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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.

https://twitter.com/BowieBaysox/status/1119024090319400961

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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The Warehouse Episode 31: Mullins Demoted, Wright DFA’d

Believe it or not, the 2019 MLB season is nearly a month old already. As is common with April baseball, there has been plenty of early-season ridiculousness. Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich are hitting home runs at a ridiculous rate. Christian Walker and Daniel Vogelbach are suddenly good. Noah Syndergaard is bad. The Rays can’t stop winning, while the Red Sox are toiling near the bottom of the standings.

In times of uncertainty, we can all cling to one constant: The Orioles are bad. Like, really, really bad.

Of course, that comes as no surprise to readers of this site. After all, being bad in 2019 was all part of the plan. Because what’s better than one first overall draft pick? Two first overall draft picks.

Ever since the Orioles unexpectedly started the year 4-1, things have gone downhill. Even still, it hasn’t all been bad. Trey Mancini has been a lot of fun to watch, and how about John Means’ fancy new change-up? Pretty cool, right?

Tyler and Jesse get into their first-month reflections, the demotion of Cedric Mullins, the DFA of Mike Wright and much more on this week’s episode of The Warehouse Podcast. Give it a listen in the player above, or subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn, Podbean or anywhere else you get your audio entertainment!

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Are the Prospects Doing Any Better at Least?

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

We knew this would happen eventually, though we probably hoped it wouldn’t be quite so early on in the season – the big league club is downright impossible to watch, at least without constantly grimacing. The Birds are now 1-10 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and they’ve had to use a position player on the mound (Hanser Alberto, Chris Davis, and Jesus Sucre) three times in eleven home contests.

They can’t hit the ball out of the park (they’re 21st in MLB in dingers), and the pitchers can’t keep it IN the park (they’re on pace to obliterate the MLB record for home runs allowed in a season) – that’s a pretty awful combination in a hitter’s haven like The Yard. The results have reflected that discrepancy: not only are they 1-10, but they’ve been outscored by a ridiculous 102-50 margin.

As such, we O’s fans have already begun to turn our eyes toward the minors, where the future stars of the franchise are, hopefully, showing flashes of being just that. Let’s take a look at how some of the key Baby Birds are performing.

We’ll start with Norfolk today, and look elsewhere as the week goes on.

One key prospect who would be playing in Nofolk, Austin Hays, remains at extended Spring Training. Here’s the latest:

To the guys who are playing!

 

Ryan Mountcastle

Ryan Mountcastle prepares to field.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

.288/.319/.545 4 HR 3 2B 1 3B 17 RBI 4 BB 17 K 66 AB 2 E

Let’s start with the good, shall we? The O’s second pick in 2015 (36th overall) has been raking in AAA to begin the season.

Mountcastle’s bat remains as advertised. His problem is still finding somewhere to play. The organization seems to have mostly given up on him as a shortstop or third baseman, as he’s spending the majority of his time at first base at the moment (though he did make a start at the hot corner on April 18, with Stevie Wilkerson starting at first). The Birds obviously have quite the logjam of 1B/DH types, and Ryan looks to be adding his name to the mix.

At least he’s hitting. I doubt Mike Elias will be in any hurry to rush Mountcastle to the bigs in 2019, regardless of how well he hits in Norfolk, however. Here’s to his continuing to mash AAA pitching for the remainder of his time at that level.

 

Chance Sisco

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

.200/.259/.260 3 2B 4 RBI 3 BB 17 K 50 AB

And now, some bad news. Once thought to be another sure bat who maybe didn’t have a position and who would also add to that aforementioned 1B/DH backlog, Sisco has seemingly lost his best tool. After hitting a combined .317/.403/.430 across AA and AAA in 2016, Sisco looked ready to make the move to the bigs. Though he only hit .267/.340/.395 in 97 games for Norfolk in 2017, he was called up for a cup of coffee in September, and had six hits – including two doubles and two home runs – in 18 AB. He started the 2018 season in Baltimore, but hit just .181/.288/.269 in 63 games, looking overmatched and ultimately being optioned back to AAA. Back on the farm, he didn’t do much better, slashing .242/.344/.352 with just eight extra-base hits in 151 plate appearances.

He seemed to be back to himself with the bat in Sarasota this year, hitting .382/.533/.765 with four homers and a double in 45 PA. However, Elias & Co. wanted him to go back to Norfolk and hit like that against AAA pitching, and he has…not done that, as you can see from the numbers listed above. Other than the small sample size against Spring Training competition, Sisco hasn’t really hit anywhere in almost three years, which has to be growing more and more alarming for the folks in the Warehouse.

