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Twelve Orioles thoughts following Memorial Day checkpoint

Posted on 29 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With one-third of the Orioles’ 2018 season officially in the books after the 6-0 loss to Washington on Monday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles reached the much-discussed Memorial Day checkpoint sitting at 20 games below .500 and 20 games out of first place in the American League East. I’d say an extension to Flag Day probably isn’t necessary to determine how this organization needs to proceed.

2. Since plating 17 runs on Mother’s Day, the Baltimore lineup has scored three or fewer in 11 of 13 games. Pitching woes and bad defense haven’t surprised me, but I never expected the offense to be this consistently bad, ranking last in the AL in runs scored per game (3.83).

3. I’m unsure how good the likes of Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, and Austin Hays will be in the majors, but watching some of the outfield combinations used by Buck Showalter in recent weeks is tiresome. I suppose a 111-loss pace reflects the amount of dead weight on the current roster.

4. Continuing to bat Chris Davis fifth or sixth is even worse.

5. Alex Cobb turned in his longest start of the season Monday, but he was plagued by a 42-pitch third inning that didn’t feature a single swing and miss. He has the worst swinging-strike percentage among pitchers completing 40 innings. His split-changeup still hasn’t returned since Tommy John surgery.

6. Davis’ performance has helped mask the struggles of Jonathan Schoop, who owns a .667 on-base plus slugging percentage and a walk rate on par with his first two seasons. The oblique strain didn’t help, but this isn’t ideal for someone needing to be re-signed or traded in the near future.

7. Many were pointing to Richard Bleier as a possible candidate to represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game if Manny Machado were to be traded before then. A 5.23 ERA in May and opponents batting .438 against him this month have certainly cooled that possibility.

8. Trey Mancini is batting .203 with a .632 OPS since banging his knee against the brick wall on April 20. He hasn’t used the knee as an excuse, but he’s hitting too many balls on the ground and his defense has taken a substantial step back from last year.

9. Concerns about Andrew Cashner being able to miss bats have been quelled by him averaging 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but his previously-stellar ground-ball rate has plummeted to a career-worst 37.8 percent and he’s allowed 11 homers in 60 1/3 innings. That hasn’t been a good trade-off.

10. How big has the long-ball problem been for the rotation? Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Cashner, and Cobb all rank among the top 30 for worst homer rates in the majors among those completing at least 40 innings. Chris Tillman would also be on that list if he had enough innings.

11. This past weekend marked the six-year anniversary of Adam Jones inking his $85.5 million contract that was a winner for both sides. It represented happier times when a competitive window was just opening and the Orioles had the vision and urgency to lock up a 26-year-old entering his prime.

12. I’m unmoved about in-season firings in what’s already a lost year, but how refreshing would it be for a member of the Angelos family to speak about this being unacceptable, to vow changes, and to lay out some semblance of a vision? Is that really too much to ask?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts on start of spring training

Posted on 20 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With Orioles spring training underway and Grapefruit League action beginning later this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After signing Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, the Orioles will have an estimated 2018 payroll of just south of $130 million after an Opening Day payroll of $164 million last season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Explain again why they’re not serious players for Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb?

2. We scoff whenever a free agent says it’s not about the money, but I believe free-agent-to-be Adam Jones when he said the chance to win will be more important than compensation. The 32-year-old obviously won’t play for nothing, but a ring is very important to him.

3. That said, how the Padres perform in 2018 would be an interesting variable to throw into the Jones mix after they signed Eric Hosmer. They have one of baseball’s top farm systems, so perhaps the San Diego native would be intrigued about going home if the Padres show they’re ascending.

4. Not that Tim Beckham has had any leverage in the matter, but I’m impressed with the way he’s handled himself in the wake of Manny Machado moving to shortstop. Showing he can be a solid third baseman would only enhance his value moving forward.

5. Dylan Bundy astutely noted at FanFest that he got away from his curveball and changeup too much down the stretch as he posted a 7.53 ERA in his three September starts. His 2017 workload was a major topic of discussion, so you pray that he has a healthy spring.

6. Chris Davis knows he needs to be more aggressive. His contact and chase rates have held fairly steady since 2014, but he swung at a career-low 60.0 percent of pitches in the zone last year, down from 64.1 percent in 2016 and 72.2 percent in 2015. That’s a disturbing trend.

7. One of Baltimore’s more cerebral players, Mark Trumbo said he was probably too caught up in swing analytics last year. He denied any negative impact from serving as the designated hitter so frequently, but that role sure provides a lot of time to overthink struggles at the plate.

8. A healthy Darren O’Day would go a long way in the bullpen’s effort to endure the extended absence of Zach Britton. Little went right for the Orioles last September, but the 35-year-old quietly posted a 0.96 ERA with 24 strikeouts over his last 18 2/3 innings of the season.

9. If the best Dan Duquette can do in adding a lefty-hitting outfielder is 32-year-old journeyman Alex Presley, the Orioles need to give Austin Hays every opportunity to show he can be an everyday player and this year’s version of Trey Mancini despite lacking the same minor-league seasoning.

10. There’s much evidence supporting concerns about Cashner, but citing his 42-64 career record pitching mostly for bad teams tells us very little about his performance. Pitcher win-loss records are baseball tradition, but they should induce an eye-roll if used in attempts at meaningful analysis.

11. I’m skeptical just how much baseball’s new initiatives to improve pace of play will move the meter, but limiting the number of mound visits is long overdue. You’d think some pitchers and catchers had never met before with how frequently they congregate.

