Seven Predictions for the Second Half

The All-Star break has come to an end and it’s time for real Major League Baseball games to start back up. With that said, I’d like to have a little fun with some bold – and some not so bold – predictions for the Baltimore Orioles for the remainder of the 2019 campaign.

I’m curious to see which of these you agree with and the ones that will cause you to question my intelligence as a writer. Both reactions will be welcomed. Let’s get started.

1. The Orioles will trade away five players later this month

I figured I’d tackle this one first since it will be the longest of the seven points I address, plus we are less than three weeks from the July 31 trade deadline. Remember when this was referred to as the non-waiver trade deadline, and teams could still pull off waiver trades in August? In case you didn’t see the news prior to the season, August trades are now a thing of the past and teams must complete all trades by the July 31 deadline.

This change could make things a tad more difficult for contenders if an important player gets injured in August and the team can’t do anything about it aside from promoting a minor leaguer earlier than the club wants to. So I think it’s possible we see contending clubs not only adding star players later this month, but also trading for depth.

The five players I’m predicting the Orioles trade away are infielder Jonathan Villar, outfielder Dwight Smith Jr., catcher Pedro Severino, and right-handed pitchers Andrew Cashner and Mychal Givens,

Villar has compiled 1.1 fWAR and is slashing .259/.326/.421 with 10 home runs and 17 steals so far this season. His bat, speed and ability to play both second base and shortstop could be seen as valuable to some clubs. With a year and a half until he hits free agency, now may be the time for the Orioles to pull the trigger on dealing him and ultimately receiving more in the Jonathan Schoop trade from last year.

Don’t expect much in return for Smith, as he’s been worth -0.4 fWAR and hitting .241/.295/.430 this season, but his 11 homers and streaky success could be intriguing to clubs looking for a low-risk, low-cost outfielder. This depends on how the O’s view him long-term, but I think it’s possible the emergence of Anthony Santander could push Smith out of the outfield mix. 

Severino may be the biggest surprise to you that I’ve included. Heck, I’m surprised that I’m including him. But I have to be bold somewhere, right? As mentioned before, contending clubs may be inclined to make deals at the deadline that they wouldn’t normally make due to the abolishment of August trades. Severino has been a huge surprise for the O’s, slashing .272/.339/.479 with nine longballs, solid defense and 0.8 fWAR. He may be turning a corner, or this could be a prolonged hot streak that the Orioles could sell high on. Teams may want reinforcements at catcher and the O’s may look to give Chance Sisco more starts behind the dish. I’m sure Severino has been a good mentor for Sisco, but the club has a polished veteran defensive catcher in Triple-A Norfolk with Jesus Sucre.

Cashner should be the least surprising of the bunch here. He’s in a contract year and has had a very good season for the Orioles. In 17 starts, he has a 3.83 ERA and 4.25 FIP with 1.8 fWAR. He has a 3.42 ERA and 3.62 FIP in his last 12 outings, as well as a 1.41 ERA and 2.55 FIP in his last five. Having this type of season pitching in a bat-heavy division and one of the more hitter-friendly parks in baseball is quite admirable, and the 32-year-old could be a solid fit in another club’s middle or back of the rotation. Once the likes of Marcus Stroman, Matthew Boyd and Madison Bumgarner are off the board (possibly Noah Syndergaard as well), I think teams will push heavily for Cashner.

Finally let’s talk about Givens. Yes, the 29-year-old is having the worst season of his career. He currently has a 4.76 ERA and 4.88 FIP over 34 innings this season, but his strikeout numbers are the best of his career with 12.97 strikeouts per nine innings. His previous highest strikeout rate was 11.57 in 2016. Prior to last season’s deadline, the Indians and Pirates were among teams interested in the right-hander. Teams could be calling about him again this season despite the down year. Two reasons why: The market is always busy for pitching help, and Givens has pitched much better as of late. Since May 31, Givens has a 2.61 ERA and 3.10 FIP while striking out 15.74 batters per nine innings. If he keeps this up prior to July 31, the Orioles could be receiving many calls on the reliever.

Earlier this month, I predicted potential landing spots for these players. You can view them here.

OK, the rest of these will be much shorter. I promise. Bear with me.

2. Stewart will return with a bang

During spring training, the Orioles optioned outfielder DJ Stewart to Triple-A Norfolk. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has made it clear that he wants prospects to have extended success at each level prior to promotion, and Stewart didn’t exactly have a good full season in Norfolk in 2018, slashing .235/.329/.387 with 12 homers in 116 games.

However, the former first-round pick turned it around this year in Norfolk, batting .318/.429/.591 with eight home runs in 44 games. Fans begged on social media for him to be recalled, and the Orioles did so on May 28. He would only play seven games with the big league club, though, as he landed on the injured list with a sprained ankle after colliding with infielder Hanser Alberto while tracking a fly ball in foul territory on June 5 in Texas.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Stewart has been transferred from Double-A Bowie to Norfolk as his major league rehab assignment continues. When his rehab reaches its conclusion, the Orioles will have to decide whether or not to add him back on the 25-man roster or option him to keep him in Norfolk. Santander has played well in Stewart’s absence and figures to stay with the Orioles going forward. Maybe this is where my earlier prediction of trading Smith comes into play.

I think they’ll find a spot on the roster and in the lineup for Stewart once he is healthy, and he’ll give the Orioles reason to trust their decision of promoting him in May. He has a job to fight for and keep, and I predict he’ll play like every at-bat is on the line.

