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Yet Another Position Change for Ryan Mountcastle?

When it comes to change, prospect Ryan Mountcastle has experienced it often as a professional.

The soon-to-be 23-year old was drafted 36th overall by the Orioles in 2015. He finished that year with 53 professional games under his belt from time with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Orioles and the short-season Single-A Aberdeen Ironbirds. He played 39 games at shortstop while also logging three games at third base.

Mountcastle played the entire 2016 season with Single-A Delmarva, recording all of his defensive innings at shortstop. He earned a promotion to High-A Frederick in 2017, where he once again played only shortstop. Midway through the 2017 campaign, the Orioles promoted Mountcastle to Double-A Bowie, but this time they switched his primary position from shortstop to third base. From that moment through the end of the 2018 season, the only position he trotted out to was the hot corner.

Another position change occurred in 2019, as the Orioles — under new leadership in the organization — began giving Mountcastle reps across the diamond at first base. They didn’t completely eliminate the position he had been playing for the previous two years, as he made nine starts at third in Triple-A Norfolk, but 83 of his starts came at first base.

Then, midway through the 2019 season, Mountcastle started alternating between first base and left field. Before the season came to an end, he started in the latter 26 times.

As a professional, he has now seen time at shortstop, third base, first base and left field. What could be next?

Back in December, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias revealed that Mountcastle will be learning right field in addition to left field and the infield corners, but the second-year general manager also noted that the club could get a look at the slugging prospect at another position: second base.

At first blush, I felt that him playing second base would be a stretch. Even Elias said in December he doesn’t feel anyone in the organization thinks Mountcastle projects as an everyday second baseman, but it was something they could look into just to see if he could play in a pinch.

But the more I read and think about it, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

Now I know what you’re thinking. The ideal image of your prototypical second baseman is a plus defender, puts the ball in play with some on-base capabilities and maybe provides a little bit of speed on the basepaths. Mountcastle doesn’t exactly fit that bill. But what if this is a new era of second basemen we’re seeing?

ESPN’s Buster Olney released his top ten second basemen earlier this month (subscription required), including opinions from around the league on how the view of the position has changed over the years. Former Tigers and Angels manager Brad Ausmus believes the change has occurred in part by the semi-recent rule changes on baserunners sliding into second base.

“The focus on offense combined with the slide rule has definitely lessened the defensive importance of second basemen. The art and nuance to turning a double play has basically disappeared. It’s much easier to put an inexperienced position player — who probably adds offense to the lineup — and teach him to turn two,” Ausmus told Olney.

It makes sense to a degree. We still see plenty of defensively savvy second basemen around the league like Kolten Wong, Yolmer Sanchez and Ozzie Albies, among others. But ballclubs are now also thinking about acquiring or developing a big bat to play second base.

In the four years since the slide rule at second base was implemented, all major league second basemen combined to average 716 home runs per season with a .151 ISO (Isolated Power). What about the annual average of the four years prior to the slide rule change? Just 461 home runs and a .121 ISO.

Nowadays, if you can hit a ton, field the routine grounders and make throws to first base, major league clubs will consider you at second base.

This is where Mountcastle falls and could potentially land.

Mountcastle was named the International League Most Valuable Player in 2019 after slashing .312/.344/.527 with 25 home runs and 117 wRC+ in Triple-A Norfolk. However, despite the impressive numbers, the young prospect still didn’t earn a promotion to Baltimore. This could be for a number of reasons.

First, it’s not outlandish to suggest the Orioles — who are in full rebuild mode — had no interest in starting Mountcastle’s service clock before it’s necessary. Pure strategy, whether it’s deemed ethical or not, to attempt to gain club control of his services for an extra season.

Another possibility is that Mountcastle still has yet to find his home in the field. He just began learning first base and left field last season, so there’s a case to be made that the O’s just want to determine his primary defensive position before promoting him.

And finally, the last option is that even though he had a great performance at the dish in 2019, the Orioles may still not be satisfied with it. Although the above numbers were quite impressive, his on base capabilities and plate discipline were not, as he posted a 4.3-percent walk rate and 23.5-percent strikeout rate.

Compare those numbers to MLB first basemen from the 2019 season. Mountcastle’s walk rate would’ve ranked the worst among qualified major league first basemen, and his strikeout rate would’ve ranked 11th-lowest. His 117 wRC+ would be tied for the 11th-highest.

Keep in mind that the jump from Triple-A to the majors is a big one, so it’s possible that Mountcastle’s numbers would not be repeated nor get better, but actually be worse. If he develops better plate discipline in the coming years, he could be just fine as a producing first baseman at the big league level. But if this is who he is as a hitter going forward, the bat may not profile well as a first baseman.

If this is the case, maybe this is why the Orioles are experimenting with him in the corner outfield spots. Mountcastle is certainly a good hitter, but the club may be trying to protect themselves in case he doesn’t take that next offensive step that is needed to become a prototypical first baseman in the major leagues.

Ryan Mountcastle swings

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

These are the same reasons why it makes sense for the Orioles to at least work with him at second base a bit. Over the last few seasons, as I wrote earlier, defense has become less of a “want” from MLB clubs when it comes to second basemen. They all want the bats.

One of Mountcastle’s biggest flaws on defense is his lack of arm strength, which is a big indicator as to why he was moved from shortstop to third base and now from third across the diamond to first. There is much less concern over arm strength when positioned on the right side of the infield. If Mountcastle can prove to be at least serviceable at second base, the Orioles may find his position of the future without having to stress over whether or not he can make the proper offensive adjustments to be an archetypal first baseman at the plate.

There’s a chance that second base actually isn’t a fit for Mountcastle and that his real defensive home is confirmed to be first base or one of the corner outfield spots. But with how he has already been accustomed to defensive change multiple times this early in his professional career, I don’t think it’ll hurt for the Orioles to put him through just one additional trial. The results may be worth it.

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The Payoff Pitch: Banging Ballot Boxes w/Dan Connolly

The Payoff Pitch logo.

In this first episode of The Payoff Pitch of 2020, I go over the recent Hall of Fame honorees, then get into the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and the fallout from that report.

The Payoff Pitch logo.

After that, I of course talks Orioles, including their jettisoning of Jonathan Villar, some prospects to get excited about, & more. Dan Connolly of The Athletic joins me to talk about his HoF ballot, Adley Rutschman being invited to big-league camp this spring, other young Birds that will be competing for spots, and more.

Thanks for listening! Follow Paul at @PaulValle & Dan at @danconnolly2016.

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Would You Trade Places with the Astros?

The Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles couldn’t be more different. Both are major league baseball franchises, and up until very recently, that’s about where the similarities ended. The Astros have appeared in two of the last three World Series, winning one (in 2017), and losing another in seven games (last year, to the Washington Nationals). The Orioles, of course, haven’t appeared in a Fall Classic since 1983.

Houston has won an average of 96 games per season over the past five years, topping 100 each of the last three. The O’s, meanwhile, have lost 100+ games in two straight seasons, and haven’t played in a playoff series since 2014 (they played in the Wild Card game in 2016). The Astros have been on the cutting edge of the baseball analytics revolution, putting together a front office that was the envy of the rest of the league. The Orioles, until hiring Mike Elias & Sig Mejdal away from said Astros just over a year ago, were the laughingstock of baseball in this regard, barely having an analytics department at all.

So, it would seem a no-brainer that Orioles fans would have been happy to trade places with Astros fans here over the last half-decade or so. We’d have jumped at the chance.

However, all of that changed recently, with the Astros being found guilty of using technology to steal signs during their recent run of success. The ‘Stros were fined $5 million; their manager, A.J. Hinch, and GM, Jeff Luhnow, were both suspended for the entire 2020 season (and subsequently fired by the team); they were stripped of their 2020 and 2021 first-round draft picks; Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, members of Houston in 2017, both lost their jobs, as manager of the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, respectively.

