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ESR Interview: Willy Yahn “Just Tries to Win”

Willy Yahn is an infielder drafted by the Orioles in the 25th round of the 2017 draft. He is currently playing for High-A Frederick, where he is hitting .306/.317/.488 in 32 games. He was kind enough to sit down with ESR’s Matt Pyne for an interview. Listen or read the transcript below.

Matt: So Willy, you were a standout at UConn, did you ever get a chance to meet George Springer? I know you probably didn’t get a chance to play with him.

Willy Yahn: Yeah, I met him a few times, he came and visited the UConn guys for one day each year to say “Hi” and to Coach Penders and a bunch of people on the team. I actually played with the same…the first time I met him was with my travel ball team, because he played on the same team in Connecticut (the travel ball team). He came back right after he got drafted in 2011 to talk to us and I might have been 14 (years old) and that was the first time I met him. He’s always been a great guy.

Matt: So you got a chance to play in the Cape Cod League, just describe your experience there. Do you think the wood bats prepared you for the minor leagues?

Yahn: Yeah, definitely. Well, first of all, playing the Cape Cod League was one of my favorite experiences playing baseball so far. It was an absolute blast. The tradition that they have up there at the league, playing at the high school fields, the same fields they were playing at like 30-40 years ago was awesome and I think that was really where I learned to handle a wood bat. The year before I played in the Perfect Game League and was kind of iffy with a wood bat and didn’t have a great (batting) average (and I) turned it around towards the end. But then, in the Cape it really forced me (to realize) you’ve gotta figure it out with such quality pitching you’re facing. It’s kind of a pitcher’s league, so to be able to have success, with a wood bat in such a quality league kinda gave me confidence toward the draft the following year.

Matt: So speaking of the draft, you were drafted in the 25th Round and not too many players make it to the big leagues after the 10th Round. Does this make you hungrier to succeed?

Yahn: I think so, I mean to me if you have any chance, it’s a matter of what you do with it regardless of where you get picked. For circumstances out of my control, I got drafted that late. I broke my hand, I was a junior, not a senior, so I was able to…I had some leeway, because I could’ve gone back for my senior year. So all those factors aside, I ended up in the 25th Round. I wasn’t worried about it at all, I was just excited to have my name called…so I’m just going to try to take care of business and get better every year.

Matt: You’re currently experiencing your best professional season; have you made any adjustments, whether in the offseason or during the season to change your approach or mechanics?

Yahn: I think it was kind of in the works last year towards the end of the season in Aberdeen. I was hitting balls hard, but I was still was getting out of the ‘chopping the wood’ technique swing, which produces a lot of line drives and helps the (batting) average. I kind of just needed…at any position you gotta have some power numbers, which I didn’t have my first two seasons. I just tried to level out my swing, not swing upright or anything like that, but just get on plane with the ball and stay in the zone longer and get some backspin on those balls. I guess that’s the mechanical thing and I’m still working on it, but I’m just trying to see the pitches up and not chase balls in the dirt and stuff like that. I still have a low walk rate, but it’s just (about) getting pitches I can handle and do damage with.

Matt: What about the role your coaches have played? I know your manager here is Ryan Minor, obviously who has big league experience…what’s the role your coaches have played here and at other affiliates?

Yahn: The managers I’ve had so far with the Orioles have been great. To start with, (Ryan) Minor, he’s a really great guy, he’s very calm in the dugout, he’ll lean back and let you have your fun. But he’ll go to bat for you with umpires, backing you up in certain situations, so he’s a great guy to play for and he’s given me a lot of opportunities to get out there, especially early in the year this season when I wasn’t playing quite as much as I am now. And then I had Kyle Moore last year, he was great. He’s kind of a quiet presence in the dugout, but was always engaged with the team and having team meetings and going over things as a group instead of pointing out things individually to guys. I loved playing under him…we finished out the Aberdeen season last year real strong. Then I had Carlos Tosca in the GCL, he’s one of the favorite manager I ever had. He’s a really old school guy. He just wants you to play hard and give your best every single time out there and he’s going to love you…so I’ve been really lucky so far.

Matt: What are your thoughts on the new technology that’s been introduced? BlastMotion has been put on all the bats for all the affiliates, what’s your impression as to how it’s helped so far?

Yahn: At first, I was very skeptical. I wasn’t sure if it was going to bode well in my favor, because I don’t know anything about the swing analytics and all that stuff.

Matt: Intimidating in a sense?

Yahn: For sure, yeah because you don’t know anything about it. Even some of the coaches say, “I don’t really know what some of the stuff means.” So it’s kind of a learning curve for everybody top to bottom of the organization, but its good information. It’s really going to help me as a player figure out certain things that I need to do mechanically and to continue to get stronger to get those TrackMan numbers up. So, it’s pretty cool, it’s part of the new wave and I’m going to implement some of that stuff and also stick to some of the old things that have worked in the past.

Matt: Actually I had to chance to talk with Sig Mejdal, the new Assistant GM, and he said, “It’s the players that really embrace it are the ones we can help.” So getting off baseball a little bit…Favorite thing to do when you’re not playing baseball?

Yahn: I like to go for hike, because it is good exercise and if you find the right spot you can get a great view.

Matt: Are you into video games at all?

Yahn: Ehh, I played a little of MLB The Show, but that’s about it.

Matt: Favorite TV Show?

Yahn: I just started Brockmire. It’s actually a great show. But also Family Guy, I’ve been a huge Family Guy fan for the past 10 years.

Matt: Walkup song?

Yahn: I try to go with all old school stuff. Last year I have ‘Your Love’ by The Outfield, this year is ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ by Queen, and then when I was at UConn, I had Allman Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Joe Cocker…all those guys.

Matt: I know the travel in the Minors can be rough (filled with bus trips). What do you do to pass the time?

Yahn: I’ve gotten very good at sleeping…cars, buses, planes…I’ve figured out how to sleep in those. I sleep a lot…we do play a lot of cards on the bus, on bus rides too, so we do get a lot of types of card games going, but I do get very good sleep. You have to get good at it.

Matt: What’s your favorite road city/stadium that you’ve been to so far?

Yahn: Oh that’s a good question. That’s tough, we’ve played at a couple really cool ones. I think going and playing in New York City at Staten Island and we had the skyline of New York City in centerfield and they were playing ‘God Bless America,’ looking at the flag…I was like, I can get used to this stadium. That’s one, but I guess there’s a couple that kind of stand out.

Matt: What are some goals you set for yourself, if any?

Yahn: I’ve said this to my teammates, some of them think I’m crazy, but some of them love it, you know? Every day I just try to win. You know what I mean? I’m just trying to win games and if you focus on that and focus on getting on base and touching home plate, however you can do that best, then everything else can take care of itself.

