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2017 Orioles preview: Jonathan Schoop

Posted on 14 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than three weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph
Donnie Hart

2B Jonathan Schoop

Opening Day age: 25

Contract status: Under club control through the 2019 season

2016 stats: .267/.298/.454, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 82 R, 1 SB, 647 PA

Why to be impressed: In addition to hitting 25 long balls for the first time, Schoop increased his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate, which are improvements an aggressive hitter needs to make in his mid-20s. His .688 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handers in 2016 doesn’t sound like much, but it represented major improvement from his .573 mark against southpaws the previous year.

Why to be concerned: After posting an .847 OPS in the first half of 2016, Schoop slumped after the All-Star break with a .643 mark and batted just .196 in the final month of the season, perhaps an effect of playing all 162 games. He still only walked 3.2 percent of the time in 2016, which is 2.6 percent worse than even Adam Jones and illustrates how much his impatience limits his ceiling as a hitter.

2017 outlook: Schoop is often overlooked because of the remarkable development of Manny Machado, but he’s come a long way over his three full major league seasons and can still get better if he improves his plate discipline and contact rate. Manager Buck Showalter should try to give Schoop an occasional day off in an effort to avoid the second-half swoon he experienced last season.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .274/.314/.474, 29 HR, 85 RBI, 88 R, 2 SB, 623 PA

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2017 Orioles preview: Donnie Hart

Posted on 13 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

Manny Machado
Kevin Gausman
Adam Jones
Darren O’Day
Seth Smith
Mike Wright
Caleb Joseph

RP Donnie Hart

Opening Day age: 26

Contract status: Under club control through the 2022 season

2016 stats: 0-0, 0 saves, 0.49 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1 HR, 18 1/3 IP

Why to be impressed: Despite never pitching above Double-A Bowie, Hart stepped into the lefty specialist role in the second half of 2016, holding left-handed bats to a .132 average and .348 on-base plus slugging percentage in 44 plate appearances. The sidearm lefty also had the third-highest ground-ball rate on the club, an encouraging quality with such a good defensive infield behind him.

Why to be concerned: Hart’s strikeout rate is concerning with him projected to be in the kind of role that often involves entering the game with runners on base. It also remains to be seen how Hart will respond to times of adversity with such a small body of work at the major league level and the Orioles not having a clear-cut option that’s next in line to be their lefty specialist.

2017 outlook: A good first half of the spring and his unorthodox delivery make Hart a good bet to be able to serve a useful purpose in the bullpen for 2017. Right-handers only managed one extra-base hit against Hart in 27 plate appearances last year, but it remains to be seen whether he can consistently defend himself against right-handed bats, which will be key to his hopes of sticking for the long haul.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 2-3, 0 saves, 3.32 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 6.9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 5 HR, 49 IP

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tillman

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Tillman shut down again with latest shoulder discomfort

Posted on 12 March 2017 by Luke Jones

A weekend bullpen session was supposed to determine whether Oriole starting pitcher Chris Tillman would remain on track to return to the major league rotation by mid-April.

Instead, it never even took place.

After right shoulder soreness postponed his scheduled Saturday session for a day, the veteran right-hander experienced more discomfort playing long toss and was shut down on Sunday morning. The Orioles had hoped that the recent soreness was caused by an antibiotic, but reality appeared to set in for their best starter since 2012.

“We’ve got a pretty good feel for what the issue is structurally,” manager Buck Showalter told reporters in Florida after Baltimore’s 8-6 win over Minnesota. “I’m still very confident he’s going to pitch for us at some point this year.”

Tillman has dealt with the right shoulder issue since last August as he missed the better part of a month of action. The 28-year-old did return to make five starts at the end of the season, but he experienced discomfort once again in December when he began his offseason throwing program, prompting the Orioles medical team to give him a platelet-rich plasma injection. The setback made it clear that Tillman wouldn’t be ready to start on Opening Day for the fourth straight year, but the club had hoped the shoulder issue was behind him once and for all and that he would miss minimal time in 2017.

Now, a rotation that was already lacking quality depth will be tested without the man who’s posted a 3.81 ERA in 844 2/3 innings since the start of the 2012 season. The ailment is also cruel timing for Tillman as he’s scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Right-hander Kevin Gausman is expected to take the ball on Opening Day, but determining who will be Baltimore’s fifth starter is anyone’s guess three weeks before the season begins. The internal options could include right-handers Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, and Gabriel Ynoa as well as left-handers Jayson Aquino and Chris Lee.

Of course, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette could look for a veteran addition with Doug Fister and Colby Lewis headlining the list of still-available free agents.

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alvarez

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Alvarez rejoins Orioles on minor-league deal

Posted on 11 March 2017 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have agreed to a minor-league deal to bring back Pedro Alvarez after a cold free-agent market for his services this winter.