As a result of all this, Houston’s entire legacy is in question.

It’s a brutal episode for MLB, and for baseball fans everywhere, regardless of whether you cheer for the Astros, feel that your team was wronged by them on their way to all those wins, or just love the game in general. It’s the steroid scandal all over again, in some ways.

That black cloud that will hang over baseball will be explored exhaustively over the next few weeks, months, and years. What I was curious about, was whether or not Birdland would still trade places with Houston, given the chance.

My informal Twitter poll, that got 516 votes (presumably near all from O’s fans) found that 41% of O’s fans would still trade places. Here’s a sampling of some of the responses folks wrote:

Honestly, the voting went about as I’d expected. It’s a tough question, and I’m fascinated by the responses, on both sides. I think that, if you asked fans of a team that hasn’t been as long-suffering as we O’s fans have, you’d get a lot more people saying “No!” They don’t know the struggle, man.

I should also point out that I took the poll before the most recent allegations, that players actually had buzzers taped to their bodies to alert them what pitch was coming. Would that affect the results, I wonder?

So what about you? If a fairy could wave a magic wand and make the 2015-2019 Orioles and Astros trade places – the good and the bad – would you sign up for that?

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Baseball is Around the Bend

Ed Smith Stadium at night.

Just when we thought that Baltimore was going to be the proud new owner of a new Trophy (the Lombardi) the unthinkable happens, the Ravens collapse and lose to the Titans. It seemed like a sure thing … Lamar Jackson and Purple Reign looked unbeatable. But the sports gods can be fickle creatures. So, bring on the MLB season!

When we check the MLB Picks at SBR, we see the Baltimore Orioles are super long-shots at +100,000 to win the World Series in 2020. Now, I must say, even though those seem like impossible odds, it’s better than playing the lottery. A $10 bet would net you $10,000.00 if the Orioles made it through the postseason and won it all. I mean, it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility, the Washington Nationals just won the whole thing from the NL wild card seat!

Credit: sportsbookreview.com

A Look at the AL East

Well, the New York Yankees are the favorites to win the AL East and the World Series in 2020. They have continued to load up their roster because well … they can. They are the Evil Empire and the have the money to do so.

The Yanks have strengthened their starting rotation with a 9-year 324 million dollar signing of Gerrit Cole. So why is this scary? Because the Yanks had the third-best record in the Bigs last season and they just added a guy who had a 2.50 ERA with 326 strikeouts on 212 innings pitched. The Yanks managed their 103-59 record even without Giancarlo Stanton for most of the season and Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez missing 96 games together as well.

If the Yankees stay healthy, they could prove to be Bird-Bane for the Orioles in 2020. I hate to wish ill-will on anyone, but we need to hope for another injury-riddled season on the part of the Yanks if the Os want a chance of competing against this ridiculously stacked roster.

The Rays have been sitting on their highly-rated farm players for a while, but they just unloaded to add some depth to their MLB roster. They haven’t loaded up like the Yanks, but the Rays have been pretty busy over the offseason. They picked up Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for their top-rated pitching and catching prospects.

Tampa Bay had a solid season, just seven games behind the Yanks last year. And they are hoping that a bit of extra depth in the dugout will close the depth between the Rays and the AL East winners.

The Blue Jays have made moves as well. They paid big to steal Hyun-Jin Ryu and also added Chase Anderson in November. So, the Jays have worked pretty hard to garner an elite pitching staff on top of all their other moves.

The Red Sox are a full 20 million dollars over the luxury tax line … so there are a handful of stars on their roster that could hit the bricks in trade. This would not exclude David Price, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Nathan Eovaldi, and Chris Sale. But because of this, there are some prospects such as Josh Ockimey who might get their shot in 2020. That said, the Sox are going to have to unload, and this will cause a massive dynamic shift. I do not think they will be an 80-win team in 2020.

So, where does this leave the Orioles? Are they still going to be on the bottom of the division?

Well, unfortunately, it may be. But there could be a three-way race between the Os, the Jays, and the Sox for the middle of the division. The Orioles are starting to look pretty good defensively, as far as their infield is concerned. Jose Iglesias rounds out a solid infield and if Chris Davis can finally shake the gremlins off his bat, they might not only be good on defense but productive at the plate as well.

We’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the offseason shakes out, and who ends up where. But the O’s have a good shot to climb off the bottom of the AL East in 2020.

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A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore

Looking back over the last decade, and how the Orioles can improve in the 20s

What a long, strange trip the last 10 years have been for the Baltimore Orioles. They started badly, and they ended even worse; but in between, we saw a brief turnaround in Baltimore’s fortunes that many hoped would be a permanent renaissance. You won’t find the Fox bet sportsbook PA offering good odds on the Orioles making a strong comeback in 2020 either. However, the Birds are looking at the long game, and it’s entirely possible that the team in 2025 or 2030 will be unrecognizable from the sorry state we see right now.

Tough times

The noughties had been a dire decade for the once-proud Orioles, their golden years in the 1970s a lifetime past. April 12th, 2010 saw the lowest ever paid attendance in Camden Yards history, when just 9,129 fans turned out to see the Orioles go up against the Tampa Bay Rays.

It was time for a change, and Dave Trembley was replaced as manager by Buck Showalter (after third-base coach Juan Samuel stood in for a few weeks over the summer). Things started to improve straight away, and the Orioles finished out the season with a 66-96 record – by no means impressive, but marginally better than 64-98 in 2009, and seeming to buck what had been a five-year downward trend.

Moving forward

2011 saw the Orioles sign Vladimir Guerrero as designated hitter, and they finished the season 69-93. A highlight was the 4-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox on September 28th, one of the most dramatic games in MLB history thanks to the amazing performances of Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino.

Things really started to change for the better in 2012 with the Orioles’ first winning season since 1997. The Birds finished the regular season with a 93-69 record, second place in the American League East, won a playoff berth and went on to the American League Division Series. They lost in five games, but things were definitely looking up.

In 2013, Chris Davis set a new MLB record, with 16 RBIs during his first four games. He was also only the fourth player in league history to hit home runs in all of those first four games, including a grand slam in the fourth one. He finished the season with 53 home runs, the most in the Orioles’ history. The Orioles played 119 games without an error and finished the season with a very decent 85-77 record.

Doing well

Everything was set up for 2014, when a regular-season record of 96-66 saw them go through to the Division Series. They won for the first time since 1997, going on to the American League Championship Series, where they were defeated by the Kansas City Royals.

2015 should have been the Orioles’ year, but instead it found them treading water, stalling with an 81-81 record at the end of the season. Davis won the MLB home run championship with 47 home runs, the third consecutive year in which the title was won by an Oriole, but the team was eliminated from the division race early on.

Downhill

In 2016, an 89-73 record saw the Orioles advance to the playoffs on the last day of the season, where they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in the Wild Card game. Unfortunately, 2017 saw them back on a losing streak with a 75-87 record, their worst since 2011. After finishing 2018 47-115, the worst season record in the history of the franchise, they decided to let both Showalter and GM Dan Duquette go.

Looking ahead

With new manager Brandon Hyde at the helm, 2019 was all about rebuilding. On paper, it may not have been much of an improvement on the previous season, with a 54-108 record, but the difference was that in 2019, the Orioles’ focus wasn’t on winning. The season was all about breaking in a new, untested roster of young players and setting down solid foundations for the future.

It was painful to watch, however. The Orioles lost over 100 games in two consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, and they were the first team ever to allow 300 home runs in one season. They watched as regional rivals the Washington Nationals won the World Series, and the final irony was that they didn’t even end up with first draft pick in 2020. That went to the Detroit Tigers, who had the dubious honor of an even worse season than the Orioles, ending with a 47-114 record.