Matt: I think that’s the perfect attitude. The new (Orioles) manger Brandon Hyde instills that in the young guy. We see what Delmarva is doing, I think they have the best record in the minor leagues. I think that kind of mentality is going to bring you success with this new regime. Last question for you, what are your thoughts on the Orioles rebuild? Does this offer more opportunities for the minor league players?

Yahn: Yeah, I guess so. You never want to see the big league team that you’re playing underneath do as poorly as they did last year. But it does definitely give some opportunities for guys, especially…it’s exciting because we’re getting the draft class of 2017-on. These next couple of draft classes have a lot of opportunity these next couple years to move up quickly, get a lot of playing time in Spring Training, play with the big league team in the next couple years and just show that we have what it takes to win, you know? We’re ballplayers that care about winning and we’re going to show our tools to let them know that we’re going to take care of business.

Matt: Obviously the #1 pick this year, so you may end up playing with that guy. It could be Adley Rutschman, Bobby Witt, or Andrew Vaughn.

Yahn: It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.

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Revisiting the Manny Machado Trade – 10 Months Out

Yusniel Diaz finishes his swing.

On July 18 of last season, the most bittersweet – yet expected – move finally came to fruition. The Orioles traded superstar Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In return, the Orioles received outfielder Yusniel Diaz, right-handers Dean Kremer and Zach Pop, and infielders Rylan Bannon and Breyvic Valera.

At the time, MLB Pipeline only had three of the five pieces ranked in the Dodgers’ top-30 prospects: Diaz fourth-best, Bannon 27th, and Kremer 28th.

At the end of the 2018 season, this is where they ranked in the O’s system: Diaz at number one (also 52nd in all of baseball), Kremer 16th, Bannon 22nd and Pop 26th.

Some Orioles fans felt the organization didn’t get enough in return. If you don’t follow prospects closely and you’re just looking at prospect rankings, that would’ve been a defensible stance.

How are things looking now?

Valera wasn’t much of a prospect, if at all one. He made his major-league debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017 for five games and also played 32 games in 2018 with the Dodgers and Orioles. Valera was designated for assignment by the Orioles in January and later shipped to the San Francisco Giants. He has spent time at the Triple-A affiliates for Giants and New York Yankees since.

Diaz hasn’t put up impressive numbers in Double-A Bowie, slashing .225/.313/.338 in 20 games. It is important to mention that this is a small sample size and he is currently on the seven-day injured list. The 22-year-old outfielder was placed on the IL on April 26 with an undisclosed ailment. Until we find out more about the injury and see what Diaz can do while healthy with more plate appearances, his numbers aren’t anything to stress over right now. He is currently ranked the second-best prospect in the Orioles system and 83rd in all of baseball, per MLB Pipeline.

Kremer was certainly a pleasant surprise for the Orioles since coming over in the deal. He posted a 2.58 ERA with 10.52 K/9 in eight starts with Bowie in 2018. The right-hander was held out from activities from the start of spring training with a left oblique strain, but recently got back on the mound. He was assigned to High-A Frederick, where he has dominated in two starts, striking out 14 and allowing no runs over 9 2/3 innings. I assume he’ll be making his way back to Bowie soon. MLB Pipeline currently has Kremer ranked as the ninth-best prospect in the organization, but there’s reason to believe he could be ranked even higher when they do their next team updates later this season.

Pop, 22, got off to a great start out of the bullpen for Bowie this season. He recorded a 0.84 ERA and struck out 11 batters in 10 2/3 innings over eight appearances. However, his season has come to an early end, as he underwent successful Tommy John surgery on May 14. He usually sits mid-90s and can reach back for a couple ticks in the upper-90s, so I assume one of Pop’s goals is to gain the above-average velocity back when he returns to the mound next season. At the moment, MLB Pipeline currently ranks Pop 19th on the O’s top prospects list. They listed Pop’s major-league ETA as 2020, but one can wonder if that will push back to 2021 after the successful surgery. The Orioles don’t have any reason to rush Pop, especially after recovering from a serious operation, so that could very well be the case.

Lastly, let’s take a look at Bannon. He’s slashing .293/.371/.464 with four home runs and 12 doubles in 39 games with Bowie. The 23-year-old has seen his defensive time split between third base (167 innings) and second base (146), and he can play both positions well. According to Luke Siler of Orioles Hangout, Bannon has cut down on what was once a very big leg kick and, in return, has improved the quality of the contact he makes on pitches so far this season. So this adjustment is something to keep an eye on going forward. MLB Pipeline has Bannon ranked 22nd in the O’s system, but he could make a jump in the rankings if he continues to impress throughout this season.

The Orioles traded away a half-season of one of the best infielders in all of baseball. In return, they acquired an outfielder who is a Top 100 prospect, as well as two promising arms and an infielder whose stock is rising. Obviously, all four of these players are still prospects, so nothing is guaranteed. But for the time being, it looks like the O’s may have stolen a few underrated pieces from the farm system in Los Angeles.

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Should DJ Stewart Get a Call-Up?

DJ Stewart watches a pitch.

The Orioles played another very unfortunate baseball game last night, in which they bashed Cleveland Indians Ace and Terrible Human Being Trevor Bauer for seven runs and yet still got doubled up on. The Tribe hadn’t put up double-digit runs yet in 2019, but they posted two touchdowns on Baltimore, thanks in large part to plays like this:

At 14-29, the Orioles are exactly who we thought they’d be here by mid-May. Despite the fact that they ARE more fun to watch this year than they were a season ago (as discussed by Paul & Eric on this week’s Payoff Pitch show), that doesn’t change the fact that they’re basically a AAAA baseball team.

And again, that’s all par for the course for a team in year one of a rebuild.

Yet, when there is a chance to augment the roster with a home-grown player who appears truly ready – and to toss aside some dead weight in the process – that may be the best course of action, even though you aren’t really trying to win baseball games.

Unlike some fans, I’m not standing on a soapbox outside The Warehouse demanding to see Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, etc. all come up to Baltimore RIGHT NOW. Not by any means.

But there is one guy who Mike Elias could seriously consider promoting, a guy some in Birdland have been asking for lately: DJ (don’t you put periods between those letters) Stewart.

Last week, Stewart hit two home runs and drove in seven in a single game against Pawtucket. Over his last ten games, the 25-year-old former Florida State Seminole is hitting .438 with four homers, 20 RBI, and five walks. For the season, Stewart has posted a .277/.399/.546 mark in 35 games, with nine doubles, a triple, and seven homers, while playing at the notoriously pitcher-friendly Harbor Park half the time. He’s walking more than he’s striking out (24/22), and steals some bases to boot (four out of five).

Stewart was on the big club for a bit last September, and showed well. In 40 at-bats over 17 games, he hit .250/.340/.550, with three home runs and 10 RBI. He struck out 12 times to four walks though, and we need look no further than Sisco for an example of a guy showing out in September one season only to fall flat on his face when given regular at-bats in the next.