 

DJ Stewart

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

.237/.366/.424 2 2B 3 HR 6 RBI 11 BB 11 K 59 AB 2 E

Taken 11 picks before Mountcastle in the 2015 draft out of Florida State, Stewart has had an up-and-down minor league career. He posted OPS numbers of just .633 and .776 between low- and high-A ball in 2015 and 2016, respectively, but saw that number climb to .859 in 540 PA for Bowie in 2017. The always-tough-on-hitters Harbor Park may have contributed to a falling off to .235/.329/.387 in AAA in 2018, but Stewart, like Sisco, showed some promise when given a limited chance at the MLB level, as he hit .340/.550/.890 with three doubles and three dingers in 47 PA last September.

Right now, all of his numbers are better than they were during his last stint at AAA (with OBP and SLG each 37 points higher), so Stewart is certainly showing some positive signs.

 

Anthony Santander

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

.250/.286/.350 3 2B 1 HR 8 RBI 2 BB 12 K 60 AB

A 2017 Rule V pick, I put Santander on this list based on his bat. With OPS numbers of .866 and .862 in his final two years in the Cleveland organization, and then an 1.199 in 16 games in high-A and AA in 2017 for the Birds, he certainly flashed some promise with the stick.

However, that didn’t translate during his Rule V time at the MLB level in 2018, as he hit just .198/.250/.297 in 33 games.

 

Keegan Akin

Keegan Akin pitches.

Norfolk Tides

3 GS 13.2 IP 3.95 ERA 11 H 6 ER 1 HR 18 K 6 BB

The 2016 second-round pick out of Western Michigan was the co-winner (with Zac Lowther) of the Birds’ Jim Palmer minor-league pitcher of the year award after tossing a 3.27 ERA over 25 starts for Bowie. The southpaw has been pretty darn good to start his AAA career as well, and that 11.9 K/9 figure (along with a 3:1 K:BB ratio) has eyes popping for sure.

 

Luis Ortiz

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

3 GS 11.1 IP 4.76 ERA 15 H 6 ER 2 HR 7 BB 7 K

Acquired in the Jonathan Schoop deal last July, the former Texas Rangers first-round pick reportedly lost 25 pounds this offseason. Unfortunately, a slimmed-down Ortiz doesn’t seem to be a much better Ortiz thus far. There isn’t much promising about a 1:1 K:BB rate or giving up nearly as many earned runs (six) as you have strikeouts (seven) through three starts.

Hopefully Ortiz can get things turned around here shortly.

 

Josh Rogers

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

3 GS 15.0 IP 6.00 ERA 10 ER 18 H 3 HR 10 K 3 BB

The only guy on this list who we’ve already seen here in Baltimore this season, Rogers came over in the Zach Britton trade and made three starts for the O’s last year. They were less than inspiring efforts, totaling 11.2 IP during which he gave up 11 ER on 17 hits. He also pitched 3.2 in relief with the big club this month, allowing five more earned runs, and getting in on the dinger party by giving up three.

During his time with the Tides, he’s been just slightly better. Work your magic, Sig.

 

Yefry Ramirez

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

3 GS 14.0 IP 0.00 ERA 6 H 15 K 6 BB

A “prospect?” Eh, maybe not. But Yefry – acquired from the Yankees for International slot pool money last July – has yet to allow a run in 14.0 IP over three starts, and that merits a mention here. With the pitching staff in Baltimore an absolute dumpster fire at the moment, perhaps Yefry will get the chance to improve upon his 5.92 career MLB ERA (all during 65.1 IP for the Birds last year) here shortly.

 

That about does it for our Norfolk update. Tomorrow, we’ll turn our eyes toward Bowie.

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Comeback Falls Short as O’s Can’t Avoid Sweep

Dwight Smith Jr. hits against the Twins.

On an Easter Sunday where the sun shone brightly on one of baseball’s greatest cathedrals, Dylan Bundy was hoping the baseball gods would smile upon him in his fifth start of the young campaign.

His first four starts were far from a religious experience.

Despite being put in an early hole thanks to two unearned runs in the first inning, Bundy turned in his first quality start of the season, pitching six innings and allowing just two earned runs. More importantly, he allowed no home runs and walked only one batter, though he did hit Nelson Cruz in the third inning.

For the Twins, Kyle Gibson matched Bundy, throwing six innings of two-run ball while striking out six batters. It was by far and away his best start of the season as he entered the game with no decisions and a 7.36 ERA in three starts. The start would prove to be enough as the Twins bested to the Orioles, 4-3, before 11,018 loud Orioles fans in attendance, though it did get dicey for the Twins late in the game.

The game started inauspiciously as Twins leadoff hitter Jorge Polanco popped-up to left-centerfield, but managed to reach third base after left fielder Dwight Smith, Jr., appeared to lose the ball in the sun and had the routine fly ball carom off his glove for a three-base error.

