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Sportsbooks Hold Out Little Hope for the Orioles

sunset view of oriole park at camden yards

The forlorn-looking Orioles are praying for a brighter 2019.

The 2018 season was not a fun one for Orioles fans. They suffered an eye-watering 115 losses and recorded the worst win percentage in the league. It was a long, hard season, and there seems little hope of 2019 being any brighter.

Unsurprisingly, the Orioles underwent a significant spring cleaning of their hierarchy in the offseason, letting manager Buck Showalter walk, along with general manager Dan Duquette. The team’s new management team involves Mike Elias and head coach Brandon Hyde, formerly of the Chicago Cubs.

The Orioles’ backroom changes were the main headlines from a mostly inactive offseason regarding their roster, with minimal additions made via trade or free agency. Minor league additions, such as Eric Young Jr. and Alcides Escobar have done little to get the pulse racing. The one ray of hope could be the recent acquisition of promising outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for $500,000 of the Orioles’ international bonus pool.

2019’s Odds Make for Grim Reading for Orioles Fans

According to the Oddschecker Major League Baseball odds, some sportsbooks have the Orioles priced as high as +25000, giving them a 0.4 percent implied probability of winning the American League in 2019. Some might argue that 0.4 percent is a generous figure, given that the Orioles were without third baseman Manny Machado for the latter half of the 2018 season, following his move to the LA Dodgers, and they will have to find a suitable long-term replacement for 2019. Combine that with poor output from the likes of Chris Davis and Dylan Bundy and little up-and-coming talent from the Orioles’ farm system, and their +25000 odds don’t seem lazy from the sportsbooks after all.

In fact, all their 2019 odds to make or miss the playoffs, win the division or even the World Series are either the worst or tied for the worst in the league.

Based only on betting on the money line in 2018, the Orioles would have resulted in a loss of almost 52 units for bettors. According to Action Network, that was the worst single-season performance from any team since 2005 by a 17-unit margin. It’s, therefore, unsurprising that the bar has been set somewhat low for the Orioles in 2019 as they look to rebuild and come back stronger.

It appears that the rebuild will be one of evolution rather than revolution. But improving upon the meager 47 wins they mustered in 2018, should be the primary target in 2019.

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2019 AL East Preview & Prediction

Mookie Betts of the Red Sox in the on deck circle.

Every year since 2013, I have written an American League East preview. This year will be more of the same, but with one key difference: this is the first season in which I will be doing my preview/prediction with no hope that the Baltimore Orioles will play worthwhile baseball beyond Opening Day.

With that sobering fact in mind, I will also add my All-Star representative predictions for each AL East squad just so this can be at least a little fun. So without further ado, I give you the American League East.

 

Yankees: 100-62 (100-62 in 2018)

The Yankees are absolutely loaded in every facet. This is a team that hit a Major League-record 267 home runs in 2018, and that was with Aaron Judge missing 50 games after being hit on the wrist by a pitch, and Gary Sanchez being limited to just 89 games. Sanchez should bounce back from a disappointing year offensively, and Judge should be able to avoid another freak injury. Add to that the natural progressions of Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, the additions of D.J. LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzski, plus a more comfortable Giancarlo Stanton, and this offense could well exceed 300 home runs in 2019; an unheard of number that seems very realistic with this lineup.

The rotation will be missing its best pitcher to start the year as Luis Severino is suffering from right rotator cuff inflammation and will not realistically return until sometime in May. C.C. Sabathia, in his final year before retirement, will also miss the start of the season. Not only is the 38-year-old suspended for the first five games for intentionally throwing at Austin Romine in his final start of 2018, but he is also recovering from a knee scope and heart procedure that will keep him out until the end of April at the earliest. No matter, as the rotation still has three potential aces in Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and Jay Happ, not to mention top prospect Jonathan Loaisiga waiting in the minors for his chance. On top of that, the bullpen might be the deepest in the game with four closer-caliber pitchers in Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, and Dellin Betances, though the latter of the bunch will start the year on the injured list. Basically, if they Yankees have the lead after the fifth inning, the game is over.

The only reason I don’t have the Yankees winning more games than last season is because of the names on their injured list. Joining Severino, Sabathia, and Betances are Aaron Hicks, Didi Gregorious, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jordan Montgomery. Having said all that, once at full strength this team could be the best and most dangerous team in the American League.

2019 Projected All-Stars: 6

Miguel Andujar

Aaron Judge

Giancarlo Stanton

Adam Ottavino

James Paxton

Aroldis Chapman

Red Sox: 98-64 (108-54 in 2018)

Another loaded ballclub, the Red Sox are coming off their fourth World Series Championship in the last 15 years. They have arguably the best player in the game not named Mike Trout in Mookie Betts, and J.D. Martinez won TWO Silver Slugger awards last season as an outfielder and designated hitter. Andrew Benintendi will only continue to get better, while Xander Bogaerts is as steady and reliable as they come at shortstop. Dustin Pedroia should be back at some point and will be looking to reclaim his status as one of the top second basemen in the game, while Rafael Devers, despite a bit of a sophomore slump last season, could be another 30-homer guy in that lineup. Not to mention World Series MVP Steve Pearce, who can play all over the diamond but will start the year on the injured list.

The rotation is stacked as it returns five starters from last year’s team. Four of them featured ERA’s under 4.00, while the fifth starter, former Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, had a 4.28 ERA and won 17 games.

Yeah; loaded.

With such a stacked team, why am I picking them second? One, 108 wins is a ridiculous number and very hard to duplicate. Two, this bullpen leaves much to be desired. Joe Kelly is gone, which wouldn’t seem like a big loss until you figure that he was dominant in the postseason (1 ER in 11.1 IP over 9 games). But the big loss in closer Craig Kimbrel, who still doesn’t have a job. There is always the potential that Kimbrel could return to the team, but it would have to be on the Red Sox terms, and he would need significant time to get into game shape. The team really doesn’t have a true closer, and they will struggle to close games out just enough to be unseated in the division. That is, unless they return Nathan Eovaldi to the bullpen role that he flourished in during the postseason, which would be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

2019 Projected All-Stars: 4

Mookie Betts

J.D. Martinez

David Price

Andrew Benintendi

 

Rays: 85-77 (90-72 in 2018)

The Rays designated C.J. Cron and his 30 home runs for assignment in November, a head-scratching move that allowed him to be claimed by the Minnesota Twins. Tommy Pham is a solid player, and Kevin Kiermaier is healthy for the first time in, like, four years. Matt Duffy could be a key contributor for the ballclub, but he seems as injury-prone as Nolan Reimold. Still, the Rays will be competitive, but certainly not because of their offense.

The Rays deployed an “opener,”–a bullpen arm who specializes in getting the first few outs of the game before handing it over to another reliever–in roughly 50 games last season, give or take a few. And while manager Kevin Cash has stated they will use the same strategy in 2019, I have to believe the frequency will be significantly less. Blake Snell is the reigning Cy Young winner in the American League, and Ryan Yarbrough looks primed to take over a full time rotation spot after starting, opening, and relieving his way to a 16-6 record with a 3.91 ERA in 147.1 IP last season. Tyler Glasnow seems ready to finally realize the potential that made him a top-50 prospect on every published list from 2014-’17. Added to the fray is Charlie Morton, who saw a career-resurgence at the age of 33 that led to 29 wins and a 3.36 ERA over the last two seasons in Houston. The AL’s sixth-best bullpen (3.80 ERA) remains mostly intact, with the exception of the departed Sergio Romo, and should prove to be a strength once again for a team that doesn’t figure to do much offensively.

2019 Projected All-Stars: 2

Blake Snell

Tommy Pham

 

Blue Jays: 69-93 (73-89 in 2018)

Josh Donaldson? Gone. Kendrys Morales? Gone. Russell Martin? Gone. Jose Bautista? Long gone. The players that made the Blue Jays at least formidable over the last two/three seasons are no longer on the ballclub. Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. looks to be a star in the making, and Justin Smoak could drop 30+ bombs again like he did in 2017. If Teoscar Hernandez can work on his plate discipline, he could elevate his game to a 30-homer threat. The real offensive threats on this team, however, will begin the year at the minor league level.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is baseball’s top overall prospect, but to control his service time (don’t let the Blue Jays tell you any differently) he will begin the season in the minors. While I’m not convinced that the son of a Hall of Famer won’t eat his way out of the league a la Dmitri Young, he should challenge for 2019 Rookie of the Year honors, provided he stays healthy (he will start the year on a rehab assignment for a strained oblique after missing more than a month in 2018 to a knee sprain). The other top prospect is Bo Bichette, son of former slugger Dante Bichette. Bichette absolutely raked during spring training, batting .417 with 4 home runs in Grapefruit League action, a continuation of his .328 career minor league batting average. Both of these young men should hit in the middle of Toronto’s lineup for years to come. That could start as early as this spring/summer.

The rotation is a crapshoot after Marcus Stroman. Matt Shoemaker is reliable when he’s healthy. The problem is he hasn’t been healthy since 2016, making just 21 starts over the last two seasons. Aaron Sanchez was a monster in 2016 when he made 30 starts and went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA. Since then, he has made just 28 combined starts in two seasons due to injury. If the duo of Shoemaker and Sanchez can stay healthy and pitch to their potential, it could go a long way in hastening the Blue Jays apparent rebuild. Until then, fans of the ballclub will have to find solace in knowing Guerrero and Bichette will be here soon.

2019 Projected All-Stars: 1

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

 

Orioles: 60-102 (47-115 in 2018)

The 2018 Orioles were historically bad, stumbling out of the gates to the third worst record since the 162 game schedule was implemented in 1961, trailing only the 1962 New York Mets (40-120) and the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119) in futility. Chris Davis hit .168, the lowest mark in the history of the game for any qualifying player. Trey Mancini injured his knee in April and didn’t start hitting until after the All-Star break. Adam Jones recorded his lowest home run total since his inaugural season in Baltimore and failed to reach 25 home runs for the first time since 2009. The lowest ERA in the rotation belonged to David Hess at 4.88, followed by Alex Cobb at 4.99. Basically, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for the club, prompting a fire-sale of sorts in July. The Orioles traded away any player with value not named Trey Mancini or Mychal Givens and began a rebuild that was probably two years overdue.

2019 should be better, but only because just about every team can fall out of bed and accidentally win 50 games. The Orioles will be younger, faster, and more aggressive than years past. But the inexperience and lack of legitimate starting pitching will lead to another lost season. Even if players like Alex Cobb, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Mark Trumbo, etc. bounce back this season, they are likely to be traded at the deadline for mid-level prospects as Mike Elias and company will look to stockpile as much young talent as they can to hasten the rebuilding process.

There is hope in the distant future as the Orioles seem to have woken up from a 36-year slumber and have finally made it a point to catch up with the rest of the pack, but it will be at least three years before this team moves out of the cellar of the AL East. Strap in, folks. It’s going to be a long and bumpy ride.

2019 Projected All-Stars: 1

Richard Bleier

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The Payoff Pitch: Happy O’pening Day!

Andrew Cashner pitches.

In this episode of The Payoff Pitch, Paul goes over the list of surprises on the Baltimore Orioles’ 25-man roster to start the 2019 season. He is joined by Scott Magness of Bird’s Eye View to talk about things to watch for this season and to get schooled on WAR.

Video version coming tomorrow.

Thanks for listening!

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Mike Elias is the Personal Trainer Birdland Needs

Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde at the press conference introducing Hyde.

As we sit here on the eve of another Opening Day in Birdland, the feeling is a bit different than that to which we’ve become accustomed around here. Generally, as recent seasons approached, sentiment around Birdland ran from one end to another of a pretty short spectrum: MOST fans found themselves in one of two camps: either “they didn’t do enough to build upon last year” or “this is the year they finally take that next step!”

