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Rutschman, two Orioles pitching prospects on Baseball America’s top 100 list

Posted on 22 January 2020 by Luke Jones

Anticipation for the 2020 season isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with the Orioles still in the early innings of a massive rebuild, but there’s hope for the future if Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list is any indication.

Each of Baltimore’s last three first-round picks landed among the publication’s latest top 100 released Wednesday with 2019 first overall pick Adley Rutschman ranking as the fifth-best prospect in baseball. Regarded by many as the best draft prospect since Bryce Harper in 2010, the 21-year-old catcher won countless collegiate awards as a junior at Oregon State before being selected with the first pick of the Mike Elias era in Baltimore last June.

Set to be among the Orioles’ non-roster invitees to major league spring training next month, Rutschman appeared in 37 games across three levels last summer, batting a combined .254 with four home runs, 26 runs batted in, and a .774 on-base plus slugging percentage. The switch-hitting catcher played for the Gulf Coast League Orioles, short-season Single-A Aberdeen, and Single-A Delmarva and appeared in the South Atlantic League playoffs with the Shorebirds last September.

Baltimore’s 2018 first-round round pick, right-handed pitcher Grayson Rodriguez ranks 35th overall on Baseball America’s list after sharing the organization’s Jim Palmer Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Double-A Bowie right-hander Michael Baumann last season. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Rodriguez, 20, went 10-4 with a tidy 2.68 ERA in 94 innings with Delmarva, averaging 12.4 strikeouts compared to 3.4 walks per nine innings.

Left-hander DL Hall was Baseball America’s No. 47 prospect after going 4-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 80 2/3 innings at Single-A Frederick. The 21-year-old averaged an impressive 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings, but he’s still honing his control after averaging 6.0 walks per nine frames. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Hall was the No. 54 prospect on Baseball America’s top 100 list last January.

Both Rodriguez and Hall were selected to play in last year’s All-Star Futures Game in Cleveland.

Other notable Orioles prospects listed as missing the cut included infielder Ryan Mountcastle and outfielders Yusniel Diaz and Austin Hays. All three had appeared on past Baseball America’s top 100 prospects lists.

Despite being named the organization’s Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year and winning the International League MVP award in 2019, Mountcastle didn’t make the list after batting .312 with 25 homers, 35 doubles, 83 RBIs, and an .871 OPS for Triple-A Norfolk. Mountcastle’s future remains promising since he’ll turn only 23 next month, but his lack of a defined defensive position and underwhelming plate discipline — 24 walks in 553 plate appearances — probably didn’t help his case with the publication.

The centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade in 2018, Diaz was one of the bigger disappointments in an otherwise fruitful year for Baltimore’s farm system as nagging leg injuries limited the 23-year-old to 85 games. The Cuban outfielder batted .262 with 34 extra-base hits, 53 RBIs, and an .807 OPS in 322 plate appearances for Bowie last season.

Hays was hampered by injuries for a second straight season, but a September promotion to the Orioles allowed the 24-year-old to showcase his upside as he shined in center field and batted .309 with four homers, six doubles, 13 RBIs, and a .947 OPS in 75 plate appearances. He’ll be vying to break camp as Baltimore’s Opening Day center fielder this spring.

This marks the first time since 2009 that the Orioles have three prospects in Baseball American’s top 50 after Matt Wieters ranked first overall, Chris Tillman 22nd, and Brian Matusz 25th that year.

Below are the Orioles who have appeared on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list since 2008:

2020: C Adley Rutschman (5th), RHP Grayson Rodriguez (35th), LHP DL Hall (47th)
2019: OF Yusniel Diaz (37th), LHP DL Hall (54th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (90th)
2018: OF Austin Hays (21st), C Chance Sisco (68th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (71st)
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' Joe Jordan introduces pitcher Bundy to the media before the Orioles' MLB American League baseball game against the Blue Jays in Baltimore

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Bundy trade serves as reminder of Orioles’ past — and unknown future

Posted on 04 December 2019 by Luke Jones

Dylan Bundy was once the consensus best pitching prospect in baseball and considered a centerpiece of the Orioles’ bright future.