According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the 30-year-old has been learning to play the outfield this offseason as it’s no secret that he’s been a below-average defender at both third base and first base throughout his career. Alvarez will reportedly receive $2 million plus up to $3.5 million in incentives if he were to crack the major league roster.

Despite Alvarez posting a career-high .826 on-base plus slugging percentage and hitting 22 home runs in 376 plate appearances for Baltimore in 2016, his defensive limitations and struggles against left-handed pitching hinder his value at a time when clubs haven’t targeted one-dimensional power hitters like they once did. It’s the second straight year in which he’s waited until March to find a landing spot after Pittsburgh didn’t tender him a contract after the 2015 campaign and the Orioles didn’t sign him until last March.

Barring an injury, it’s difficult to see how Alvarez would fit on the 25-man roster with the Orioles already having two lefty-hitting outfielders in Hyun Soo Kim and Seth Smith as well as slugger Mark Trumbo, who is projected to serve as the primary designated hitter against right-handed pitching this season. The idea of having a home-run bat off the bench sounds appealing, but his inclusion on the roster would likely eliminate room for a platoon partner for Kim or Smith or a late-inning defensive replacement in the outfield, which is something manager Buck Showalter would like to have with a below-average group of corner outfielders.

According to The Sun, Alvarez will receive multiple opt-out dates in his minor-league agreement, but the first one doesn’t come until May, meaning he will have time at Triple-A Norfolk to prove whether he can be an adequate option in the outfield.

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2017 Orioles preview: Caleb Joseph

Posted on 07 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman
March 3 – Adam Jones
March 4 – Darren O’Day
March 5 – Seth Smith
March 6 – Mike Wright

C Caleb Joseph

Opening Day age: 30

Contract status: Under club control through the 2020 season

2016 stats: .174/.216/.197, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 7 R, 0 SB, 141 PA

Why to be impressed: His extreme struggles at the plate aside, Joseph remained an above-average defensive catcher as he was worth two defensive runs saved and threw out 31 percent of runners attempting to steal. He also remained an asset as a pitch framer and was valued at 2.7 runs above average in that department, according to Stat Corner.

Why to be concerned: Joseph set a major league record for most plate appearances without an RBI in a season, an alarming development hastened by a testicular injury that required surgery and sidelined him for more than a month. His career 7.3 percent extra-base hit rate entering 2016 plummeted to 2.1 percent in 2016 and his contact rate dropped by more than two percent from his first two seasons.

2017 outlook: It’s easy to bury Joseph after a historically-inept season, but his .660 on-base plus slugging percentage over his first 630 major league plate appearances is a reasonable sample suggesting that he can be a solid backup. With a healthy spring and improved luck from his .221 batting average on balls in play in 2016, Joseph should return to being an acceptable reserve with above-average defensive skills.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .222/.280/.360, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 191 PA

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2017 Orioles preview: Mike Wright

Posted on 06 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman
March 3 – Adam Jones
March 4 – Darren O’Day
March 5 – Seth Smith

SP/RP Mike Wright

Opening Day age: 27

Contract status: Under club control through the 2021 season

2016 stats: 3-4, 5.79 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 12 HR, 74 2/3 innings

Why to be impressed: Despite splitting the season between Baltimore and Triple-A Norfolk, Wright improved his ERA, strikeout rate, walk rate, and homer rate from 2015, which is what you hope to see from a young pitcher trying to stick in the majors. His 5.30 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark still doesn’t scream starter, but it was substantial improvement from his 6.13 FIP as a rookie.

Why to be concerned: Wright’s average fastball velocity of 93.5 miles per hour shows he has a lively arm, but his lack of effective secondary pitches continues to hold him back at the major league level. Lefty bats posted a .345 average and .990 on-base plus slugging percentage against Wright last season, another sign that he’s destined for a relief role if he’s going to stick in the majors.

2017 outlook: Wright has found some early spring success with increased use of his two-seam fastball, but he could start the year as a starter for Norfolk. Of course, the 27-year-old is on the short list of long-relief options and could receive some starts if any members of the projected Baltimore rotation falter, making him a good bet to pitch some meaningful innings at some point in 2017.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 2-4, 5.21 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 7 HR, 52 innings

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2017 Orioles preview: Seth Smith

Posted on 05 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman
March 3 – Adam Jones
March 4 – Darren O’Day

RF Seth Smith

Opening Day age: 34

Contract status: Under contract through the 2017 season

2016 stats: .249/.342/.415, 16 HR, 63 RBI, 62 R, 0 SB, 438 PA

Why to be impressed: The left-hand hitter’s on-base percentage would have ranked behind only Hyun Soo Kim and Manny Machado on the 2016 Orioles, making his plate discipline a welcome addition to a one-dimensional offense. Smith also had his highest home-run rate since 2010, which bodes well for his opportunity to take aim at the short right-field porch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Why to be concerned: Smith’s on-base plus slugging percentage dipped for the second straight year in 2016, which isn’t exactly shocking for a hitter in his mid-30s. It’s not a secret that he owns a career .594 OPS against left-handed pitching, but those struggles will force the Orioles to use a straight platoon in right field, which could create matchup concerns against opposing bullpens late in games.

