least 200 plate appearances, the 24-year-old out of Central Connecticut State was first with a .248 average, .376 on-base percentage, .768 OPS, 88 hits, 20 doubles and 66 walks -- to go along with seven home runs. At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, he could show more power and did club 18 homers across two levels last year.

Spending the entirely of 2022 at High-A Aberdeen, Bowens showed a patient approach and an ability to hit gaps. He saw a 55-point surge in his on-base percentage, but his slugging percentage dropped 68 points.

Second base: Connor Norby

There's more power in Norby than meets the eye. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound infielder led the Orioles system with 29 homers while driving in 73 runs and scoring 92. He also had 23 doubles and four triples to go along with 16 steals. In fact, among the 23 players in the Minors with at least 29 homers this season, only two had as many stolen bases.

“He had a fantastic year,” said Orioles director of player development Matt Blood. “He was an advanced hitter, and he showed everybody also that he's got power to the big part of the park.”

The club’s No. 11 prospect batted .279 with an .886 OPS as he earned a pair of promotions to reach Triple-A by year's end. He forced his name into early-round consideration at last year’s Draft after maintaining a batting average better than .400 in his final two seasons at East Carolina. The Orioles selected Norby at No. 41 overall with an idea that his power would soon appear.

“We felt like he had [that type of power] in him,” Blood said. “And I think he knew he had it in him. He made a couple of little tweaks and he really took off.”

Third base: Jordan Westburg

Perhaps the greatest strength of the Orioles system is its depth in the infield, particularly at second, third and short. Gunnar Henderson, MLB Pipeline’s Hitting Prospect of the Year, was omitted from this list because of his success in the Majors. For Westburg, it was only a matter of where he would appear as the 23-year-old played at least 35 games at three different positions.

“Versatility is very helpful for a Major League manager and for the GM. And we're fortunate that we have some guys that can play different positions and they help the roster building,” Blood said. “They help the flexibility with the roster building and the other players that are brought in as well.”

Westburg had a terrific offensive year at the Minors' two highest levels, batting .265 with an .851 OPS while leading the system with 39 doubles and 106 RBIs. The Orioles’ fifth-ranked prospect also swatted 27 homers, making him one of only six hitters in the Minors with at least 25 homers and 35 doubles this season.

“He hit for power. Got on base,” Blood said. “It's exciting to have a versatile guy like him that can do some special things with the bat.”

Shortstop: Joseph Ortiz

As mentioned, the Orioles have a lot of talent at three different infield positions. Ortiz might not be the star of the bunch, but he represents the tremendous depth available.

The 24-year-old led the system with 153 total hits while batting .284 with an .826 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A. Like Roberts, Ortiz had an excellent finish after his promotion -- over the final 26 games with Norfolk, Ortiz batted .346/.400/.567 with 13 extra-base hits, six steals and 22 runs scored. The strong season was an encouraging development for the club’s No. 17 prospect, whose 2021 campaign was cut short by a torn labrum.

The 2019 fourth-rounder played 102 games at shortstop and saw time at second and third as well.

Outfield: Heston Kjerstad

The most significant development for Kjerstad in 2022 was step on the field. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 Draft had the start of his career delayed after discovering that he had chronic myocarditis, a viral inflammation of the heart. But the 23-year-old made his pro debut with Delmarva in June and quickly proved to be an advanced hitter.

“It was great to see him play a full season,” Blood said. “He showed us that he has power, his hit ability is returning and he's playing the outfield well. It's just nice to see him back on the field and regaining the level of play that he's accustomed to.”

Kjerstad made quick work of the Carolina League, batting .463 with a 1.201 OPS in 22 games before being elevated to Aberdeen in July. The game didn’t come as easy with the IronBirds, as he batted .233 with a .674 OPS in 43 games. But he did collect 13 extra-base hits, score 28 runs and was a reliable bat in the playoffs.

“Aberdeen is a tough place to hit. We've seen that be the case. And he held his own there,” Blood said. “I think he made improvements throughout the year. It was exactly what he needed. It was the right level of competition for him this year.”

Kjerstad is currently playing with Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, where he has already shown some power.

Colton Cowser

With top-five picks in each of the past four years, the Orioles have had tremendous opportunities to add difference-making talent. Cowser, the No. 5 overall selection last year, seems to have caught on right away.