Making his major league debut two months shy of his 20th birthday seven years ago, Bundy was thought to be the future ace of a Baltimore club that was about to make its first postseason appearance in 15 years and entering a competitive window that would bring two more trips to the playoffs in a five-year period. On Wednesday, the 27-year-old with a career 4.76 ERA, diminishing velocity, and a longer history of injuries than successes was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for four minor-league pitchers.

With general manager Mike Elias clearly in the midst of an offseason teardown after a mostly status quo 2019 used to evaluate every aspect of the organization, Bundy was always on borrowed time with the Orioles. The trade hardly falls into the same category of a full-blown salary dump like Monday’s Jonathan Villar deal — which was a tough pill to swallow for anyone searching for any redeeming entertainment value in the 2020 Orioles — but a league-average starter projected to fetch upwards of $5 million in arbitration and with two years of remaining club control was an asset that could be used to at least improve the baseline of pitching depth in the organization. Of course, we all knew Bundy and Villar weren’t going to be part of the Orioles’ next contending club — whenever that might be.

Right-handers Kyle Bradish, Isaac Mattson, Kyle Brnovich, and Zach Peek are unlikely to land on any top 100 prospect lists anytime soon, but the marked strides made in the minors under the guidance of director of pitching Chris Holt last year offer hope that Elias and the organization see potential and value in these four pitchers, especially with Peek and Brnovich having just been drafted in the sixth and eighth round respectively last June. The same logic can apply to left-hander Easton Lucas, who was viewed as little more than a token piece from Miami in the Villar deal.

But there are no sure things other than the organization now having cut roughly $15 million in projected payroll for 2020. Those savings will be championed by optimists as fruitful during a rebuild, but we have no way of knowing whether those resources will go back into baseball operations in some form or simply into ownership’s pockets, the latter possibility painting the more cynical picture of clubs “tanking” in today’s game while still charging major-league prices.

In Villar’s case, there appeared to be little downside to keeping a productive player on a club that had already lost 108 games last year and slashed its Opening Day payroll in half from 2017 to 2019. No viable infield prospect is knocking at the major-league door either, but he was deemed too expensive to play on a last-place club.

Bundy clearly brought a more valuable return, but a major league club that struggled mightily last year just to field a functional pitching staff — one that avoids the need for position players to pitch in the late innings if nothing else — will now be tasked with filling an additional 30 starts and 160 innings. Perhaps utility man Stevie Wilkerson should be on a throwing progression this spring.

Yes, the thought of the Orioles being even worse in 2020 after a combined 223 losses the last two seasons is difficult to stomach if you’re still trying to watch on a semi-nightly basis, but Elias has never shied away from the organization’s “strategic objectives” being solely about the future. That’s why you wonder if trades of Mychal Givens and, yes, possibly Trey Mancini could be right around the corner.

The short-term pain — alright, let’s call it medium-term if we’re being realistic — is intended to reap long-term success. As Elias said in a conference call Wednesday evening, the goal isn’t to field a more competitive team in 2020 but to field a sustainable playoff contender at Camden Yards in the future. None of this is surprising or even the wrong strategy, but that doesn’t make the current state easy or enjoyable in what’s ultimately an entertainment business.

And it isn’t necessarily destined to work in the same way it did for the Houston Astros or the Chicago Cubs.

In the same way Orioles supporters are now daydreaming about better days with Adley Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle, Grayson Rodriguez, and DL Hall, Bundy was once the future. But instead of being a difference-maker for a 2014 club that ended up falling four wins shy of an American League pennant or becoming a young ace for a contender, he never realized that once-great potential because of injuries and became only a serviceable major league starter once the Orioles’ competitive window was already closing.

Bundy’s departure is both a reminder of those better days for the Orioles and his own unfulfilled promise.

That same kind of hope is all Orioles fans have right now. With no guarantees of a reward down the line.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering late August

Posted on 20 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles entering the final days of August and approaching 40-man roster call-ups, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you’re reading this, Baltimore may have already set a new major league record for home runs allowed in a season, demolishing the mark of 258 by the 2016 Cincinnati Reds. Four other clubs are on pace to surpass that record. Do chicks still dig the long ball that much?

2. Baltimore going 16-15 from June 28 through Aug. 4 was a nice diversion, but the 1-12 stretch against the New York Yankees, Houston, and Boston reminded how long the road back to even respectability remains. My 58-104 prediction isn’t looking good, but just 15 games remain against teams over .500.