The new O’s regime has said that they want players to prove themselves for full seasons at each level before being promoted. At this point, Stewart has basically played a full season for Norfolk – between 2018 and 2019, he’s now played 151 games and taken 540 AB as a Tide.

He struggled a bit last year though, and it might not be the best idea to combine those two seasons when discussing his overall performance. Let’s take a look at how he’s improved so far this year:

Stewart is, by all measures, a much better hitter at the AAA level here in 2019 than he was in 2018. Most notably to my eye is that he’s cut his K% by over 6% while raising his BB% by over 5% all while his SLG jumped over 160+ points. His K%, BB%, ISO (.269), SLG, wRC+, wOBA, and would all be career-bests at any level.

All very impressive!

But does that ~20% of a season sample size mean that he’s beating down the door to OPACY?

There is also the issue of where he would play, were he to get the call. Stewart is a corner outfielder, and in case you haven’t noticed, the Orioles’ two best players – Trey Mancini and Dwight Smith Jr. – have those positions on lock down. With Chris Davis now showing that he remembered how to be an at least serviceable MLB hitter, the thought of moving Mancini to 1B and eating Crush’s giant contract has faded.

There’s really nowhere for DJ to play. Now, if Mancini were to get dealt later this summer…

/ducks full Natty Boh cans flying at my head

Listen, if the Birds were competing, I’d be signing a different tune. You’d want them to get Stewart and that bat up here if he could help out even a bit. As things stand though, Elias would likely do well to let DJ continue to prove that this new version is here to stay, if not for a full season than for at least two-thirds or so of one.

Calling him up now might put a few more butts in seats (not many though – let’s be honest) or get a few more fans to tune into MASN here and there. But should Stewart come up and struggle, only to be sent down again (oh hey, Cedric Mullins), it could throw a further wrench into his (currently very promising!) development, and for what? Those fans will shrug and go back to not paying attention, while the player could be adversely affected for a considerable amount of time.

In the end, while my heart says CALL HIM UP!, my head says Stewart should continue proving his changes are real and sustainable down in Norfolk until at least the dog days of summer are upon us.

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Rain Likely to Impact Series vs. Angels

view of stadium at night with bright lights on

Once again, this weekend’s forecast will be challenging as another storm system will be providing showers and storms throughout the weekend. It looks like, at this time, the best game to attend will be Saturday’s, as precipitation should stay to Baltimore’s south, and should hold off to allow for the game thanks to the 4:05 start time.

Both this evening’s game and Sunday’s game may present challenges as higher chances of showers will be present. Sunday is the most likely game to be affected, as heavier showers look likely until at least mid afternoon.

Follow Christopher Bressi Weather Forecast Page for more information and daily forecasts: www.facebook.com/BressiWeather

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Thursday Thoughts: Vegas Rumors, Anderson’s Status, & More

A panoramic shot of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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. A couple years back, 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. It was so silly to me to hear all of the scuttlebutt regarding the Orioles potentially moving to Las Vegas over the last week. It all stemmed from an interview given by local lawyer Benjamin Neil to 105.7 The Fan’s Bruce Cunnningham. Neil started the unfounded rumor that a mystery buyer had placed a $3-billion bid on the O’s with plans to move them to Sin City. The station later apologized for spreading the rumor, or at least allowing it to start on its airwaves.

The interview and subsequent stormclouds that followed were really the product of the ongoing feud between the Orioles and Nationals over the MASN dispute. In a decision last week that remains sealed, an MLB committee ruled that MASN must pay the Nationals almost $100-million to settle the issue.

A large part of the Vegas rumor was fueled by a claim from MASN attorneys that an earlier decision about such payment to the Nationals would leave the network with an “economically unsustainable” 5-percent profit margin. This whole dispute has boiled on for so long now, and it’s drained fans who have paid it any attention. It’s almost as if Major League Baseball made a deal with Orioles ownership because that ownership feared a franchise being moved just down the street would cut into the profitability of the team. And it happened!

I think Brian Griffiths over at Camden Chat did a nice job of summing all of that up this week. Baltimore is obviously a little skittish of a team moving away after the Colts did just that in 1984. But I wouldn’t get too bothered about the Orioles going anywhere.

There’s no motivation for it right now, and not much on the horizon either.

2. Something weird happened earlier this week when I read a tweet from Pressbox’s Matt Kremnitzer.

I recalled quickly that last week, I saw that same page with Brady Anderson’s name on it. And now his name wasn’t on it. So the prevailing thought was that the former O’s slugger was no longer in the front office, or even part of the organization any longer.

That’s apparently not the case, though. Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports says Anderson does remain in the organization, but is concentrating on strength and conditioning as well as nutrition at the major and minor league levels. He also oversaw strength and conditioning hires in the minor leagues. It’s a bit odd that the Orioles haven’t made it known exactly what Anderson’s role in the club is, but it’s also not the only employee they’ve done it with.

They aren’t always the most forthcoming with these things.

3. I’m still getting a feel for Brandon Hyde as a manager, and I have a feeling it will take more time. Seeing the first-year skipper adapt to his new role is one of the more interesting storylines of the season to me. I don’t know if he’ll be the guy in place when and if the Orioles become competitive again. It normally doesn’t go that way. Bo Porter was in charge of the Astros before they turned things around, while Rick Renteria led the Cubs ahead of their turnaround.

Neither of those guys were able to stick for World Series winners. Hyde may be the next in that line. It’s a daunting task to lead this bunch, that aren’t expected to produce many wins. But, in listening to his press conferences and reading quotes from him, he seems to be taking it all in stride while also realizing that he only gets to call so many of the shots.

Much of what is happening is with a long-term focus in mind and it’s being done above his head. He recognizes that this is a situation where they are looking to develop players and build a future, rather than win now. That has to be a tough pill to swallow, especially for your first career gig.

We’re only a few months into his tenure, and I have no idea what it will be like to look back at the Brandon Hyde era when it’s done, but so far I’m impressed with his laid back nature and ability to find positives in a bad team.

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The Payoff Pitch: Charm City Not Sin City w/Jon Meoli

The Payoff Pitch logo.

On this week’s episode of The Payoff Pitch…should fans freak out about rumors the Orioles might be moving to Vegas? Let’s get into that ridiculous brouhaha. After that, we’re joined by Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun to talk about the Birds so far, his niche with advanced analytics on the O’s beat, John Means, some prospects, and more.

Thanks for listening!

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Delmarva Giving O’s Fans Reason for Hope

Blaine Knight pitches.

When we think Low-A professional baseball, ‘excitement’ and ‘compelling’ probably don’t come to mind, but that’s exactly what the Delmarva Shorebirds have been in 2019. Off to a 24-4 start, the Shorebirds are starting to turn some heads. Mainly, they have been led by a young pitching staff full of recent Oriole draft picks. This list includes 2018 picks Grayson Rodriguez (1st Round), Blaine Knight (3rd round), and Drew Rom (4th Round).