It may get worse before it gets better. However, Hanser Alberto and Rio Ruiz have shored up the Orioles’ defense, while Anthony Santander, John Means and Hunter Harvey look to be key players for several seasons to come. With plenty of new, untried talent coming on board, the Orioles have hopefully turned a corner. The best is yet to come.

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The Payoff Pitch – Warming Up Winter w/Luke Siler

The Payoff Pitch logo.

In this offseason episode, I discuss the O’s Winter Warmup event, the recent trades of Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Villar, and more. After the break, I’m joined by Orioles Hangout’s prospect analyst Luke Siler (@The_Luke_Siler) to discuss the players the Birds got in those aforementioned trades, plus the guys they picked up in the Rule V draft.

Thanks for listening!

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Villar Situation Tough to Swallow, but Makes Sense

Jonathan Villar in the batter's box.

On Wednesday night, the Orioles made a move that shocked a lot of the Baltimore baseball community when they decided to make an outright waiver request on Jonathan Villar. My understanding is that this means the Orioles could not find a trade partner for the middle-infielder and rather than taking the chance of having to pay parts, or all, of the $10.4 million contract he is due to receive through arbitration, the team decided non-tendering Villar was the best course of action.

Jonathan Villar in the batter's box.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Dan Connolly of The Athletic did his best to explain the situation in his most recent article, and speculated the Orioles could hope to re-sign Villar to a smaller deal if no other team puts in a waiver claim, though he thinks a simple non-tender and parting of ways is the most likely scenario. Making the former scenario possible is that any claiming team would have to go to arbitration with Villar, and there doesn’t seem to be teams champing at the bit to pay him upwards of $10 million.

In Baltimore, many fans and analysts–myself included–were left scratching their heads after the most recent turn of events.

For Villar, 2019 was an All-Star caliber campaign, even if the accolades weren’t awarded in-season. The 28-year-old switch hitter had a career year, playing in all 162 games while slashing .274/.339/.453 with 24 HR, 73 RBI, 111 runs, and 40 stolen bases (second most in the American League).

Pundits and analysts alike seemed to think tendering Villar a contract and then trading him later was the most likely scenario, and the Orioles did shop Villar at the trade deadline last season, during which time talks with the Cubs picked up some traction, but never intensified. The Orioles simply did not like what the Cubs were offering and weren’t willing to make a trade just for the sake of making a trade. All of this, of course, was before the monster second half Villar put up that could have made him an enticing trade target for fringe playoff contenders looking to be put over the top this offseason.

The question is, if the Orioles rid themselves of Villar, who do they replace him with?

Richie Martin has shed his rule V status and will almost assuredly be ticketed for Norfolk next spring. Mason McCoy is likely headed to Norfolk also, and profiles more as a utility man rather than an everyday player.

Of the Orioles’ top middle infield prospects, former first-round pick, Cadyn Grenier (almost by default) is the closest to making his big-league debut. He topped out at High-A Frederick in 2019 and ended his season on the injured list. Baltimore doesn’t have many answers for the middle of the diamond and robbing Peter to pay Paul doesn’t make much sense.

The Orioles could certainly do worse than a $10 million infielder with pop, on-base capabilities, and a propensity for the stolen base who plays every single day. With Villar, my position has always been that the club should take the same stance as they do with Trey Mancini. You must have recognizable players, even on a last place team. Fans who have gotten on-board with a full-scale rebuild still want a reason to come to the ballpark, and Villar is as good a reason as any.

Still, the waiver request does make sense, even if it is hard to swallow. The fact remains that Villar, while at times electric, doesn’t put this team over the top. Not when the rotation currently has four members (perhaps three if the Dylan Bundy trade rumors are true), the bullpen is as unproven as any in the game, and the lineup still features holes all over the diamond.

The Orioles are almost certainly headed for their third straight 100-loss, last-place finish, and Villar doesn’t change that. It may be difficult to fathom, but we all knew this stretch was coming. We signed up for a full-scale rebuild, and this it what that entails. In five years, we’ll probably look back on this and think, “Worth it.”

But until then, there’s no getting around it: This. Sucks.

Trust me, I get it.

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The Beauty of Bench-Clearing Brawls

Jose Bautista and Rougned Odor fight.

For the most part, mass brawls are often a bit hard to watch and the sooner they come to an end the better. There is one exception though, and that is when they take place on the sports field, mainly because everyone knows there is only so much they can get away with if they care at all about not being banned for life from the sport they play. So you are at liberty to encourage the unfolding melee to step it up a notch and get stuck in, safe in the knowledge that most of the punches being thrown are for the cameras.

No sport quite does a bench-clearing brawl like baseball though. It is part of the sport’s long list of unwritten rules that dictates should one of your team members become entangled in a fight, you drop everything you’re doing and follow the rest of your team into the trenches to fight. It’s this instinctive behavior that makes of the most popular sports in the USA.

Infographic credit: Betway

How are mass brawls started?

Well, you don’t have to try that hard to spark a row, in actual fact. Just put one foot wrong and a pitcher or batter will happily charge the wrongdoer and deliver a sporting uppercut on arrival. These things often escalate after repeated offenses but if you want to go from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye, then flip your bat after hitting a home run. Even better, throw the ball at a batter’s head, that will have the opposition bench running at you at approximately the same speed at which Puma’s golden boy Usain Bolt runs the 100-metre sprint.

Lesser offenses that are likely to have someone warn you – one more of those and you will be collecting your teeth off the ground – include bunting to break up a perfect game, walking over the pitcher’s mound, and stealing a base late in a blowout win.

You may as well have just insulted the mothers of all the opposition players if you’re brave enough to do any of the above. A full list of the dos and don’ts are dissected in Betway’s article on the evolution of baseball’s unwritten rules; however, it must be pointed out, group fights seem to have been around since baseball started with possibly the only evolution being the numbers of players invited to join in.

Bench-clearing is part of baseball’s DNA

Major League Baseball makes no attempt to hide mass brawls in their sport and has even dedicated a piece on their official website to the notable brawls in baseball history. The standout incident being when Rangers took on the Blue Jays in 2015, where a powerful slide by Jose Bautista on Rougned Odor was followed up with Odor punching Bautista with a connection that Muhammad Ali would have been proud of.

It was enough for Bautista’s helmet and glasses to take off like a 747, which prompted many to ask whether the fight was acceptable and actually a bridge too far in the sport? As way of comparison, that type of offense in soccer would have a player banned for life.

In the end, MLB handed Odor an eight-game suspension and a fine of $5,000 after going all Mike Tyson on Bautista.

Nothing more than a slap on the wrist. It’s not like Odor was about to join a list of the top five prosecuted athletes in the history of sport. In fact, the police weren’t even interested in taking it further and it doesn’t seem like baseball’s disciplinary committee were too put out by Odor’s reaction.

Why we love baseball’s mass brawls

A bit of a scuffle never killed anyone and a release of pent up emotion is always quality viewing for any sports fan. No, the fact that mass brawls are still allowed in baseball is one of the last standing beacons of hope in a world where more rules and regulations are beginning to permeate most sports’ skin. Let the boys rumble and sort it out amongst themselves.

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The Payoff Pitch: Restless & FanFest-less w/Jon Meoli

The Payoff Pitch logo.

In this offseason edition of The Payoff Pitch, I congratulate the team down 95 on their World Series win, goes over the Orioles’ moves to date, and previews the owners meetings. The Baltimore Sun’s O’s beat writer Jon Meoli then joins me to discuss the O’s puzzling decision to cancel FanFest, Chris Holt’s role, those aforementioned moves, and more.

