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Mullins trying to “get some positive mojo working” at Double-A Bowie

Posted on 12 July 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Eleven months after making his major league debut as the potential heir apparent to former Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, Cedric Mullins is back in Double-A baseball.

The Opening Day center fielder was assigned to the Bowie Baysox Thursday after a nightmare first half in which he was demoted from the majors in late April and batted just .205 with a .578 on-base plus slugging percentage in 306 plate appearances at Triple-A Norfolk. Mullins, 24, went 6-for-64 to begin the season with the Orioles, which followed a poor spring training in which he collected only eight hits in 53 at-bats in the Grapefruit League.

The switch-hitting Mullins batted .187 with a .512 OPS in 119 plate appearances last September, meaning he hasn’t enjoyed much prosperity in a long time.

“I just think he needs to get on track somehow,” said manager Brandon Hyde as the Orioles resumed the second half of the season Friday. “I think guys sometimes have tough years, and obviously we still feel really highly about Cedric and his ability. Now, it’s trying to put him in position to [succeed]. I know he struggled in Triple-A, and you want to see him have success.”

As Jones moved to right field for the first time in his Orioles career last August, Mullins was called up and batted .317 with nine extra-base hits, six runs batted in, and a stout .941 on-base plus slugging percentage in his first 72 plate appearances, looking the part of the center fielder of the future. Questions had persisted about his ability to hit from the right side long before he reached the majors, but Mullins batted just .186 with a .528 OPS against right-handed pitching in the International League in the first half of 2019 while batting a more respectable .257 with a .709 OPS against lefties, making it more difficult to know what to make of his statistical collapse.

Mullins batted .269 with 26 extra-base hits and a .771 OPS in 269 plate appearances for the Tides last season, which makes his 2019 Triple-A struggles that much more alarming.

“There have been a lot of instances where guys go down — and go down multiple levels — and in a year or two, they’re much, much better players,” Hyde said. “That’s just part of the development process a little bit at times. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard to do, but Roy Halladay went down to high A at one point in his career.

“I think sometimes you have to reset. What’s the best place for him to reset right now we feel like is going back down to Double-A and trying to get some positive mojo working and have some success.”

Entering 2019, the future in center field appeared bright between Mullins and prospect Austin Hays, but injuries limited the latter to 39 games in the first half of the season after an injury-plagued 2018. Hays, 24, is healthy now and serving as the everyday center field for the Tides with Mullins playing at Bowie.

Despite playing only the corner outfield spots in the minors, Anthony Santander was starting his second career game in center for the Orioles Friday night. He became the sixth Orioles player to start a game in center this season last Friday, joining Mullins, Stevie Wilkerson, Keon Broxton, and former Orioles Drew Jackson and Joey Rickard.

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Despite strong spring, Orioles prospect Hays optioned to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Luke Jones

No player in Orioles major league camp was having a better spring than Austin Hays, but that didn’t stop the 23-year-old outfielder from being optioned to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday.

The decision was met with some surprise after Hays batted .351 with five home runs and a 1.277 on-base plus slugging percentage in 40 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League, but the 2016 third-round pick’s only professional experience above the Double-A level to this point in his career is 63 plate appearance with Baltimore in the final month of 2017. Entering spring training, most didn’t consider Hays a strong bet to make the major league club after his injury-riddled 2018 season that ended with him undergoing ankle surgery in September, but he used the spring to reestablish himself as one of Baltimore’s best prospects and eased concerns about his ankle by showing off good speed and strong defense. His nine extra-base hits led the club.

Baseball America named Hays its No. 21 overall prospect entering 2018, but the first 2016 draftee to make the major leagues struggled at Double-A Bowie, batting just .242 with 12 homers and a .703 OPS in 288 plate appearances while missing significant time with his ankle injury. With Hays struggling, the Orioles promoted the likes of Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart after the trade deadline last year.

Mullins is expected to be the Opening Day center fielder for Baltimore, but Hays has impressed with his defense in center and appears likely to play that position for the Tides. Questions about Mullins’ throwing arm could eventually push him to a corner outfield spot, especially if Hays plays the position effectively at Norfolk.