The Orioles are in full-blown rebuild mode, and to give fans any hope for the future, their lower minor league teams are going to need to produce and so far the Shorebirds are doing just that. Delmarva’s .857 winning percentage is tops in all of minor league baseball and these kids have just been having fun along the way.

Let’s take a look at some of the players who have been contributing to this run and how their success could potentially translate to the big league level.

Hitters

JC Encarnacion: Acquired in the Kevin Gausman deal, Encarnacion was considered to be a raw prospect who possessed many tools, but just needed to put it all together. Thus far, he has fit that mold to a tee, sporting a mere .645 OPS, but Encarnacion has mammoth power, as showcased below when he hit this moonshot walk-off grand slam.

Encarnacion is only 21 years old, so he has plenty of time to develop and move through the Oriole system, but he’s where he should be right now and if continues to show flashes, one would expect him to put it all together soon.

Cadyn Grenier: Grenier was considered a glove-first prospect when the Orioles took him 37th overall and he still very much is. His slash line doesn’t look that impressive (.248/.347/.327) but he has been on-base his last nine plate appearances (five of those being walks). Grenier doesn’t have much power, but his glove and on-base ability may pave a path for him and he may even be joined by his old college buddy Adley Rutschman soon.

Robert Neustrom: Neustrom is the Orioles’ 29th Ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline and there’s a good reason why he made the Top 30. This dude can swing the bat. Neustrom currently owns a .957 OPS with Delmarva and flashed a bit of speed, swiping five bags in only 19 games. Oriole scouts were initially attracted to Neustrom after his performance in the Cape Cod League, where  he posted a .924 OPS along with 11 home runs, showing that he could swing a wood bat at a near elite level. The Orioles took a shot on Neustrom in the 5th round of the 2018 draft, meaning the first five 2019 Draft Picks are all together at Delmarva.

Adam Hall: Hall may be the most highly regarded bat of the bunch. Hall is sporting a nice .330 average and a .424 OBP, and he’s got speed. Hall was my preseason ‘prospect to watch’ and so far he’s making me look smart. Drafted out of Canada in the 2nd Round of the 2017 Draft, Hall impressed the Orioles brass so much, they paid him an over slot price of $1.3 million. Oddly enough, the defensive scouting grades on Hall are more favorable, ranking him a 55 on both his fielding and his throwing arm (20-80 scouting grade scale). This bodes well for Hall, because if his defense ranks ahead of his offense and he’s hitting .330, he will be well on his way to a promotion.

Pitchers

Grayson Rodriguez: Gray-Rod, as he’s otherwise known,  has looked like a man among boys so far in Low-A. Grayson dominated the Gulf Coast League after getting drafted out of High School (Nacogdoches, TX) and has carried that momentum into the 2019 season. Mike Elias & Company want to be cautious with Rodriguez and are limiting his innings, but when he has pitched, he’s been lights out. He currently owns a 0.89 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. Gray-Rod possesses an upper 90’s fastball, complementing it with a slider and curve. Rodriguez creates an interesting angle with his tall frame coupled with his unique almost ¾ arm slot. Like I said, the Orioles will limit his usage, but he may force their hand at some point if he keeps up at this rate.

Blaine Knight: Knight might have the smallest frame I’ve seen on a pitcher in person. But it doesn’t matter. Knight can sling it and possessed one of the highest spin rates among sliders in the draft last year. He was the ace of the Arkansas Razorbacks and pitched in the College World Series against the aforementioned Cadyn Grenier and his Oregon State Beavers. Hitters are posting a pedestrian .125 average against him so far and Knight is striking out more than a batter an inning. His ERA is somehow even lower than Rodriguez’ at a 0.67 clip. Besides the talent, Knight knows how to pitch on the big stage, and being a college arm, I expect him to move through the system rather quickly if he can meet the challenge at each level.

Drew Rom: Rom was another name who was signed over slot in order to assure he signed in Baltimore. He, along with Gray-Rod, impressed in the GCL, posting a 1.76 ERA in 31 innings. Rom’s 1.41 WHIP thus far could be viewed as worrisome, but he strikes out enough hitters to prove he has upside potential.

Ofelky Peralta: Perlta is just 22 years old, but I feel like he’s been in the Orioles system for quite some time now. Ofelky started his career with the Orioles in 2014, debuting in the Dominican Summer League. Since then, he’s had many bumps in the road, never posting a sub-4.00 ERA. This year, along with what seems every other starter for Delmarva, he’s beginning to figure it out. Peralta so far has a 12.4 K/9 to go along with a 0.75 WHIP and 1.07 ERA. His fastball is still rated far and away as his best pitch, so if he can harness the swings and misses he gets on the fastball, his path might best be served as a high leverage reliever, though he has time to develop his other secondary pitches.

Orioles fans are likely in for another season of misery, but you gotta take the good with the bad. And right now the Delmarva Shorebirds are a spectacle. More important possibly than some of these gaudy statistics, is the fact that these guys are learning to win together. Instilling this at Low-A ball could be crucial for future success. Their torrid pace probably won’t last forever, but right now they’re doing what Brandon Hyde is telling the current Orioles: “just go out there and try to win today.”

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105.7 Apologizes for “O’s Moving to Vegas” Rumor

sun setting on brick building and camden yards

In case you missed all the hubbub, there was a firestorm of sorts in Birdland yesterday. First, let’s get this out of the way:

That’s Chuck Sapienza, the Director of Sports Programming for 105.7 The Fan in Baltimore. For those of you who heard the rumor, let this put your minds at ease.

Now, let’s back up a bit. On Saturday, as Chuck describes, Bruce Cunningham had Benjamin Neil on his show. The “rumor” on which Sapienza avoids elaborating in his tweets, was that there is an anonymous $3 billion bid on the table for the Baltimore Orioles, with the bidder ready to move the team to Las Vegas.

Of course, Orioles fans who heard this conversation were immediately inspired to consider driving their cars off the nearest Chesapeake Bay tributary bridge.

Here’s our own Paul Valle, host of The Payoff Pitch podcast, tweeting after hearing the interview.

The Orioles Facebook groups were, predictably, an absolute dumpster fire (like, more than usual) as well.

Baltimore fans still remember (or have heard stories) of losing the Colts to Indianapolis. Many are still uneasy with the way the city acquired the Ravens. Stories and rumors about moving teams are always going to get our hackles up.

Backing up just a bit further, on Thursday, the Baltimore Sun reported that the O’s have lost their pending court case against the Nationals regarding MASN.

This case, which has dragged on for years, looks like it could finally have reached a conclusion. However, Matt Perez, who has been following the proceedings closely at Camden Depot (before the site shuttered its doors this season), had this to say:

So it looks like things could drag on even further. Still, the Orioles’ lease at Camden Yards is indeed set to expire in 2022. Unease among Birds fans is understandable, considering this.

