Orioles minor league report: The first 2023 draftee to reach Double-A? A 10th-round pick. (2024)

Amid a 2023 draft class in which the Orioles selected five players within the top 100, their first draftee to reach Double-A is … none of them. Matthew Etzel, a 10th-round selection taken with the 301st overall pick last summer, made his Double-A Bowie debut Tuesday after a hot start with High-A Aberdeen.

Etzel, 22, got to Bowie faster than any of the Orioles’ top draft picks under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias. While extenuating circ*mstances prevented Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson (coronavirus pandemic) as well as Heston Kjerstad (myocarditis) from reaching Double-A the year after they were drafted, Jordan Westburg (Aug. 17), Colton Cowser (June 28), Connor Norby (June 28) and Jackson Holliday (July 14) all needed more time than the Southern Mississippi product.

The promotion was warranted. After reaching High-A by the end of last season, Etzel returned to Aberdeen to open the 2024 campaign and slashed .307/.379/.479 with four home runs, 12 doubles in 51 games. He stole 31 bases, tied for the most in the South Atlantic League, and racked up 57 hits, tied for fifth. Etzel finished his stint in Aberdeen with three straight multihit games before getting the call.

Neither Baseball America nor MLB Pipeline included Etzel in their organizational top 30 rankings heading into the season, but the 6-foot-2, 211-pound speedy outfielder has forced his way onto the Orioles’ radar with his plate discipline and contact skills. He’s now a name to monitor amid a crowded organizational outfield depth chart with Cowser, Kjerstad and Norby having already reached the majors and 2022 draft picks Dylan Beavers and Jud Fabian awaiting him in Bowie.

Yet Etzel has already leaped past fellow 2023 draftee Enrique Bradfield Jr., the Orioles’ first-round pick at 17th overall. His next test will come in Double-A, where he went 1-for-4 with a single in his Bowie debut. Etzel’s progress to this point is already a victory for the Orioles’ player development staff, but should he eventually reach the majors, he would be their lowest drafted position player to suit up for Baltimore since Cedric Mullins, a 13th-round pick in 2015, debuted in 2018.

But Etzel isn’t the only Orioles prospect to stand out on the farm. 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 catcher Samuel Basallo

If there was any doubt before, there should be none left now: Samuel Basallo is back. The Orioles catching prospect’s offseason elbow injury is an afterthought now with the 19-year-old Basallo resuming his demolition of opposing pitching. Basallo hit .348 with two home runs and three doubles last week, striking out only four times in 25 plate appearances. The chances of the Orioles trotting out a No. 1-ranked prospect for the fourth season in a row next year are well within the realm of possibility.

Samuel Basallo has been on a tear.

In June: 8 G, .367 AVG, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 1.224 OPS pic.twitter.com/Zys6G2Gx2R

— Orioles Player Development (@OsPlayerDev) June 10, 2024

2. Triple-A Norfolk right-hander Chayce McDermott

Cade Povich is in the majors, leaving Chayce McDermott as the No. 1 starter atop the Tides’ pitching staff. He lived up to that billing Saturday when he allowed one run over six innings on three hits and three walks with eight strikeouts against the New York Yankees’ affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. McDermott has 90 strikeouts this season, the most of any minor league pitcher in Double-A or higher.

Orioles minor league report: The first 2023 draftee to reach Double-A? A 10th-round pick. (1)

3. High-A Aberdeen infielder Mac Horvath

After a slow first two months of the season, Mac Horvath is off to a strong start to June. The 2023 second-round pick posted a 1.298 OPS last week, launching three home runs and two doubles while swiping six bags on the bases. Horvath doesn’t have a true defensive home — he’s played second base, third base and right field this season — but has a tantalizing power-speed profile that will force the Orioles to find him one if he can continue to build off this success.

4. Double-A Bowie outfielder Jud Fabian

On the heels of a .900 OPS week, Jud Fabian started this week with his 10th home run of the season Tuesday in Bowie’s 2-1 win over Harrisburg. Fabian leads the Baysox in homers and runs scored (33) this season. While he also paces the team in strikeouts (59), the 23-year-old has shown improvements at Double-A since struggling there down the stretch last season.

5. Triple-A Norfolk infielder Jackson Holliday

Jackson Holliday reached base in five of six games this week, drawing five walks to go with a home run and two doubles as he slashed .240/.367/.440. The Orioles’ top prospect entered this week with an .857 OPS and nearly as many walks (37) as strikeouts (43) since returning to Triple-A. Doing well with the everyday at-bats the Orioles are giving him in Norfolk, Holliday remains a strong candidate to see the majors again before the season is over.

The top prospect not featured so far

For the first time this season, Heston Kjerstad is mired in a slump. The Orioles’ outfield prospect is hitting .180 (7-for-39) with one home run over his past 11 games heading into this week. Kjerstad was bound to regress at some point after blasting 13 homers to begin the season, but so far in June he’s struggled to limit the strikeouts (10 in 35 plate appearances). The good news is he’s still collected a couple of extra-base hits and his performance over a week-plus is hardly a concern given his overall body of work this season.

International acquisition of the week

The Dominican Summer League got underway over the weekend and so did the professional career of 2024 international free agent signing Stiven Martinez. Only 16 years old, Martinez signed for $950,000, second most among the Orioles’ signees in his class, last winter as an outfielder listed at 6 feet 4, 198 pounds with lots of power potential. He’s off to a 3-for-8 start to his career with several years ahead of him before he’s a consideration in Baltimore.

Time to give a shoutout to …

The offseason didn’t go according to plan for Nick Maton, who appeared in parts of three MLB seasons from 2021 to 2023 before being acquired, waived and assigned to Triple-A during spring training. Maton has responded by turning in a strong start to the year with Norfolk, posting a .276/.345/.447 slash line with five home runs in 35 games. Maton is no longer on the 40-man roster — and it would take a dramatic turn of events for him to play a game for the Orioles this season — but the 27-year-old has put together a respectable campaign thus far.

Short-season snippets

With the Dominican League kicking off over the weekend, the Orioles now have both their short-season affiliates’ campaigns underway. … Luis Almeyda, who signed for a club record $2.3 million in 2023, is off to a slow start in the Florida Complex League, hitting .167 in 21 games. … In the Dominican, all eyes will be on top 2024 signee Emilio Sanchez, who joined Martinez in making his professional debut this week. Martinez is 4-for-17 to begin his career.

Orioles minor league report: The first 2023 draftee to reach Double-A? A 10th-round pick. (2024)
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