The All Star break is upon us and we are more than halfway through the 2021 MLB season. In some ways, this has been a terrible year for the O’s. While we knew they would lose a lot of games, injuries and some poor play by young players have made things even worse. On the other hand, the minor leagues are thriving, Cedric Mullins has turned himself into a very good player, John Means has continued to show he can be a top of the rotation starter and Ryan Mountcastle has bounced back after a poor start and put himself squarely in the ROY conversation.
The rest of this season will be defined by continuing development of the young talent and what happens the rest of this month, outside the lines. First up is the MLB Draft. The first round is on Sunday night and the mock drafts have no consensus on the top of the draft except that Marcelo Mayer and Jack Leiter will be in the top 4 picks. Otherwise, it’s a complete guessing game, with no consensus on where players should be ranked. Here is hoping that the Orioles take Jordan Lawlar if he is available. I believe he has the highest upside of anyone in the draft. He will cost slot or maybe more than slot but that’s ok. That being said, as long as they don’t go with Frelick, the 5’9” OFer from Boston College, I think the pick should be a good one.
Once we get past the draft and the All-Star game, the focus moves to the trade deadline. There are a lot of things the Orioles could do but I am guessing we see one or two BP arms moved and maybe Trey Mancini and that’s about it. Injuries and mediocre play from Anthony Santander likely will keep him here and I don’t think the team gets an offer big enough for them to move Means or Mullins in a trade. The Freddy Galvis injury took away another potential player they could trade.
Beyond those two major off the field events, the rest of the season will be focused on development. Who gets moved up in the second half, either to the majors or up a level in the minors? Do we see more debuts from potential long term assets? I have been talking about Adley Rutschman being brought to Baltimore but I don’t think it happens. But does he go to AAA soon? What about Grayson Rodriguez? Does he see AAA this year? I would imagine DL Hall could but they probably want him to throw some more at Bowie once he gets off the IL. Other names in the minors that could potentially move up are JD Mundy and Jordan Westburg. Mundy, an UDFA signed last year, has been tearing the cover off the ball. He has already moved from Delmarva to Aberdeen and he hasn’t seen a drop off. As a college bat, perhaps he should go to Bowie. If he goes to Bowie and plays at a high level, he really enters the prospect scene. Like Mundy, Westburg has also been promoted and is a college bat. He started off slow but his OPS is over 800 and his OBP is almost 400. If he keeps it up and continues to show improvement, I could see him get some AA time this season.
Then we have the guys who could join the major league team. Kyle Bradish, Yusniel Diaz and Jahmai Jones are three names that we could see up here. Bradish has continued to pitch well in AAA, although the walk rate is a little high. The Orioles figure to get back Means and Bruce Zimmerman soon and they should be in the rotation for the rest of the season. After that, it’s a crap shoot and I would guess Bradish has a chance to see some starts. Diaz just has to stay healthy. If he does, I feel the offense will come and he will get a look. Of course, his playing time will be impacted by health (of him and others) and perhaps the trading deadline. Jones has an issue in that his defense at second base, a position at which the O’s need a lot of help, is reportedly not good. That being said, the OF may be crowded and even if his second base defense isn’t strong, you may have to give him a chance and see if he can improve. Maybe that hurts the young arms some but I think it may be a risk you take given the need for the position and the fact that Jones is hitting at such a high level.
Other names in AAA that could see more ML time are Kevin Smith, Dean Kremer, Alex Wells and Zac Lowther. To go along with those last three names, you can add Keegin Akin to that list. Those guys have disappointed this year or, in the case of Lowther, been handled poorly. Wells did pitch well in June though Another guy I wonder if we see get starts is Tyler Wells. He has pitched well for the last few months but he has yet to pitch more than three innings and the Orioles are starting to use him in higher leverage situations, which makes me think they have no intention of starting him this year.
The rest of this year will help set up the offseason and the 2022 MLB season. How players develop, if they can stay healthy and what Orioles GM Mike Elias does off the field will go a long way in determining if 2022 is another rebuilding year or if 2022 is the season this team pushes towards a 500 record and sets the stage for long term contention.