Hays wasn’t the only young outfielder to be optioned to Norfolk on Sunday as former Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander was cut from major league camp. The 24-year-old also made a favorable impression this spring with the new Orioles regime by batting .333 with eight extra-base hits and a 1.086 OPS in 36 plate appearances.

With Hays and Santander demoted, Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, Joey Rickard, Dwight Smith Jr., Eric Young Jr., and Drew Jackson remain in the outfield picture to varying degrees.

General manager Mike Elias also optioned infielder Stevie Wilkerson and right-handed pitchers Cody Carroll, Branden Kline, and Yefry Ramirez to the Tides. Ramirez was vying for a spot in the Orioles’ starting rotation after making 12 starts in the majors last year, but he posted a 5.11 ERA in 12 1/3 innings in the Grapefruit League.

Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa and infielder Christopher Bostick were also reassigned to minor-league camp, leaving 39 players in major league camp with the start of the season less than two weeks away.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-3 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 22 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles continuing their struggles in a 7-3 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After a 3-for-4 performance that included two home runs, Manny Machado is slugging .713, which is higher than the on-base plus slugging percentage of every other member of Sunday’s lineup except for Pedro Alvarez. He’s doing his best to try to carry an inept offense so far.

2. It’s difficult to recall the Orioles starting a less impressive bottom third of the batting order than Anthony Santander, Caleb Joseph, and Luis Sardinas. Of course, the fifth and sixth spots — Chris Davis and Tim Beckham — haven’t been much better.

3. Opponents entered Sunday 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position against Andrew Cashner, but we witnessed a market correction as he allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings. I’ll still gladly take his 3.60 ERA through his first five starts.

4. Cashner was strong through his first three innings before laboring mightily the second and third times through the order. However, his strikeout numbers continue to be surprising as he recorded seven over his six frames.

5. He received an assist from the strategy to have Rajai Davis bunt with runners on first and second and no outs in the third after Sardinas had just made an error. I understand Cleveland has struggled offensively, but that helped short-circuit a major threat so early in the game.

6. The Orioles struck out only once through the first six innings against two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, but that allowed him to keep his pitch count at a reasonable 74. They weren’t hitting the ball particularly hard despite him lacking his typical swing-and-miss stuff.

7. Normally you’d admire Santander forcing Kluber to throw 12 pitches in a seventh-inning strikeout that drove up his pitch count, but that merely paved the way for Andrew Miller to enter in the eighth. Pick your poison.

8. Speaking of Miller, Sardinas striking out on four pitches in the eighth was as predictable as it gets. I suppose that’s the joy of having a two-man bench over the weekend with Trey Mancini temporarily sidelined.

9. Brad Brach needed to keep the deficit at one and give Manny Machado a chance to tie it in the ninth, but he was tagged for three runs. His 5.19 ERA and Mychal Givens’ 5.91 mark haven’t given the bullpen a chance to stay afloat without Zach Britton.

10. The Orioles entered Sunday last in the majors at minus-14 defensive runs saved. The defense may not have factored too heavily into this loss, but it continues to be difficult to watch.

11. Mark Trumbo will resume his minor-league rehab assignment Monday, but he’ll need to stack some at-bats after missing so much action dating back to early March. Meanwhile, Pedro Alvarez has seen his average fall to .214 after going 0-for-11 over the first three games of the Indians series.

12. This is the fifth-fastest Orioles club to fall 10 games below .500 and is tied for the third-worst start in franchise history after 22 games with only the 1988 Orioles (1-21) and the 2010 team (4-18) being worse. At least they have 140 games to turn it around, right? Right?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-0 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 21 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being shut out at home for the second time this season in a 4-0 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The absence of Trey Mancini didn’t bode well for an offense that was already struggling and without Jonathan Schoop, so the end result wasn’t exactly shocking. Baltimore has now been held to three or fewer runs in 14 of 21 games this season.

