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Stewart, Diaz headline second wave of Orioles’ spring cuts

Posted on 10 March 2019 by Luke Jones

Former first-round pick and outfielder DJ Stewart headlined the Orioles’ second round of spring cuts with the start of the 2019 season just 2 1/2 weeks away.

Despite making his major league debut and performing well enough last September to put himself in the conversation for a starting job entering spring training, Stewart was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk Sunday while other young outfielders such as Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Joey Rickard, and the recently-acquired Dwight Smith Jr. remain in major league camp. The 25-year-old Stewart batted .250 with three home runs and an .890 on-base plus slugging percentage in 47 plate appearances for Baltimore last season, but his .267 average and .767 OPS in 33 plate appearances this spring didn’t distinguish him from the candidates vying for major league jobs. There are also concerns about Stewart’s throwing arm in right as he’s spent most of his professional career as a left fielder.

Stewart wasn’t the only outfielder cut on Sunday as top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz was reassigned to minor-league camp. Despite an impressive .333 average and .839 OPS in his first spring training with Baltimore, the 22-year-old Diaz was always expected to begin the 2019 season in the minors and was in camp as a non-roster invitee. The centerpiece acquisition of last July’s Manny Machado trade could make his major league debut at some point later this season, but Diaz has yet to play above the Double-A level and a rebuilding organization was in no rush to begin his service clock this quickly.

The Orioles also reassigned top infield prospect Ryan Mountcastle to minor-league camp. The 22-year-old saw extensive time at first base this spring after beginning his professional career as a shortstop and moving to third base two years ago. Mountcastle batted .286 with a homer and a .784 OPS in 31 Grapefruit League plate appearances.

Right-handed pitcher Dillon Tate was optioned to Double-A Bowie while right-hander Luis Ortiz was optioned to Norfolk on Sunday. Tate was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Zack Britton trade while Ortiz came from Milwaukee in the Jonathan Schoop trade.

Catcher Martin Cervenka, left-hander Sean Gilmartin, and right-hander Bo Schultz were also reassigned to minor-league camp.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering 2019 spring training

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Orioles pitchers and catchers officially reporting to Sarasota for the start of spring training on Tuesday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What would mark an acceptable — relatively and realistically speaking — major league season? I think Mike Elias would gladly take Cedric Mullins and a couple others looking like legitimate pieces for the future and a few veterans performing well enough to be traded. Avoiding 100 losses wouldn’t hurt.

2. Describing an $800,000 contract as even a “low-risk” signing sounds silly, but I liked the addition of Nate Karns to see if his arm injuries are finally behind him. His 9.3 career strikeouts per nine innings and above-average curveball fit nicely with what Elias and Sig Mejdal valued in Houston.

3. I’ll be curious to see which Baltimore pitchers start throwing their breaking pitches more frequently. The talent level is different, but veterans like Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, and Gerrit Cole featured their breaking stuff more prominently upon joining the Astros. Spin rate is huge in Houston.

4. We’ve now heard Chris Davis talk about making adjustments to bounce back in three consecutive winters. Perhaps the new brain trust will find some magic fix to salvage some value from the remaining four years of his contract, but it’s all eyewash until April.

5. It could be now or never for Chance Sisco to show whether he’s a starting-caliber catcher or just a fringe backup type. The starting job is sitting there for the former second-round pick who will turn 24 later this month. Austin Wynns, 28, substantially outplaying him last year wasn’t encouraging.

6. After hitting well in limited duty last September, DJ Stewart will have his best chance this spring to prove he’s deserving of a starting corner outfield job, especially as Austin Hays needs to reestablish himself after an injury-plagued 2018 season.

7. If I had to predict the starting shortstop and third baseman, I’d pick Rule 5 pick Richie Martin and Renato Nunez. The latter played well late last year, but that’s easily the most depressing left side of the infield on paper since Cesar Izturis and a washed-up Miguel Tejada.

8. Martin and fellow Rule 5 pick Drew Jackson may not be up to the task at shortstop, but I’d prefer keeping Jonathan Villar at second base where he’s at his best defensively. Villar was worth seven defensive runs saved at second and minus-three in 18 starts at shortstop last season.

9. Coming off a 5.55 ERA last season, Mike Wright is now 29 and unlikely to stick on the roster simply because he’s out of options again, especially with the new regime. The same likely goes for the 28-year-old Donnie Hart, who posted a 5.59 ERA while struggling with control.

10. Dean Kremer is the non-roster invitee I’m most looking forward to monitoring. The 23-year-old led the minors in strikeouts last year and possesses a good curve that will appeal to the new front office. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pitching for the Orioles at some point this season.

11. This can be said about a number of unsigned veterans, but it’s difficult to believe Adam Jones hasn’t found a job as camps open this week. He may not be the player he was a few years ago, but he can still fill a meaningful role for a contender.

12. As much as I loved the Elias hire and have liked what I’ve seen from Brandon Hyde so far, where are the marketing efforts and ticket promotions for a team that has very little to sell from a competitive standpoint? There needs to be much greater urgency in this area.

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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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Jones makes return to starting lineup for Orioles

Posted on 28 June 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Taking advantage of Saturday’s rainout to test his sore right shoulder, Adam Jones returned to the Orioles lineup for the first game of a doubleheader against Cleveland on Sunday.

The center fielder had missed eight of the previous 10 games since injuring his right shoulder in a win over Philadelphia on June 15. The 29-year-old was batting third and back in center field for the first time since hurting his shoulder diving for a ball against the Phillies.

“I’m ready to play baseball. I missed my teammates,” said Jones, who joked he was now ready to chase Cal Ripken’s consecutive games streak. “I missed being out there in the grind with the guys. We’ve been playing good baseball, so we’ll see if we can continue that today. I feel fine. The last three days [throwing], they’ve all gotten better.”

Taking advantage of a brief window of lighter rain at Camden Yards on Saturday afternoon, Jones tested his shoulder in the outfield with head athletic trainer Richie Bancells observing.

On Sunday morning, Buck Showalter was noncommittal about Jones’ availability for the nightcap against the Indians — the center fielder went 0-for-4 in the first game before starting Game 2 on the bench — but the Baltimore manager expressed confidence that the four-time All-Star selection was finally ready to return. Jones told reporters he would have been able to play on Saturday if the game hadn’t been postponed.

“I think we’ve been cautious with it. Who knows what’s going to happen today?” Showalter said. “It’s a different speed. I don’t know what else you can go off of. He’s throwing and said he doesn’t feel anything and he’s ready to go. I don’t want to have him sit around all day and play at 7:00.”

NOTES: Right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman pitched three scoreless innings for Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday in an abbreviated outing to keep him in play as the likely option to make Thursday’s start for the Orioles against Texas. … Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was with the Orioles on Sunday, but the club is still contemplating whether to activate him from the 15-day disabled list on Monday or to send him to Norfolk for additional rehab games. … Chris Davis was making his second straight start in right field on Sunday after not playing their since 2012. … First-round pick DJ Stewart reported to short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Sunday after his agreement with the Orioles was officially announced. … The Orioles entered Sunday just one victory shy of 5,000 wins in club history.

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