There was a third group though. A minority, to be sure, but a vocal and pervasive one: fans who were convinced that the other shoe was about to drop and the Orioles would be terrible, that Dan and Buck’s house of cards was about to come tumbling down.

Those folks were out every single year after 2012. In 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 they were forced to hang their heads in shame. In September of 2017 though, they perked up. Entering 2018, they were louder than ever. And, alas, they were finally vindicated, probably beyond even their wildest dreams. It was the worst season in Baltimore Orioles history, at 47-115. Not only had the house of cards fallen, it had collapsed into a flaming pyre, the proverbial dumpster fire to end all dumpster fires, embers of which could likely be seen from even the other best ballpark in baseball, way out in San Francisco.

If it had to happen, we can at least be thankful that the timing worked out. While the previous regime could have certainly helped out the organization’s long-term outlook by dealing some of their assets, such as Zack (h?) Britton or Manny Machado, earlier, the fact that the contracts of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter were expiring was fortuitous. As was Mike Elias having not yet been snatched up by another organization. Throw in Elias’ right-hand man, Sig Mejdal, realizing that he enjoyed building a team more than he does keeping a really good one contending, and it was quite a thick silver lining, all things considered.

“I realized that I very much enjoy the start-up phase more than the status quo,” Mejdal said. “That was becoming clearer to me as the year went on. The internal dialogue was like, ‘Are you crazy, Sig? This is arguably the best team in baseball, and they’re expected to arguably be again next year, and I’m not completely satisfied?’ But the feeling didn’t go away.”

The Orioles could certainly be considered to be in “the start up phase,” wouldn’t you agree?

 

Elias as Personal Fan Trainer

I’m going to force an analogy here, and you’re all just gonna have to deal with it. Since we’re approaching swimsuit season, it should hit close to home with many of you.

The “Buckle Up Birds” under Dan and Buck were just the sugar rush that this fan base needed to reengage, but it was never part of a balanced breakfast, as it were. The new regime won’t be feeding us espresso shots and sugary cereals to keep us going.

Meat, potatoes, and plenty of green vegetables are on the menu, Birdland, and as anybody trying to “eat clean” knows, that healthy food can be hard to stomach for a bit, when you’re used to cookies and donuts.

That’s what we’re going through now. The easy, sugary option in this metaphor would have been to start the 2019 season with guys like Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, and Tanner Scott on the roster. To give we fans a “reason to watch the team.”

Sorry, everyone. That might make the figure in the mirror look a little better for a while, but you just know as soon as you look at a bakery display, that muffin top is gonna pop right back over.

If we want solid long-term results, we’ll have to do this the hard way. Shopping and laborious meal prep. Daily exercising. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. And watching players who most definitely won’t be part of the next great, or even good, Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

As our own Dillon Atkinson wrote this week, Elias and crew aren’t here for the quick fix. Don’t believe Dillon? Listen to Elias himself:

“We’re doing things the right way, the way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to cobble together a one-year wonder, .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work right and we spent a few years digging out of that hole. We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way you need to go about it.”

Leaving aside the fact that that’s a pretty obvious shot at the previous regime, it’s clear that Elias is just the personal trainer/nutritionist we Orioles fans need. He’s not going to give us cheat days, or even cheat meals. He’s not going to let us skip that last set of burpees. And he’s not going to ignore Hays’ lack of AAA experience and run him out there on the MLB club just to give us something pretty to look at this spring.

Elias is getting this organization in shape, but he isn’t thinking about the upcoming swimsuit season. Mike wants the Orioles happy, healthy, and thriving well into the future.

It’ll be painful. But it’ll be worth it.

Let’s put down that bag of chips and get to work.

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Roster Moves Show Elias Takes No Shortcuts

Austin Hays slashed .351/.385/.892 with five home runs in 40 plate appearances. Chance Sisco posted a .382/.533/.765 line with four homers in 45 trips to the plate. Evan Phillips didn’t give up a single run over 9 ⅔ innings on the mound. These are just a few of multiple young players in the Orioles’ organization who played extremely well during spring training but won’t break camp with the club.

So why in the world did the O’s option each of them to the minors?

I’m here to try to make some sense of it.

Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde have mentioned multiple times over the past six weeks that spring training stats hold little to no weight for them.

But still – an organization is in its first full year in rebuild mode and they are choosing older replacement-level players over the players in their early 20s who already have had a cup of coffee at the major-league level. Why not keep giving them the reps at the highest level?

It’s certainly possible that the old staff, led by Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter, rushed many young O’s players to the big leagues before they were 100% ready, which could’ve hindered their development.

Here are some examples.

Austin Hays looks down to the 3B coach.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

The O’s drafted Hays in the third round in 2016. His first full professional season was in 2017, where he played 64 games at High-A Frederick, moved up for 64 more games at Double-A Bowie…then he gets called up to the big leagues. It was exciting to see the energized outfielder make his debut, but he is a clear example of a player being rushed through the system – for no reason, really.

Hays got sent back to Bowie in 2018, where he posted a .242/.271/.432 line in an injury-riddled season. Elias had to say this about the decision to option Hays this spring, via Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com:

“In terms of the decision surrounding Austin, look at his body of work. He has not spent much time at the Double-A level. He spent zero time at the Triple-A level. And he had a bad year last year due to injury. We felt it was important to get him a baseline of production, get his feet under him literally and then see what we have and go from there. We’ll make the right determination around his career development rather than reacting to the fact that he’s had statistically probably the best camp here.”

Just because Hays was rushed to the majors in 2017 and had a strong showing in spring of 2019 doesn’t mean he’s necessarily ready to continue playing at the big-league level. Elias is looking to get the most of out his young players, and in the process may be trying to fix what the old staff broke. The first-year general manager says the organization views Hays as a center fielder, though he’s been primarily a right fielder in college and in the minors. My guess is Hays sees a lot of time in center field this year at Bowie and/or Triple-A Norfolk.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Now let’s take a look at Sisco. The 24-year-old backstop was drafted in the second round in 2013. Coming through the minors, he’s been well known as a bat-first catcher who had a lot of work to do defensively.

He certainly did impress with the bat, slashing .340/.406/.448 in Single-A Delmarva in 2014, then .308/.387/.422 with Frederick in 2015. He earned a promotion to Bowie in 2015, where he slashed just .257/.337/.392 over 20 games, but got on track in 2016 when he batted .320/.406/.422 in 112 games with Bowie.

In 2017, though, he got called up to Norfolk and his results weren’t as great, as he posted a .267/.340/.395 line with a high 25.5-percent strikeout rate. He then got promoted to the Orioles in September, where he had six hits in 18 at-bats.

Sisco was in competition for a catcher’s job with the O’s in spring training of last year. He broke camp with the team, but Showalter used him as a backup to Caleb Joseph, which seemed counterproductive. The O’s yo-yoed Sisco back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk, and he failed to produce both at and behind the dish in both locations. In 184 plate appearances with the O’s, Sisco slashed .181/.288/.269 with a 35.9-percent strikeout rate. At Norfolk, he posted a .242/.344/.352 line in 151 trips to the plate.

After a season to forget for the young catcher, I imagine Elias and Hyde would rather him start in Norfolk to get the bat back up to speed for longer than just six weeks in Sarasota, as well as gain confidence in his abilities behind the dish. The most important production for Sisco needs to come behind the plate, and there’s more work to be done there. You could let him focus on getting better as a backstop while in the majors, but that could provide a negative impact on the young pitchers on the O’s staff.

The final player I’ll focus on for the time being is former O’s right-hander Kevin Gausman. The Orioles drafted him with the fourth-overall pick in 2012, and quickly expedited the starter to the majors. In 2013, his first full pro year, he pitched 46 ⅓ innings at Bowie, 35 ⅔ innings at Norfolk and 47 ⅔ with the Orioles. After 2013, the O’s continued to let Gausman ride the Norfolk shuttle back-and-forth for the next couple years, which could have hindered his development and held him back from becoming what he could’ve been in an Orioles uniform.

The point is, it’s entirely possible that the new staff has recognized that young, talented players in this system have been promoted to the major leagues prior to being completely ready. And with the club not looking to contend, there’s no need to rush the players. It’s obvious the staff wants to see specific aspects of these players’ games improve before they are recalled.

So, for the time being, the O’s will roll with starters behind the dish, on the mound, and in the field who may not factor into the club’s future plans. It’s not exciting, but it’s a process that requires patience.

The club wants to see Hays become comfortable with center field and prove that 2018’s poor numbers were strictly because of his injury. They want Sisco to show he can hit Triple-A pitching and reduce the strikeout rate, and more importantly, show exceptional skills behind the dish so he can handle a big-league pitching staff. They want the hard-throwing Tanner Scott to improve his command, reduce the walks and get right-handed hitters out more frequently.

I understand the frustration with not being able to see the young kids from day one. The previous staff has rushed young talents to the majors to make one think that’s how it’s supposed to be. Elias is here to make sure those mistakes don’t happen again. Ideally, by the time the prospects are ready to take a roster spot with the O’s, the veteran doing the patch-up job for the time being performed well enough to be a trade chip for the organization.

Do you want these players to be fully developed at the major-league level? Don’t disregard the time and patience it takes. The club’s decision makers want to be sure when they put names like Sisco, Hays, Scott, Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle on the Orioles roster, it’s for good.

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Orioles Opening Day(s) Forecast

sun setting over camden yards

Orioles “Opening Away Day” vs. Yankees

 

Thursday March 28

Partly Cloudy

First pitch temp: 50F

GFS Model outlook for “Opening Away Day”.

Images from GFS model showing dry conditions and temps around 50 for NYC. All models showing dry conditions so confidence in this forecast is high.

 

Orioles Home Opener “First Look”

It appears that a warmer weather pattern will be in place, but the first week of April looks potentially stormy for the U.S. For good opening day weather we have to hope that the Baltimore area is “between” storm systems. Temps should be in the 60s.

Images from GFS model (showing wet conditions) and FV3 model (showing dry conditions). We do not have enough model agreement to make a dry vs. wet forecast yet, but temperatures appear to be consistently in the 60s therefore confidence in the forecast is low at this time.

Weather images used from: Business vector created by macrovector – www.freepik.com and model images from www.tropicaltidbits.com

Follow Christopher Bressi’s Weather Forecast Page for more information and daily forecasts.

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Thursday Thoughts: Buckling Up is Done, Now We Strap In

Cedric Mullins in the batter's box.

1. As we all come out of hibernation and rub our eyes to awaken before baseball season, let’s not be too afraid of what we’re expected to encounter as Orioles fans. This one is going to be rough. Like, really rough. Let’s also remember that baseball is fun, and actually, already underway. The Mariners and A’s have taken care of that over in Japan with a pair of regular season games.

2. The only thing I’ve been able to think about regarding the 2019 Orioles thus far is how painful it’s going to be to watch them. That may sound grim, but if you read on, it can get even worse! When I look at how this offseason has unfolded, it makes me feel confused and saddened to think what could’ve been. Seeing massive contracts signed by Manny Machado in San Diego and Bryce Harper in Philadelphia was odd. Especially after a second straight offseason where there was such little movement otherwise.

We still have a few prominent free agents without contracts and the season is upon us. But what’s really caught my eye this offseason are the number of extensions being given to players ahead of them reaching free agency. There’s a lot of looking into the future for these players and these teams. Mike Trout broke the bank with his record-breaking extension with the Angels. Nolan Arenado got a big deal in Colorado. The Astros have extended Alex Bregman ahead of his free agency as well.

Perhaps the timing wasn’t right a few years ago, but it just makes me wonder what would’ve changed had the dominoes fallen correctly with Machado in Baltimore. Even the Chicago White Sox are stepping up with an extension for their 22-year-old prospect Eloy Jimenez, who has yet to record a Major League at-bat.