105.7 is the team’s flagship station, playing all O’s games over their airwaves. You have to imagine Mr. Sapienza (or somebody down there) got quite the earful from someone at The Warehouse over the past 24 hours or so. Neil unleashed some psychological warfare against the members of Birdland, and despite the station “correcting” the record here, O’s fans won’t soon forget they heard tale of this supposed pending move.

For all the faults you can otherwise find in him as an owner, Peter Angelos is Baltimore through and through. When he bought the team, it had been less than a decade since the Colts fled town, and he spoke loudly and often about his intention to save the folks of Baltimore from a similar fate with their Orioles. We have to hope he instilled that sense of civic duty and responsibility in his sons (by all appearances, he did).

Moving the Orioles would indeed be a travesty. But there is no reason to believe such drastic action is imminent.

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Keegan Akin Progressing Through O’s System

Keegan Akin pitches.

Norfolk, VA- Growing up in Michigan, Orioles pitching prospect, Keegan Akin, played football and wrestled along with playing baseball. His junior year of high school, he put all other sports aside and started focusing solely on baseball. His goal was to play college baseball.

As Akin put it, “My goal was always to go play college ball. My junior year of high school I started talking to some schools and that was when I quit playing football and basically just stuck with baseball.”

The left-handed hurler stuck with baseball and ended up playing college ball two hours away from home, at Western Michigan University. During his time as a Bronco, the team was good enough to make the playoffs every one of his seasons.

“I think we made it to the MAC tournament every year,” Akin said. “My junior year we won it. I ended up playing in a Louisville regional that I was fortunate enough to pitch in.”

In 2016 a dream came true, when Akin was selected in the second round of the 2016 MLB Entry Draft. At the time, people who were close to Keegan were telling him not to watch the draft. Akin ignored their advice, tuning in.

“It was nerve racking and it was exciting,” he explained. “I was fortunate enough to be home and watch it with my family. We had a little party at the house.” Akin also went on to say what he did right after he heard his name called. “I hugged my Mom and Dad. It was a day that I won’t ever forget that’s for sure.”

After climbing through the Orioles farm system, Keegan is a call-up away from “the show.” Tides Pitching Coach Mike Griffin admits that Akin is still learning how to pitch at the Triple-A level.

“First of all, Keegan is learning how to pitch at this level,” Griffin said. “He’s coming off one heck of a year last year in 2018. He’s started off really well here also. There is a lot of good things that are happening, that I’m pleased with. There are also some things that we’re working on for him to improve so that he can pitch in the big leagues with consistency.”

Some of the things Griffin has been pleased with are Akin’s change-up and his trust in the game. “To date he has done a very good job with that. I’ve been impressed with his change-up so far,” said Griffin.

As Keegan progressed through the ranks of the minor leagues, he’s seen the level of talent increase. The one thing Akin admits is that it’s harder is facing more skilled hitters.

“The one thing I have noticed is the discipline of the hitters,” Akin said. “They’re a little bit more disciplined the higher up you go. You have to adapt to the game and the strike zone changes a little bit. On the other hand, the fielders behind you are better and your hitters are just as good. It’s all about adapting and playing.”

Griffin and Akin are currently working on his change-up, with the southpaw honing the pitch under Griffin.

“He’s been teaching me how to use it and when to use it,” Keegan explained. “And he’s reassuring me, because I’ve never really thrown it as much as I have this year. I was a little timid with it, but he’s been there to support me. He’s pushing me to use it, use it, use it rather than shy away from it.”

Like any other ball player in Triple-A, Akin is only a phone call away from the Big Leagues. Until then, he will hone his craft at Harbor Park in Norfolk.

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Tampa Not Bringing Rays of Sunshine to OPACY

three guys with orioles jackets rolling out tarp on field

The Birds are in for a challenge this weekend with the impressive Rays coming to town. They aren’t the only ones though: we forecasters have our work cut out for us as well.

A storm system tracking into the Ohio Valley and Mid Atlantic will produce rounds of shower and thunderstorm activity from Friday afternoon until Sunday Morning. Exactly when these rounds occur is tough to say, and will determine what (if any) impacts they have on the games.

At this time, at least a delay appears likely at some point in the series with Saturday being the highest chance of delay and/or postponement. Sunday should provide ample opportunity to get the game in.

Follow Christopher Bressi Weather Forecast Page for more information and daily forecasts: www.facebook.com/BressiWeather

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Dwight Smith Jr. Has Been a Nice Surprise

It’s not hard to find negative things to talk about in regard to the 2019 Baltimore Orioles. The pitching staff is giving up home runs at a record-setting pace. The team has very few pieces that could be considered “trade bait” as a way to bring more talent into the organization later this summer. Dylan Bundy continues to head in the wrong direction. The defense is making the pitching even worse.

As far as positives, they’re obviously fewer and further between. In general, those of us who choose to watch/listen to most every game do so for the “moments” as Jake put it on this week’s Bird’s Eye View – a player showing a flash of some potential future competence; triples, which happen around here now!; an unexpected win or two (aren’t they all?); or any of the other goofy things that can happen in a baseball game…like this, perhaps:

Yes, that was Austin Wynns throwing what should have been strike three to end the inning into centerfield for some reason known to only him.

Moments!

We appear to have gotten off track here, and veered back into the negative. That wasn’t on purpose. These Orioles just kind of have that effect on the conversation.

So, let’s try to steer back into the good news, shall we? That fork in the road is certainly foggy and grown over, but perhaps we can navigate it for at least a short distance.

Dwight Smith Jr.!

On this week’s episode of The Payoff Pitch, Paul Valle identified Smith Jr. as his biggest surprise early in the season, and it’s hard to disagree.

Smith ranks among the O’s (qualified – Pedro Severino doesn’t quite make the minimum PA) leaders in batting average (3rd), OBP (2nd), SLG (2nd), OPS (2nd), HR (2nd), and RBI (1st).

Prefer nerd stats? He has the lowest K%, second-highest wOBA and wRC+, and is tied with Jonathan Villar for second in fWAR at 0.8 (Adam Jones, at 0.5, led 2018 Orioles position players in fWAR).

Diving even further into the SUPER nerd stats over at Statcast, unfortunately, throws a bit of a damper on our party.

Smith comes in right about average in MLB in xwOBA (.329 vs. actual .360), xSLG (.434 vs. actual .496), and sprint speed, but below average in hard hit %, and well below average in exit velocity. His xBA (.266 vs. actual .292) is the only area where he’s above average. All of this points to some expected regression, I’m sorry to report.

This was truly meant to be a sunny blog post though, so I refuse to let these dorks and their computers completely rain on the Smith parade. Let’s spin it positively (while keeping in mind our SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT – when we talk about career bests, we are comparing to just 29 and 75 plate appearances in 2017 and 2018, respectively): he is moving in the right direction in his career, and he’s still just 26 and in his third season.

