This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. As of last year, I cut it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver/Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. (Today we have a Billy Ripken version) – A.S.
1. Everyone seems to be talking non-stop about Cedric Mullins lately, and when he’ll be called up to the Orioles. I guess, when there’s nothing else to talk about, this is what we have.
I have no doubt that Mullins will be up with the O’s in the near future. It may not be until September, it may be this weekend. Either way, he’ll get some time with the big club. Adam Jones was even shagging fly balls in right field the other night at Tropicana Field, possibly making way for Mullins to come up and play in center. Mullins could provide a shot in the arm for a team that desperately needs it, or he could come up and struggle mightily.
Who’s to know?
The Orioles have a lot of outfield prospects in their system and need to sort out who is going to be around long-term. Mullins could be joined next season or soon after by the likes of Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz or D.J. Stewart. Then there’s the issue of what happens to Trey Mancini and the looming question of whether or not Jones is brought back. At this point, it looks unlikely that #10 would return, but who knows what the market will look like for him this winter?
Seeing Mullins, who is hitting .288/.346/.465 with 21 stolen bases in 108 games between Double-A and Triple-A this season, up with the big club would be a nice treat for O’s fans who have suffered so harshly this season. A glimpse of the potential future is just about the only reason to keep an eye on this team that is barreling toward 100+ losses.
2. One thing we’ve seen change dramatically since the trade deadline is the new-look Orioles infield. It was obviously going to happen after trades of Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado, but going forward it could look pretty similar to the way it does now. That’s at least the case for the short-term future.
Chris Davis has been stuck on first base, despite his historically bad season. I’d almost rather the Orioles play Mancini at first and limit Davis’ at-bats, but when you’re paying someone that much it’s not likely to happen. Ideally the O’s would find a trade partner for Mark Trumbo and get Davis and Mancini into the DH role from time to time, with the other at first. It would also open up an outfield spot.
At second base, Schoop has been replaced by another Jonathan (Villar). The man who came over from the Brewers in the Schoop deal actually has a chance to stick at second going forward. He can be fully capable of being a starter on a bad team. He also gives the Orioles something they haven’t had in years – speed on the bases. Villar’s 2016 campaign goes mostly forgotten, but he led the National League in stolen bases and carried himself quite well at the plate.
Tim Beckham is back to playing shortstop on a regular basis, and like Villar, is not set to be a free agent until 2021. By that time, the Orioles will hopefully be looking to become a winner and can find replacements for each that are suitable. Beckham at shortstop, just like Villar at second, is fine for now. He can be a starter on a bad team.
In recent days, third base has gone to Renato Nunez. Like with the other members of the infield, Nunez’s playing time is coming mostly out of necessity. There’s really no one else to put there. I’m not sure Nunez is part of the plans even going into 2019, but there certainly aren’t other options on the horizon.
Part of the biggest issue with the Orioles as a franchise is their lack of prospects within the infield. Ryan Mountcastle is probably the best hope of getting 2019 infield help. Others like Cadyn Grenier, Jean Carmona and Jean Carlos Encarnacion are likely a few years away from reaching the bigs.
3. The Orioles are still pretty far away from playing meaningful games, but they still need to figure out what they are doing at the catcher position. Since the departure of Matt Wieters, it’s been a position put together with glue and tape. Last season, Welington Castillo was the primary backstop with Caleb Joseph taking a little fewer than half the starts. This year, Chance Sisco was expected to mostly split time with Joseph. He’s since been sent up and down between the minors a few times, with Austin Wynns taking his spot. At other points, Joseph has been sent down to Triple-A with Andrew Susac getting some time as well.
Having four catchers means the Orioles don’t really have one. There is still hope for Sisco as the future, but 2019 will be big for him. Prior to debuting in the majors, Sisco was expected to be a weak defender but an offensive threat. He hasn’t been nearly as bad defensively as people expected, but he’s been abysmal with the bat.
The Orioles received catcher Brett Cumberland in the Kevin Gausman trade with the Braves, so there is still more depth down on the farm. There’s also a chance the O’s could be in a position to draft Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman next June. Like with the rest of their roster, the Orioles have some time to figure out the catching position.
But it’s one they should start figuring out now.