2. Indians starter Mike Clevinger had a good 2017 campaign, but he had logged seven or more innings in just three of his 34 career starts before his first career shutout. Give the 27-year-old credit, but this has been an all-too-familiar pattern for the 2018 Orioles.

3. The bar is extremely low, but Chris Tillman showed some improvement in giving the Orioles a chance to win by completing six innings for the first time since July 17 of last season. He managed only four swinging strikes, but he threw some decent breaking pitches and struck out five.

4. Despite a low pitch count, Tillman’s stamina came into question beginning in the fourth inning as his velocity dipped. He gave up solo home runs on poorly-located fastballs clocked at 86, 86, and 87 miles per hour. That’s just not going to get the job done.

5. With the middle of the Cleveland order coming up a third time, Buck Showalter could have gone to the bullpen after five and allowed Tillman to leave on a high note. That said, he had just recorded his first 1-2-3 frame and was at only 63 pitches. I understand it.

6. I’m sure Saturday’s performance bought Tillman another start, but I’ve said before the problem is this feels close to his ceiling at this point. Allowing four earned runs over six innings — a 6.00 ERA — lowered his season mark by more than two full runs.

7. Many have questioned Chance Sisco’s throwing ability at the major league level, but he became the first Orioles catcher since Matt Wieters in 2012 to gun down three runners attempting to steal in a game. He’s now thrown out seven of 11 trying to swipe a bag this season.

8. Tanner Scott allowed one hit and struck out one in two scoreless frames. Despite little experience above the Double-A level and well-documented control issues, the hard-throwing lefty has presented himself well in two major league appearances this season.

9. Saturday was the fifth time in eight games at Camden Yards in which the Orioles have failed to record a hit through the first three innings. They’re begging to put themselves in an early hole with that formula.

10. I’m guessing Showalter wasn’t daydreaming about an April 21 lineup featuring Craig Gentry, Pedro Alvarez, Luis Sardinas, and Anthony Santander over the winter. Then again, established bats aren’t producing either.

11. Santander has shown some promise, but he’s batting .170 and his on-base plus slugging percentage has dipped to .497. His Rule 5 requirement will be satisfied next month, which will allow him to return to the minors. The right field problem will remain, however.

12. The Indians offense has been nearly as bad as the Orioles so far, but Cleveland is allowing nearly half as many runs per game. Elite pitching always gives you a chance.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-7 win over Yankees

Posted on 08 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles securing their first series victory of the season in a dramatic 8-7 win over the New York Yankees in 12 innings, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After pitching 14 2/3 innings the previous three days, the Orioles bullpen received the reins with two outs in the first. While allowing the offense to erase an early 5-0 deficit, six relievers combined to throw 186 pitches to cover 11 1/3 innings and allowed two runs. What an effort.

2. Brad Brach did quite a Don Stanhouse impersonation by loading the bases with no outs in the 12th, but he induced an Aaron Judge comebacker and a heady Caleb Joseph turned a 1-2-5 double play. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that, especially in such a critical spot.

3. After preserving a 7-7 tie with his difficult catch in the 10th inning, Craig Gentry capped off a three-hit, two-steal day with his game-winning RBI single off Adam Warren. The reserve outfielder has certainly pulled his weight early this season.

4. Not only did Richard Bleier pitch a third consecutive day for a taxed bullpen, but he tossed three scoreless frames to collect the victory. His post-game comments reiterated how easy it is to root for the 30-year-old.

5. You have to be impressed with the way Anthony Santander hit the go-ahead home run on a 3-0 pitch in the seventh. I’m not sure he’ll remain in the majors for good after his Rule 5 requirement expires next month, but he has definitely flashed potential.

6. Speaking of Rule 5 picks, Pedro Araujo not only kept the Yankees off the scoreboard over 2 1/3 innings, but he struck out five and allowed only one hit. I stand by my position on carrying two Rule 5 pitchers in the bullpen, but Araujo at least shows upside.

7. Fans in the Bronx booing Giancarlo Stanton just a handful of games into his Yankees career are silly, but he had a brutal series going 2-for-19 with eight strikeouts. He registered his second five-strikeout game in six days on Sunday. Ouch.

