The future of the Orioles infield is in Double-A-Bowie, and they already have championship ambitions – Twin Cities

Gunnar Henderson had an idea. He and Joey Ortiz worked in the batting cage this offseason, a kind of ordinary process that can get monotonous for even a 20-year-old just beginning his professional baseball career.

“Hey, Joey,” Henderson prompted. “Would you like to play a game of horse from the tee?”

Ortiz didn’t need to be pressured and sparked a friendly competition between the Orioles infield prospects. That’s the nature of their relationship: They’re friends, but they’re also teammates who push each other to the next level, with Baltimore in mind.

Right now they’re at Double-A Bowie, part of a stacked infield. During pregame warm-ups ahead of the Baysox’s season opener at Prince George’s Stadium on Friday, Henderson, Ortiz and Jordan Westburg trotted to third, short and second field spots. In the future – a future that is drawing ever closer – this trio could be trotting together at Camden Yards.

As Orioles the season began its season in Florida against the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore’s faces of the future started their season in Bowie. They haven’t shied away from those lofty expectations either – the idea that they could be the saviors for a franchise stuck in 100-loss seasons while it’s being rebuilt from the ground up.

“If we can all come up at the same time, the goal of winning the World Series, the last game of the season, is next up,” said Westburg, 23, a first-round pick in the 2020 MLB draft. “You don’t want it now Watch because we’re in Double-A on opening day. There is no reason to put this pressure on us or to think about it. But ultimately, and as we begin to get there, that has to be our primary focus.”

Prior to the arrival of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, Baltimore’s farm system lacked much midfield talent. Adam Hall, a second-round draft pick in 2017, now looks at the crowd of prospects around him and is amazed.

The 22-year-old Hall, who started midfield Friday despite his midfield experience, is the 27th best prospect in Baltimore’s organization, according to Baseball America. Around him in Bowie are other top players in Ortiz (No. 16), Westburg (No. 6) and Henderson (No. 4).

This influx of talent into the farming system over the last few years is increasing the pressure on all of them. There are only so many positions along the infield, which led to Hall bumping into the outfield on Friday. Henderson started short, with Ortiz second and Westburg third. But these players will all rotate, which Westburg sees as an advantage.

“We all have different skills,” Westburg said. “We are all aware of that. We understand that in practice we can only push each other and try to raise the bar to improve each other.”

For Westburg, 20-year-old Henderson is the “young buck” of the group, who is still quickly gaining experience. But Henderson could also have the most power of them all. Ortiz, 23, could be the best defender in the group and Westburg admitted he wouldn’t play in the same position. And Westburg, despite a few swings and mistakes, believes his ability to spray the ball all over the field sets him apart.

It’s these different skillsets that help them stay friends during a foray into the big leagues. They’re all hoping for an infield spot – and only one of them can play shortstop – but that versatility could land them together at Oriole Park.

However, Bowie trainers lean into this competition even beyond what Henderson and Ortiz do alone in the batting cage two to three times a week.

During spring practice, prospects competed to see who could have the highest exit velocity on batted balls. They competed in a home run derby using plyo balls – a sand-filled ball made from a PVC cover. A foam ball machine threw them over-the-top breaking pitches.

“The infield guys, we’re around each other every day and it’s great to have that bond,” Ortiz said. “The main thing is that I always say: Gunnar and Westburg are so good, it’s definitely nice to be able to compete with them because it only makes me better.”

In a video conference call with reporters Thursday, Elias said he believes Baltimore is “close to getting back in the fray.” As he looks around at the minors, prospects cultivated in three seasons of 100 losses in four years are approaching the big leagues. Once they arrive, he hopes they’ll be ready to make an immediate impact.

This will be learned later as these players prove themselves and receive the expected enlistments. But even if these highly touted infield prospects are playing in Bowie rather than Baltimore, for now at least, their minds can’t help but wander to the horizon — and what they might accomplish there.

“We all know that together we can win a championship,” Henderson said. “We all go into every game and every season with the right attitude. I feel like the group that’s coming our way has an excellent chance of reversing this and bringing a championship back to the Orioles.

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https://www.twincities.com/2022/04/09/the-future-of-the-orioles-infield-is-in-double-a-bowie-and-they-already-have-championship-aspirations/ The future of the Orioles infield is in Double-A-Bowie, and they already have championship ambitions – Twin Cities

Jessica MacLeish

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