Thanks for listening!

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Can a Poker Mindset Help the O’s Stay Focused?

Mancini’s second season saw him lose focus

Photo credit: Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Now, you may think that this sounds a bit odd and, truth be told, we completely understand why. How on earth can poker or anything related to cards help the Orioles remain focused? Well, the thing is that there are quite a few aspects of poker that could be just the ticket for keeping players in the right frame of mind leading up to a game.

Studies by leading neuroscientists discovered that poker continuously builds new pathways in the brain, which in turn leads to a healthy brain with functioning cells. And that means more brain power. Poker can actually improve mental capacity in a number of ways.

Let’s see, shall we?

Improved decision-making

If you’ve ever played poker regularly, then this is probably something that you take for granted – poker players can make the right decision in a split second. It’s a skill that’s acquired over time and that becomes second nature to regular players.

This decision-making ability comes about as a result of constantly working out odds and determining the chances of success throughout the game. The poker player’s mind is always on point, remaining fully focused at all times, but we’ll get to that later. It’s this decision-making skill that could be of huge benefit to the players. Less deliberation, more decisiveness on the field to echo the success of GM Mike Elias’ first year in charge. Perhaps Elias is a poker shark in his spare time – who knows?

While this year has without a doubt been a huge success (feels strange to type that), there’s always room for improvement, as Elias has proven in the boardroom.

Learning how to lose

What the what now? Yes, we’re talking about losing and we’re guessing that you think losing is a pretty easy thing to do right? Well, it’s not the actual losing we’re really talking about. Confused yet?

As you may have guessed, nobody wants to lose, but it’s inevitable that throughout a season, with so many games, the team are going to lose at some point. How they react to that loss is where the lessons of poker can be a significant benefit. You see, according to poker coach and sports psychologist Jared Tendler, one of the most important aspects of poker psychology is learning how to lose.

He maintains that any successful player he coaches has no problem with losing. They play their game and when they lose, they look on it not as a loss but as an opportunity to learn. They analyze their performance and the decisions they made throughout the game and use this information to improve their efforts the next time around.

Of course, baseball teams have been using analytics for years to help players look back on their effectiveness in the game. But this goes deeper than simple analytics. Learning to accept defeat as a learning opportunity takes a complete shift in mindset. And yes, you guessed it, poker teaches you how to make that shift.

Poker and baseball are alike in that players have many opportunities to have another crack at their opponents. 162 games for professional baseball players, and as many hands as a poker player can sit through.

Staying focused

 Bringing the team closer together can only be a positive thing?

(Photo credit: Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

And now we get to the real meat of the whole poker approach – remaining focused. Staying in the game and remaining focused on what’s happening might seem like an easy thing to do, but all you need to do is take a look at the likes of Trey Mancini, who in 2018 had a nightmare first half of the season. He then followed up with an adequate second half of the season, before then hitting the best form of his career in 2019.

Mancini’s problem in that poor first half of the 2018 season had nothing to do with ability. After all, he’s a supremely talented athlete. It’s more likely that the weight of expectation after such a great rookie year weighed too heavy on his shoulders. In all probability, he wasn’t mentally prepared for 2018 and it affected his performances.

So what does this have to do with focus and poker? It all has to do with removing emotional influence from the game. No, we’re not expecting the entire roster to function like robots, but learning to control emotions such as frustration, anger, and anxiety can only have a positive effect.

And once again, this is something that comes as second nature to a seasoned poker player. They think logically and make decisions based on the information laid out before them and not on the emotions that control their heart.

Heavy stuff, right? Well, it’s not really because as we said, poker simply teaches you to approach everything with a logical and analytical mind. You stop thinking with your emotions and start thinking with your game intelligence and before you know it, you’re making logical decisions despite the abuse of opposing fans and players.

We know one or two players who’d benefit from a slightly less emotional state of mind. We’ll mention no names though.

So, are we suggesting that Elias funds weekly trips to the local casino? Hell no. What we have in mind is something a little friendlier and a lot more controlled. Bring in a poker coach and sports psychologist like that guy Jared Tendler, and have him work on the basics of poker with all the players. Get him to focus on the mental preparation required to get into a poker mindset and then organize friendly players-only tournaments, with players playing for chips instead of actual cash.

Not only will this work as a great way to pick up those skills we mentioned earlier, but it will also bring the roster closer together. And that, in a nutshell is why poker could be exactly what the O’s need to stay focused and take us to the playoffs.

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Learning Experience for “Fall Stars” Kremer & McCoy

Dean Kremer prepares to pitch.

After strong starts to the Arizona Fall League season, RHP Dean Kremer and INF Mason McCoy have been selected to represent the Baltimore Orioles at this year’s Fall Stars Game.

McCoy, the Orioles’ 24th ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline, has a .417 on-base percentage across 36 plate appearances. Though not displaying much power aside from a line-drive triple to deep right-center field the other night, he’s hit the ball well, including nine hits in 21 at bats against right-handed pitching.

Dean Kremer prepares to pitch.

Kremer, ranked 8th in the Orioles’ system, has started three games this fall, striking out 10 across nine innings, surrendering just five hits and pitching to a 2.00 ERA. Much of his success has arisen from holding opponents to just one hit with runners on base. Left-handed batters have especially struggled against Kremer, a trend that holds true to his regular season numbers.

I had a chance to talk to each of them about their experiences in the Fall League thus far. Both are clearly embracing the opportunity to improve their skills, especially playing against top-notch competition from across all of baseball.

“Having pitchers like this helps expose your weaknesses and flaws in your swing, which I feel will make me a better player in the future,” said McCoy.

On the transition to playing for different coaches and with different teammates than he’s used to, McCoy told me, “they start giving you their input on certain things and all of a sudden you’re gathering more information from more coaches and players and you’re really just trying to do anything to better your game, to add more tricks to your trade.”

Kremer echoed those sentiments.

“The competition here is probably the best it’s gonna be,” he said. “Everyone is really young, really good and so getting to hammer down some things I want to work on and even just talking with other guys and seeing how they go about their business is a great opportunity.”

He went on to talk about how much fun it is to interact with new teammates, saying, “all the guys are really cool, it’s nice getting to meet the guys from the other teams and see who’s the up and coming talent, and everybody in our clubhouse is just awesome.”

“It’s awesome getting to intermingle with the other players from other teams and getting to know them a little bit,” said McCoy. “You’ve got top players in every organization competing and showing what they can do on the baseball field.”

McCoy recognizes that while the objective is always to win games, this is an opportunity for players to refine their skills.

“Guys are here to work on things,” he said. “I feel like there aren’t a lot of guys here that need to work on their fastball, but there are a lot of guys here that are trying to develop a third or a fourth pitch, so I need to take that into my at bats, too.”

I talked to Kremer about what I’ve seen from him personally this fall and his ability to mix in all four of his pitches. I asked what, specifically, he’s trying to work on when he’s on the mound.

“I’m really hammering away at the slider,” Kremer explained, “trying to get it in consistent shape, being able to throw it in the zone and out of the zone when I want to and so far I’ve been OK, slowly but surely getting better. I’ve had a limited number of outings but I’ve been throwing a lot of bullpens in between.”

On his selection to the Fall Stars Game, he told me, “yeah, definitely an honor to get recognized for that.”

For McCoy, it’s his second All-Star selection of the season, as he was also a member of the Eastern League’s mid-season All-Star team earlier this summer. “It was definitely one of my goals going in and I’m very grateful to get the honor,” said the infielder. “I feel like every time I come out here, I have something to prove to somebody. There’s always going to be doubters but being able to come out here and show to the best of my ability that I feel like I can get there and that I’m trying to make strides to be the best player I can be.”