Those numbers for xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and hard hit % are all career-bests for Dwight.  His K% is also the lowest of his career at 16.9%. His ground ball percentage has dropped every season, from 58.8 in 2017 to 48.1 last year to 37.0 this year. His line-drive percentage of 23.9% would be a career-best, as would his HR/FB% of 13.9 (FB% is slightly down at 39.1 from 40.4 last year).

Something else I like about Smith Jr. is that he sprays the ball around. He has pulled his batted balls just 37.6% of the time, while going to center 30.1% of the time, and to left field 32.3% of the time.

You can’t shift against that!

He has also shown an ability to hit southpaws. In 38 plate appearances against lefties, Smith has a wRC+ of 141 (.333/.368/.528), compared to a wRC+ of 118 in 86 PA vs. righties (.273/.337/.481).

Not a platoon player!

So, you can plug Smith Jr. into the lineup every day, and he isn’t going to hurt you. Listen: are there some signs that he might regress a bit? Yes, there are. As pitchers start to identify him as one of the very few dangers in the Birds’ lineup, they will approach him differently. Dwight will need to adjust, as all major-league hitters need to in this constant chess battle.

But there looks to be something there. In a season like this, that’s worth highlighting.

Stats & charts via FanGraphs and Baseball Savant

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The Payoff Pitch: Prospect Talk with Adam McInturff

Zac Lowther pitching.

The Orioles have been, as expected, a bit tough to watch in 2019. So this week, we head down on the farm with Adam McInturff, Assistant Director of Pro Scouting for 2080Baseball.com. Adam updates us on some pitchers in the Birds’ system, like DL Hall, Zac Lowther, Keegan Akin, and more. We also talk about some bats like Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays.

Earlier in the show, I answer some questions from listeners. Check out the show below.

Thanks for listening!

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Thursday Thoughts: Locking Up Mancini Would Make Little Sense

Trey Mancini catches a ball at first base.

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. A couple years back, 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. There’s been some bluster over the last few weeks about the fact that the Orioles are one of a handful of teams that haven’t handed out an extension to any players. It’s been a popular trend over the last few months, with deals going to players like Mike Trout of the Angels and Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves.

The Orioles, of course, don’t have a Trout or an Acuna. They don’t have anything close to that. The O’s are one of 11 teams in baseball to have not handed out an extension in the last few months, and the only team in the AL East to have held out. Rich Dubroff of BaltimoreBaseball.com wrote this week that Trey Mancini should be the player to get a new deal from the Birds, claiming 27-year-old is worthy of being the “face of the franchise.”

I couldn’t disagree much more. The Orioles are a rebuilding team, and they frankly already have their face of the franchise. It’s someone they DID give a contract to this offseason. His name is Mike Elias. There are very few players in the organization Elias has had the chance to bring in, and Mancini is not one of them. I think Mancini is a useful player. But he’s probably more likely to get traded in the next year with his value at its highest than to get an extension from the Orioles. He’s also taken a real leadership role with this young team, being one of the senior members of the roster. That’s something he deserves credit for. But giving him an extension just wouldn’t be good business and wouldn’t show great vision from the Orioles.

Mancini doesn’t really project as a massive centerpiece of a team that would contend, and depending on how long any extension would be, he’d likely be well into the back nine of his career by the time it matters. We are probably seeing the best version of Mancini as a hitter right now. I’d actually be surprised if there was anyone on the 25-man roster that was a candidate for an extension right now. If anything, the O’s would probably be looking to do one with a minor leaguer like Yusniel Diaz or Ryan Mountcastle. But neither of those players are at the level of a prospect like Eloy Jimenez of the White Sox, who received an extension earlier this year.

A few other things I’ve been thinking about regarding the Orioles…

2. The draft is just over a month away and it looks more and more like Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman is the consensus top choice. ESPN’s Keith Law has written that Rutschman has a very high floor, with a ceiling that could see him become a multi-time All-Star. It looked last year like prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. out of Texas might be the top selection in many mock drafts, but he’s fallen to third in Law’s latest rankings behind Cal first baseman Andrew Vaughn. Whoever the pick is, there will be plenty of eyes and pressure on as Mike Elias’ first big project.

3. The Orioles have allowed 74 home runs in their first 32 games, which is astonishing. It’s not astonishing in the sense that their pitching is that bad. We all knew the pitching would be bad. It’s just remarkable because it’s a pace of more than 350 over the course of a full season, which would obliterate the record.

In this day and age with “three true outcomes” baseball being played, home runs aren’t going to slow down. Especially when the O’s pitching staff is as bad as it is, and when it plays half its games at Camden Yards.

Just wait for the weather to warm up this summer and see how the ball flies out of that yard.

4. A month into the season, the only thing I feel like I’ve learned about this team is that it’s going to be a long road without much action this season. Of the players who would be candidates to be traded this season, many are either hurt or completely ineffective.

Alex Cobb and Mark Trumbo are both on the shelf and there’s no real expectation for either when they do return. Andrew Cashner has shown glimpses of being a pitcher that could help a contender down the stretch, if for no other reason than starting pitching is so incredibly valuable, even if it isn’t quality. Dylan Bundy, on the other hand, has been below that rung even, and unless a team wanted to take him on as a reclamation project, there’s not much hope for a decent deal.

Even Mychal Givens hasn’t been that great out of the bullpen, another area where playoff-bound teams could be looking to bolster their roster. I have no doubt that the O’s will make some moves, but it’s important to temper expectations on what they might get in return.

Trading bad players away won’t bring back good players in return.

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The Warehouse – Episode 32: Home Run Barrage

warehouse-pod-logo

How much attention are you paying to this year’s Orioles? You can be honest. This is a safe place. There are a lot of options out there. Game of Thrones is wrapping up its run on TV. There is yet another Avengers movie in theaters. And don’t pretend that you aren’t at least a little excited to see the live-action Aladdin with Will Smith as the Genie.

The Orioles aren’t exactly making it a difficult choice. There is plenty of blame to go around, but it all starts and ends with the futility of the pitching staff. Their 6.05 ERA is more than half a run higher than the second-worst unit in the league. It gets even worse when examining home run totals.

Big league hitters are smacking home runs at a ridiculous pace. Each team is averaging 1.33 home runs per game, an increase from 1.26 in 2017. That may not sound like a lot, but it would mean 358 more home runs hit over an entire season.

The O’s hurlers are doing their part. As of this writing, they have served up 73 round-trippers, an astonishing 21 more than the St. Louis Cardinals, who sit in second-to-last-place on that list of despair.

Why are so many home runs being hit? What makes the Orioles pitchers especially bad at keeping the ball in the park? Tyler and Jesse answer those questions, and more, in this week’s episode of The Warehouse Podcast. Subscribe on iTunes. Spotify, TuneIn and anywhere else you get your audio entertainment.