The landscape is changing quickly when it comes to the economics of baseball. It just seems they changed a hair too late for the Orioles.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

3. I was a bit surprised to see the Orioles grant Alcides Escobar his outright release yesterday, but it didn’t blow me away. I figured he had a very good shot to make the roster entering spring training, but it’s obvious the O’s want more youth. Escobar, 32, is a former All-Star who could’ve provided experience in an infield looking for some.

But instead, the Birds are now likely to keep their two Rule 5 selections. Richie Martin and Drew Jackson have a combined zero games at shortstop in the big leagues, but it won’t stop the Orioles from sticking either out there. In past seasons with Rule 5 selections, the Orioles have made a conscious effort to hide players. Think Joey Rickard or Anthony Santander, or even go back as far as Jason Garcia, Ryan Flaherty or T.J. McFarland. They are all guys the O’s wanted to keep around, but didn’t let them see much of the field.

Under this new regime, that may be different with Martin and Jackson. It also may be out of necessity.

4. While I’m full of dread about what this season can and will become for the Orioles, there are some things we should be able to learn over the course of 162 games. Martin and Jackson, for example, will be under the microscope. At this point for the O’s, it’s all about seeing who can actually play at this level. For that matter, it’s about seeing who can provide value as a trade chip to acquire more capital moving this project forward.

One of the biggest parts of that project in my mind is Cedric Mullins. It started late last year when he took over in center field for Adam Jones, but now is the opportunity for Mullins to really prove whether he can be that guy. He led off last night’s game against the Red Sox with a homer. He’s going to be run out there for a full season and it’s going to be interesting to see if he can provide any indication as to whether he’s a guy to build on, or move on from.

5. There’s been a lot of bluster about the over/under for the Orioles being set at 59.5 by many sportsbooks. Something tells me they hit the over, as bad as things may seem. After winning just 47 games a year ago when absolutely everything went wrong, the ball is bound to bounce differently this year.

Pythagorean wins last year had the O’s at 54 while BaseRuns wins projections had them at 56. They massively underachieved their metrics after massively overachieving them for a few years. There’s definitely some sort of new enthusiasm with this team, having a new coaching staff and front office. While there isn’t much talent, that has to account for something.

Instead of buckling up for the 2019 season, it’s time to strap in. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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The Payoff Pitch Episode 2 w/Ken Weinman

David Hess pitches.

In the second episode of The Payoff Pitch presented by D&L Professional Window Tinting, I go over some of the recent roster moves, including the somewhat surprising demotion of Austin Hays to minor-league camp. I’ll also try to figure out what’s going on with the Birds’ rotation, and I’m joined by Ken Weinman of 105.7 The Fan to get his thoughts.

Later in the show, I debut a new segment: Nerd Stat of the Week.

Thanks for listening!

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Mike Elias on International Scouting: “You Have to Go All In”

Yusniel Diaz rounds the bases.

In the new issue of PressBox, Stan “The Fan” Charles sat down with Mike Elias for an interview on a range of topics, from Elias’ background, to his feelings on analytics, his thoughts on manager Brandon Hyde, and more.

One answer from Elias that caught my attention was in response to a question about international scouting.

SC: The Orioles have never dedicated many resources to international scouting. You clearly have a very different view of that. Can you talk a little bit about that and what international scouting director Koby Perez can mean to that effort? 

ME: You have to go all in. It’s a market that basically produces one-third of the major league talent now, so to ignore it is not an option. You’re just putting yourself at a huge disadvantage if you do that. It’s a market that has gotten more efficient, safer, less rife with corruption … because [of] a lot of the effort that Major League Baseball has done over the last few years, a lot more involvement from American scouts and a lot more video and drug testing and things like that and better development. It’s a different market than it was 20 years ago. We’re jumping in. It was very important for me to find a proven, respected international scouting director, and I was very lucky that I was able to do so with Koby. He’s done a great job with the Indians and Phillies.

Music to the ears of Oriole fans, right? We’ve watched over the last decade-plus as our team has gotten lapped by not just divisional competitors, but by pretty much everyone in baseball when it comes to finding, signing, and developing players from overseas, especially from the very fertile baseball ground of Latin America.

It’s obvious that this is something Elias understands innately, and it seems, to this fan at least, that Birdland can rest assured that the new GM isn’t just blowing smoke. He wouldn’t have left his job in Houston – not for THIS job – if he wasn’t confident that the had the full backing of ownership in bringing their international operation into the 21st century. In fact, Charles basically got Elias to say as much earlier in the interview:

SC: Did the topic of you having a free hand, relatively speaking, did that come up? Was that important to you to know that when it came to baseball decisions, you had some autonomy, understanding that ownership plays a role in this?

ME: It’s more about the correct role of both parties. I don’t think there’s any general manager that can bankrupt the team if he feels like running out and signing $300 million worth of players. But you also don’t want things foisted on the general manager from the owner’s box. So we had discussions along those lines. It was normal stuff. Obviously, I wouldn’t have taken the leap from where I was to come here if I didn’t feel comfortable with what we discussed.

“But wait a minute,” I can hear some of you saying. “Didn’t the Orioles just trade AWAY more international slot money? Seems very Duquettey!”

In a different interview, last with with Jon Meoli of The Baltimore Sun, Elias explained those moves.

There was so much bonus pool money accumulated this summer, is it just at the point now where that has value and you guys need to get value for it however you can?

First of all, the slots that we have been trading are for what is called the 2018-2019 signing period. It begins on July 2, 2018, and it ends on June 15, 2019. The way that the market works is it’s similar to college recruiting to some degree, where a lot of the legwork and preparation for signing players for this period happens years in advance of July 2, 2018. Once that date passes in and of itself, I would wager that 90 percent of the meaningful international talent will sign on or near that date.

Once that date is passed, the amount and quality of the players that are available changes dramatically, and it’s to such a point that a team that would try to spend the entirety of its pool well past that date, especially starting when I got into my position in November, it’s extremely unlikely that that would be money well spent. So, in terms of having a full-blown signing period for 2018, that ship has really sailed a long time ago. We’re making the best use we can of the funds we have available, some of it by trading for other pieces, but also Koby and his staff are filling out our Dominican Summer League rosters with higher quantity but lower-dollar international signs. But there’s no way to do that and get up to a full pool of five-plus million [dollars] or whatever it is.

Additionally, even for 2019, the availability for players has long diminished. Now, I very much expect that we will have a more robust 2019 class in terms of having some high-dollar signees on or after July 2, 2019, but even still, I do not feel we will have full access to that class in the way that an administration might if it’s working two or three years in advance like other teams are. So I think once we start getting into 2020, 2021, we’re gong to see a very, kind of standard-looking international class, and I think our 2019 class is going to be great, but this will take some time to ramp up, in terms of normal deployment of a bonus pool. But I feel really good about the direction we’re heading in there, and it’s really just a matter of time in that sense.

In the meantime, we’re left to do whatever we can with the 2018 money, and part of that is going to be utilizing these slugs — and this isn’t actual cash, it’s the right to spend money that’s being traded — and by and large, the teams that are trading for this money right now are utilizing it to sign some pitchers and filling out their DSL rosters, because they’ve already capped out.”

Sorry to make the block quote so large, but I know many of you don’t subscribe to The Sun (and may be out of your free reads for this month). I’d urge you to go read that entire interview with Meoli if you can (and also to subscribe to the Sun – support local journalism!)

It’s absolutely understandable that you, fellow Orioles fan, are a bit confused about how the international signing periods, slot money, etc. work. This is all new to us!

It seems safe to say, finally, that things are in good hands.

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The Payoff Pitch – Spring Training Midpoint

Ed Smith Stadium at night.

In this inaugural episode of The Payoff Pitch (new version), I catch everyone up on Spring Training to this point. Later in the show, fellow ESR writer Dillon Atkinson joins me to talk about roster decisions, Chris Davis’ status, and plenty more.

Thanks for listening!

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Bundy’s Slow Spring Start Has Shades of 2018 Nightmare

Dylan Bundy throwing a pitch.

If the Orioles have any chance at being remotely competitive in 2019, their pitching staff is going to have to improve by leaps and bounds over the last two seasons.

At the forefront of that needed improvement stands Dylan Bundy.

The Orioles drafted Bundy with the fourth overall pick in 2011, when he was touted as the best high school pitching prospect in the country. In his first season of professional baseball in 2012, Bundy went 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA in 23 starts between Delmarva, Frederick, and Bowie, prompting a September call-up to the big league club, where he pitched 1.2 innings in two games, allowing a hit and a walk.

Bundy appeared to be everything the Orioles thought he could be upon drafting him, giving the club hopes of its first homegrown ace since Mike Mussina. The 20-year old was so impressive, in fact, that both Baseball America and MLB.com rated him as the number two prospect in all of baseball prior to the 2013 season.

And that’s when the wheels fell off.

Bundy was diagnosed with forearm discomfort – that was later called a flexor mass strain – during spring training in 2013. It wasn’t until June that the diagnosis was changed to an Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL) tear, meaning that Bundy’s entire 2013 season would be lost to Tommy John Surgery.

Dylan Bundy looks in for a sign.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

A year later, Bundy returned to the mound and went 1-3 with a 3.27 ERA in nine starts between Aberdeen and Frederick. The following season, Bundy would make just eight starts before being shut down indefinitely with bone calcification in his right shoulder. Though he did make two starts in the Arizona Fall League, his Orioles career was still very much in doubt, especially since Bundy either had to be on the MLB roster in 2016 or be exposed to waivers, which almost certainly would have meant he would have been lost to another team.

Bundy did make the team out of spring training in 2016 as a reliever and in the second half of the season, after being inserted into the rotation, he became one of the Orioles’ most reliable starters down the stretch as the team earned a playoff berth.

In fact, between ’16 and ’17, Bundy went 23-15 while pitching to a 4.16 ERA. 2018, however, saw him take a significant step backwards, and that regression has spilled over to spring training this season.

Last season got off to a great start for Bundy, the lone bright spot early on in a lost season for the franchise. Through his first five starts, Bundy was 1-2 with a 1.42 ERA. Opposing batters were hitting just .220 with one HR against him, and Bundy was averaging more than 11 K/9. And though he experienced a bit of a mechanical hiccup over his next three starts (0-3, 19.00 ERA, 9 HR), Bundy seemed be on pace for a career year entering his start against the Atlanta Braves on June 23rd.

Through 15 starts, Bundy was 5-7 with a 3.81 ERA when he took the ball that evening in Atlanta. When he exited the game, he had allowed just two earned runs over 6.1 innings, lowering his ERA to 3.75. What we didn’t know at the time was that Bundy had injured his ankle running the bases during the game, an injury that would cause him to miss his next two starts. The Bundy that returned was simply not the same pitcher.

In his first 16 starts, Bundy allowed 1.69 HR/9 IP, a little higher than his career average, but fairly normal for the righty. In the 15 starts following the ankle injury, Bundy allowed 23 HR in 75.2 IP (2.75 HR/9) while going 2-9 and pitching to a 7.61 ERA.

He claimed he was healthy, but the proof was in the numbers. Something was obviously wrong. A season that looked individually promising for Bundy ended mercifully with an 8-16 record, a 5.45 ERA, and an MLB-leading 41 home runs allowed.

With a full offseason to get healthy, Bundy entered spring training in 2019 as a veteran anchor on a staff and team with more holes than a tennis racket. Unfortunately for the Orioles, the same issues that plagued Bundy to end the nightmare that was 2018 haven’t seemed to dissipate in 2019, at least not early on. Through three Grapefruit league starts, Bundy owns a 13.50 ERA and has allowed 15 hits and three home runs in just 6.2 IP.

Now, just as you shouldn’t get too excited about a hot spring (insert token Jake Fox reference here), you also shouldn’t get too down about a slow start to spring either. Pitchers usually use the first several spring starts to work on things to get ready for the season. It’s not really pertinent to focus on results until the final two or three starts in Florida/Arizona.