3. Adley Rutschman being promoted to Delmarva felt inevitable after his bat had warmed at Aberdeen with a .462 average over his last 10 games and his first homer in a 5-for-5 performance for the IronBirds Monday. The first overall pick playing in the postseason with the Shorebirds should be fun.

4. Hunter Harvey making his debut at Fenway Park was one of the better moments of 2019, but Brandon Hyde noting he would have likely pitched the right-hander if the Orioles had taken a lead in the seventh inning Monday was very interesting. Despite the many injuries, Harvey is just 24.

5. After not starting Chris Davis on consecutive nights against right-handers, Hyde said the first baseman is healthy and the decision is about wanting to play Trey Mancini at first. With September bringing call-ups and a potential Mark Trumbo activation, Davis could be buried deeper on the bench.

6. After pitching five no-hit innings Monday, John Means was harmed by his defense and then couldn’t retire a batter in the sixth before being pulled. The outing was a step in the right direction, but the All-Star pitcher owns a 7.48 ERA since the break.

7. Hanser Alberto continues to amaze with a .319 average and .407 mark against lefties. The lack of power and shortage of walks limit his value, but he’s provided pretty solid defense, easily making him someone you’d like to keep around. What a fun story.

8. His performance for Delmarva this season speaks for itself, but Grayson Rodriguez looks more like a post-college pitcher than a 19-year-old in appearance and how he handles himself. The 2018 first-round pick is pleased with his changeup development and has hit 99 mph in recent starts. He’s an exciting talent.

9. Ryan Mountcastle drawing 20 walks in 494 plate appearances at Norfolk is concerning, but a .311 average, 53 extra-base hits, and an .868 OPS make him a clear candidate for a September promotion since he’ll go on the 40-man roster this offseason anyway. Where he’ll play remains a question.

10. A lat strain will keep DL Hall out for the rest of Single-A Frederick’s season, but the 20-year-old posted a 2.25 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 16 walks in his last 32 innings. His 6.0 walk rate per nine must improve, but he showed better control in the second half.

11. This season will be remembered for historically terrible pitching, but the Orioles are last in the majors in defensive runs saved and last in the AL in DRS for the second straight season. Improving the defense is a major priority before the arrival of their talented pitchers in the minors.

12. The Orioles remain an easy target for the tanking outrage crowd, but they’re really an example of the dangers of keeping a core together too long. Explain again what Mike Elias should have done differently to any meaningful degree after inheriting a 115-loss team that entered 2018 hoping to contend.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts at 2019 All-Star break

Posted on 08 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles playing better recently before hitting the All-Star break, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Means may not continue pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA, but going from an organizational afterthought to the first Baltimore rookie since 1966 to be named to the All-Star team in three months is extraordinary, regardless of the club’s record or any disappointment over someone else not making it.

2. I couldn’t help but think Trey Mancini would have made the Midsummer Classic if he were an everyday first baseman. He tries his best in right and has arguably improved going off the eyeball test, but the defensive metrics really dent his overall value in terms of wins above replacement.

3. After going nearly eight weeks without back-to-back wins and over two months without a series win, the Orioles had two sets of consecutive victories — including a three-win stretch — and won two series in 10 days. Even when you’re the worst team in the majors, baseball remains weird.

4. That recent prosperity has quieted chatter of making history and surpassing the infamous 1962 New York Mets — for now. With a 5-4 stretch going into the break, the Orioles are on pace to go 49-113, which would be a two-game improvement from last year. Yay?

5. Andrew Cashner has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his last five starts to shrink his ERA to 3.83. The 32-year-old could be an attractive rental, but don’t completely dismiss his value as a rotation anchor and veteran presence if you’re only fetching spare parts in return.

6. DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez each tossed a scoreless inning in the MLB Futures Game in Cleveland. The pitching at the major-league level couldn’t be worse right now, but Sunday offered a reminder of the talented arms in the minor-league system, especially at the lower levels.

7. Renato Nunez joined Boog Powell and Manny Machado as the only Orioles under age 26 to homer 20 or more times before the break. His raw power and streakiness remind me of a less patient Mark Reynolds, but Nunez has drawn 13 walks over his last 110 plate appearances.