The “Fall Stars Game” will take place on Saturday, October 12, at 8:00 EST. The game can be streamed online at MLB.com/AFL if you want to catch a piece of the action, which will include Kremer, McCoy, and other talented prospects from all across baseball.

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An Offseason Blueprint for the Birds

Austin Hays running bases.

Griesser’s Suggested Changes of the Offseason

Finally, after a long hiatus, I’m back with a brand new installment of my Suggested Change of the Week, and considering the 54-108 record that the Orioles are carrying into the offseason, there are a good number of adjustments and additions to make.

As I’ve written before, this first year of the rebuild hasn’t really been all that bad, despite the team’s win/loss record. The Orioles uncovered a few players who could be hidden gems, like Anthony Santander, Hanser Alberto, John Means, and Pedro Severino, while welcoming young studs like Hunter Harvey and Austin Hays to the bigs. As this multi-year process unfolds, more and more players like the six I just named should begin to sprout up, making their way to Camden Yards with greater frequency each year.

Austin Hays running bases.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

Now that the first year is complete, Elias and Hyde having the luxury of a full offseason together offers a chance to shorten the rebuild, if the right steps are taken. In this article, I’ll attempt to outline the best ways to handle that in the winter of 2019/2020, leading up to next season.

Without further ado, these are my Suggested Changes of the Offseason!

After the final game ended, Elias began the first piece of Baltimore’s winter work, continuing the necessary changes in the front office. One of the more important removals was that of Brady Anderson, who’d had a cloudy role with the Orioles for a while, but seemed to get in the way of past GMs. Smartly, Elias made sure that he’d be the sole signal-caller in the warehouse by relieving Anderson of his duties. I think that was a great first step.

Now, it’s up to Elias, Mejdal, Hyde, or anyone else involved to find the best fits to advance the various departments in which the O’s have been lacking traditionally. For me, the most important of these will be scouting, player development, and analytics. Because of Elias and Mejdal, who have a great background in that area, I find analytics to be the least worrisome of these. Whether they get the right people from Houston or elsewhere, they should have connections to smart analytics people to help the Orioles further their players’ success. At the same time, scouting both domestically and internationally has been an issue that needs to be resolved, and player development in the minor leagues has plagued the birds over the last two decades.

Meanwhile, there are also some vacancies on Brandon Hyde’s major league staff, as a number of the contracts were for one year. I don’t think this will see a huge shake-up, to be honest, as I think Hyde and his crew did a phenomenal job managing the 58 players on the O’s this year. That’s a huge number, and all of them deserve to be rewarded by being brought back (we now know that Howie Clark, Arnie Beyeler, & John Wasdin will not be).

Once everything with the front office and team management are sorted, the overhaul of the 40-man roster will begin. I think this will be an incredibly intriguing offseason, where we should see a ton of changes to this team, which is exciting.

The first order of business will be protecting players from the Rule-5 Draft before the November 20 deadline. This year, the players eligible for realistic protection are Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, Ryan McKenna, Cody Sedlock, and Gray Fenter. The first three names are absolutely going to be protected – honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if each were on the opening day roster. Beyond that, I think Sedlock is the only deserving protection. When you consider the fact that keeping each of these players will create more of a crunch with the 40-man roster, Sedlock’s age and projectability as a 2020 contributor makes him work protecting. McKenna and Fenter don’t have as strong an argument.

If any players are needed to be let go from the 40-man in order to make room for these four prospects, I think a few candidates are OF Mason Williams, P Josh Rogers, P Luis Ortiz, and P Richard Bleier.

Heading into the Rule-5 Draft, I think the Orioles are once again in position to bring a player in. I don’t expect them to draft two, like they did last year with Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, but I do think another middle infielder or starter/long-reliever would make sense.

Looking at free agency, I think the Orioles will be a bit more active heading into this season, as again, Elias will have a full offseason to get work done. This year, with the team still rebuilding, I’d like to see the Birds bring in players who lack a legitimate market but could pay off come the trade deadline if the Orioles take a chance.

Without any background knowledge on who the team actually might be interested in, names that come to mind include: INF/OF Chris Owings, INF/OF Brock Holt, SP Alex Wood, and perhaps less realistically, SP Dallas Keuchel.

Again, each of these players may go into the offseason expecting to land a big deal with a winning club, but could find difficulty getting what they want. Keuchel went through it last year, and I thought the O’s might pounce. This year, it might make more sense.

Finally, one of the priorities I’d have if I were Elias is trade Jonathan Villar. It’s not pressing, as Villar would be valuable to have around next year, but with his conclusion to the season, I’m not sure his value will ever be higher. Now’s the time to pounce and get a deal done to bolster the organization’s minor league talent.

This offseason will need multi-faceted action throughout, which will make it entertaining as ever. It won’t be easy and it won’t make the Orioles contenders next year, but it should be fun to watch. This has been my first crack at righting the ship.

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The Payoff Pitch – That’s a Wrap w/Dan Connolly

The Payoff Pitch logo.

In the final episode of the 2019 season, I am joined by Dan Connolly of The Athletic to put a bow on the Baltimore Orioles’ 2019 campaign. Which players made a case to be back in 2020? Who will be non-tendered? Who will be traded? And what can fans look forward to this offseason and into 2020?

Thanks for listening this season!

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Will the Real Trey Mancini Please Stand Up?

Trey Mancini watches the ball after making contact.

The 2019 Major League Baseball season has reached its conclusion and it’s time to look forward to the offseason and 2020. But looking back on this past season, there were a number of Orioles who produced impressive campaigns: John Means, Jonathan Villar, Hanser Alberto, Renato Núñez and Trey Mancini.

Let’s talk about the last name on the list.

We’ve seen quite a crazy start to the career of the Orioles’ first baseman/outfielder. Mancini wasn’t known as a top prospect of any sorts while coming up through Batimore’s farm system. He broke onto the scene in Sept. 2016 with three home runs in five games, cementing the “Boom Boom” call for many longballs to come.

Trey Mancini watches the ball after making contact.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

In his first full season at the big-league level in 2017, Mancini batted .293/.338/.488 with 24 home runs, 116 wRC+, .349 wOBA and 1.6 WAR (per FanGraphs). He finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind the Yankees’ Aaron Judge (first) and Red Sox’s Andrew Benintendi (second).

Mancini’s first full season sparked a lot of hope from O’s fans of what was to come.

In 2018, Mancini matched his previous total of 24 home runs. However, he slashed just .242/.299/.416 with 91 wRC+, .308 wOBA and -0.3 fWAR. His first half was abysmal, hitting .216/.292/.363 with 78 wRC+ and .289 wOBA. He had a much better second half of the season though, slashing .276/.307/.484 with 109 wRC+ and .334 wOBA. That’s a drastic improvement, but his second-half numbers still weren’t close to as good as his results from his rookie campaign in 2017.

This left many O’s fans wondering what to expect from Mancini in 2019, his age-27 season and third year in the majors.

What did he end up doing? He put up the best numbers of his career and was named Most Valuable Oriole. Mancini batted .291/.364/.535 with 35 homers, 132 wRC+, .373 wOBA and 3.5 fWAR in 2019.

Which season do we believe is the true Mancini?

Well, before we determine that, let’s take a look at what he has done differently this season from his previous years.

First off, he used the entire field more frequently in 2019 than he ever has before. In general, we saw Mancini driving the ball up the middle quite often this year, reluctant to sell out and fly open to attempt to pull off-speed pitches on the outside part of the plate.

As you can see in the table above, these aren’t drastic differences, but they are worth mentioning. In Mancini’s best season, he posted the lowest percentage of batted balls pulled to left field, as well as his highest percentage of batted balls hit up the middle. If you sell yourself out to pull the ball often, pitchers can counter that and find ways to get you out, which is exactly what happened in 2018.

