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With so many prospects playing well in the minors, Orioles GM has some tricky decisions ahead

BALTIMORE (AP) — Orioles general manager Mike Elias faces a fascinating challenge in the coming weeks and months.

His farm system is overflowing with hitting prospects who look increasingly ready for the major leagues, but finding room for them could be tricky.

The Orioles called up infielder Jackson Holliday earlier this week. That was a pretty easy call — he's the game's top-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, and he hit well during spring training and a brief stint at Triple-A Norfolk. But there are several other players at Norfolk who have been absolutely slugging the ball to start the season, and it's unclear when they might reach the majors.

“Baseball tends to take care of itself a little bit with injuries and just different matchups popping up, and I’m sure their time’s coming," Elias said. "But we’re not going to sit there and watch players dominate a level for too long.”

Norfolk scored 98 runs in its first eight games this season. The Tides have cooled off a bit since then — and removing Holliday from their lineup doesn't help — but entering Saturday night's game, they still had three players slugging over .700: outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Kyle Stowers and third baseman Coby Mayo. Outfielder Connor Norby has also been productive, with a .305 average and four homers through 13 games.

“They’re off to sensational starts," Elias said. "A couple of them, on the younger side, still learning some things on defense, still really ahead of their curve for the age group.”

Kjerstad and Stowers have spent a bit of time in the majors previously. Mayo and Norby have not. Complicating matters is the fact that the big league club — defending champion of the AL East — doesn't have any glaring openings in the everyday lineup. The infield is particularly crowded with young talent, and veterans Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander are mainstays in the outfield.

Outfielder Austin Hays is off to a nightmarish start at the plate — 2 for 32 entering Saturday's game with Milwaukee — but 24-year-old Colton Cowser has made up for that by going 13 for 27. And Hays was an All-Star last year who is certainly capable of rebounding.

“He's going to be fine,” Elias said. “We have a lot of good players. When you have quantity, you tend to have a hot hand and a cold hand sometimes, and we have the luxury of being able to lean into that a little bit.”

It's certainly possible the Orioles could use their surplus of position players in a trade — they did that to some degree when sending infield prospect Joey Ortiz to Milwaukee in the deal that brought ace Corbin Burnes to Baltimore — but it may be a while before it becomes clear who exactly will be available from other teams at the deadline.

Although Elias said he doesn't like leaving players in the minors if they've clearly mastered that level, he's shown a willingness to be patient when bringing prospects up. That was the case with Holliday, who went back to Norfolk to begin the season. It remains to be seen how much longer the organization's other Triple-A standouts will have to wait.

“Sometimes when I'm on the fence about a promotion decision, I'll err on the side of holding the player back because that's very easily correctable," Elias said. "When you send somebody up, it's kind of a big deal to demote them if it's not going well.”

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Noah Trister, The Associated Press