“Colton showed us the ability to make adjustments. And he showed us that he's got real power in his bat as well as elite on base skills,” Blood said. “He dominated Double-A. And he had enough time in Triple-A where he was able to make some adjustments, and start to have some success there as well.”

Cowser opened in Aberdeen and was promoted twice before finishing the season in Norfolk. Across the three levels, he batted .278/.406/.469 with 19 homers, 36 doubles and 66 RBIs while leading the organization with 94 walks and 114 runs scored.

His numbers at Triple-A don’t jump off the page, but he did tear apart Eastern League pitching for 49 games before being promoted in August. In 176 at-bats with the Baysox, Cowser hit .341 with a 1.037 OPS and 10 homers. The Orioles' No. 4 prospect showed elite on-base skills in his first full season, but also led the organization with 174 strikeouts.

“I think it was just him getting used to professional baseball and to the way that he was going to be pitched and the types of pitch shapes that he was being exposed to,” Blood said. “I think the strikeouts will decrease in time. … He's a guy that gets on base and he's a guy that slugs. And along with that will come from strikeouts. We feel like he's going to be very productive.”

Kyle Stowers

The 24-year-old earns his second consecutive Organization All-Stars nod after a productive season with Norfolk and his first MLB promotion. Stowers played 95 games for the Tides, batting .264 with an .884 OPS. He also bashed 19 homers and 29 doubles while driving in 78 runs and scoring 54 times. The 2019 second-rounder led all qualified Orioles outfield prospects in OPS and tied with Cowser for the most homers in that group. The lefty-swinging Stanford product also got in 34 games with the big-league club, collecting eight extra-base hits and 11 RBIs. Defensively, Stowers stayed in the corners during his time in the big leagues but played more center field than right for Norfolk.

Right-handed starter: Justin Armbruester

Grayson Rodriguez’s oblique injury allowed for some other pitchers in the Orioles system to get some attention. The 23-year-old Armbruester had a far from traditional path to Bowie but showed the potential for a Major League future in his first full season. He transferred from Pacific Lutheran University, a Division III school, to the University of New Mexico before the 2020 season and pitched well enough that the Orioles took a chance on him in the 12th round last year.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder opened the year in Aberdeen before being promoted to Double-A after 12 starts. Across both levels, the Orioles’ No. 30 prospect went 6-2 with a 3.85 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 117 innings.

“He was able to show that he's got some durability, and an ability to be a starter all season,” Blood said. “Big fastball. Plus slider and a lot of strikeouts. His first full season he was really impressive.”

Armbruester pitched to a 4.02 ERA with the IronBirds and looked even better after the promotion. He did not allow more than three earned runs in any of his 14 appearances with Bowie, during which he allowed one run or fewer seven times.

Blood lauded Armbruester’s plus fastball and slider, which often takes a shape similar to a cutter, while making a mention of his developing curveball and a changeup.

Left-handed starter: D.L. Hall

The 24-year-old is another highly ranked prospect who did a lot by simply getting into games this season. Hall was limited by an elbow strain to 31 ⅔ innings last season but stayed off the injured list in 2022 as he climbed from Aberdeen to the Majors.

“He's a competitor, and it was good to see him get Major League time and exposure there,” Blood said. “And I think we learned a lot from that and he can come back even better next year.”

Across three Minor League levels, Hall pitched 84 ⅓ innings over 24 appearances, but his strikeout numbers were impressive. Baltimore’s No. 6 prospect fanned 137 for a strikeout rate of 14.62 per nine innings, third-best among Minor Leaguers to complete at least 80 innings. Hall made seven scoreless appearances in the Minors, five of which were starts. He also reached double-digit strikeouts three times, including a personal-best 14 punchouts against Jacksonville on July 6.

Hall made one start for Baltimore in August but was mainly used out of the bullpen with the big club. He returned to the Majors for good at the start of September and made 10 appearances with eight scoreless outings.

Reliever: Rico Garcia

Garcia has some big shoes to fill as the occupant of this spot on last year’s list, Félix Bautista, turned in one of the best rookie seasons in the Majors in 2022. Garcia spent some time in the big-league bullpen this season, but his work across three levels of the Minors should not go unnoticed. In 24 appearances (three starts) between Aberdeen, Bowie and Norfolk, the 28-year-old maintained a 1.99 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 45 ⅓ innings. Garcia, a 30th-round pick of the Rockies in 2016, made 18 appearances for Norfolk and compiled the lowest ERA among all Orioles pitchers to complete at least 40 innings in the Minors.

Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for