Pitchers like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester have pitched to ERAs of 6.48 and 5.19 this spring, respectively. Nobody is questioning their “Ace” status. On the flip side, Mike Wright is the only pitcher in the majors with at least 9 IP to have not allowed a run this spring, and we all know how he’s fared over the course of his career.

Still, it is troublesome to see Bundy’s now pedestrian fastball locate itself time and time again at the top of the strike zone before being deposited into the grandstands.

Last year was difficult for both the pitcher and fans alike.

If Bundy doesn’t rebound, the nightmare will continue to be reality.

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Will Crowded Outfield Push Mullins to New Heights?

Cedric Mullins runs the bases.

On August 10 of the 2018 season, Orioles fans experienced quite a bittersweet feeling — the passing of the center field torch from Adam Jones to Cedric Mullins. The former moved from center to right field to accommodate the latter, with the expectation that Mullins would be the long-term answer for the O’s in center field.

The switch-hitting rookie made an immediate impact in the lineup after taking over, slashing .317/.386/.556 for the remainder of his opening month. September was not as kind to the newcomer, however, as he batted just .187/.269/.243 for the rest of the season.

Questions arose about Mullins’ ability as a switch hitter. On August 22, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com wrote that the organization told Mullins they may ask him to only bat left-handed if he did not make improvements from the right side.

In 2017 with Double-A Bowie, Mullins batted .293/.339/.524 from the left side, but posted a line of just .208/.277/.327 from the right.

In 2018, from three different levels:

  • 218 PAs with Bowie: .317/.373/.509 from left, .300/.317/.525 from right
  • 267 PAs with Triple-A Norfolk: .281/.337/.464 from left, .220/.322/.340 from right
  • 191 PAs with Baltimore: .264/.319/.432 from left, .156/.296/.156 from right

Heading into the 2019 regular season campaign, there will be some questions that need to be answered regarding the 24-year-old center fielder’s splits: Will Mullins improve from the right side? If he doesn’t, will the new staff ask him to ditch hitting right-handed? Will he be limited to a platoon role if he makes no improvements facing lefties?

It’s no secret the O’s have a good looking future in the outfield. Mullins is included in this of course, as the club’s expected starting center fielder. With Trey Mancini handling current left field duties until a spot is cleared for him at first base or designated hitter, this leaves the remainder of the competing players fighting for right field.

Yusniel Diaz mans his spot in the OF.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Joey Rickard and Eric Young Jr. are looking to break camp in any type of role on the O’s roster, but prospects DJ Stewart, Austin Hays and Yusniel Diaz are knocking on the door for shots as starters going forward. Former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander is a forgotten man in the outfield mix, despite putting together a hot start this spring.

The talented prospect trio of Stewart, Hays and Diaz will likely hit the majors at some point in 2019. Limited spots will be available, though, depending on the timing of each of their arrivals. If the O’s can clear a spot for Mancini in a first base or designated hitter slot, this leaves the two corner spots available to those three players.

What if Mullins struggles for most of the year, but Stewart, Hays and Diaz are all lighting it up? Should the switch-hitting center fielder keep his spot no matter what, or should Hays or Diaz be given looks in center as well?

Also, prospect Ryan McKenna is coming off a breakout 2018 campaign and looking to make more noise in the O’s minors in 2019. The 22-year old has a projected ceiling of a well-rounded starting center fielder in the future, and has a 2020 estimated time of arrival, via MLB Pipeline.

Austin Hays looks down to the 3B coach.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

The talk among fans is how the Orioles will plan to place the plethora of young outfielders alongside Mullins. There is no doubt he will be getting first dibs on center field and will be given every opportunity to stick there long term.

Mullins will likely have a long leash — as he is young, talented and entering just his first full big-league season — but he shouldn’t be immune from being potentially replaced. This, of course, would only be in a situation where he is not performing well, but Stewart, Hays and Diaz could all be deserving of consistent playing time in the outfield at the big-league level.

Mullins may struggle overall in his first full year in the majors, to the point where another young outfielder takes over centerfield duties at some point. He may struggle against southpaws, either limiting him to a platoon role or lead him to abandon hitting right-handed. If all goes well, though, and he has a decent or above-average first full season, it could make the torch passing to him from Jones an even more special moment in recent O’s history.

These are how multiple models on FanGraphs project Mullins for the 2019 season:

In any of these projected scenarios for the upcoming season, I think Mullins will keep his spot and make the majority of the starts in centerfield for the O’s.

He may need to perform a little better than those projections if he wishes to have security in there beyond 2019, however. He wasn’t regarded as a top prospect coming through the farm, either nationally or within the organization, but he exceeded expectations at each minor-league level.

He could continue to do that in the majors, but the talented Hays, Diaz and McKenna could creep up on him if he doesn’t take advantage of his opportunity to stake his claim on center this upcoming season. With the emergence of more skillful outfielders than starting spots available, it is important that Mullins — the first of the bunch to get a true opportunity — puts his best foot forward in 2019.

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Hays, Santander Homer in Win Over Tigers

Anthony Santander in the Batter's Box.

In their second of seven televised Grapefruit League games, the Orioles overcame two deficits to win their fifth game of the spring, outlasting the Detroit Tigers 7-5 at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

The offense was paced by outfielders Austin Hays and Anthony Santander, who each homered and combined to go 4-5 with four RBI, four runs scored, and two walks. Santander’s three-run home run tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, erasing a 4-1 deficit.

Andrew Cashner made his first start of the spring, throwing 54 pitches over three innings while allowing four runs. He was followed to the mound by pitchers Tanner Scott, Branden Kline, Lucas Long, Gabriel Ynoa, Pedro Araujo, and Cody Carroll, who combined to allow one run over six innings and retired the final 14 Tiger batters in order.

Sunday’s game started with Cashner hitting leadoff hitter, Jacoby Jones, with the second pitch of the day, followed by a single to left by Daniel Woodward. After a Jeimer Candelario flyout, Niko Goodrum stepped to the plate and fell behind 1-2 before Cashner left a fastball middle-in. Goodrum deposited the pitch over the right field fence and the Tigers had a 3-0 lead four batters into the game.

After the home run, Cashner settled in, retiring seven of the next eight hitters before allowing a fourth run in the third inning. His day ended with a final line of 3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 K’s, 0 BB, 54 pitches, 37 strikes.

So was the big right hander satisfied with his performance?

“Yeah, I think, you know for me it’s just getting out there and getting back into the swing,” Cashner told MASN’s Gary Thorne. “Fastball’s not really locating like I’d like to, but I think the biggest thing is really working on my slider and changeups down in the zone, and I would say that’s one of the better sliders I’ve featured in a while.”

New Orioles’ pitching coach, Doug Brocail, echoed Cashner’s sentiments, saying, “I liked it. Here’s the deal, is, he threw me 56 pitches the other day in a simulated game. We were hoping to get 50 to 55 today and we got it. You know, the guy comes in, he gives up runs and he’s like, ‘Hey man, I got my work in, I feel great, I made a mistake and we move on,’ and that’s the Andrew Cashner that I had in Texas. He doesn’t let anything bother him.”

The Orioles responded in the third inning when Hays homered to lead off the inning. The left fielder got ahead in the count 3-0 before starter Matthew Boyd battled back to 3-2. Hays used a level swing to handle a letter-high fastball and launched into left centerfield, landing beyond the fence for the Orioles’ first run of the ballgame.

Santander–batting from the right side against the southpaw–followed the home run with a double down the left field line, his first of three extra-base hits on a perfect day at the plate. Jonathan Villar followed with a walk and both runners advanced on a fly out to left by Joey Rickard. Unfortunately for the Orioles, that’s as far as they would go as both Renato Nunez and Chris Davis struck out to end the inning.

Scott replaced Cashner on the mound to start the fourth inning and threw 17 pitches, forcing three groundouts while retiring the side in order. The Orioles, on the other hand, provided more fireworks in the bottom half of the inning.

After Austin Wynns struck out to begin the frame, Yusniel Diaz reached on an infield single and was retired on the base paths as Alcides Escobar grounded into a force out, the relay to first arriving too late. Hays then walked and Santander stepped to the plate as the tying run.

A former Rule V draft pick of the Orioles, the switch-hitting Santander stood in the left-handed batter’s box with a righty on the bump, and drilled a 1-1 pitch to the opposite field for a home run to tie the game. Chris Bostick, batting for Villar after replacing him defensively in the top half, ended the inning by flying out the left.

Kline was the next pitcher scheduled to get his work in as he took to the hill to begin the fifth. In his first two appearances of the spring, Kline had been nearly flawless, allowing just one base runner while striking out five in two innings of work. Sunday did not yield such favorable results, as he allowed two singles and a run in 0.2 IP before Lucas Long came in and retired Dustin Peterson on one pitch to end the inning. Not a bad day’s work for Long.

The next three Orioles pitchers (Ynoa, Araujo, and Carroll) needed to just 44 pitchers over the last four innings to retired the final 12 batters, allowing no runs, hits or walks while striking out five. The Orioles offense scored a run in the seventh on a Rickard single and two more in the eighth on a sac fly from Drew Jackson and an RBI single by T.J. Nichting.

Carroll, who came over from the Yankees in the Zack Britton trade and blew a save against the Phillies in his most recent appearance, needed just seven pitches (all strikes) to record three fly outs and pick up the save.

With the victory, the Orioles improved to 5-3-2 in Grapefruit League play, while the loss dropped the Tigers to 5-5. Next up for the Orioles is the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers on Monday. Dylan Bundy is scheduled to start on three days’ rest. He threw 37 pitches and allowed one run in two innings of work on Thursday against the Phillies.

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Predicting the O’s 25-Man Roster

Anybody up for a roster prediction? Why not, right? At Dillon’s suggestion, I asked our writers to submit their predictions for the 25-man, then tallied up the votes to put together a master prediction. You can see individual submissions down below the main list. We’ll do the same thing again as Spring Training comes to a close, to see how much our minds are swayed between now and then. – Derek Arnold

 

Starting Pitchers

Dylan Bundy of the Baltimore Orioles winds up to pitch.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Dylan Bundy (7 out of a possible 7 votes)

Alex Cobb (7)

Andrew Cashner (7)

Nate Karns (6)

David Hess (5)

Others receiving votes: Yefry Ramirez (2)

 

Relief Pitchers

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Michael Givens (7)

Richard Bleier (7)

Tanner Scott (7)

Pedro Araujo (7)

Miguel Castro (6)

Paul Fry (6)

Mike Wright (6)

Others receiving votes: Jimmy Yacabonis (4), Branden Kline (1), Bo Schultz (1), Evan Phillips (1)

 

Infielders

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Jonathan Villar (7)

Richie Martin (7)

Alcides Escobar (7)

Chris Davis (6)

Drew Jackson (6)

Renato Nunez (5)

Others receiving votes: Rio Ruiz (2), Ryan Mountcastle (1)

 

Outfielders

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Trey Mancini (7)

Cedric Mullins (7)

DJ Stewart (6)

Eric Young Jr. (4)

Others receiving votes: Joey Rickard (3), Austin Hays (1)

 

Catchers

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Chance Sisco (7)

Austin Wynns (6)

Others receiving votes: Carlos Perez (1)

 

Designated Hitter

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Mark Trumbo (7)

 

–Submissions by Author (with explanations/notes as desired)–

 

Derek Arnold

Starters

Bundy, Cashner, Cobb, Karns, Hess

Relievers

Givens, Bleier, Castro, Fry, Araujo, Wright, Scott

Infielders

Davis, Villar, Martin, Jackson, Nunez, Escobar

Outfielders

Mancini, Mullins, Stewart, Young Jr.

