The opening-day roster for the 2016 Norfolk Tides - the Orioles AAA affiliate - was, if not unique, certainly unusual. No one on their roster was a prospect promoted from AA. Oh, infielder Ozzie Martinez and relief pitcher Jason Stoffel spent 2015 at Bowie, and swingman Terry Doyle wasn't promoted to Norfolk until the end of July. But those three players all had significant AAA experience before 2015 and were playing below their level because of organizational need. Those weren't "promotions"; they are more accurately described as "restorations." Not until Game 5 was a player promoted from AA to the Tides - 27-year-old Cuban pitcher Ariel Miranda.
What does this mean? First, the Orioles are as willing as any team to promote a top prospect directly from AA, bypassing AAA. In the Showalter Era, the Orioles promoted Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman from Bowie to Baltimore (Gausman was later optioned to Norfolk.) Jonathan Schoop was the only comparable prospect who played at Norfolk before being promoted to the Orioles.
Bowie is closer to Baltimore than is Norfolk, and it's easy for the Orioles administration to keep track of AA players at Bowie. They probably have a better sense of whether and when a top prospect can handle the jump to the majors than other teams. Also, it's easier to call a player up from Bowie if he's needed for a tryout in case of injury or doubleheader. So it makes sense for the Orioles to keep a good prospect at AA rather than promoting him to AAA.
It's also obvious that more than almost any other team, the Orioles stash players on their AAA roster to extend the major-league roster. (I was listening to a Detroit Tigers radio broadcast, and their announcers commented that the Orioles routinely shuttle players to and from Norfolk.) This trend is most evident with the bullpen arms as the Orioles often promote pitchers for short stints when the bullpen has been overworked. By stockpiling experienced pitchers on the AAA roster, that keeps other pitchers - who may otherwise be promoted to AAA - at lower levels.
Equally apparent is the fact that the Orioles don't have many good prospects, and most of their better prospects are at lower levels. There was really only one prospect at Bowie who mastered AA in 2015. One of the reasons the Orioles didn't promote anyone from AA to AAA is that there weren't many who deserved it.
But it's possible that the Orioles use of the AAA roster is becoming counterproductive. The one prospect who did enough at AA in 2015 to warrant promotion to AAA was first baseman Trey Mancini. Mancini, who turned 24 in March 2016, hit .359/.395/.586 in 84 games after being promoted from Class A Frederick. Even though Christian Walker would likely return to Norfolk, Mancini could also have been promoted as a first baseman/DH, especially after the Orioles decided to move Walker to the outfield.
Instead, the Orioles have loaded the Norfolk roster with AAA veterans taking Mancini's spot. Right fielder Dariel Alvarez remains a legitimate prospect. And Henry Urrutia, whose chance at becoming a major leaguer disappeared when he missed most of 2014 with a sports hernia, is still around. But the Orioles added two corner players from other organizations - Joey Terdoslavich and L.J. Hoes. Both those players have spent many years at AAA and have failed chances to establish themselves in the majors. It makes no sense to me why you would clutter the AAA roster when you have a prospect ready for the move. I hope that these decisions don't harm Trey Mancini or the Orioles in the long run.