This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. A couple years back, I cut it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver/Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. (Today we have a Billy Ripken version) – A.S.
1. If you’ve watched the last week or two of Orioles baseball, I applaud you. You must really enjoy pain and agony. That, or you are locked in a dungeon somewhere and are being punished. If that’s the case, comment on this post with your location to be rescued.
The Orioles have played absolutely abysmal baseball recently, and the one place it’s shown up most is defensively. During their five-year stretch of winning under Buck Showalter, the Orioles were known as a team of a certain defensive prowess. They had slick fielding infielders and always managed to make the right plays. They are far removed from that. Whether it’s Hanser Alberto botching a double play, Joey Rickard throwing to the wrong base, Dwight Smith Jr. missing a cutoff man or Pedro Severino completely bungling a pop-up, the O’s are one of the worst teams I’ve ever seen defensively.
It’s super disheartening as a fan to watch extra outs being given out like candy at Halloween, but can you imagine what it’s like for the pitching staff? The Orioles are already challenged in many ways talent-wise, so adding horrendous defense to the picture just makes things look that much worse. Fundamentals shouldn’t have to be taught at the big league level, but the O’s aren’t currently playing at a big league level.
Something has to be done.
2. Mike Elias spoke at length with reporters yesterday and he’s frankly the only thing giving me life right now when it comes to this organization. Among the things he discussed was July, and specifically how it will be “the largest international signing period that the Orioles have ever had.”
That’s…encouraging. In fact, it’s necessary and long overdue. Baltimore has the second largest bonus pool money with $13.82-million (Arizona has $16.09-million). They can use that to splash cash among a bunch of international signings and build up the farm system like they haven’t for years. It’s important and it’s happening.
Elias also spoke about some of the team’s current prospects and how close they may be to the majors. It seems like outfielder DJ Stewart and catcher Chance Sisco could be recalled from Triple-A Norfolk in the near future. For Stewart, playing time could be an issue as he’s only a corner outfielder. This is where the Trey Mancini conundrum rears its ugly head once again.
Ryan Mountcastle and pitcher Keegan Akin, according to Elias, are further away. With Mountcastle, position is also the issue. He’s played third base, first base, and now the team wants to get a look at him in the outfield. This is something to track for his future.
3. Another thing Elias brought up in his scrum with the media yesterday was that the Orioles had still not decided on who will be the top pick at next month’s draft. There’s been a lot of discussion about Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman or high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. Others believe California first baseman Andrew Vaughn could be a sleeper for the top pick.
While Rutschman appears to be the safest pick, and perhaps the consensus top choice, there is a belief that he could be in the majors sooner than anyone else. That’s not something the Orioles need. It also shouldn’t scare them away from taking him. Just because a player may arrive in Baltimore sooner, perhaps even sooner than they are ready to win, it shouldn’t push them to another player. Witt is considered the top prep prospect and will turn 19 next month, making him old for his class. It’s also notable that the Orioles hired Witt’s uncle last year as a scout. Vaughn won the Golden Spikes Award last year as an underclassman and seems like a power-hitting first baseman that could plug into any system. But is a power-hitting first baseman what this organization needs? Positional flexibility seems like it takes a massive hit there, as it does with Rutschman.
This is obviously a very important pick for the Orioles. Whoever gets the call will be the face of the franchise going forward and will almost certainly be the team’s top prospect, leaping over Mountcastle and Yusniel Diaz.
4. It’s pretty clear the biggest issue for the Orioles this season has been their lack of ability to keep the ball in the park. As bad as the defense has been, and as horrendous as their bats have looked at times, the pitching can’t stop giving up home runs. That’s the one spot where they are worst. In fact, they are worse than any team in history if pace is to be believed.
Tuesday, the team allowed its 100th home run in the 48th game, becoming the fastest to reach that mark. Tack on five (yes, five) more homers last night and they are on pace to allow 347 for the season. That would absolutely shatter the record of 258 set by the 2016 Cincinnati Reds. We all know home runs are up. Players are changing the way they swing with an emphasis on launch angle. The ball may even be different.
But allowing this many home runs is absolutely ridiculous.