Catchers

Sisco, Wynns

DH

Trumbo

 

Dillon Atkinson

Starting Pitchers (5)

  • RHP Dylan Bundy
  • RHP Alex Cobb
  • RHP Andrew Cashner
  • RHP Nate Karns
  • RHP David Hess

There will be multiple other considerations for the final two rotation spots, but for the time being I’m going to go with the two who I believe are the favorites in Karns and Hess.

Relief Pitchers (7)

  • RHP Mychal Givens
  • LHP Richard Bleier
  • RHP Miguel Castro
  • LHP Tanner Scott
  • LHP Paul Fry
  • RHP Mike Wright
  • RHP Pedro Araujo

Despite the O’s using Wright strictly as a reliever in 2018, the new staff is stretching him back out to be a starter, which hints to me they see something in him that they can work with. However, I think he misses out on the rotation but gets an advantage in the bullpen over Jimmy Yacabonis by having no minor-league options remaining. Once Araujo serves his required 17 days on the 25-man roster to shed his Rule V status, I think the club will then option Araujo to recall Yacabonis to the major-league bullpen.

Catchers (2)

  • C Chance Sisco
  • C Carlos Pérez

With the wide-open competition for both catcher spots this spring, it’s tough to make a confident guess on either the starter or backup role. However, I think the new staff is going to give Sisco, a former top prospect, every opportunity in Sarasota to leave his mark, and I believe he’ll make the most of those opportunities to earn the Opening Day nod. Austin Wynns was an extremely tough omission, but I think the defensively-savvy veteran Pérez will have the slight edge come regular season.

Infielders (6)

  • 1B Chris Davis
  • 2B Jonathan Villar
  • 3B Renato Núñez
  • SS Alcides Escobar
  • INF Richie Martin
  • UT Drew Jackson

Similar to the reliever situation, I have Núñez beating out Rio Ruiz for the third base job based on the fact that he’s out of options. It’ll be tough for the team to carry both Rule V infielders in Martin and Jackson, but the latter’s case is helped by the fact that the O’s have also used him in the outfield this spring, making him more versatile.

Outfielders/Designated Hitter (5)

  • LF Trey Mancini
  • CF Cedric Mullins
  • RF DJ Stewart
  • OF Eric Young Jr.
  • DH Mark Trumbo

I have Young Jr. edging out Joey Rickard for the final outfield spot on the roster, but Rickard’s fate could change if Trumbo is not cleared for the beginning of the season. In the event Trumbo is placed on the newly-termed “injured list,” this could open the door for many players on the bubble, like Rickard, Ruiz, Wynns, Austin Hays, Stevie Wilkerson, or Jace Peterson, among multiple others.

 

Phil Backert

Catchers

Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns

Analysis:

The young duo will get a chance to prove they belong in the big leagues after inconsistencies plagued both in 2018. Sisco’s bat is what helped him get to the majors, but his swing had too many holes so the 24-year-old must prove he has fixed those flaws as his defense will always be a question mark.

Infielders

Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Jonathan Villar, Alcides Escobar, Rio Ruiz, Richie Martin, Drew Jackson

Analysis:

The Orioles are prioritizing defense, which gives Ruiz the edge over Renato Nunez. However, Ruiz has an option which may be the tiebreaker between the two. Jackson is the wild card as they will try to keep the Rule 5 selection on the roster and he could be used in a super utility role which would allow the team to keep more pitchers. Escobar brings a veteran presence and despite a drop in defense in recent seasons, he should stabilize the middle infield. Escobar’s ability to play third is an added bonus.

Outfielders

Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, D.J. Stewart

Analysis:

I have changed my mind a few times between Stewart and Austin Hays, but Stewart gets the edge due to a natural platoon between him and Rickard along with Hays missing substantial time in 2018 due to injury. I can see this battle going down to the final days of spring training.

Pitchers

Dylan Bundy, Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, Yefry Ramirez

Mike Wright, Pedro Araujo, Paul Fry, Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens

Analysis:

The rotation will more than likely consist of all right-handers so it makes sense to include multiple lefties in the ‘pen in Bleier, Fry and Scott. Weather permitting, there aren’t a lot of off-days to start the season so I think the team will lean toward keeping more pitchers to help cover their starters if they struggle and avoid using Araujo as much as possible until he loses his Rule 5 status after the first 17 days of the season.

Overall Thoughts: 

There isn’t a lot of roster flexibility due to three Rule 5 players on the roster and others that are out of options. This is never a good situation, especially for a team that has many young players that will struggle throughout the season. The three-man bench may be extreme, but the Orioles only have two off-days in the first 28 days of the season and face four teams that finished 2018 with at least 90 wins. They are going to need as much pitching available as possible right off the bat.

 

Matt Pyne

C Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns

Infielders: Chris Davis, Jonathan Villar, Richie Martin, Drew Jackson, Alcides Escobar, Renato Nuñez

Outfielders: Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, Eric Young Jr

DH: Mark Trumbo

SP: Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, Nate Karns, Jimmy Yacabonis

RP: Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Paul Fry, Tanner Scott, Branden Kline, Bo Schultz, Pedro Araujo

 

Paul Valle

Every spring, journalists and reporters enter spring training and attempt to predict the opening day 25-man roster; a bit of a foolish endeavor so early in camp, but a rite of passage nonetheless. At Eutaw Street Report, several of us have been tasked with doing just that. This is my attempt. Take this with a grain of salt, because what do I know?

Infield

Chris Davis

Jonathan Villar

Alcides Escobar

Rio Ruiz

Richie Martin

Drew Jackson

Notes

* Escobar was signed to be the everyday shortstop, minor league contract notwithstanding.

* Ruiz is a Hyde/Elias guy. If his defense is better than Renato Nunez (it is), he’s the opening day third baseman. Plus, he’s versatile and can handle other positions steadily.

* Martin’s defense is a plus, and with his vision issues corrected, the Orioles are intrigued by his bat and ceiling. He’ll get a chance to stick.

* Jackson has a solid glove and cannon for an arm with an ability to play the outfield in a pinch. Plus, the Orioles traded international bonus slot money to the Phillies for him. He makes the team.

Outfield

Trey Mancini

Cedric Mullins

Eric Young, Jr.

Notes

* Mancini is a lock but could move to first base before too long.

* Centerfield is Mullins’ to lose.

* Young is the speedy, veteran outfielder the Orioles were looking for and will have to play his way off the roster.

* Yusniel Diaz and Austin Hays could play well enough to warrant a spot out of spring training, but they won’t head north with the club. No need to start the service clock early on a team headed for its third straight last place finish. They will have their time this summer and beyond.

Catcher

Chance Sisco

Austin Wynns

Notes

* In my catchers preview at the beginning of spring training, I said I expected Jesús Sucre and Austin Wynns to break camp with the club with Sisco catching everyday in Norfolk. Sucre still isn’t in camp, and the more I think about it, the more I think Sisco will hit enough in Grapefruit League action to be the everyday catcher to start the year with Wynns as his back-up.

Designated Hitter

Mark Trumbo

Notes

* Trumbo will start the season on the injured list if he can’t prove he can play the field. I expect he will be healthy and thus will be the everyday DH with an occasional start in right field.

Starting Pitchers

Dylan Bundy

Alex Cobb

Andrew Cashner

Nate Karns

David Hess

Notes

* With Bundy, Cashner, and Cobb locked into the rotation, I firmly believe Karns was signed to take the fourth spot.

* Hess pitched to 3.88 ERA over his last 10 starts in 2018. The Orioles will allow him to try to continue that stretch into 2019.

Bullpen

Mychal Givens

Richard Bleier

Miguel Castro

Paul Fry

Mike Wright

Tanner Scott

Jimmy Yacabonis

Pedro Araujo

Notes

* Scott’s and Yacabonis’ stuff is just too nasty for them to not be given every opportunity to stick early on with a young and rebuilding ball club.

* Mike Wright is out of options and will be given a decent look by a new regime in Baltimore.

* Pedro Araujo has 17 days remaining on his Rule V status. Barring injury, there is no chance he doesn’t travel north with the club. The Orioles will carry three Rule V players on opening day for the second year in row.

 

Andrew Stetka

Pitchers (12)

Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, David Hess, Mike Wright Jr., Yefry Ramirez, Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier, Paul Fry, Tanner Scott, Miguel Castro, Pedro Araujo

Infielders (6)

Chris Davis, Jonathan Villar, Renato Nunez, Richie Martin, Drew Jackson, Alcides Escobar

Outfielders (4)

Trey Mancini, Cedric Mullins, D.J. Stewart, Joey Rickard

Catchers (2)

Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns

Designated Hitters (1)

Mark Trumbo

 

Joe DiBasilio

This season is so bizarre for a number of reasons but for me one of the biggest is the fact that I am more excited about spring training then I am the regular season. I can’t remember a time that more positions were up for grabs during the spring, with so many young and hungry players looking to make the trip back north. You’ll notice one major absence from my list: Chri$ Davi$. My bold prediction is that the O’s release him at the conclusion of the grapefruit league after he goes 1-23 with 15k’s. This opens the door to move Mancini to first and have Mountcastle’s bat in Baltimore.

Catcher

Sisco, Wynns

First Base

Mancini, Trumbo, Mountcastle

Second Base

Villar

Third Base

Nunez

Shortstop

Martin, Escobar

Outfield

Rickard, Mullins, Hays, Stewart

Starting Rotation

Cobb, Bundy, Cashner, Karns, Hess

Bullpen (This is could change quite a bit depending on ST performances)

Givens, Bleier, Wright Jr., Scott, Castro, Phillips, Araujo

 

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O’s Spring Training Sleepers

Mike Yastrzemski leads off first base.

The regular season is only one month away. It sure doesn’t feel like spring yet, at least not in Maryland. Nonetheless, Spring Training games are here and players are stating their best case as to why they should make a big league club.

Interestingly enough for the Orioles, they have many jobs open. Coming off a historically abysmal season, Mike Elias will eye diamonds in the rough that could make an impact in 2019. Below I’ve assembled a list of names of sleeper players to watch as Spring Training progresses, and the Orioles start making the tough decisions.

 

Mike Yastrzemski

Lately, I’ve seen Yaz’s name bandied about as a potential option to make this O’s club as a fourth outfielder.

I can see it. Yastrzemski (grandson of Carl), came out of the big-name program Vanderbilt, which has done nothing but churn out big-league talent (David Price, Sonny Gray, Pedro Alvarez, Ryan Flaherty – to name a few).

Drafted in 2013, Mike was probably seen as a long shot to ever make the majors, but has always been lauded for his mentoring abilities and leadership. Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson (also a Vandy product) gave praise to Yastrzemski for mentoring him when Swanson was an underclassman.

Aside from the leadership, he produced on the field last year too. At Norfolk, Yastrzemski had an .801 OPS in 94 games, showing a little bit of pop. His fielding is also considered above average, with a decent to good throwing arm.

At the very least, he would provide a solid stop-gap in the outfield, until they feel Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna, or another outfielder is ready. At age 28, Yastrzemski more than likely won’t have many more opportunities, so making this big-league roster would be a huge accomplishment.

 

Keegan Akin

Keegan Akin is just solid all the way around. Winning Eastern League Pitcher of the Year last year, Akin showed the industry his potential. He finished with a 3.27 ERA and more strikeouts than innings pitched, which in the hitter-friendly confines of the Eastern League, is no small feat. Akin was overshadowed by Cody Sedlock when they were drafted together in 2016, but as a 2nd rounder, he definitely had the skillset to excel.

Akin doesn’t necessarily have that one pitch to wow you, but is solid all around the board. While his fastball only touches the low to mid 90’s, scouts say it has that ‘heavy’ effect, much like the one that was in Roy Halladay’s arsenal. He also throws that pitch the vast majority of the time, as noted by Adam Pohl on a recent Section 336 podcast.