However, in 2019, the season that Mancini put up his highest homer total, he hit the fewest of them to left field, his pull side.

From 2016-2018, 43.1 percent of Mancini’s home runs were pulled. In 2019? That frequency dropped to 28.6 percent.

Mancini showed his desire to stay in the middle of the field, whether it be for base knocks or hitting the longball. If you don’t show your plan to pull the ball often and early, it makes it much harder for pitchers to know what to do to get you out.

Speaking of longballs, Mancini reached a career-high season total in them this season, mashing 35 of them this year, compared to his former-highest total of 24. What happened to spark this power stroke?

If your initial thought is the fact that the baseballs in 2019 were juiced, I won’t argue with you there. There have been many balls hit this year, including a couple from Mancini, that probably had no business leaving the ballpark. Some even looked like they may have been bloopers off the bat. But I think there’s more to his homer spike than just the change in baseballs.

Heading into this season, Mancini had been hitting quite a lot of balls on the ground. In 2019, he lifted the ball much more often.

In 2018, the worst season of his three-year career, Mancini produced his lowest line drive rate, lowest fly ball rate and highest groundball rate. How did he change things this season? He posted a 3.3 percent increase in his line drive rate, a 5.4 percent increase in his fly ball rate and an 8.7 percent decrease in his groundball rate.

As Joe Trezza of MLB.com wrote last week, Mancini hasn’t bought into the launch angle era.

“Not trying to lift the ball, just getting pitches he can drive,” manager Brandon Hyde told Trezza.

However, I think it’s possible Mancini has begun to slowly adopt the launch-angle approach without even realizing it. His average launch angle in 2018 was 5.4 degrees, but in 2019 he gave it a slight boost to 7.8 degrees. This still isn’t a large launch angle, but there is some sort of change of which to take note.

Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com wrote that the club has provided Mancini with information to take his offensive output to an even higher level going forward, possibly to even reach 40 longballs.

“It’s something we’ve talked about the last month or two with him,” Hyde told Melewski. “Good things happen when he hits the ball in the air. I just think it’s an approach thing more than anything. … Especially early (in the year) for me the two-seamer or the left-handed cutter, he would swing at and hit ground balls to short and third. Now you are starting to see him elevate the baseball more and lay off those pitches he can’t really drive and wait for something he can stay behind and hit the ball in the air.”

If the Orioles are providing even more information to Mancini, we could see another uptick in home runs and launch angle in 2020.

But what was Hyde talking about saying Mancini is laying off pitchers’ pitches?

Oh yeah, that brings me to my final point.

In 2019, Mancini posted his highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate. He has shown a greater discipline against sliders and curveballs in a year that he saw the most of those pitches.

In 2019, Mancini saw fewer fastballs and more breaking balls, yet his swing rate went down on breaking balls but up on fastballs. He’s made an adjustment at the plate to stop chasing the sliders and curveballs breaking away from him, those that he can’t barrel up, to put himself in a better position to get a fastball in his zone.

In spring training in 2018, Mancini said to the MASN booth that he had been working on mechanical adjustments to keep his head still, noting that he formerly had a lot of head movement in years’ past that may have hurt his production. He said he had “wasted movement” in his approach so he wanted to focus on changing that. Well, we see how his 2018 season went. Not good.

However, in spring training prior to this season, Mancini told the MASN booth that his new focus was strictly on seeing the baseball, and that worrying about his mechanics in the box actually made things worse for him. Could this have had an impact on his breakout 2019 campaign? Maybe, maybe not. But there’s something to be said about something we can’t always see with our eyes and critique, and that’s a player’s mental approach.

Over his three-year career, we’ve seen three completely different versions of Mancini. If the new information provided to him was the reason for his 2019 outbreak, this is something we could look forward to for years to come. Whether that’s in an Orioles uniform or not is a conversation for another day.

But if these differences in his approach, ball lifting and pitch selection didn’t mean a darn thing, then we don’t really know what to expect from Mancini heading into his age-28 season.

There are reasons, like I’ve provided above, that may give you enough to believe Mancini’s 2019 numbers are the ones we should trust. But with his inconsistencies from year to year, there’s also enough reason to have some doubt that he can repeat this production.

Therefore, I ask: Will the real Mancini please stand up?

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Payoff Pitch Prospect Report: AFL Update

In this edition of The Payoff Pitch Prospect Report, I check in on some Orioles playing in the Arizona Fall League, including Rylan Bannon, David Lebron, Dean Kremer, and others.

Thanks for watching, and stay tuned for this week’s full Payoff Pitch episode!

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A Look at Arbitration-Eligible O’s

Jonathan Villar in the batter's box.

As the first season under the new regime begins to wind down, it’s time to take a look at what’s in store for the second offseason under Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias.

We’ve seen that, from the beginning of this rebuild, the club has no plans to add more salary than what’s necessary for the time being. They’re trying to shed payroll in any possible way.

Designated hitter Mark Trumbo will become a free agent at the end of the season, and I’m sure Elias is looking forward to taking his salary off the books. But there are still a couple Orioles under contract. First baseman Chris Davis has three years remaining on his seven-year, $161 million deal, and right-handed starter Alex Cobb has two years left on his four-year, $57 million contract.

With two hefty contracts still on the books and a need to shed salary, don’t expect the Orioles to dive head-first into the free-agent market this offseason. The Orioles’ biggest signing last winter was a one-year, $800,000 deal for right-hander Nate Karns. I don’t anticipate the Orioles to do much more than that this upcoming winter.

But what also comes with shedding salary? Tough arbitration decisions. The Orioles have seven arbitration-eligible players this offseason. It’s possible all seven may return, but there’s also a chance that one or more of these players are either non-tendered or traded away to decrease payroll and/or add to the talent in the farm system.

Let’s take a crack at these seven, shall we? All statistics are up to date through Sunday, Sept. 22. The first few will be some of the most talked about Orioles in the coming months.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

2B/SS Jonathan Villar

2019 salary: $4.83 million

Under control through 2020

From the start of the season through the end of July, Jonathan Villar slashed .265/.328/.422 with 13 homers, 23 stolen bases, a .320 wOBA, 96 wRC+ and 1.8 WAR (per FanGraphs). He was a valuable asset, but at the time nothing special. The Orioles shopped him prior to the trade deadline but no teams bit. Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com noted the day of the deadline that the Orioles spoke with the Cubs about Villar, but there wasn’t enough interest to get a deal done.

Kubatko also wrote that Villar could be considered a “serious non-tender candidate” this upcoming offseason.

Since then, Villar has been scorching hot at the plate. He’s now batting .274/.341/.456 with 23 homers, 38 stolen bases, a .337 wOBA, 108 wRC+ and 3.7 fWAR on the season. If his production doesn’t drop off considerably in the year’s final six games, he may finish 2019 with the first 4-WAR season of his career.

If Villar was a non-tender candidate prior to his August and September outburst, I imagine the Orioles feel a little bit better about paying his potential salary increase, but not by much. I think they try shopping Villar again this winter, hoping a team will pull the trigger and trade for the switch-hitting infielder coming off a career year. His great season could both help and hurt the chances of a trade this offseason, though. It could help because teams will definitely be interested in a 4-WAR player, but it could hurt if teams think his stellar 2019 is a fluke.

The Orioles’ priority option with Villar this offseason should be to trade Villar to whichever club has the best offer. If no team bites – once again – I’d tender him for 2020. I wouldn’t be surprised if they non-tender him to shed salary, but I don’t think they want to let him go for nothing in return, and he would probably become the most sought-after non-tender on the open market. So either try to trade him this offseason, or bring him back with a pay increase and try to trade him in July.