3. A prospect in Norfolk will break into the big leagues

The Orioles have used endless amounts of players this season. The Norfolk shuttle has been gassed up and running all season long to keep the Orioles roster shuffling. Because of that, there will be multiple players making their way from Norfolk to Baltimore in the second half of the season. But I have one notable prospect in mind who I think fans will be intrigued to see at the big league level.

I know of one who you are thinking of, and that’s not who it is.

All right, it’s right-handed pitcher Hunter Harvey.

Hunter Harvey pitching.

GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld

Harvey started this season with Bowie, which would suggest that he won’t be an addition for the Orioles this season, given the club’s stance on not rushing prospects. However, earlier this month Orioles manager Brandon Hyde hinted, via Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com, at the possibility that Harvey or Bowie reliever Dillon Tate could join the club later this season.

“I think they are developing but there is a possibility that one or both of those guys could be up here if they continue to pitch well. I know Hunter is throwing the ball great and it seems like Dillon’s stuff has gotten better coming out of the ‘pen. They are still developing but there is a chance that one or both could be up here at some point.”

Since being moved to Bowie’s bullpen in mid-June, Harvey has yet to allow a run. Between Bowie and Norfolk he’s thrown 12 scoreless innings in relief, allowing two hits, five walks and punching out 13 batters. It’s a bold suggestion given the Orioles’ philosophy on developing prospects, but the O’s ‘pen needs help and I think Harvey could get his first cup of coffee in the majors this September.

4. Other notable prospects will have to wait

Sorry, Orioles fans. But my gut feeling is that we will not be seeing Ryan Mountcastle, Keegan Akin or Austin Hays with the Orioles this season. While I predicted the club to go against their plan with Harvey, I think they’ll stick to their plan with these three.

Mountcastle has been crushing the ball in Norfolk, slashing .307/.329/.505 with 15 home runs in 80 games so far this season. However, he has a 3.2-percent walk rate and 23-percent strikeout rate. I’m sure the O’s are pleased with his hitting ability, but I think they’d like to see at least one of the walk rate or strikeout rate start to trend into a better direction. Also, they are beginning to experiment with the 22-year old in left field as well as first and third base. He’s made 61 starts at first, nine at third and five in left field. As well as avoiding starting the service clock of one of their top prospects, I think they’d like to see him show progress to become at least serviceable at more than just first base.

Akin, 24, hasn’t moved levels midseason at all in his professional career. He has made 16 starts and one relief appearance this season, compiling a 4.44 ERA and 3.80 FIP with 10.68 strikeouts per nine innings and 4.80 walks per nine. The one relief appearance he made was an attempt from the organization to limit his innings and workload this season. If they are trying to limit his workload, that’s a sign to me that we’ll have to wait until 2020 for his big league debut.

Hays already made his big league debut in 2017, but it’s safe to say the former staff may have rushed him through the minors. He has battled numerous injuries and is just returned to Norfolk Thursday night, marking just his 11th game at the Triple-A level. I think the Orioles would rather him just try to finish the year healthy at Norfolk then return to the majors in 2020.

5. Nunez matches his jersey number in long balls

Designated hitter Renato Nunez may only be slashing .239/.304/.495 with 107 wRC+ this season, but he did mash 20 dingers in the first half.

He has been a streaky hitter at the plate, but I think he’ll make his presence known to the organization by swatting an extra 19 homers before the season is over, finishing with 39, the number on his jersey.

6. The Orioles will not finish with the worst record in Major League Baseball

The race for the 2020 No. 1 overall pick is currently led by the Orioles. But other teams are not far off:

— Baltimore Orioles, 27-62 (.303)

— Detroit Tigers, 28-57 (.329)

— Kansas City Royals, 30-61 (.330)

— Miami Marlins, 33-55 (.375)

It seems like they’re well ahead of everyone else – or below, whichever way you want to look at it – but the Orioles won’t be the only ones in sell mode this month. The Tigers, Royals and Marlins all have intriguing pieces that could be moved before the deadline, which could take a hit on their win-loss totals.

Call me crazy if you want, but I predict the Tigers will have the worst record in Major League Baseball, with the Orioles just above them in the win column. You heard it here first. The Orioles will have the No. 2 overall pick next year.

7. Means will be left on the bench again, except this time it won’t be done by Alex Cora

A lot of Orioles fans were left upset during the All-Star Game when American League manager left John Means in the bullpen for the entire game.

Did I want to see Means pitch in the game? Of course I did. Am I really that disappointed? Meh, it happens. Cora had to save a starting pitcher just in case the game went to extra innings, and Means was the one selected. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

I think this won’t be the last time Means will be waiting for a call that doesn’t come. I’m talking about the American League Rookie of the Year award.

Means has some tough competition this season for the award, with Rays’ Brandon Lowe, Red Sox’s Michael Chavis, White Sox’s Eloy Jimenez, Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Astros’ Yordan Alvarez, Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull and Mariners’ Daniel Vogelbach.

If Means continues to pitch the way he has in the first half for the rest of the season, he’ll make a strong case for the award. But let’s be honest, he loses the popularity contest and there is still a lot of season left. Lowe is very deserving if he keeps playing the way he has, Chavis has been mashing the ball for Boston, Jimenez is heating up, we’ll have to wait and see about Guerrero, Alvarez has been on fire since the Astros brought him up, Turnbull has been fun to watch on the bump for the Tigers and Vogelbach has tremendous power from the left side of the plate.

Means will be very deserving of the award, but I think lack of national attention and having a bunch of other intriguing rookies will send the southpaw to the backburner once again.

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