The next batter, Willians Astudillo, doubled down the left field line to score Polanco, and then later scored on a single by C.J. Cron following strikeouts by Cruz and Eddie Rosario. Both runs were unearned, but the Orioles found themselves in a 2-0 hole before their first at-bat.

After Bundy allowed another run in the top of the third, the Orioles responded in the bottom half to get back in the game. Catcher Jesus Sucre led off the inning with a single and was replaced at first by Jonathan Villar on a fielder’s choice grounder to second. Trey Mancini followed with a single and both runners advanced on a wild pitch to put two O’s in scoring position with two outs for Smith.

Jumping ahead in the count 2-0, Smith turned around a 95 MPH fastball and laced a single into centerfield, scoring Villar and Mancini to make it a one-run game. Smith was stranded following Renato Nunez’s second strikeout of the game.

Bundy went on to allow one more run in the fourth inning, but settled down after that tough first inning to turn in his best start of the season.

Once the game was turned over to the bullpens, the scoring all but stopped as neither team scored in innings five through eight, but the Orioles did their best to make the game interesting, loading the bases in both the eighth and ninth innings, but only managing to score one run and coming up just short.

The eighth inning was a squandered opportunity for Baltimore, as they had runners on first and third with none out, second and third with one out, and the bases loaded with two outs, but came away with nothing.

Hanser Alberto led off the eighth with a single and went first-to-third on a base hit to right by Villar, prompting the Twins to remove reliever Trevor May in favor of Trevor Hildenberger. Trey Mancini then stepped to the plate and promptly struck out before Cedric Mullins came to bat after replacing an injured Dwight Smith, Jr. (right quad tightness) in the top of the seventh.

With the count 0-2, Villar stole second to put runners on second and third. Mullins then grounded out, Renato Nunez walked, and Rio Ruiz grounded out the pitcher on a check swing to end the threat.

In the bottom of the ninth, Joey Rickard reached first base after being hit by a pitch to start the frame. Chris Davis would line out before Jesus Sucre reached on an infield single with an error allowing Rickard to reach third base. Alberto struck out, and then Villar ripped a double down the left field line for his third hit of the ballgame, scoring Rickard and advancing the pinch runner Richie Martin to third.

An intentional walk to Mancini brought pinch hitter Pedro Severino to the plate with the bases loaded. Severino got ahead in the count 3-0, and the fourth pitch of the at-bat was a ball outside that was called a strike by home plate umpire Marvin Hudson. Severino swung at the next pitch and flew out to right field to end the rally and the game.

The sweep at the hands of the Twins dropped the Orioles to 8-15, and 1-9 at home. The Orioles welcome in the Chicago White Sox for a three game series on Monday, while the Twins travel to Houston to take on the Astros.

Notes

* After combining to hit 17 home runs in their double-header on Saturday, neither team hit one in the contest on Sunday. It was just the second time all season that Orioles pitchers haven’t allowed a home run, and the first Orioles game where neither team homered.

* Bundy fell to 0-4 in his career vs. Minnesota.

* Smith, Jr. has hit safely in 17 of his 20 starts and extended his hitting streak to six games. He is second to Renato Nunez on the team with 15 RBI.

* Mancini’s 17 games with at least one run scored this season ties him for the most in the team’s first 23 games in franchise history (Nick Markakis, 2009).

*Sucre’s two hits gave him his third multi-hit game of the year, and his .370 career average vs. Minnesota is highest against any opponent.

* Villar recorded his eighth multi-hit game of the season, good for second on the team, and stole his team-leading fifth and sixth bases of the season.

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Can Bundy Start to Turn Things Around?

Dylan Bundy throwing a pitch.

As Dylan Bundy prepared to take the mound for his fifth start of the season, the 26-year-old righty was hoping that a quick start led to a far better finish this time around.

In his first four starts, Bundy has flourished in his first three innings. On pitches one through 50, Bundy has allowed a .108 batting average and just one home run. Pitches 51 and beyond? Those numbers explode to .467 and six.

We all know the 2018 numbers: a Major League-leading 41 home runs allowed and 16 losses to go along with an inflated 5.45 ERA. This season, Bundy is set to eclipse those numbers as he has allowed seven home runs among his 18 hits in just 17.1 IP. His ERA sits at 7.79 entering Sunday’s contest.

What nobody really talks about is that Bundy tied for the staff lead with 15 quality starts in 2018 (w/Alex Cobb), a feat he has yet to accomplish even once in the season’s first month.

Still, Bundy has pitched five innings in consecutive starts for the first time since August 26-September 1. While that isn’t the most staggering of stats, it is progress in the right direction. Sounds like the motto of the 2019 Baltimore Orioles.