Third time’s the charm, right?

Dylan Bundy of the Baltimore Orioles pitches.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

RHP Dylan Bundy

2019 salary: $2.8 million

Under control through 2021

Dylan Bundy is another interesting case for 2020. The once top prospect will be entering his age-27 season with two years remaining under club control, and he is a shell of his former self. His numbers – both velocity and results – are down.

In 2018, Bundy had his worst season, recording a 5.45 ERA and 5.17 FIP with 2.15 home runs allowed per nine innings in 31 starts. That year accumulated to 1.0 fWAR for Bundy, which typically isn’t going to cut it.

This year, he hasn’t been impressive but he has certainly put up better numbers. In 29 starts he has a 4.89 ERA, 4.76 FIP and has allowed 1.63 homers per nine innings. He has 2.4 fWAR, his second-best in his career. That’ll play for a back end starting pitcher.

The new regime has worked with Bundy on finding new ways to attack hitters now that he no longer has a high-velocity fastball. A lot of guys have to reinvent themselves as different pitchers to continue to have success, like CC Sabathia did a few years back. But unlike Sabathia, Bundy has to do this much earlier in his career than he, or anybody, probably anticipated.

In Bundy’s first 23 starts this season, he had a 5.25 ERA, 5.07 FIP and 1.88 home runs allowed per nine innings. In that span, per BrooksBaseball.net, this was his pitch usage: 44.89 percent four-seam fastballs, 22.56 percent sliders, 17.60 percent change-ups, 9.37 percent curveballs and 5.58 percent two-seam fastballs. In the six starts he’s had since then, he owns a 3.63 ERA, 3.68 FIP and 0.78 home runs allowed per nine innings. His pitch usage has altered quite a bit in these last six starts: 34.32 percent four-seam fastballs, 23.4 percent sliders, 16.29 percent chang-eups, 14.04 percent two-seam fastballs and 11.96 percent curveballs. He has drastically reduced the amount of four-seams he’s throwing and, in return, dialing up the usage on his two-seam and curveball. Something to keep an eye on going forward.

Some on social media have wondered if Bundy is a non-tender candidate. It’s possible, but I don’t think it happens. He has made strides this season, and I think the front office would like to see if these adjustments can show even better results in 2020. If you have hope for Bundy to return to a potential top of the rotation starter, I’d urge you to give that up. But if the O’s can turn Bundy into a solid middle-to-back of the rotation arm, I think they’ll take that as a win.

Mychal Givens on the mound looking in.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

RHP Mychal Givens

2019 salary: $2.15 million

Under control through 2021

I’ll start with this: I don’t think the Orioles will even consider non-tendering right-handed reliever Mychal Givens. He’ll be tendered a contract for 2020; the only question may be with what team.

Givens has had quite the odd year for the Orioles. This season for the right-hander has featured career worsts in ERA (4.77), FIP (4.66), home runs allowed per nine innings (1.94) and fWAR (0.4). However, his 12.38 strikeouts per nine innings is by far the best in his career. His previous best was 11.57 in 2016.

He has had some very inconsistent stretches, posting a 4.50 ERA in April, 6.39 ERA in May, 3.68 ERA in June, 2.79 ERA in July, 2.70 ERA in August and 8.31 ERA in September.

Givens recorded a 3.12 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 0.73 homers allowed per nine innings and 10.42 strikeouts per nine from 2015-2018. It’s worth noting that 2019 is the first season that Givens has been asked to handle closing duties, mostly in an unconventional way.

Manager Brandon Hyde, with a thin bullpen, has used Givens multiple times this season in which the right-hander would need to get outs in both the eighth and ninth innings to lock down saves. A lot of those occasions began on track in the eighth and turned into disasters in the ninth. Givens has a 2.11 ERA in the eighth inning this season, holding batters to a .153/.218/.278 slash line, while posting a 6.69 ERA in the ninth with hitters batting .252/.344/.526 off him. Either closing isn’t for Givens, or multiple-inning appearances aren’t for him.

I’m sure the Orioles still see the Givens from 2015-2018. They’ll either tender him a contract and try to get him back to form to make him a valuable trade asset in July, or they’ll try to gauge the trade market for him this offseason.

I can’t see Givens being non-tendered. I can, however, see him with another club next season, whether it’s on opening day or in July/August.

Hanser Alberto and Renato Nunez high five.

2B/3B Hanser Alberto

2019 salary: $578,000

Under control through 2022

Infielder Hanser Alberto has to be one of the biggest surprises of the Orioles’ 2019 season. He is slashing .310/.333/.431 with 12 longballs, a .323 wOBA, 99 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR.

The batting average is impressive, but the on-base percentage and wOBA are average at best. This is because Alberto basically refuses to walk. His 3.0 percent walk rate is the third-lowest in Major League Baseball. However, Alberto also refuses to strike out. His 9.0 percent strikeout rate is the lowest among qualified hitters in 2019.

His ability to constantly put the ball in play carries an underrated value. He sprays the ball around the field and finds ways to get many hits, even on softly hit balls. Usually collecting many of these types of base knocks is a recipe for regression. But with Alberto’s ability to constantly put the ball in play without striking out, the regression may not hit as hard as some may think.

He also plays more than capable defense at both second and third base, the former featuring his best glovework.

This one is a no-brainer, especially given that the pay increase through arbitration shouldn’t be too much. Alberto will be back.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

1B Trey Mancini

2019 salary: $575,500

Under control through 2022

Voted 2019 Most Valuable Oriole, first baseman/right fielder Trey Mancini has had a career year. He’s batting .286/.356/.532 with 34 home runs, a .368 wOBA, 129 wRC+ and 3.1 fWAR. This year also features his highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate of any season in his career.

There’s no question as to whether or not he’ll be tendered a contract. There is no non-tendering Mancini. However, with rumors swirling around him in July, one has to wonder if the team tendering him a contract will be someone other than the Orioles. Mancini is possibly the Orioles’ best trade chip right now in order to continue to build a strong farm system.

The only problem with that though, is that no contending team really sticks out with a need for a first baseman or designated hitter. The Orioles have used Mancini in the outfield, but it’s not an ideal situation. So as long as the National League stays away from adopting the designated hitter, there are very limited options for teams that need Mancini’s services. That doesn’t play well into the Orioles’ favor when trying to seek a large return for the MVO.

I fully expect Mancini to be back with the Orioles next season.

Richard Bleier of the Orioles pitches.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

LHP Richard Bleier

2019 salary: $572,500

Under control through 2022

Left-handed reliever Richard Bleier has never been flashy. He has a slow fastball and he doesn’t strike people out, but pounds the strike zone and he generates a ton of ground balls. This season, he has been a bit disappointing, owning a 5.54 ERA and 4.41 FIP over 52 innings pitched. The prior three seasons, he posted a 1.96 ERA in 2016, 1.99 ERA in 2017 and 1.93 ERA in 2018.

One could argue that the southpaw’s shoulder surgery from last season is a reason for this drop off. Others may say they could see it coming just based on fastball velocity and the amount of balls he allows to be put in play. And the rest could debate that it could be because of both of the previous reasons, but also because he’s 32 years old.

Bleier is affordable, has a history of success and is left-handed, which provides the case for him to return to the Orioles in 2020. However, heading into your age-33 season gives me some doubt. I’ll say he’s on the roster bubble this offseason. Whether Bleier is non-tendered, tendered or even traded this winter, nothing will be surprising to me.

Miguel Castro throws in Sarasota.