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Thursday Thoughts: Stop the Position-Player-Pitching Madness

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. A couple years back, 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. No one should be surprised at the demotion this week of Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins. Neither fans, nor coaches or even Mullins himself can fret at the fact that he was sent to Norfolk after an abysmal start to the season. If it hadn’t been for Chris Davis’ historically bad start to the season, everyone would’ve been focused on Mullins instead.

Now that the cloud has lifted on Davis, the rain started falling on the 24-year-old outfielder. The switch-hitter had just six hits in his 74 plate appearances and wasn’t getting it done from either side of the dish. There was a lot of hope that Mullins could be a “guy” after he came up last year and started playing in center, pushing Adam Jones into right field. That hope remained this spring, when he was virtually one of only three or four players who were locks to have a starting spot on the team breaking camp.

Despite this demotion, there should still be some hope. But there shouldn’t be any kind of reliance on Mullins. That’s where we start getting into dangerous territory with what the Orioles are doing. They can’t be relying on any of these players to be “guys” once this ship gets turned in the right direction. Mullins, in fact, could be the earliest reminder that this is going to take a while.

Cedric Mullins in the batter's box.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

It’s important to remember that NONE of the holdover players in this organization were brought in by Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. It will take a while for them to get who they want in certain spots. Until then, much of what we’ll see is players hopefully building some kind of value to become a trade chip for another team.

2. Speaking of trade chips, here’s one I never expected – Mike Wright. The 29-year-old was traded yesterday to the Seattle Mariners for infielder Ryne Ogren, who went to Single-A Delmarva. The fact that the O’s were able to fetch something for Wright seems implausible to many. The right-hander’s ERA ballooned up to 9.45 in 13.1 innings this season, giving him a career 5.95 ERA in his career with the O’s. It never quite worked right for him in Baltimore, and now he gets a fresh start elsewhere as he tries to restart his career.

Ogren is just 22, and likely isn’t a big leaguer. But the fact that the Orioles aren’t hanging on to players like Wright and are flipping them for youth is at least encouraging. Getting anything back for Wright, who many would view as a lost cause, is just fine. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s fine.

At the very least, fans won’t have to bother with him coming out in long relief any more.

3. Outside of Trey Mancini, the most enjoyable part about watching the Orioles over the first month of this season has been the play of Dwight Smith Jr. I have to fully admit that about ten days before spring training was over, I had no clue who Smith Jr. even was. The O’s had acquired him from the Blue Jays while down in Sarasota in a very under-the-radar deal for international bonus money.

In what’s expected to be a lost season for the Orioles, Smith has the potential to be a bright spot. I doubt he’ll be part of the plans once (if) the Orioles get good again. At 26, he’s still young enough to be a contributor somewhere, but it’s a big mystery if that place will be Baltimore. Regardless, if Smith Jr. happens to stick around for the entire season, he’ll be fun to watch on a bad team.

Even bad teams need those types of players, and it’s a nice treat for the fans to get to see.

4. The Orioles have used position players to pitch three times this season. Prepare yourself for the “zig when everyone else is zagging take,” but I don’t like it. It’s fun to see at times when a catcher or infielder gets on the mound and starts throwing it past players at 75 MPH. But overall, it’s a bad look for a team and for the league as a whole. These players aren’t trained to pitch, even if it’s just for one inning. The potential for injury is much greater when they are doing something like that.

I’m not in favor of banning something like this from happening, but I do think teams should be discouraged from making a habit of it. It was almost necessary when Chris Davis took the mound in the 17th inning of a 2012 win at Fenway Park. There were no other pitchers left available. But when it’s been done because the bullpen is worn down, it’s another problem.

The Orioles are bad enough this season that they should have plenty of players with options and should be able to utilize the Norfolk shuttle quite a bit. Heck, they should even utilize the Bowie shuttle if need be. The Birds won’t be able to rely on getting length from their starting pitching this season. They don’t have enough good starting pitchers to do that. And as it turns out, if they end up with any good starting pitchers, they’re probably going to trade them. But they should do their best to try to avoid putting position players on the mound.

While it may be fun to watch for fans, it probably means the good guys are losing by a lot, and it’s simply not good for anyone.

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The Payoff Pitch – Juice & Juiced Balls

Miguel Castro pitches.

Today on the show, I go over some of the Birds’ recent roster moves, including designating Mike Wright for assignment and optioning Cedric Mullins to AAA. I also climb on my soapbox a bit about some silly Chris Davis speculation. Fellow ESR blogger Dillon Atkinson joins me to talk about his recent pieces on John Means and Miguel Castro.

Listen here:

Until next week…

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How About the Prospects in Bowie?

Yusniel Diaz rounds the bases.

Yesterday, in an attempt to try to divert our eyes from the trainwreck taking place at Oriole Park at Camden Yards every night, we looked at a few of the prospects in Norfolk. I introduced that piece by talking about how the Orioles can’t hit any home runs, and can’t keep the ball in the Yard, and thus get drubbed at home all the time.

Well, last night, the Birds bashed four home runs and didn’t allow a single one in a 9-1 bashing of the Chicago White Sox. So…you’re welcome!

For my next trick, I will say this: the Orioles certainly will NOT win the World Series in 2019. Nope, no way, no how.

But if they’re going to win one in, say, four-seven years as most of us hope (a fair timeframe for the Elias/Mejdal-led rebuild), then hopefully some of the stars of that team are establishing themselves in the lower levels of the minor leagues right now.

Let’s see if that’s happening down Route 97 in Bowie.

Note: Dean Kremer (MLB Pipeline #9) is still at extended Spring Training, as best I can tell.

 

Yusniel Diaz

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

.231/.315/.354 3 2B 1 3B 1 HR 7 RBI 8 BB 12 K 65 AB

The centerpiece of the deal that sent Manny Machado out of Birdland and to the Los Angeles Dodgers last July, the 22-year-old Cuban-born Diaz is considered the Birds’ top prospect by most publications. He impressed in Spring Training action, hitting .306/.316/.472 in 36 AB, but has gotten off to a slow start for the Baysox. He did the same upon coming east last season, going just 5-for-35 in his first ten games for Bowie, before hitting .273/.357/.465 with four homers over his final 28 games. There’s some anecdotal evidence that suggests Latin players don’t do well in the colder weather we see in parts of the states to start baseball seasons, so here’s hoping that’s all we’re seeing with Diaz here, and that his bat heats up along with the temperatures here shortly.

 

Ryan McKenna

Ryan McKenna of Bowie swings.