8. After grounding into a double play to short-circuit a rally in the third, Danny Valencia made amends by clubbing a two-run shot in the fifth to make it a one-run deficit. He needs to produce against lefty starters and did exactly that against Jordan Montgomery.

9. The tying run was charged to Tanner Scott in the seventh, but the rookie did a solid job over 1 2/3 innings in his 2018 debut. That inning likely would have gone to Mychal Givens if he hadn’t thrown 59 pitches on Thursday and Friday.

10. His team bailed him out, but Mike Wright trying to turn a double play on a comebacker instead of throwing to the plate was a bad decision and the throw was even worse. He completely crumbled after that in what was likely his last start before Alex Cobb is recalled.

11. Wright had a competitive outing against Houston, but Sunday’s performance has happened too frequently in his major league opportunities. He’s tried to make adjustments over the years with his two-seam fastball and mixing in a cutter, but I just don’t see the stuff or temperament of a major league starter.

12. The Orioles entered this series struggling and were rarely even competitive at Yankee Stadium last year. They didn’t play perfectly and now return home with an exhausted bullpen, but that was an impressive statement this weekend. A 4-6 record doesn’t look so bad after being 1-5.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts winding down spring training

Posted on 19 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day a little over a week away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Despite not striking out a batter, Chris Tillman fared better in his second spring start than his disastrous debut by allowing one run and no walks over five innings against Detroit’s regulars. Whether he turns his career around remains to be seen, but Monday was a positive step.

2. I’m shocked Alex Cobb doesn’t have a job with the opener around the corner. Baltimore isn’t the ideal destination on a cheap one-year deal, but the organization’s lack of aggressiveness with major rotation needs and money to spend — based on last year’s payroll — is extremely disappointing. He’d help beyond 2018.

3. I touched on Mark Trumbo recently, but news of him missing the next few weeks with a quadriceps injury doesn’t bode well for a turnaround from 2017. He needs at-bats, and I wonder if the Orioles will prolong his rehab assignment as much as they can when the time comes.

4. Trumbo’s absence could create more chances for Anthony Santander, which is an interesting development. The Rule 5 pick was mostly an unknown last year because of an elbow injury the Orioles used to their advantage, but he has a .914 OPS with four homers and 16 RBIs this spring.

5. I’m not sounding the alarm as long as he’s healthy, but Dylan Bundy sporting a 9.00 spring ERA in 15 springs innings makes you a little more uneasy remembering he’s coming off a career-high 169 2/3 innings, 60 more than he pitched the year before.

6. On the bright side, early reviews on Andrew Cashner have been positive with how he’s fit in and his first two spring outings (1.00 ERA). It’s a good start, but he’ll need to miss more bats to have a chance to finish anywhere near his 3.40 ERA from 2017.

7. Austin Wynns’ demotion narrowed the backup catcher competition to Chance Sisco and Andrew Susac. If Sisco can benefit from catching more games at Norfolk, that’s fine. However, the backup needs to play frequently enough to keep Caleb Joseph fresh, which sounds like a decent role for the rookie.

8. Hunter Harvey will make another major league spring start on Wednesday. If the Orioles are truly considering having him begin the year in the rotation, the season slogan should read, “We really don’t care what happens after 2018.” Unfortunately, the club hasn’t used the same mindset in addressing the rotation.

9. If you haven’t read it, I recommend checking out the piece by MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince on the one-year anniversary of Adam Jones’ unforgettable catch in the World Baseball Classic. Seeing the Orioles center fielder make that play on that stage was truly special.

10. Jones had an eventful weekend on Twitter as he helped recruit Michael Crabtree to the Ravens, gave props to UMBC, and ribbed former teammate and Virginia alum Tyler Wilson about the Retrievers’ historic victory. Funny stuff.

11. Speaking of UMBC, a friend of mine suggested senior guard Jairus Lyles throwing out the first pitch at an Orioles game this season. I wholeheartedly agree, but why stop there?