That will likely change under Mike Elias and Co. He will still throw the pitch at least 50% of the time, but will likely add secondary pitches to keep hitters honest. I think he has a good shot of making the team, if the Orioles aren’t satisfied with their current fifth starter options.

 

Jesus Sucre

Sucre is still in Venezuela where he is having visa issues, but if he can get that resolved quickly, he’ll immediately slot into a spring training spot. This veteran doesn’t have much of a hit tool, but he’s making this roster for his defensive abilities.

Sucre is also known for his framing ability, and he could easily help some of the young pitchers on this Orioles staff. Having a defensive-savvy catcher is a must for the new front office and Sucre fits the bill.

Maybe they carry Chance Sisco too for his offensive upside, but feel Austin Wynns should get every day at bats at Norfolk. If this is the case, I almost certainly think this is Sucre’s job to lose. Sucre has a strong throwing arm, with a career 32% caught stealing rate. Sisco has a strong arm too, so maybe the brass decides that no matter who’s on base, the opposing team’s runner may think twice before attempting a stolen bag.

 

Rio Ruiz

Adding Rio Ruiz, a former Houston Astros draft pick, was one of the handful of moves Elias made over the last two months. Ruiz has never been able to hit a lick in the majors, but in the minors he’s been about league average.

In 2018, for the AAA affiliate of the Atlanta Braves, he had a 99 wRC+ (100 wRC+ is league average). Not being able to replicate it in the bigs is likely what caused the Braves to DFA him. Elias drafted him in Houston, so he knows the potential exists.

Ruiz will most likely be competing with Renato Nunez for the 3B job. While many may think Nunez is a lock to win that job, he was a Dan Duquette guy and there is a new regime in town. The Orioles seem likely to  value defense this year to help the young pitching, and Ruiz will provide that. Ruiz only committed two errors last year and would be a defensive upgrade over what we’ve seen from Nunez (0.1 dWAR in 2018).

The main issue is this: Renato Nunez has no options left and Rio Ruiz has two, so if the roster crunch provides enough options for the infield, Ruiz may be squeezed out, but I do expect him to be up with the big club at some point during the year.

 

Josh Osich

The Birds have many southpaw options now in the bullpen. Osich provides further depth, and he could break camp with the club if he really impresses this spring. He had a rather spectacular rookie season in 2015, posting a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. Since then, the numbers have been near disastrous.

But, here is where Sig Mejdal and the Orioles analytics staff comes into play. Osich’s fastball ranks highly in terms of spin rate (2298 RPM’s according to BaseballSavant) which puts him in the neighborhood of Chris Sale, Blake Treinen, and Trevor Bauer. Osich also has a 4-pitch mix, giving him enough that if he can hone in on his pitch selection, he has a chance to return to his rookie form.

Also, being a lefty will help his cause as he can compete with either Donnie Hart or Paul Fry for a bullpen spot.

These are just five names to watch during the Spring, but the Orioles front office actually made many smaller moves this offseason that could pay dividends in the majors by April. I’ll find it interesting what comes of the high-speed cameras that are being employed in camp. These cameras will show the trajectory of a pitch along with the grip and release point of the pitch. We could see one or even two players, sleepers if you will, make the roster simply by embracing the information gained from this new technology and hopefully it will encourage others to follow suit.

There will be many new names to Orioles fans during the 2019 season, but these are just a handful I think can make an impact.

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In O’s Camp, List of Potential Shortstops is Long

Alcides Escobar of the Royals throws the ball.

For the Orioles, the shortstop position has always been as consistent as they come. One could rattle off a list of superior talent in franchise history without much effort. Luis Aparicio, Mark Belanger, Cal Ripken, Jr., Mike Bordick, Miguel Tejada, J.J. Hardy, and Manny Machado (even if it was only for just half a season in 2018) are all prime examples.

Sure, there have been some duds along the way. Deivi Cruz, Juan Castro, Alex Cintron, Luis Hernandez, and Cesar Izturis come to mind, as the Orioles were wont to fielding some duds over the course of 14 consecutive losing seasons.

For today’s Orioles–in the midst of two straight losing seasons with certainly at least a few more to follow–the question looms as to who will be the next great shortstop for the franchise. There is a plethora of players in camp with middle-infield experience, so the team should have plenty of options, though as we all know, quantity doesn’t always translate to quality.

On Saturday, the Orioles signed shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. The former Royal has played in 162 games in three of the last five seasons and was an All-Star in 2015 (though most Royals were voted to the All-Star team in 2015, deserving or not).

Escobar is a career .258 hitter over his 11-year career and has been a standout defensively, earning Gold Glove honors for his 2015 efforts. Escobar will, in all likelihood, be the Opening Day shortstop, sliding Jonathan Villar over to second base. At 32-years-old and with his numbers in slow-but-steady decline, Escobar certainly looks to be headed for more dud than stud in the annals of Orioles history, but that’s not to say he won’t be serviceable.

Then there are Rule V picks Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, the latter coming over after the Orioles worked out a deal with the Phillies for future considerations to acquire the 25-year-old.

Martin has the luxury of calling himself a two-time first-round pick, though the first overall pick in the Rule V draft doesn’t necessarily elicit bragging rights.

Selected 20th overall by the Oakland Athletics back in 2015, Martin struggled at the plate during his first three seasons of professional baseball, never batting higher than .237 in any season. It wasn’t until an eye test revealed that Martin had less-than-stellar vision that the 24-year-old opted to use contacts during night games in an effort to turn his career around.

The improved vision was evident in Martin’s resurgence at the plate. In a career-high 118 games in 2018, Martin set personal bests across the board, tallying 29 doubles, eight triples, six home runs, and 42 RBI for Double-A Midland. He also stole 25 bases and walked 44 times, all while slashing .300/.368/.439.

For Jackson, his speed, steady defense and strong arm have kept him in professional baseball, and a power surge for Double-A Tulsa in 2018 made him worth a flyer for the Phillies in the Rule V draft.

At Tulsa, Jackson hit just .251; steady, but not overwhelming at face value. However, when you combine that average with a .356 OBP, 15 home runs, and 22 stolen bases, people will start to notice you. Luckily for Jackson, both the Phillies and Orioles noticed him.

The catch here for both Martin and Jackson is that they both have to stay on the active roster all season or be sent back to their respective teams; the Athletics for Martin and the Dodgers for Jackson. On a rebuilding club, it’s not impossible that both players make the Opening Day roster and stay there all season, but it is improbable. Hell, this is the organization that kept three Rule V picks in 2018 while trying to convince their fan base that they intended to compete for the division.

While the likes of Martin and Jackson give the Orioles an intriguing look in the infield, it is entirely possible that the next great Oriole shortstop is actually over at Twin Lakes Park for minor league spring training.

Cadyn Grenier was the starting shortstop for the Oregon State Beavers in the College World Series last summer when he was drafted 37th overall by the Orioles. In fact, it was noted during that CWS that Grenier was probably the only shortstop in the country that could have moved teammate Nick Madrigal, the fourth overall pick by the White Sox, to second base.

In his junior (and final) season, Grenier slashed .319/.408/.462 with 6 HR and 47 RBIs for the National Champions, prompting the Orioles to snatch him up in the supplemental/compensation round. Though he struggled at the outset of his professional career in Aberdeen (.165 BA in his first 27 games), Grenier slashed .297/.333/.438 in his final 16 games to finish the season strong and perhaps give a glimpse of what the future could hold.

Still, Grenier is at least two or three years away from contributing to the big league club so his inclusion in this article is merely for future speculation, much like any pandering over the possible selection of high school shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr. with the first overall pick in this year’s draft.

For my money, the competition for this year’s shortstop position is down to Escobar, Martin, and Jackson, with Escobar having a leg up. Others under consideration in camp include Steve Wilkerson, Jace Peterson, Hanser Alberto, Chris Bostick, Jack Reinheimer, and Zach Vincej.

Though the first full squad workout was just completed and the exhibition season doesn’t start until Saturday, if I had to make a prediction now, I’d say Escobar starts the season at short, with Martin filling a bench role and Jackson being sent back to the Dodgers. Of course, things could change, injuries happen, and some unsuspecting players could out-play the competition, so don’t write any of this in pen.

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Wave Him Bye Bye – Joe Angel Retires from Broadcasting

As if facing the prospect of at least one, if not several, more 100-plus loss seasons wasn’t enough here in Birdland, we’ve recently received the devastating news that we won’t even have our favorite radio voice on the call to help soothe any of the misery.

Orioles radio voice Joe Angel announced his retirement yesterday via his Twitter account:

https://twitter.com/WaveItByeBye/status/1096194371983011840

Last week, Baltimore Baseball’s Rich Dubroff posted that this announcement was imminent, but having heard nothing official, we Birds fans held out hope that Dubruff’s information would be proven false. Alas, that hope was instead – as is so often the case for we Orioles fans – misguided.

As far as we know, this was a bit of a sudden decision. Perhaps Joe had been considering retirement for a few months or even years, and the prospect of calling games for what’s likely to be one of the worst teams in baseball again was too much for him. Or, perhaps he was jolted into it by the passing of his good friend, Frank Robinson.

Regardless, at 71 years old, Angel certainly doesn’t owe anyone an explanation. From a fan’s perspective, it’s a bit of a gut punch because we don’t get the chance to have a farewell tour for Joe, as say, Dodgers fans did with Vin Scully a few years back. The final game of the disastrous 115-loss 2018 season was it for Joe, and we had no idea at the time.

I’ve only recently rediscovered the joy of listening to baseball over the radio airwaves, and that’s been in large part to Joe Angel. I use my MLB At-Bat app to check in on games all over the league when the Birds aren’t on (or when one of the other guys – ugh – was doing radio play-by-play for the O’s), and while there are some great baseball voices and personalities around, very few compare favorably with Mr. Angel.

When paired with some of his less talented on-air broadcast partners (who shall remain nameless – you know who they are), Joe was able to lift the performance of the entire booth with just a quip here and a one-liner there. How many times were you listening to some more bland play-by-play while Angel was taking a break, only to burst out in laughter when he cut in with a joke?

In more recent seasons, as the O’s brought in former players like Ben McDonald, Gregg Olson, and Brian Roberts to do color commentary, Joe’s professionalism and mastery over the microphone kept things smooth as silk, while allowing the “amateurs” to offer just the right amount of inside baseball based on their MLB experience. There was never any awkwardness or overlap between the play-by-play and the commentary. Joe knew just when to do the voice version of jumping up and down, and when to let the crowd speak for itself, as the clips below will demonstrate.

There was very little to get me motivated to go out and mow the lawn on Sunday afternoons, and now that I can’t listen to Joe Angel call Oriole games while pushing the mower, I see a lot of long grass in my future.

Let’s listen to just a couple of Joe’s best calls, for old time’s sake…

“Open up the door, grandma…I’m gettin’ outta here!”

Chris Dickerson walk-off home run, June 1, 2013.

The Delmon Double.

So long, Joe. We weren’t ready to wave you bye bye.

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Who Will Catch On for the O’s in Spring Training?

Austin Wynns behind the dish.

Orioles’ pitchers and catchers reported to spring training on Tuesday, with Wednesday marking the first workout of the 2019 season for the league’s worst franchise of a season ago. Therein lies the irony.

Pitchers and catchers took to the water-soaked fields Wednesday without a true starting catcher and only three spots nailed down in the rotation. While we will tackle the rotation and the bullpen in this space in due time, today we’ll focus solely on the catchers.

Right now, the Orioles open camp with a competition on their hands between Chance Sisco, Austin Wynns, Carlos Pérez, Andrew Susac, Martin Cervenka, and Jesús Sucre. Sucre has yet to report to camp due to visa issues.