Craig Landefeld/GulfBird Sports

RHP Miguel Castro

2019 salary: $569,000

Under control through 2022

The 24-year-old flamethrower is tough to read, just like I wrote earlier regarding Givens. Miguel Castro has the “stuff” to pitch in the back end of a bullpen, but the command needs to tighten up, shown by the 5.10 walks per nine innings on the season. Overall he has a 4.73 ERA, 4.78 FIP, 8.71 strikeouts per nine innings and a 49.5 percent groundball rate in 72 1/3 innings this season.

In his last outing against the Blue Jays on Sept. 18, Castro allowed six runs (five earned) over two-thirds of an inning. But prior to that, he had posted a 2.30 ERA since the All-Star break.

There are reasons to be frustrated with Castro, and the majority of those reasons trace back to his poor command. The stuff is nasty, but finding his release point and hitting his spots better is going to be the key.

There’s plenty of potential in the young right-hander. Being a relatively cheap arm with filthy stuff should earn him a spot in the Orioles’ bullpen next year. He’ll be entering his age-25 season, so this should be a no-brainer for the O’s and their youth movement.

Wrapping this up

I don’t see any situation where Alberto, Mancini and Castro aren’t wearing Orioles uniforms in 2020. I expect Bundy and Givens to return as well, although it’s possible they could be shopped this winter. With Villar ready for a pay increase after arguably the best year of his career, I think the Orioles’ No. 1 priority being to try to maximize on that value by dealing him and wiping out his salary. Bleier could very well be on the roster bubble this winter, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay.

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The Payoff Pitch – M.V.O. with Jon Meoli

The Payoff Pitch logo.

This week, we are again honored to be joined by Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun. Jon and I talk about the Most Valuable Oriole award, the logjam at first base (including Ryan Mountcastle), Chris Davis, Alex Wells, Adley Rutschman, and plenty more!

Thanks for listening! Stay tuned for The Payoff Pitch Prospect Report.

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Arizona Fall League Preview

Dean Kremer prepares to pitch.

Tonight begins the Arizona Fall League, MLB’s annual offseason instructional league, comprised of some of baseball’s most elite Minor League talent from all 30 teams. Each year, MLB clubs send a minimum of seven prospects to Arizona for a bit of additional offseason work.

The Orioles are not known for sending their best prospects to the desert; the last notable O’s duo to participate was Dylan Bundy and Chance Sisco in 2015. However, in its 27-year history, the Fall League has included 19 future Most Valuable Players and 29 future Rookies of the Year. That’s a pretty impressive track record.

Dean Kremer prepares to pitch.

RHP Dean Kremer and IF Rylan Bannon, both acquired in last July’s Manny Machado trade, highlight this year’s Orioles representatives. Also participating will be SS Mason McCoy, RHP Cody Carroll, RHP David Lebron, and LHP Alex Wells. OF Austin Hays will join them at the conclusion of the MLB regular season.

That group will be part of this year’s Surprise Saguaros, one of six Fall League teams, and will be teammates with prospects from the Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, and Washington Nationals.

Let’s start with the pitchers. Kremer, 23, spent most of this season with the AA Bowie Baysox and is the Orioles’ #8 prospect according to MLB Pipeline. He posted a 2.98 ERA (3.56 FIP) and 1.23 WHIP in 84.2 innings with the Baysox this year, striking out 87 and walking 29. His numbers after his promotion to AAA Norfolk were not pretty, though much of his 8.84 ERA across those four starts can be attributed to a staggering .459 opponent batting average on balls in play. Kremer still struck out 21 in 19.1 innings.

Carroll, 26, is one of the three pitchers the Orioles acquired from the Yankees in the Zack Britton trade. After a short stint in the majors last season during which he walked nearly seven batters per nine innings, Carroll missed most of 2019 with a disc issue in his lower back. He’ll hope to get back on track in the Fall League, pitching in a relief role for the Saguaros.

Lebron, 34, is a former #1 overall pick, 3x NBA Champion and Finals MVP, 4x NBA Most Valuable Player, and 15x All Star. David Lebron, 26, is a former 26th round draft pick who spent the entire 2019 season pitching for the Frederick Keys. In 82.2 innings, mostly as a starter, Lebron struck out 92 but walked 47. He is not currently on the Orioles top-30 prospect list, and at 26 years old, probably will not find himself there.

Wells, 22, pitched 137.1 innings as a starter for Bowie this season, and while his strikeout numbers are nothing special, his ability to force soft contact and limit the home run ball led him to a 2.95 ERA (3.20 FIP). While none of his three pitches are above average, his ability to locate each of them is a big factor in the O’s #20 prospect’s success thus far. If he has a dominant pitch, it’s his change-up, which complements his fastball and curveball very well.

Bannon, 23, is the O’s #23 overall prospect. Like Kremer, he was promoted to Norfolk after spending most of the season with Bowie. His .345 OBP across both levels is respectable, but he doesn’t have the tools to blow anybody away. He knocked 11 home runs and stole eight bases this year, showing a balanced profile, and his sound defense makes him a candidate to stick around as a utility guy at the Major League level if everything works out.

McCoy, 24, is a former sixth-round pick and the O’s #24 prospect, and reminds me of Bannon with a little less power and a little better defense. You may have seen him on twitter a couple weeks ago, thanks to his overhand glove flip that went viral in the baseball world. He’s a very sound defensive shortstop with a mediocre bat, though there’s no lack of that type of player in the Orioles system.

All in all, while it may not be the most exciting group on paper, the Arizona Fall League is a great opportunity for prospects to show off their talent in front of a bevy of scouts and executives. I’m looking forward to covering the Fall League for ESR this season, so keep an eye out for my not-so-expert analysis and hopefully a few player interviews along the way!

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Orioles Season Winding Down

sunset view of oriole park at camden yards

We’re officially into September which means the MLB season is drawing to a close. There’s still plenty of ball left to play with baseball’s biggest prize still up for grabs. The World Series kicks off in October. Brandon Hyde will take his men to Boston at the end of the month where their campaign will finish against the Red Sox.

It’s been a season of ups and downs for the Orioles. They’ve experienced the joy of huge wins and the despair of crushing defeats. The team has learned plenty of valuable lessons along the way which they can use to improve their game next season.

They’ll be desperate to hold on to Jonathan Villar during the winter. The former Houston Astros and Milwaukee Brewers player has been the standout performer for the O’s this year. He’s scored dozens of runs and was among the best players in MLB rankings during September.

Can he lead his team to a few more victories before the curtain closes on the O’s season at Fenway Park? We’re going to look at Orioles remaining fixtures and highlight the games where we think they can pick up points. If you’re betting on baseball over the next few weeks, check out our analysis before you start.

 

Games to Avoid

Los Angeles Dodgers – According to Bets.com.au, the Dodgers are among the favorites to win the World Series. Many punters and analysts are tipping LA to win their first title since 1988. This is bad news for the O’s who still have to entertain the Dodgers three times at Oriole Park in September. However, if Brandon Hyde can get his key men firing, it might be a respectable score.

Boston Red Sox – The Orioles’ last few games of the season will take place at Fenway Park against the current world champions. What’s more, the O’s met the Red Sox three times in August and lost convincingly on all three occasions. If recent results are anything to go by, we’d avoid this one at all costs.

 

Games to Target

Toronto Blue Jays – Baltimore turned the Blue Jays over a couple of times last month. They also lost two games, but their ability to win twice shows that they can get the job done. There are plenty of games left to play between now and then, but if the O’s can pick up a few wins, they’ll fancy their chances.

Seattle Mariners – The last time these teams met was in June. The Mariners won the mini-series 3-1, but the Orioles managed to snatch an 8-4 victory in the third game. Despite losing three games, they performed well and will back themselves to win when they’re playing on home soil.

Texas Rangers – The Rangers picked up most of the runs when they last met the O’s. However, three of the games were won by just a one-run margin. If Villar maintains his form, we think that Baltimore can pick up the spoils this time around.

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