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Twelve Orioles thoughts on Adley Rutschman’s Baltimore introduction

Posted on 25 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With Orioles first overall pick Adley Rutschman being introduced in Baltimore after signing a record-breaking $8.1 million bonus Monday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. In a season with very little to look forward to, fans attending Tuesday’s game were treated to a look at the new face of the Orioles rebuild. The standing ovation Rutschman received was energetic and one of hope from a fan base needing much more to cheer about these days.

2. Rutschman being introduced on the same day Manny Machado returned to Camden Yards was fitting. The Orioles also owned the majors’ worst record when Machado was selected third overall June 7, 2010. Twenty-six months later, he debuted on a playoff-qualifying team. Fans can dream.

3. Mike Elias said Rutschman will soon report to Sarasota and spend a brief time with the Gulf Coast Orioles before going to short-season Single-A Aberdeen later this summer. If he excels for the IronBirds, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a late-season promotion to Delmarva for the postseason.

4. Rutschman will see time at first base and as a designated hitter in addition to catching duties this season. The organization is very comfortable with his work behind the plate, so there’s no sense overworking him there if the greater focus in 2019 is getting him professional at-bats.

5. The 21-year-old was very businesslike during his introductory press conference, but you couldn’t miss the big smile on his face when he was asked about his makeup as a catcher. He relishes the opportunity to impact so many parts of the game behind the plate.

6. Rutschman admitted the Oregon State pitching coach called most pitches — very typical in college baseball — but he offered more input as he gained experience and did call his own pitches in the Cape Cod League and playing for Team USA. This will be an important part of his development.

7. Swinging from the left side, Rutschman put on a show during batting practice with the current Orioles before Tuesday’s game. In roughly 10 swings, I saw him hit a ball onto Eutaw Street, another over the center-field fence, and a third off the right-center wall. Not too bad.

8. There’s no truth to the rumor that Brandon Hyde lobbied to add him to Tuesday’s lineup, but Rutschman looked the part in a setting where all eyes were on him. Of course, he’s dealt with the spotlight for a couple years playing in a high-profile program with scouts always watching.

9. Orioles scout Brandon Verley was glowing in his assessment of the player he began tracking at the high school level and has seen Rutschman swing a wooden bat multiple times with no concerns. “You give him a toothpick, and he’d figure out how to hit.” That’s a pretty good line.

10. Rutschman mentioned Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina as major leaguers he admired growing up. That had to please Elias, who is very familiar with both as a former St. Louis Cardinals scout and witnessed firsthand the impact Molina has brought as their longtime catcher.

11. Watching Rutschman interact with the likes of Keon Broxton and Dwight Smith Jr. in his hitting group, I couldn’t help but wonder how many current players will be around when the young catcher is promoted to the majors. The Orioles will try to take their time with him, of course.

12. I’m always reminded how special a day like Tuesday is for the many Orioles and Ravens draft picks I’ve covered over the years. Most attention falls on their playing potential and the business side, but witnessing an entire family’s joy on such a life-changing day never gets old.

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Orioles designate Straily for assignment, place Means on injured list

Posted on 20 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made a roster move that felt inevitable and another that came as a surprise prior to the start of their four-game set in Seattle.

Struggling right-hander Dan Straily was designated for assignment Thursday while lefty starter John Means was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain. The Orioles activated outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. from the IL and recalled right-handed reliever Evan Phillips to take their spots on the 25-man roster.

Means last pitched Sunday and told reporters in Seattle he’d felt some tightness in his shoulder at the end of the outing against Boston, but he downplayed the severity and didn’t undergo an MRI, describing it as a muscular issue. The rookie expects to come off the IL when eligible next Thursday, the day before the start of a three-game series against Cleveland. Means has easily been the most pleasant surprise in a very difficult season for the last-place Orioles, pitching to a 6-4 record and a 2.67 ERA in 70 2/3 innings.

With Means originally scheduled to start Friday, the Orioles will now conduct a bullpen game against the Mariners.

Straily was signed in early April to provide a veteran presence in the starting rotation, but the 30-year-old never found any semblance of footing with Baltimore and had allowed an incredible 22 home runs in just 47 2/3 innings. His intense struggles led to a demotion to the bullpen in late May, but Straily had allowed 13 earned runs and seven homers in his last two appearances covering only 3 2/3 innings to elevate his season ERA to 9.82, leading to his removal from the 40-man roster.