Bowie Baysox

.186/.290/.305 2 2B 1 3B 1 HR 5 RBI 9 BB 20 K 60 PA

Baseball Prospectus has McKenna listed as their #5 prospect in the O’s system, behind just Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle, DL Hall, and Grayson Rodriguez. MLB Pipeline has him at number seven. This is all on the heels of his breakout 2018, during which, as a 21-year-old, he posted an OPS of 1.023 for Frederick, earned a call-up to Bowie, and hit .239/.341/.338 against AA competition a few years his senior. In 17 games in the Arizona Fall League, McKenna hit .377/.467/.556 with ten extra-base hits.

That hasn’t translated so far this year, as the 2015 fourth-rounder is off to another slow start for the Baysox.

Rylan Bannon

Wait…not him…

Me!

That’s the guy.

.277/.365/.477 7 2B 2 HR 12 RBI 8 BB 18 K 65 AB

Bannon, also acquired for Machado along with Diaz, just turned 23 this week, and isn’t considered among the Birds’ top 10 prospects. Still, all he’s done since leaving Xavier is hit: he posted an OPS of 1.016 in rookie ball in 2017, and an .895 between Rancho Cucamonga and Bowie last year. He’s got that number at .842 this year (it was .671 in 32 games for the Baysox after last year’s trade). Worth keeping an eye on just for that stick.

 

Zac Lowther

Zac Lowther pitching.

MiLB.com

3 GS 14.0 IP 1.93 ERA 3 ER 9 H 9 BB 10 K

Lowther (MLB Pipeline #8, BP #13) is off to a fine start as he approaches his 23rd birthday later this month. The nine walks in 14.0 IP is a bit higher than you’d like to see (he walked the same number in 31.0 IP for Delmarva to start 2018 before getting the call-up to Frederick), but we can chalk that up to being a little more careful with AA hitters…we hope. Birdland will have an eye on this kid all season.

 

Hunter Harvey

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

3 GS 12.2 IP 7.82 ERA 21 H 11 ER 4 BB 19 K

The oft-injured 2013 first-round pick has continued an inauspicious career to start 2019. The 19 strikeouts in 12.2 IP gives some reason for optimism, however, regardless of the 7.82 ERA.

The stuff is obviously there, but at 24 years old, the clock keeps ticking on Hunter. Let’s hope for no more injury setbacks, and go from there.

 

Dillon Tate

Dillon Tate pitches.

Bowie Baysox

9.2 IP 7.45 ERA 12 H 8 ER 5 BB 8 K

BP’s #6 O’s prospect, Tate was acquired as part of the deal for Zach Britton. He was the fourth overall pick in 2015 by Texas, but hasn’t come close to living up to that billing. BP considers him nothing more than a potential mid-rotation starter or middle reliever – not ideal for a #6 prospect! He’s certainly not inspiring any confidence for the Baysox at the moment.

Zach Pop

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefel

9.1 0.96 ERA 1 ER 6 H 4 BB 9 K

Pop, also acquired for Machado, is generally seen as nothing more than a potential solid bullpen arm, but he’s proving to be just that so far in Bowie. We may see him on the big club sooner rather than later, though it’s unlikely he’ll be around during that mythical “contending window” we are all hoping for in some distant future.

 

Bruce Zimmermann

Bruce Zimmermann pitches.

Bowie Baysox

3 GS 17.0 IP 1.59 ERA 3 ER 10 H 2 BB 12 K

Zimmermann (BP #11) has been the Baysox’s best starter so far, but BP’s David Lee doesn’t view him as much more than a potential long guy/innings eater at the MLB level:

Players like this tend to produce in the minors before big-league hitters expose the limitations of a pitchability arm without a dominant secondary.

So that’s what’s going on down in Bowie. We’ll check out Frederick & Delmarva here shortly.

 

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What’s Up with Miguel Castro? Certainly Not His Arm…

Orioles reliever Miguel Castro has started the 2019 season the exact wrong way. Over 11 2/3 innings, the right-hander has given up 14 earned runs, 19 hits, three home runs, and seven walks, while striking out nine batters.

He was never a dominant pitcher, but has shown the potential to become one out of the bullpen. Since being dealt to the Orioles, he has posted a 3.53 ERA in 2017 and 3.96 ERA in 2018.

Per Brooks Baseball, His average fastball velocity over his years in Baltimore are 96.12, 95.96 and 97.03 mph in 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively. He maxed out his velocity at 100.99 mph in 2017. He throws so hard that his change-up sits in the 90’s. Yes, 90’s. For comparison, O’s reliever Richard Bleier hasn’t thrown a fastball above 90.82 mph since 2017.

Castro’s velocity gap increases his slider, though, which he typically throws in the mid-80s. That and the change-up have been his most effective pitches in his career thus far.

You would think a pitcher of Castro’s caliber would have great strikeout numbers, but that’s far from the case. Since joining the O’s in 2017, his K/9 rate has been a low 5.70 over 164 1/3 innings.

The six-foot-seven right-hander just turned 24 years old, so he’s still young enough to turn this season, and his career, around. I would love to see him become a dominant relief arm. But before we try to get to that point, how do we get him back to the average reliever he was prior to 2019? What has changed?

Castro has had issues with command in the past, but this season it’s gotten worse. He has thrown a lot of balls, and when he does throw strikes, they’re hanging over the middle of the plate. In 2017, Castro “grooved” 3.88 percent of his fastball. He grooved 4.95 percent of his fastballs in 2018, and is now up to 6.96 percent so far this season.

He noted on Tuesday that he has an idea of what adjustments he needs to make to get back on track. Here’s what he said through interpreter Ramon Alarcon, via Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com:

“I’ve been watching a lot of videos recently and I’ve noticed there is a difference in the past and right now,” he said, “so I’m going to work with my pitching coach (Doug Brocail) to make the adjustment and make the adjustment in my pitching mechanics.”

What the right-hander is talking about is his arm slot. Here are two screencaps via MLB.com video — the first from 2017 and the latter from Monday night’s game against the White Sox.

As you see in the shots above, Castro delivered from more of a three-quarter arm slot in 2017, and has dropped to what is now a nearly sidearm delivery.

Brooks Baseball backs this up, revealing that Castro has gradually made this release point change over the last few years.

I noticed this change in Castro’s arm slot prior to him revealing it to MASNsports.com. At the time, though, I wondered if it was something he was actually working on. But now that he’s admitted the change in his mechanics and wants to revert back to his old ways, that tells me this wasn’t a voluntary adjustment.

I’m looking forward to seeing if Castro can rebound once he feels comfortable going back to his old, more vertical, release point. In spring training, an anonymous scout opined to Kubatko that Castro has “closer stuff,” and the scout showed significant interest in the movement Castro creates on top of the high velocity.

When he’s pitching well, Castro is quite fun to watch and his stuff is nasty. I do believe he can become a late-inning, high-leverage reliever one day.

But for now, I just want to see if this adjustment can get him back to his 2017 ways for now. Keep an eye on Castro’s release point during his next few outings, and see if the results change at all.

We can go from there.

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