2017 outlook: The Orioles were wise to unload the disappointing Yovani Gallardo in exchange for a useful piece, but Smith is an average defender at best and needs to be protected against lefties, limiting his overall value. He figures to be a solid candidate to hit at or near the top of the order, and his on-base ability should be an asset for a lineup with too many free-swinging approaches.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .256/.339/.418, 15 HR, 59 RBI, 65 R, 1 SB, 454 PA

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2017 Orioles preview: Darren O’Day

Posted on 04 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day less than a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman
March 3 – Adam Jones

RP Darren O’Day

Opening Day age: 34

Contract status: Under contract through the 2019 season

2016 stats: 3-1, 3 saves, 3.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, 6 HR, 31 innings

Why to be impressed: O’Day’s strikeout rate held firm after his career-best 11.3 per nine innings in 2015 that warranted an invitation to the All-Star Game. It was also encouraging to see him return from a late-season shoulder injury to allow only one run in his final five appearances, which included 1 2/3 scoreless frames in the American League wild-card game in Toronto.

Why to be concerned: Very consistent and durable over his first four seasons in Baltimore, 2016 was a lost campaign for O’Day as he missed roughly half the season with hamstring and shoulder injuries. His home-run rate of 1.7 per nine innings explained his higher ERA while he also recorded the worst walk rate of his career, a red flag for a 34-year-old entering the second season of a four-year, $31 million deal.

2017 outlook: The Orioles hope that O’Day’s shoulder issue is behind him and that he returns to being their most reliable setup man, but his age and 2016 season should signal to manager Buck Showalter that he can’t push the submariner quite as hard as he used to. You’d like to take comfort in O’Day’s track record and reputation for taking care of himself, but past durability doesn’t guarantee future durability.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 5-3, 3 saves, 2.53 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 6 HR, 54 innings

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2017 Orioles preview: Adam Jones

Posted on 03 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado
March 2 – Kevin Gausman

CF Adam Jones

Opening Day age: 31

Contract status: Under contract through the 2018 season

2016 stats: .265/.310/.436, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 86 R, 2 SB, 672 PA

Why to be impressed: Despite being slowed by a rib injury over the first month of the season, Jones hit at least 25 home runs and drove in at least 82 runs for the sixth consecutive season. Often criticized for his lack of plate discipline, the veteran recorded a career-high 39 walks as well as the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 17.1 percent while being asked to serve in the leadoff spot for much of the year.

Why to be concerned: His .436 slugging percentage was his lowest since 2008 and his .265 batting average was his worst since 2007, which are concerns for a player entering his 12th season. Much has been made about his comments on the outfield defense, but Jones finished at minus-10 defensive runs saved in 2016 and is being asked to cover too much ground to make up for lesser corner defenders.

2017 outlook: Manager Buck Showalter doesn’t want to use Jones in the top spot again, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll remain healthy enough to see his power return to where it was prior to 2016. His .280 batting average on balls in play in 2016 was well below his .308 career mark, an indication that Jones should expect to experience better luck on his way to bouncing back from a down season.

Not-so-scientific projections for 2017: .274/.314/.458, 27 HR, 80 RBI, 85 R, 5 SB, 660 PA

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gausman

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2017 Orioles preview: Kevin Gausman

Posted on 02 March 2017 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day just over a month away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2017 Orioles every day as they try to return to the postseason for the fourth time in six years.

March 1 – Manny Machado

SP Kevin Gausman

Opening Day age: 26

Contract status: Under club control through the 2020 season

2016 stats: 9-12, 3.61 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 28 HR, 179 2/3 innings

Why to be impressed: Gausman became a top-half-of-the-rotation starter and pitched like an ace down the stretch, posting a 2.83 ERA over his last 12 starts. In his first full year as a starter, the right-hander turned in the best start of his career with eight shutout innings at Fenway Park in mid-September and pitched 7 1/3 strong innings at Yankee Stadium to help clinch a wild card on the season’s final day.

Why to be concerned: The long ball continues to be a challenge for the right-hander as he allowed 1.4 per nine innings pitched for the second straight season. His breaking ball remains a work in progress, but the Orioles will just hope that the right shoulder tendinitis that plagued Gausman in 2015 and at the start of 2016 is a thing of the past after he made 30 starts for the first time in his career.

2017 outlook: Likely to start on Opening Day, Gausman appears poised to become the ace of the staff, and the Orioles need him to do that with Chris Tillman still dealing with a lingering shoulder issue and scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the year. With better run support than he received a season ago, there’s no reason to think Gausman can’t be a 15-game winner if he remains healthy.

2017 not-so-scientific projections: 14-7, 3.58 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 26 HR, 192 innings

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