Manager Brandon Hyde expressed hope that Straily would remain with the organization and try to get himself straightened out in the minor leagues. Entering 2019 with a career 4.23 ERA in seven major league seasons, Straily signed a one-year, $575,000 deal that included a $250,000 bonus if he were to be traded. He was released by Miami at the end of spring training and posted a 4.12 ERA with the Marlins last season.

Right fielder and first baseman Trey Mancini was not in Thursday’s lineup after being hit by a pitch on the left elbow in the first inning of Wednesday’s loss in Oakland, but he is only dealing with a contusion and could return to action in the next day or two.

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Orioles place left fielder Smith on seven-day concussion list

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

As if the mounting losses weren’t enough, the injuries are now piling up for the last-place Orioles as left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. was placed on the seven-day concussion injured list Friday afternoon.

Smith injured his head and shoulder crashing into the left-field wall in Thursday’s loss at Texas. The roster move comes just a day after recently-promoted outfielder DJ Stewart was sent to the 10-day injured list with a sprained right ankle sustained in a collision with infielder Hanser Alberto in Wednesday’s defeat, the same night in which infielder Jonathan Villar and catcher Pedro Severino also left with minor injuries. Manager Brandon Hyde was so shorthanded for the final game of the Rangers series that Chris Davis made his first start in right field in three years — and made a key error in the 4-3 defeat.

Former Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander was recalled Friday to take Smith’s place on the 25-man roster.

Acquired from Toronto for international signing bonus slots in early March, Smith has been one of the few bright spots for a club currently on pace for its second straight sub-50 win season. The 26-year-old leads the Orioles with 41 runs batted in and ranks third in home runs (11) behind only Renato Nunez (15) and Trey Mancini (13). In 243 plate appearances, Smith is batting .249 with a .759 on-base plus slugging percentage.

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Nine notable Orioles numbers at end of April

Posted on 01 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2019 Orioles now entering May, below is a look at nine notable numbers from the opening month of the season:

1.023 — Trey Mancini’s on-base plus slugging percentage

Let’s start with the big positive as Mancini entered Wednesday ranked eighth among qualified major league hitters in OPS and batted .355 with 17 extra-base hits in March and April. His .413 batting average on balls in play isn’t sustainable, but Mancini is striking out less (20.7 percent compared to 24.1 percent of plate appearances in 2018) and hitting fewer grounders (37.2 percent of balls in play compared to 54.6 percent last year). Those numbers lead you to believe marked improvement is real even if some regression toward the mean is inevitable. In a rebuilding year in which you wondered which player might represent the Orioles at the All-Star Game and if anyone would be remotely deserving of the honor, Mancini would be a legitimate choice from any team so far.

.333 — winning percentage

The 4-2 road trip to begin the season was a pleasant surprise, but a 10-20 start — two games better than last year — couldn’t have surprised anyone with realistic expectations at the start of a lengthy rebuild for general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde. To the latter’s credit, a team clearly lacking the major league talent to compete on a nightly basis has played hard with few moments in which you’d question the effort, something you couldn’t say about last year’s 115-loss outfit. Dwight Smith Jr., Renato Nunez, and John Means have been early surprises in addition to Mancini’s blistering start, but the struggles and subsequent demotions of prospects Cedric Mullins and Tanner Scott are reminders that not everything will go to plan on the road back to respectability.

73 — home runs allowed

You may have heard by now the Orioles have a slight propensity for giving up the long ball as the pitching staff has allowed 20 more than any other team in baseball and more than twice as many as 14 others clubs. Baltimore is on pace to surrender 394 homers this season, which would obliterate the 2016 Cincinnati Reds’ major league record by 136 trips around the bases. The Orioles won’t like hearing it, but this probably hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves, especially considering the weather hasn’t even warmed up. Yes, homers are up around baseball with many convinced the ball is juiced, but what the Orioles have allowed goes so far beyond that or the cozy confines of Camden Yards. Those many gopher balls have left the Orioles with the worst ERA in the majors (6.05) by more than a half-run.