12. I’m all for charitable causes and celebrating patriotic holidays, but does anyone honestly like how these caps look? Is there some middle ground Major League Baseball can find with these initiatives? Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go yell at a cloud.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following West Coast trip

Posted on 17 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their final two games in Seattle to finish a 4-6 trip on the West Coast, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A losing road trip doesn’t cripple their playoffs chances, but the Orioles entered Thursday with six clubs ahead of them for the second wild card. They’ve played better since the All-Star break, but repeatedly falling to the back of the line among so many mediocre teams isn’t encouraging.

2. With a bullpen in good shape going into an off-day, Buck Showalter stayed with Ubaldo Jimenez entirely too long in the fifth inning Wednesday. The already-struggling veteran was facing the top of the order a third time, but Showalter instead saved his best relievers and lost the lead.

3. Showalter letting Chris Davis bat against lefty Marc Rzepczynski was a tougher call. He’s 8-for-24 over the last week after being lowered in the order, and Rzepczynski has been tough against righties, too. If you’re trying to get Davis going for the stretch, I understand not testing his confidence further.

4. Of their six losses on the road trip, the Orioles held a lead in five of those defeats. Whether it was shaky pitching or the offense going to sleep after scoring an early run or two, the trip should have been better. That’s just another sign of mediocrity.

5. Tim Beckham will cool off eventually, but it’s fun thinking about the possibility that there was more to the idea that he didn’t like hitting at Tropicana Field than anyone thought. In 16 games, he already ranks seventh on the 2017 Orioles in wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference.

6. I’ve said this before, but Trey Mancini’s development has a left fielder continues to amaze after he only began learning the outfield this past offseason. I would never bet on him winning a Gold Glove, but he looks very capable, which is a nice bonus to accompany his dangerous bat.

7. Davis has fairly received plenty of heat in the midst of his worst season since 2014, but Mark Trumbo has been just as disappointing. Expecting him to match what he did in 2016 was unrealistic, but his .711 on-base plus slugging percentage is the second-worst mark of his career.

8. Since the All-Star break, the Orioles are 1-5 in games in which they’ve had an opportunity to move back to the .500 mark. Talk about beating your head against a brick wall as the second wild card sits there begging for someone to take control.

9. Kevin Gausman has allowed two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts and sports a 3.13 ERA when Caleb Joseph catches. Welington Castillo was behind the dish for that one non-quality start, and Gausman owns a 7.30 mark with him behind the dish. Stick with what’s working.

10. I don’t have a major problem with temporarily sending Joey Rickard to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Anthony Santander, but Rule 5 players since 2012 have netted the Orioles a combined 2.4 WAR, per Baseball Reference. That’s a minimal return for so often playing with a shorthanded roster.

11. Speaking of questionable value, Jimenez and Chris Tillman have combined for a minus-2.4 WAR despite making a total of $23.55 million in 2017. That’s a heck of a price tag for below-replacement-level production.

12. The 25th anniversary celebration of Camden Yards will be a nice nod to the 1992 Orioles, who showed a 22-game improvement from the previous year. I’m a little bummed Randy Milligan — one of my favorites as a kid — won’t be there though. His .391 career on-base percentage was underappreciated.

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Tillman continues rehab process in Sarasota

Posted on 08 April 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman took the next step in the rehabilitation process for his right shoulder by throwing live batting practice in Sarasota on Saturday morning.

Monitored by pitching rehabilitation coordinator and former Orioles hurler Scott McGregor, the veteran right-hander threw 25 to 30 pitches and used all of his pitches in what amounted to a workday. McGregor told manager Buck Showalter that the session went well, but they will monitor how he feels on Sunday as they have the morning after every throwing sessions he’s completed this spring.

Tillman is scheduled to pitch on Tuesday when he goes two innings — or 30 pitches — in an extended spring game.

“He’s going to have to get built up,” Showalter said. “We had a [radar] gun and we filmed it today, but I’m not going to broadcast that. But he’s not where he’s going to be or needs to be, but that’s expected, especially at 10 o’clock in the morning with not a whole lot [going on]. You have to really push the intensity level.”