The ballclub was hoping to bring back former starting catcher and fan favorite, Caleb Joseph, on a minor league deal, but the backstop inked a Major League deal with Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday.

With no set starter as of yet, the favorites for the job would almost certainly have to be Sisco and Wynns, though Sucre could have something to say about that if he gets his visa issues cleared up in the not-too-distant-future.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the candidates for the starting and backup catchers in 2019.

 

Chance Sisco

Chance Sisco in the batter's box..

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

The former second-round pick out of Santiago High School in Corona, CA was once ranked as high as 50th on MLB’s Top 100 Prospects list. After making his MLB debut in September 2017, Sisco hit .333 in limited action, leading many to believe that he would take over the catching duties full-time in 2018. While Sisco made his claim last spring and traveled north with the club, he got off to a slow start and never really rebounded.

After two demotions to the minors and another September call-up, Sisco’s season ended on the disabled list (now the”injured list”) with concussion-like symptoms after taking a foul tip off the chin in a September contest with the Chicago White Sox.

Sisco, whose bat has always been ahead of his glove, struggled both offensively and defensively. While he started the season throwing out 9-of-18 potential base stealers, Sisco only caught one of the next 18 would-be base stealers to end the season.

At the plate, Sisco slashed just .181/.288/.269 in his first taste of extended big league experience. He didn’t fare much better after his demotion, as his batting line was the worst of his career at the minor league level. The career .306 minor league hitter slashed just .242/.344/.352 in 38 games with Norfolk.

The Orioles hope Sisco can rebound from his forgettable 2018 campaign and regain the confidence that made him a top prospect prior to last season. If he can, it will certainly go a long way in filling one of many major holes on the roster.

 

Austin Wynns

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Wynns appeared to be a minor league lifer – merely organizational depth who was little more than a defensive catcher with offensive limitations. However, back-to-back solid offensive seasons in ’16 and ’17 put Wynns on the Orioles radar, and on June 5 of last season, he made his major-league debut.

Though a demotion followed in the coming weeks, Wynns was back for good by July 21 and played in 32 of a possible 63 games to end the season, basically splitting time with Joseph down the stretch.

The former 10th round pick out of Cal State University Fresno held his own against Major League pitching, batting .255 in 110 AB. Defensively, Wynns threw out 32% of base runners and committed just one error in over 300 innings behind the plate.

If Wynns isn’t on the Opening Day roster on March 28th, it would have to be a surprise to more than just me.

 

Carlos Pérez

Pérez spent time as the primary backup catcher of the Los Angeles Angels in 2015 before taking over as the primary catcher in 2016, and was little more than serviceable both offensively and defensively.

Playing in 86 and 87 games in those two seasons, respectively, Pérez slashed just .229/.277/.335, leading the Angels to move in a different direction the following season.

As part of a numbers crunch, Pérez saw limited action with the Angels in 2017 before spending time with both the Atlanta Braves and Texas Rangers in 2018, slashing .133/.170/.222 in only 39 games the last two seasons.

Though some feel Pérez is limited defensively, he has always had a strong arm, throwing out 38% of base runners in his big league career. While Pérez was probably signed as minor league depth, if there is any team with which he has a shot at breaking camp, it would be the Orioles, and should he remain in the organization all season, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t at least get a cup of coffee with the big league club.

 

Andrew Susac

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Drafted in the second round in 2011 by the San Francisco Giants, Susac showed promise as a rookie in 2014, batting .273 in 35 games for the eventual World Champions. Such promise, in fact, that both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus ranked him in their top 100 lists prior to 2015. Since then, however, his career has been marred by injuries and ineffectiveness. A low-risk signing for the Orioles last year, Susac’s 2018 season ended much like Sisco’s, with a foul tip knocking him out of commission as he fractured his wrist in late July. Hopefully the Orioles packed a ton of bubble wrap for spring training.

The fact that Susac is even still with the organization is nothing short of a miracle. Sitting in Sarasota late last season with a cast on his arm and unable to do much, Susac opted to return home for two weeks instead of remain at the facilities, prompting the Orioles to place him on the restricted list.

For those not in the know, Baseball-Reference defines the restricted list as a “compendium of players who are out of organized baseball but are not free agents. A team can request that a player be placed on the restricted list if that player has left the team without a valid reason, or has announced his intention to retire but is still of an age or level of skill that could allow him to return to professional baseball in the future.”

Though he was reinstated a month later, Susac was designated for assignment in January and cleared waivers, allowing the Orioles to outright him to the Norfolk Tides. Looking to rejuvenate his career, Susac would probably need to outplay every catcher on the roster to break camp with the club.

 

Martin Cervenka

Martin Cervenka throws from his catcher position.

MiLB.com

The now-26-year-old Czech Republic native burst onto the scene at Bowie last season after the Orioles claimed him in the minor league phase of the Rule V draft from the San Francisco Giants.

Cervenka slashed .258/.317/.457 while hitting a career-high 15 home runs for the Baysox in 2018, besting his previous high of eight set the previous season, a feat he accomplished in 16 fewer games. He was named the Eastern League Player of the Month and the Orioles Minor League Player of the Month for July after hitting .364 with 7 home runs and 25 RBI.

Though not a included on the 40-man roster this spring, Cervenka has been invited to spring training and will compete for a spot on the 25-man , though he seems like a long shot at best. It is more likely that Cervenka returns to Bowie, or even Norfolk, to receive the bulk of the playing time at catcher.

 

Jesús Sucre

Jesus Sucre is included last on this list simply because he isn’t in camp yet. The Orioles had a locker and a name plate set up for him on Tuesday, but have since removed them. The former Seattle Mariner and Tampa Bay Ray is having visa issues and remains in his native Venezuela until a resolution can be reached.

Sucre is a defense-first catcher, known for his pitch framing. He has also thrown out 32% of base runners. His bat is an afterthought, as his best season saw him slash .256/.289/.409 with seven home runs over 62 games in 2017. He is a career .223 hitter in parts of six seasons.

Of note are the five pitching appearances he has made in his career, including one against the Orioles last July where he allowed one hit and one inherited runner to score in .2 IP of a 15-5 loss. Though the Orioles are in the market for more pitching, I’m pretty sure that’s not why they signed him.

All joking aside, should Sucre get his visa issues sorted out in a timely manner, he has a legitimate shot at breaking camp with the club. A young, rebuilding team needs a veteran catcher that can help the pitchers out as much as possible, and Sucre provides that.

 

Final Thoughts

While it is far too early to figure out the 25-man roster, considering that position players don’t even report until Sunday, if I was a betting man I’d say Austin Wynns is the Opening Day catcher with Jesús Sucre filling the role of backup.

I think the Orioles want Sisco catching everyday somewhere, and I just don’t think that, even on a rebuilding club, that will be in Baltimore. My feeling is that Sisco will start the season at Norfolk, and Cervenka will be tasked with improving on his breakout season back at Bowie. If all goes well, both should receive promotions before too long.

 

Note

The Orioles have the first pick in the first year player draft in June. Many were predicting they would take high school shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr. in that spot. However, Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman has risen to the top of just about every draft board in the country and is considered close to MLB-ready, making him the top draft prospect to many throughout the industry.

The switch-hitting Rustchman was the College World Series MVP last season and slashed .408/.505/.628 in 250 AB while walking more than he struck out for the Beavers in his sophomore season.

My point? A rebuilding franchise needs a young catcher who can grow with a young pitching staff. The tantalization of taking Rutschman with the top pick may be too great for the Orioles to pass up, meaning that this catching competition may be a one-and-done scenario.

But again, it is far too early to tell.

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Thoughts on Proposed MLB Rule Changes

A MiLB pitcher on the mound with a pitch clock behind him.

We all love change, right?

According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are in discussion regarding multiple rule change proposals. Eight of the topics were brought to light by Passan, and I’m here to share my thoughts on each.

Years ago, I used to be in the crowd that enjoyed baseball just like it was, and felt that no changes are necessary. I still enjoy the game, but I’m always open to changing the game for the better.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into them.

 

Three-Batter Minimum for Pitchers

I feel like this became a discussion because of how former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi managed a bullpen. It always felt like he had a million pitchers in the bullpen and he’d use half a million in a game, batter by batter. I love a good strategy, but it certainly got tiring.

Installing a new rule to force pitchers to face at least three batters would essentially create four new things to think about:

  1. LOOGYs (Left-handed One Out Guy) would be a thing of the past. You’re going to have to be decent at getting both lefties and righties out if you want a roster spot.
  2. Managers would have to become more strategic on who they trust to face the upcoming three batters, as opposed to who they trust to win a battle against just one batter. They would also have to be more strategic on how they order their batting lineup each night.
  3. Teams may be more aggressive on above-average relievers in the free-agent market and trades, as opposed to being content with cheap arms who have a specific job (like a LOOGY).
  4. If you’re a fan who wants to speed up the game, this would certainly do so.

After some hard consideration, count me in. I think this could bring a new competitive nature and more-strategic managing to the game.

In today’s game, pitcher-batter matchups are a bit easier when you have a left-handed reliever who can’t get righties out. The manager simply puts them in against the one big lefty in the lineup.

A three-batter minimum creates more tough decisions, which could effectively bring out the best or worst in a manager.

 

Universal Designated Hitter

Some people love that pitchers get to hit in the National League. But I’m not one of those people.

The last thing I want is to sign a pitcher to a hefty contract, then he ends up getting hurt doing something that I’m not paying him to do. The chanc of injury for a pitcher while hitting isn’t large, but it’s enough for me to not want him to step in the box or run the bases.

I also don’t see the point in two leagues having separate rules. That would be like the NFL allowing AFC teams a fifth down, or forcing East Coast teams in the NBA to only have four players on the court. Sure, different sports, different rules. But I just believe both the American League and National League should play on equal ground.

According to Passan, the rule may be eased in, with interleague games having the designated hitter for both teams in 2019 regardless of location, with the National League fully adopting the DH in 2020. This would be the fair way to implement it, giving National League teams a full season to start to construct their rosters differently.

If a team wants to use their pitcher to hit, that should be their decision, not the league’s.

 

Single Trade Deadline Before the All-Star Break

For many years, it has seemed like July 31 is a holiday in baseball, with many teams receiving new gifts.

Everyone refreshes their social media feeds every 30 seconds leading up to the deadline to see if their favorite team is going to acquire a new player. Then, once the deadline passes, it’s all done, right?

Nope. Teams still have a whole month after that to make a trade for their postseason push as long as the players clear trade waivers. There have been many August trades that were exciting and were huge for playoff pushes, but I still never understood why the rule was in place.

If there’s a deadline, make it a deadline and that be that.

Therefore, I am all on board with a rule that makes it one trade deadline. I’ll have to be further convinced into the deadline being moved up to the All-Star break, however. How would that work out for players playing in the All-Star Game? There would definitely be some kinks to work out on that.

Until then, sign me up for the one and only trade deadline.

 

20-Second Pitch Clock

I’ve never been a fan of the idea of a pitch clock. But it does seem like it’s going to be a thing whether we like it or not. In the end, what’s a pitch clock going to save on game time: three or four minutes, if that?

I don’t think I’m ever going to like the pitch clock, but it’s just something I’ll have to get used to over time – like many rule changes that have happened in professional sports over the years.

Passan did note that, involved in the discussions is the possibility of the pitch clock being turned off with runners on base. So, I guess that’s something to kind of meet the middle.

For this potential rule change, I’m just going to shrug my shoulders and pick my battles. I won’t pick this one.

 

Expand Rosters to 26, With a 12-Pitcher Maximum

For the past few years, I’ve preached a roster expansion to 26 players, so I’m definitely on board with this. However, I don’t like the idea of a 12-pitcher maximum.