7.56 — strikeouts per nine innings

We’ve seen bits and pieces of Elias’ Houston effect with pitchers throwing more sliders and elevated fastballs, but the Orioles rank last in the majors in strikeouts per nine innings, which is quite a contrast from the Astros ranking in the top five in that department over the last three years. It’s hardly a novel concept around the game, of course, but Elias values pitchers who will miss bats with the major league average hovering around 9.0 strikeouts per nine frames so far this season. Baltimore has only three pitchers on the current 25-man roster (minimum five innings) hitting that threshold. Prospects such as Grayson Rodriguez, DL Hall, and Blaine Knight are piling up strikeouts in the low minors, but such gifted arms are still at least a couple years away and many more are needed in this system.

6.67 — Dylan Bundy’s ERA

Bundy isn’t the only Baltimore pitcher struggling, but the 26-year-old is supposed to be one of the most valuable commodities on the current club, either as a trade chip or someone around which to build in the next few years. Bundy’s strikeout rate (10.8 per nine) is up, but his average fastball velocity has dipped once again to 91.0 miles per hour and he’s allowing homers even more frequently than last year when he led the majors with 41. Given his strikeout rate and how opponents have batted just .167 against Bundy his first time through the order, you wonder if a move to a relief role would be best and might improve his velocity. That doesn’t figure to happen anytime soon with Alex Cobb on the injured list and few apparent alternatives, but the current version of Bundy is neither fetching anything in a trade nor providing the Orioles with a building block.

.343 — Chris Davis’ average since his record-breaking hitless streak

Yes, Davis is batting only .176 for the season, but that sounds more palatable after his record-breaking hitless streak to begin the season. Since going 0-for-33 — and 0-for-54 dating back to last September — Davis has a 1.064 OPS with three home runs, three doubles, and 11 runs batted in over 37 plate appearances. Of course, that’s a small sample mostly avoiding left-handed starters and should not be interpreted as him being “back” after his historically poor 2018, but his average exit velocity of 90.7 miles per hour is his best since 2016 and is second on the club behind Nunez. According to Statcast, Davis is in the 92nd percentile in hard-hit percentage this season. His strikeout and walk rates haven’t improved from last season, but the 33-year-old has calmed some of the discussion about his immediate future — for now.

Minus-15 — defensive runs saved

It would be way too kind to suggest the Orioles have played good defense so far in 2019, but they have improved from 29th to 25th in DRS and own only one more error than the league average. The outfield defense has had some issues that have been more pronounced since Mullins’ demotion, but the Orioles have typically made the plays they’re supposed to make and the “Bad News Bears” moments have been less frequent than we saw last year. Third baseman Rio Ruiz and catcher Pedro Severino have stood out defensively, but even Mancini has looked more comfortable in right field than he did in left. The defense definitely hurt the pitching last year, but this year’s group would probably help more if the pitching staff could keep the opposition from hitting the ball over the fence.

14 — stolen bases

There was much discussion this spring about Baltimore stealing more bases and putting pressure on the opposition — something we saw last year from deadline acquisition Jonathan Villar — but their 14 swipes are tied for ninth in the American League. In other words, the improved speed hasn’t exactly moved the meter. Then again, the 2016 Orioles stole just 19 bases for the entire season, so we’re talking about a very low bar set during the plodder years under Buck Showalter.

1 — intentional walks issued 

A hat tip to Jayson Stark of The Athletic for pointing this out, but the Orioles are one of several teams — including the Astros — to all but abandon the intentional walk, which analytics have exposed as an overrated strategy. Baltimore issued 29 free passes last season, so just one over 30 games is a striking contrast. In addition to that, the Orioles have only three sacrifice bunts and have usually stacked their best hitters at the top of the order rather than too often trying to shoehorn a Craig Gentry type at the top or putting Davis in the heart of the order because of the hitter he used to be. The strategy has been sound, even if the execution and talent are lacking.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts after first 20 games of 2019 season

Posted on 19 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles off to an 8-12 start after their second road trip of the season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts on the pitching staff, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles entered Friday with the majors’ third-worst run differential — defending World Series champion Boston was shockingly second worst — but a 3-4 trip left them a respectable 7-6 road record. The 2018 club had 19 away wins all season. A roster overmatched on paper nightly has played with good energy.