Showalter would like Tillman to rejoin the major league club after Tuesday’s outing to continue the rehab process, but a return to the Baltimore rotation is not expected until early May at best. The Orioles have mapped out a schedule for Tillman to pitch in minor-league home games with local affiliates, which would allow him to continue working out of the clubhouse at Camden Yards.

While reiterating that Tillman’s session went well on Saturday, Showalter went out of his way to be cautious in assessing his progress and the long-term outlook.

“I don’t know if they’re ever going to really feel like there’s a point where Chris is completely [where they say], ‘OK, he’s done that, so everything’s fine,'” Showalter said. “Each time he takes a workday and each time he throws, you’re anxious to see how he feels the next day. I’d really like to keep him in that environment down there [in Sarasota] as little as possible. I’m hoping after his two-inning stint that we can get him back in this environment.

“We’re really lucky to have Scott down there, a guy who’s had a lot of history with Chris and knows when it’s right and when it’s not. But he was positive in his report today.”

NOTES: Closer Zach Britton said his right ankle was fine after rolling it in the ninth inning of Friday’s win, but Showalter still wanted to see how he would respond to throwing on flat ground during batting practice. The lefty has pitched in each of Baltimore’s first three games. … Several candidates are still in play to pitch in Toronto next Saturday when the Orioles need a fifth starter for the first time. Showalter mentioned Jayson Aquino, Gabriel Ynoa, Mike Wright, and Alec Asher by name. … The Orioles have reaped the benefits of a five-man bench and eight-man bullpen over their first four games, but that will change Sunday when starting pitcher Wade Miley is activated from the disabled list to start in the series finale against the New York Yankees. … Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander (elbow) has been cleared to swing the bat, but he has not been cleared to throw and is not close to being ready to start a rehab assignment, according to Showalter. The Orioles would love to keep him in the organization, but they will be faced with a tough decision when he’s ready to be activated from the DL.

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Sorting Orioles corner outfield spots begins with Kim

Posted on 21 February 2017 by Luke Jones

At first glance, veteran outfielder Michael Bourn brings obvious skills that the Orioles are lacking.

His speed and defensive ability can be assets for an outfield that ranked last in the majors in defensive runs saved a year ago, but it remains to be seen whether the 34-year-old is a great fit among a crowded group of corner outfielders with question marks. A below-average hitter, the left-handed Bourn is trying to crack a 25-man roster that already needs a viable platoon partner for the lefty-swinging Seth Smith in right field.

And that brings us to the biggest key in sorting out the corner outfield hierarchy for 2017.

The Orioles must find out if left fielder Hyun Soo Kim can be an everyday player. The 29-year-old more than proved himself as the starter against right-handed pitching to the tune of a sparkling .393 on-base percentage last season, but he went hitless in 22 plate appearances against left-handers. That’s hardly a fair sample from which to draw any real conclusion, but an 0-for-17 body of work doesn’t exactly bring confidence, either. His numbers from his final two seasons playing in the Korea Baseball Organization suggest he could be up to the challenge, but that success doesn’t guarantee to translate to the majors.

Either way, he deserves an extended look against southpaw pitchers to find out.

If Kim is able to handle a full-time role, Bourn becomes easier to carry on the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement and a pinch runner while the Orioles use a platoon in right with Mark Trumbo then serving as the everyday designated hitter. But if Kim can’t cut it against lefties, the need for platoons at both corner outfield spots becomes more problematic for the makeup of the roster.

Joey Rickard’s .861 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties last year makes him the early favorite to serve as a platoon partner, but the Orioles are reportedly intrigued with the defense and speed of Craig Gentry so far in spring training. The problem is that the 33-year-old was little more than a league-average hitter at his best and has posted a .553 OPS over his last 353 plate appearances in the majors dating back to the start of 2014.

