O's prospects take center stage in AFL championship
Schoop, Urrutia key Saguaros' offense while Berry and Rodriguez baffle Mesa batters
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Every time Surprise needed a big play against Mesa in the Arizona Fall League Championship Game, it seemed like an Orioles prospect was ready to deliver.
In the Saguaros' 2-0 victory Saturday at Scottsdale Stadium, starter Eduardo Rodriguez earned the victory, left-hander Tim Berry got the game's biggest outs and left fielder Henry Urrutia and shortstop Jonathan Schoop scored the only runs. And, just for good measure, Gary Kendall, the manager of the Orioles Double-A affiliate, guided the Saguaros to their first AFL championship since 1995.
Kendall said he was glad to be able to help all the Orioles prospects through the AFL.
"We're an organization that's on the rise," Kendall said. "We've got a great front office. We got a great skipper. Just try to keep these players healthy through the fall and keep them going toward that goal of going to the big leagues."
Kendall tabbed Rodriguez to start the championship game. The Orioles' No. 2 prospect didn't disappoint, throwing three scoreless innings. He allowed two hits and struck out four batters.
"He's amazing," Schoop said. "He was comfortable in himself. He knew what he was doing and he's a great pitcher. He's going to be better, too."
Berry was the second reliever to enter the game for the Saguaros, coming in for the sixth inning. He quickly got the first out, but then loaded the bases with a walk, a hit and an error. Surprise's one-run lead looked tenuous as the heart of Mesa's order was due up.
But Berry was able to retire Kris Bryant, who had received the AFL MVP before the game, and C.J. Cron, the AFL batting champion, to escape the jam.
With the Saguaros pitchers performing so well, they didn't need much run support. But Urrutia and Schoop provided what little they did need.
Urrutia, who made his Major League debut in July, continued his stellar fall in the championship game. In 18 games, he hit three home runs and his .377 batting average ranked third in the league this fall. Saturday, he doubled and scored with two outs in the second inning to give Surprise an early lead. He finished the game 2-for-3 with two doubles.
"For me, the first run is a good thing because it took the pressure away," said Urrutia through Schoop's translation. "From the first day I was working hard and this team deserved to win it."
Schoop gave the Saguaros an insurance run in the eighth inning. He led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and third on a wild pitch. He then scored on Mookie Betts' RBI single. The Orioles No. 4 prospect finished the game 1-for-3.
All four of the Orioles prospects who played in the championship game had gone through Double-A Bowie this season. Kendall said he was glad for the opportunity to coach them again and see them play so well.
"It's nice to watch them succeed," he said. "That's what this is all about. There's always going to be ups and downs in this game. When you can enjoy it and watch it with them and enjoy it with them, it makes it even more special."
With the players leaving Arizona and fanning out across the continent as the offseason begins in earnest, Berry said he would take some time to soak in the Saguaros' championship. He said he was especially glad to be able to experience it with some of his Orioles teammates.
"All the O's guys that got invited here are great players," Berry said. "I was learning from them and hopefully they were feeding off me. It was a good six weeks."