Also, how would MLB enforce a 12-pitcher maximum? Two teams, the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, are utilizing Kaleb Cowart and Matt Davidson, respectively, as two-way players this season – playing both infield and pitching. Also, when Shohei Ohtani fully returns from Tommy John surgery, he’ll be both pitching and hitting.

Count me in for an expansion to 26 players on a roster, but don’t set a limit on the number of pitchers. There have been times the Baltimore Orioles needed to have 13 pitchers on just a 25-man roster. Expanding to 26 while limiting to 12 arms could hurt teams more than help them.

Also, the proposal on the table includes limiting September rosters to 28 in September instead of the massive 40. I agree that it shouldn’t be as large as 40, but I do like the expansion in September and being able to get a look at prospects, so I’d look for maybe 30-man roster. But I won’t nitpick here. If 28-man roster in September is part of the deal, I can live with it.

 

Draft Advantages for Winning Teams and Penalties for Losing Teams

This is certainly an interesting one.

The O’s had the worst record in baseball last season, and will be rewarded with a first-overall draft pick. It’s certainly possible that it could happen again this year as well. If a new rule is implemented, though, it could change the game drastically.

“…MLBPA is interested in changes that would use draft picks to incentivize winning and grant players the ability to earn additional service, which could allow them to hit free agency earlier and theoretically counteract what the union believes is the manipulation of service time by teams.

Low-revenue teams that succeed — whether by finishing above .500 or making the playoffs — would be given greater draft positions or bonus pools under the union’s proposal, according to sources. While the depth of the penalties were not clear, the union suggested teams that lose 90-plus games in consecutive years could be affected negatively in the draft.”

So, basically, the idea is to get teams to stop tanking for the draft and to reward teams that exceed expectations. Man, the O’s of 2012-through-2016 would’ve made out pretty nicely with this.

In times that the Orioles are arguably the worst team in baseball, I don’t like this. Being a selfish O’s fan, I hope a rule like this goes into place once the O’s are back to competing again.

 

Study to Lower the Mound

MLB is interested in studying the height of the mound and its effect, with the possibility that all major-league mounds could be lowered in 2020.

I’m intrigued to look at their findings in this study.

MLB lowered the mound after 1968 because pitchers were just too dominant in the game.

In 1968, the strikeout rate in baseball was 15.8 percent. This past year? 22.3 percent.

If the goal is to get offense back into the game, this may be something worth looking into. But we’ll have to wait and see what kind of information MLB comes up with in analyzing mound height.

 

Allow Two-Sport Amateurs to Sign Major-League Contracts

This should be a fun one to discuss. Oakland Athletics first-round pick Kyler Murray may be leaving baseball in the past after he declared for the NFL Draft following a Heisman Trophy-winning year at Oklahoma.

Baseball has the guaranteed contracts, higher salaries, and fewer injuries, so why wouldn’t Murray choose baseball over football?

The risk of “making it.” As a potential first-round pick in the NFL, Murray would likely have an immediate impact playing the NFL. In baseball, the payoff is huge if you make it, but you’d have to pass through multiple minor-league levels just to get your shot in the big leagues.

With the Murray news, the MLBPA has suggested bringing back the major-league contract.

“In the wake of Oakland Athletics first-round pick Kyler Murray potentially leaving behind baseball to pursue an NFL career after a Heisman Trophy-winning season, the union also suggested the idea of bringing back the major league contract as an enticement for two-sport athletes to stick with baseball, sources said. Currently, all draft contracts are minor league deals subject to a draft pool that penalizes teams that exceed it.”

Back in December, Murray said, via the New York Post, that he’d love to be a two-sport athlete professionally. I think fans would love to see that as well. So, it’ll be interesting to see if a rule will be brought back to help make that dream of Murray’s happen.

Overall, I’m in favor of a good number of these rule changes that are being discussed. I wonder how many could be implemented this year, next year, or maybe never at all.

Which of these do you like or downright hate? What changes would you make to the league that aren’t listed here?

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Five More Orioles with Plenty to Prove in 2019

Yesterday, I listed five Orioles who have plenty to prove in 2019. Today…five more!

 

Cedric Mullins

Cedric Mullins in the batter's box.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Cedric Mullins is entering his first full season with the O’s, and figures to be the Opening Day center fielder. In 45 games in the big leagues in 2018, he slashed .235/.312/.359.

In front of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter, he may have had a comfortable first full season. But under Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde, he may have to prove to the new staff he deserves to be out there every day.

One aspect that may be addressed is Mullins’ switch-hitting ability. In his 45 games last season, he slashed .264/.319/.432 from the left side, but just .156/.296/.156 from the right.

Back in August, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com wrote that the O’s expressed to Mullins that they may ask him to only bat left-handed going forward if he doesn’t make improvements from the right side. So, it will be interesting to see if the Elias-led staff takes a similar approach with the young outfielder this season. Mullins will have to either prove that he can stay a switch hitter, or prove that he can hit southpaws from the left side of the plate.

Additionally, with the plethora of young outfielders looking to break into the big leagues and stick around with the O’s – like D.J. Stewart, Austin Hays, Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna, and maybe even Ryan Mountcastle (if he makes a position change) – Mullins will need to prove that he can produce enough at the major-league level to make Hyde write his name on the lineup card everyday beyond 2019.

Bold Prediction: Mullins won’t be a top-of-the-order type of hitter, but he’ll play well enough to start every day while batting somewhere in the six-through-nine spots in the order. Also, by the end of the season, he will abandon hitting right handed completely.

 

Renato Nunez

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It seems like he’s older, since he’s been on MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings since 2011, but Renato Nunez is just 24. Formerly in the Oakland Athletics organization, this is how Nunez ranked in the A’s system each year, via MLB Pipeline:

  • 2011: No. 10
  • 2012: No. 8
  • 2013: No. 3
  • 2014: No. 3
  • 2015: No. 6
  • 2016: No. 5
  • 2017: No. 20

The young third baseman was highly regarded in the A’s system through 2016, but played just 17 games total in the majors with the Athletics in 2016 and 2017. The Texas Rangers claimed him off waivers from the A’s in April of 2018 and played him in 13 games before placing him on waivers to be claimed by the O’s.

Nunez played 56 games in Triple-A Norfolk in 2018, slashing .289/.361/.443 with five homers. When Manny Machado was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in July, the O’s called up Nunez and gave him plenty of reps.

He rewarded the O’s decision by slashing .275/.336/.445 with seven homers in 60 games.

In 2019, his job is to prove to the new staff that he is the player that scouts once thought he could be, and show that his production in 2018 wasn’t just a fluke. Elias has brought in new infield competition via waivers and the Rule V Draft with Hanser Alberto, Jack Reinheimer, Rio Ruiz, Richie Martin, and Drew Jackson all on the 40-man roster, and Chris Bostick, Jace Peterson, and Zach Vincej being non-roster invitees. So, Nunez doesn’t exactly have the everyday third base job earned just yet. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Elias isn’t done adding low-risk infielders to the organization to join the club in Sarasota.

Bold Prediction: Nunez is the Opening Day starting third baseman, but loses his starting role by the end of May.

 

Tanner Scott

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

As a hard-throwing southpaw, Tanner Scott has shown flashes of being something special out of the bullpen. He has an electric fastball and a nasty slider, which helped him record a 12.83 K/9 rate that was the eighth-highest rate among qualified American League relievers in 2018.

However, he paired that with a 4.73 BB/9 rate, which was seventh-highest among qualified AL relievers, and a 5.40 ERA – albeit with a 3.40 FIP. Another cause for concern was his inability to consistently get right-handed hitters out, as they batted .295/.377/.500 off him last year, as opposed to lefties slashing .214/.317/.322.

There is plenty of reason to be excited for Scott’s future in the back-end of the bullpen in Baltimore. However, he needs to bring the walks down and not be limited to just a LOOGY role. He has the stuff to succeed in the big leagues. Now he just needs the command, something with which we hope a new staff may be able to help him.

Bold Prediction: Scott pitches better against right-handed batters and has a sub-3.00 ERA. He’ll see some closing opportunities, especially later in the season.

 

Chance Sisco

Chance Sisco in the batter's box..

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Not exactly what everyone hoped to see in 2018 for the young backstop.

Chance Sisco was ranked among the Orioles’ top prospects for multiple years leading into his major-league debut, and was ranked 45th among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects in 2017. He was known in the minors for being an average at-best catcher who could still make strides, but his above-average bat was expected to help him succeed in the majors.

He showed that to O’s fans in 10 September games in 2017, when he slashed .333/.455/.778 with two homers in a small sample size 22 plate appearances. With a strong showing offensively throughout his minor-league career and these 10 major-league games in 2017, Sisco figured to be in competition for one of the two catcher spots in spring training of 2018.

After spring training, he earned a position on the Opening Day roster to split time – with a lesser workload – with Caleb Joseph. The O’s were ready for his bat to play well in the majors, while learning to become a better defender with mentoring from Joseph, but things didn’t go according to plan. In 63 games – he made multiple trips back and forth between Baltimore and Norfolk – Sisco slashed just .181/.288/.269.

For those keeping score at home, that’s still better than what Chris Davis produced. But unless Sisco is carrying Davis’ salary with no options available, those are numbers that make it easy to not keep him around on the roster. Sisco’s struggling even continued in the minors, as he batted just .242/.344/.352 in Norfolk.

Sisco’s job in 2019 is to prove why he got so much love as a top prospect. If he’s not going to be known as an above-average defender behind the plate, he needs to hit enough to justify being on the major-league roster. With Austin Wynns sitting above him on the depth chart and three veteran catchers – Carlos Perez, Andrew Susac, and Jesus Sucre – being added as non-roster invitees to camp, Sisco faces an uphill battle to make the Opening Day roster.

He needs to hit enough to play in the big leagues, but also prove he deserves to stay as a catcher going forward. It’ll be interesting to see how Elias and Hyde handle Sisco this season.

Bold Prediction: Sisco starts the season in Triple A, but earns a promotion to the big leagues by May. He’ll have an above-average bat to keep him in the lineup, but talk will begin to circle around him about potential position change going forward.

 

Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo in his fielding stance.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

When the Orioles acquired Mark Trumbo from the Seattle Mariners heading into the 2016 season, they received more than what they could’ve hoped for: a .256/.316/.533 slash line with 47 home runs.

The right-handed slugger expected to be rewarded with a hefty contract in free agency, but not many teams came calling. Late into the offseason, the Orioles re-signed Trumbo to a three-year, $37.5 million contract. Some viewed this deal as a bargain for the O’s, while others felt they overpaid.

Heading into the third year of the contract, Trumbo has not come close to earning his annual salary, totaling a -0.9 fWAR in two seasons. In 2017, he slashed .234/.289/.397 with 23 homers. He hit a little better in 2018, though, posting a .261/.313/.452 line with 17 long balls before being shut down with a right knee injury, which led to surgery.

In 2019, Trumbo has three things to prove:

  1. That he’s healthy,
  2. He deserves to be in the lineup every night, and
  3. That he would be a valuable asset to another team in the second half of the season.

The first goal for the power hitter should be to have a full, healthy season. He can’t do anything else if he’s not in the lineup. Next, with a logjam of his type of players – including Davis and Trey Mancini – he needs to prove that he should be in the lineup every night. If he’s slow to start the season, he could be moved to a part-time role very quickly. Lastly, he needs to hit well enough to look like an attractive piece for a contender to trade for. If he plays well enough, he could get dealt to a World Series contender midseason, and hope to compete for a ring. Being good enough should also earn him a decent major-league contract with another club next offseason.

Bold Prediction: Trumbo finds himself in a rotation between first base and designated hitter with Mancini and Davis, and he does a decent job at the plate, slashing around .245/.305/.440 with between 14-and-18 homers heading into the All-Star Break. The O’s trade him away in late July to a contender, which frees up more playing time for Mancini and up-and-coming outfielders.

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