It’s worth noting that Bourn posted an .844 OPS in 75 plate appearances against lefties last season, but he owns a career .644 OPS against left-handed pitching. If the Orioles are putting that much stock in those numbers for a potential platoon, the 2016 struggles of both Adam Jones and Trumbo against lefties should be much bigger concerns than they’ll discuss. In other words, you shouldn’t draw anything definitive from one season of work against lefties compared to the larger body of work.

Manager Buck Showalter could always cite the defensive upgrade in left as justification for Bourn playing against left-handers over Kim. The Korean outfielder was worth minus-13 defensive runs saved in left field last season as he lacks range and a strong throwing arm. However, Bourn starting against lefties could create a big hole in a Baltimore lineup that already fared very poorly against lefties in 2016.

The Orioles could also elect to use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but finding the room to carry Trey Mancini as a designated hitter under such a scenario might be difficult with the addition of Bourn.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Bourn even makes the club as Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander shouldn’t be dismissed from the roster discussion. Gentry could win a job to push either Rickard — who has minor-league options — or Bourn from the 25-man roster.

There’s plenty of time for Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette to evaluate and decide.

Regardless of how it all plays out, Kim showing the ability to hit left-handers would make life much easier for the Orioles.

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Ten Orioles questions entering 2017 spring training

Posted on 12 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The time has finally arrived for the Orioles.

Pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Monday.

Seeking their fourth trip to the postseason in six years, the Orioles will begin searching for the answers to a number of questions starting this week.

Below is a look at 10 of them:

1. Who will hit in the leadoff spot for Buck Showalter?

This question shouldn’t be as complicated as many will make it out to be. No, there may not be an everyday prototype with speed on the roster, but Hyun Soo Kim led the club in on-base percentage (.382) by a wide margin in 2016 and doesn’t hit for much power, making him the obvious choice against right-handed starting pitching. Finding a leadoff hitter against lefties remains a trickier proposition, but the Orioles have seen southpaw starters in only 25 to 33 percent of games in a given season over the last several years. Joey Rickard could be an enticing option after posting a .367 OBP against lefty pitching last year. Showalter said after last season that he doesn’t want to use Adam Jones in the leadoff spot again, and his career .318 OBP should reinforce that sentiment.

2. Will there be a late addition to the major league roster?

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette is always tinkering with the roster and made significant signings after the start of spring training in two of the last three years. The Orioles are still pondering the possibility of adding an outfielder for speed and defense — Michael Bourn is still available — and have discussed the possibility of signing a veteran pitcher to improve the rotation depth. Longtime catcher Matt Wieters surprisingly remains a free agent, but the club made a conscious decision to move on early in the offseason and shouldn’t deviate from that short of a very cheap one-year deal.

3. How will the World Baseball Classic impact preparations for the start of the season?

The fourth edition of the event will present challenges to Showalter and the Orioles as five players — Jones, third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop, relief pitcher Mychal Givens, and new catcher Welington Castillo — are scheduled to take part. Castillo’s inclusion is the biggest concern as he will lose precious time to better familiarize himself with the pitching staff. The Orioles will also hold their breath hoping the 26-year-old Givens doesn’t overdo it competing for the United States. Another wrinkle to consider is the makeup of the Dominican roster, which could lead to Machado sliding over to shortstop to allow Adrian Beltre to play third base. It’s not the end of the world, but the Orioles can’t be thrilled that Machado will be focused on a position other than his primary one while he’s away.

4. Are shoulder problems completely behind Chris Tillman and Darren O’Day?

Yes, both pitchers returned to pitch in mid-September and declared themselves fully healthy at last month’s FanFest event, but the real test will be how they respond to the first few weeks of spring training when they’re building up their arm strength for a long season. Entering his final season before free agency, Tillman will once again be entrusted to lead the rest of a starting rotation composed of youthful or inconsistent options. After averaging 66 innings per year in his first four seasons with Baltimore and signing a four-year, $31 million contract last winter, O’Day threw just 31 frames in an injury-plagued campaign. The Orioles can’t expect Zach Britton and Brad Brach to be quite as dominant as they were last season, so O’Day will need to return to his usual form to keep a sensational bullpen on track.