12. Many of the spring training caps introduced around baseball in recent years have been cringe-worthy, but I do like this year’s Orioles version. It was a smart call taking the logo from the deer hunter caps used for “Players Weekend” last summer.

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Three Orioles prospects make Baseball America’s top 100 list

Posted on 22 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Just two years after being completely shut out on Baseball America’s list of top 100 prospects, the Orioles have three entries for the first time since 2014.

Outfielder Austin Hays, catcher Chance Sisco, and third baseman Ryan Mountcastle all appeared on the 2018 list released Monday and reflect a farm system showing some improvement in terms of its positional talent. Of course, the absence of any pitching prospects doesn’t bode well for an Orioles club still needing to fill three spots in its starting rotation for the upcoming season.

Hays ranked 21st on the list after a sensational 2017 campaign in which he hit a combined .329 with 32 home runs, 32 doubles, 95 runs batted in, and a .958 on-base plus slugging percentage between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. The third-round pick from Jacksonville University became the first player from the 2016 amateur draft to reach the majors last September, hitting .217 with one homer, three doubles, and a .555 OPS in 63 plate appearances for Baltimore. The 22-year-old is expected to compete for a major league job this spring.

Sisco made the top 100 list for the second straight year, but he dropped from No. 57 in 2017 to No. 68, which could be related to some of the doubts about his defensive skills and whether he’ll stick as a catcher at the major league level. The 2013 second-round pick will turn 23 next month and made his major league debut last September, hitting two home runs and two doubles in 22 plate appearances after batting .267 with seven homers, 22 doubles, and a .736 OPS at Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles may still add a veteran catcher, but Sisco could find himself in a timeshare behind the plate with veteran Caleb Joseph this coming season.

Mountcastle came in at No. 71 on the list after an impressive season at the plate split between Frederick and Bowie, batting a combined .287 with 18 homers, 48 doubles, and an .802 OPS in his age-20 season. His bat is quite intriguing, but major questions persist about what position the 2015 first-round pick will ultimately play as he moved from shortstop to third base upon being promoted to Bowie last July.

The Orioles did have five pitchers on their top 10 prospect list released by Baseball America earlier this offseason, but none are considered close to making the jump to the majors. Former first-round pick Hunter Harvey is still considered the most promising of the group, but the 23-year-old has pitched just 31 1/3 innings because of various ailments over the last four years. Others such as 2016 first-round pick Cody Sedlock and 25-year-old left-hander Chris Lee have also dealt with some health concerns.

Below are the Orioles who have appeared on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list over the last decade:

2017: C Chance Sisco (57th)
2016: none
2015: RHP Dylan Bundy (48th), RHP Hunter Harvey (68th)
2014: RHP Dylan Bundy (15th), RHP Kevin Gausman (20th), LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (65th)
2013: RHP Dylan Bundy (2nd), RHP Kevin Gausman (26th)
2012: RHP Dylan Bundy (10th), SS Manny Machado (11th), 2B Jonathan Schoop (82nd)
2011: SS Manny Machado (14th), LHP Zach Britton (28th)
2010: LHP Brian Matusz (5th), 3B Josh Bell (37th), LHP Zach Britton (63rd), RHP Jake Arrieta (99th)
2009: C Matt Wieters (1st), RHP Chris Tillman (22nd), LHP Brian Matusz (25th), RHP Jake Arrieta (67th)
2008: C Matt Wieters (12th), RHP Chris Tillman (67th), RHP Radhames Liz (69th), LHP Troy Patton (78th), OF Nolan Reimold (91st)

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Orioles promote outfield prospect Hays from Double-A Bowie

Posted on 05 September 2017 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of MILB.com)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles have promoted their fastest-rising prospect to the major leagues as outfielder Austin Hays was called up from Double-A Bowie on Tuesday.

A third-round pick out of Jacksonville University in 2016, Hays was preparing to play in the Eastern League playoffs for the Baysox before receiving the call from Baltimore. The 22-year-old hit .328 with 16 home runs, 15 doubles, 41 RBIs, and a .956 on-base plus slugging percentage in 64 games for Single-A Frederick earlier this season before being promoted to the Double-A level in June. Hays impressively didn’t miss a beat playing against tougher competition, batting .330 with 16 homers, 17 doubles, 54 RBIs, and a .960 OPS in 64 games for the Baysox.

Ranked 99th on Baseball America’s mid-season top 100 list released in early July, Hays has seen his stock rise dramatically and has started receiving national attention in his first full season of professional baseball. The right-handed hitter and thrower was ranked as Baltimore’s No. 2 prospect behind catcher Chance Sisco in the same publication’s top 10 list for the organization released in late July

Hays was also named one of five finalists to be Baseball America’s minor league player of the year on Tuesday.

It remains unclear what role Hays might fill this month, but it would be surprising to see him removed from a minor-league playoff experience if the Orioles intended to mostly sit him on the bench. Hays has played in both center field and right this season, making it possible that he could see action in right field against left-handed pitching.

Joey Rickard has served as the primary right fielder against lefties, but he is hitting just .223 with a .560 OPS since the All-Star break. His .283 average against southpaws is respectable, but his .706 OPS against lefties reflects his lack of power.

To make room for Hays on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated left-handed pitcher Jayson Aquino for assignment. Considered a candidate for the major league starting rotation this spring, Aquino has pitched to a 4.24 ERA in 21 starts for the Tides this year and has made only two starts and four appearances for Baltimore, posting a 7.43 ERA.

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