8. Though Chris Davis has nudged his average up to .189, Brandon Hyde should continue to be very selective with playing time. The 33-year-old has been better against right-handers with a .213 average and .699 OPS this season, but he’s batting .100 with a .243 OPS against lefties.

9. On waivers four times last offseason, Hanser Alberto ranking sixth in the AL in average is a good story. He’s been useful, but it’s an example why batting average offers a limited picture of ability. The free-and-light-swinging infielder owns a .718 OPS, well below the league average.

10. A few months ago, center field appeared to be a position with an encouraging future with the presence of Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays. Instead, Mullins was demoted after a 6-for-64 start and is batting just .205 at Triple-A Norfolk while injuries continue to stunt Hays’ development. Very disappointing.

11. It will take more time for Mike Elias and senior director of international scouting Koby Perez to start landing the higher-profile signings in the international market, but the mere sight of the Orioles section not being barren in Baseball America’s signing tracker on July 2 was refreshing.

12. Putting aside my dislike for the mostly ugly holiday uniforms we’ve seen across baseball in recent years or the comparisons made to Boston’s hat, I wouldn’t mind seeing an alternate “B” cap. The script style used for the road jersey would be a better choice than the block letter, however.

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Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mychal Givens and catcher Austin Wynns celebrate their 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in a baseball game, Saturday, May 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts approaching mid-May

Posted on 10 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles rapidly approaching the quarter mark of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Dan Straily failed to complete five innings for the third consecutive start, elevating his ERA to 8.23. Some patience was warranted after his spring was disrupted, but the Orioles hoped he’d at least eat innings and just maybe pitch well enough to become a small trade chip. He’s done neither.

2. The pitching staff has only two 100-pitch outings and seven starts of six innings or more almost 40 games in. I do believe the Orioles are trying to be proactive with health and effectiveness the third time through the order, but starters simply haven’t pitched well enough to go deeper.

3. Baltimore entered Friday — which wasn’t pretty — still ranking last in the majors with a 5.52 ERA, but starters held a 3.65 mark and relievers a 3.14 ERA through the first seven games of May. Baby steps, especially after giving up an obscene 73 homers in the opening 30 games.

4. I was surprised to realize Trey Mancini ended a month-long home run drought Friday, but 11 doubles gave him a solid .437 slugging percentage over those 22 games. Not only has his bat been outstanding, but his right-field defense passes the eyeball test more than how he looked in left.

5. The Orioles are throwing the most changeups in the majors after ranking seventh last year, but they’re ninth in FanGraph’s changeup value after finishing 28th in 2018. It isn’t only John Means as Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy are throwing them more frequently and effectively. Other pitches are another story.

6. Since improving his batting average to .301 on April 24, Renato Nunez has only four hits in his last 48 at-bats. He’s still among the club leaders in average exit velocity, but he’s really been struggling after a good start.

7. Mychal Givens has recorded more than three outs in eight of his first 13 appearances of 2019. That should look much more appealing to potential trade partners than if he were being used as a conventional ninth-inning closer on a club with few save chances.

8. With recent first-round Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall striking out a combined 16 over 9 2/3 innings for their affiliates Thursday and 2018 third-round pick Blaine Knight being promoted to Single-A Frederick Friday, there’s some pitching light at the end of the tunnel if you peer patiently.

9. If you believe the many draft pundits, I’ve yet to hear an overly compelling argument for general manager Mike Elias taking someone other than Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman first overall next month. If he’s indeed the best prospect, don’t overthink it.

10. The extended absence of Nate Karns (forearm tightness) was the reason why the Orioles gave the talented, but oft-injured pitcher only an $800,000 contract. Alex Cobb (lower back) making just three starts while earning $14 million this season is a different story.

11. I admire Brandon Hyde’s positivity managing a club constructed with no designs of winning, but the Orioles striking out a club-record 22 times Wednesday probably warranted a little more criticism from him in his post-game press conference, no matter how good Chris Sale is.

12. Jackie Bradley Jr.’s game-saving catch on Trey Mancini’s 11th-inning drive Wednesday goes down as one of the best catches in Camden Yards history when you consider the game situation, but I’ve yet to see one better than Mike Devereaux robbing Joe Carter in the inaugural 1992 season.

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