5. How do the Orioles minimize concerns about the outfield defense?

The re-signing of Mark Trumbo all but guaranteed that the outfield defense will remain an issue, which Jones hasn’t shied away from mentioning after the Orioles outfield finished last in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2016. Seth Smith is an upgrade over Trumbo in right, but he’s also 34 and average at best. Kim was also well below average in left field at minus-13 defensive runs saved in 2016. Asked about the state of the outfield defense at FanFest, Duquette mentioned there being ways to more precisely position outfielders on a hitter-to-hitter basis, but that will only go so far in compensating for a lack of athleticism and speed. It doesn’t help that Jones, 31, is reaching an age when clubs typically begin considering a move to a corner spot, but he remains the Orioles’ best outfielder by a clear margin.

6. Will the cutter be a viable option for Dylan Bundy in his first full season as a starter?

The 24-year-old offers some of the most intriguing upside on the roster, but an early story will be whether Bundy starts using a cut fastball again. The right-hander began experimenting with the pitch again last month after it was believed to cause his arm discomfort in the fall of 2015 and subsequently removed from his repertoire last season. Of course, caution must be used to preserve Bundy’s health in what’s expected to be his first full major league season as a starter. Bundy already has a mid-90s fastball, a sharp curve, and an impressive changeup, but successfully mixing in the cutter could take his starter potential to another level. And considering opponents posted a .960 on-base plus slugging percentage in Bundy’s third trip through the order last year, the introduction of another pitch certainly wouldn’t hurt.

7. How many outfield platoons will be in play?

It remains to be seen whether Kim will play more against left-handed pitching after he went 0-for-17 against southpaws in his first major league season, but Smith owns a career .594 OPS against lefties, making it clear that he’ll need a platoon partner. Rickard posted an .861 OPS in 90 plate appearances against lefties as a rookie and will likely be part of one platoon. Showalter could also use Trumbo in right field against left-handed pitching, but that further weakens the outfield defense and leads to the question of who might serve as the designated hitter in those spots. Such an alignment would leave the door open for Trey Mancini to come north with the club, but is that the best roster construction for the Orioles?

8. What impact will be made by new pitching coach Roger McDowell and new bullpen coach Alan Mills?

McDowell was mentored by former Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace and Mills served as a minor-league pitching coach in the Baltimore system over the last four years, which should make for a smoother transition than normal. Mills’ familiarity with the likes of Givens and lefty specialist Donnie Hart will be a valuable asset, but McDowell will be looking to make a good first impression with his staff. Wallace and former bullpen coach Dom Chiti were very popular with pitchers and did wonders for the likes of Britton and Brach, so the Orioles can only hope their new coaching duo has similar success stories.

9. Will Rule 5 picks Aneury Tavarez and Anthony Santander be real options for outfield depth?

No organization has valued the Rule 5 draft more than the Orioles in recent years, so the progress of these two young outfielders is worth monitoring this spring. The 24-year-old Tavarez comes from the Boston organization and spent most of last season at Double-A Portland, hitting .335 with seven home runs and 18 stolen bases. Santander, 22, is an intriguing switch hitter who hit 20 homers and 42 doubles for Cleveland’s Single-A affiliate in the Carolina League last year. The latter underwent right shoulder surgery last year, which could provide an opening for the Orioles to stash him on the disabled list for the start of the season. Neither is a sure thing to make the roster, of course, but history suggests the organization will do whatever it can to keep at least one of its two Rule 5 picks to begin the season.

10. How will the starting rotation depth shake out?

With the trade of Yovani Gallardo to Seattle last month and the departure of Vance Worley to Washington, the Orioles do not have a clear-cut “No. 6” starter to go behind the projected starting five of Tillman, Kevin Gausman, Bundy, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Wade Miley. Sure, there is some inventory that includes Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Logan Verrett, and Joe Gunkel, but none inspire much confidence until they prove otherwise. When you’re already counting on inconsistent options such as Jimenez and Miley for the back end of the rotation, that’s an unsettling position in which to be. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Duquette add another veteran to the mix on a minor-league deal.

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