What Bundy and the Orioles need to figure out is why Bundy appears so dominant in the game’s first three innings, and then the wheels fall off in the fourth. As the sweat pours down his face at an alarming rate, his fastball elevates and flattens, and often times ends up in the grandstands.

For Bundy, a former first-round pick and ace-in-training, his career certainly hasn’t gone the way he and the Orioles had planned. While there’s still time to right the ship and straighten him out, Sunday would be a good time to get things going in a different direction. Otherwise, the once highly-touted prospect could be on the outside looking in when the rebuild comes to fruition.

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John’s Two-Pitch Mix Means Business

John Means pitches.

Left-hander John Means has had an exceptional start to the season for the Orioles in 2019, certainly a surprise to most. If you asked fans back during spring training, “who will be on the opening day pitching staff?,’ I’d argue the majority — if not all — would’ve left Means off the list of 12 to 13 arms. Heck, even the pitcher himself thought he was going to be an early cut from camp.

He started the season in the O’s bullpen in a long-relief role, and has made two starts out of six total appearances in place of right-handed starter Alex Cobb, who has had two injured list stints early on. With Cobb returning to the rotation, Means figures to be bumped to the bullpen again.

The southpaw will likely get more opportunities to start at some point this season, and one could argue he deserves the shot.

Through 15 ⅔ innings this season, Means has posted a 1.72 ERA. His 17 strikeouts is good for a K/9 rate of 9.77. He has appeared to be more dominant out of the bullpen compared to starting games thus far, allowing one earned run and striking out 13 batters in 7 ⅔ relief innings, versus allowing six runs (two earned) with just four strikeouts over eight innings as a starter.

Baseball Savant shows that Means hasn’t been hit hard very often thus far. Of 134 pitchers in the big leagues who have experienced at least 40 Batted Ball Events this season, Means has the 86th-highest rate of balls hit at least 95 mph against him, at 35.7 percent. Three Orioles pitchers fall into the top 10: Andrew Cashner (50.6 percent), David Hess (50.8 percent) and Dan Straily (53.7 percent). That’s not a top 10 in which you want to find yourself.

Means has also given up an average exit velocity of 86.9 mph, tied for 100th out of the same group of 134 pitchers. Hess is tied for second with an average of 92.9 mph off the bat.

It’s an extremely small sample size, but the differences in Means’ strikeout numbers and the low exit velocity certainly catch my eye. If he continues this trend, he may be better suited for the bullpen instead of starting. That’ll be a conversation for another day, though.

What I am interested discussing right now is how he’s having this success.

The southpaw has two breaking balls in his arsenal, a slider and a curveball, but he doesn’t use them often. According to Brooks Baseball, the 25-year-old has thrown the slider just 6.49 percent of the time, and he throws his curveball even less at 4.87 percent.

He throws his fastball, averaging at 92.15 mph and topping at 94.96 mph, 52.92 percent of the time. Means has generated 26.09 percent whiffs per swing on his fastball this season, good for fifth among 20 pitchers who have taken the mound for the Orioles this season.

Making up the remainder of his pitches –  at 35.71 percent – is the changeup. This has been his weapon early on.

Means’ changeup comes in 11.65 mph slower than his fastball, per Brooks Baseball, averaging 80.50 mph. According to FanGraphs’ Pitch Type data, the average gap between fastball and changeup velocity in 2018 was 8.6 mph. So far this year, the difference is 8.7 mph. FanGraphs also reveals that through April 18, of pitchers who throw changeups less than 81 mph on average, Means throws the hardest fastball to pair with it.

Yeah, the separation is that much.

That much of a velocity gap, combined with 9.41 inches of vertical movement on his changeup has helped him generate 40.91 percent whiffs per swing on the offering this season. Means’ changeup has also produced a high 60.87-percent groundball rate and low 8.7-percent line drive rate.

Per MLB Pipeline, Means was most-recently ranked the O’s 29th-best prospect in 2017, his lone appearance on their prospect rankings.

However, Kyle Glaser of Baseball America seems to think the Orioles struck gold with Means.

With two breaking pitches he rarely uses, which is probably for the best, Means has found success in the Orioles’ bullpen with his effective fastball-changeup combo. It may not be good enough to sustain in a starter’s role, which remains to be seen, but it has done more than enough to make him a valuable asset to the club’s bullpen to start the season.

Now all we can do is wait and see if this success Means is having will continue throughout the year. My opinion? He could have quite a few rough outings if he’s thrown back into a starter’s role without having a quality breaking ball to use more than just sparingly, but he’ll be a weapon for the Orioles out of a bullpen that has been struggling to find consistently successful relief outings from pitchers.

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