2. Credit Baltimore for getting off the mat to win in extra innings Thursday, but that doesn’t wipe away the bullpen squandering a 5-2 lead with five outs to go. Orioles relievers have allowed seven more homers than any other team in baseball. Who can you really trust out there?

3. The top answer could be John Means if he doesn’t settle into the rotation. The lefty will fill a hybrid role for the time being with Alex Cobb returning, but a 1.72 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings have made him fun to watch in whatever capacity he’s pitched.

4. I’m glad to no longer be tracking a historic hitless streak for Chris Davis, but we’re a long way from suggesting he’s made meaningful improvement. I will note his average exit velocity (91.1 mph) is the best it’s been since 2015, but we’re talking about a very small sample size.

5. An 0-for-5 Thursday dropped Cedric Mullins to an .089 batting average. Patience is warranted and he’s defended well in center, but you wonder how hard a healthy Austin Hays — who’s just beginning a hitting progression after recovering from the thumb injury — might have been knocking at the door.

6. The Orioles own only two starts of six innings or more so far this season. It’s fair mentioning the handful of times they’ve used someone who wasn’t fully stretched out as a starter, but that still doesn’t say much for veterans like Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy.

7. Jesus Sucre and Pedro Severino have combined to hit barely above the Mendoza line, but the catchers have thrown out eight of 13 runners attempting to steal this season. I would like to see Severino receive a few more opportunities since he’s five years younger.

8. Trey Mancini has been far and away Baltimore’s best hitter, but Dwight Smith Jr. has been the biggest surprise so far as he’s shown some power with a .474 slugging percentage and gone 9-for-24 with four extra-base hits against lefties. He has a nice swing.

9. After a slow start at Triple-A Norfolk, Ryan Mountcastle has homered in three of his last four games and has received all but two of his starts in the field at first base. His development is the most relevant baseball-related factor in the Davis saga at this point.

10. In his first three starts for Single-A Delmarva, 19-year-old Grayson Rodriguez has pitched to a 0.54 ERA and struck out 28 batters in 16 2/3 innings. I suppose that’s not too shabby for the 2018 first-round pick.

11. Brian Roberts has been impressive as a color analyst on MASN, especially considering his limited experience in the role. He clearly does his homework and presents those insights in an entertaining way. I’d like to hear more of him on broadcasts.

12. This FanGraphs article offered a look at Brandon Hyde, his daily routine, and how he interacts with Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. It’s also a reminder the infrastructure of baseball operations is far from complete as the manager notes the current size of the front office and analytics department.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 8-4 loss to Yankees in home opener

Posted on 04 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles falling 8-4 to the New York Yankees for their first loss in a home opener since 2015, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A rebuilding club deserves credit for a winning week, but the Orioles bullpen entered Thursday ranked 13th in the AL in ERA before allowing six runs in 3 1/3 innings to squander a sixth-inning lead. The bullpen ERA currently sits at 6.32. It hasn’t been pretty even in the wins.

2. I’ll have more on Chris Davis this weekend, but a smattering of boos during introductions steadily grew with three strikeouts before he was replaced by Hanser Alberto, who was put on waivers four times this offseason and received a loud ovation before singling. This situation is uncomfortable on multiple levels.

3. Watching Mike Wright give up the go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth, I couldn’t help but think of Earl Weaver famously saying he gave Mike Cuellar more chances than he gave his first wife. Wright flashes occasionally, but the 29-year-old now has 95 career appearances in the majors.

4. Coming off the injured list, Alex Cobb certainly had a more successful season debut than he did last year after signing with the Orioles so late in the spring. He deserved a better outcome despite giving up a Gary Sanchez solo homer on his final pitch of the day.

5. The effectiveness of his split-changeup was evident as Cobb induced 10 swinging strikes out of the 32 times he threw it. His 12 swinging strikes tied his third-highest total in a start all last year. He needs that pitch to be able to miss enough bats to be successful.

6. With the Yankees currently missing Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and Troy Tulowitzki, it must be nice to be able to lean more heavily on a young talent like middle infielder Gleyber Torres to collect four hits and two home runs, including the go-ahead shot.

7. Dwight Smith Jr. has collected at least one hit in each of the first seven games as he continues to take advantage of playing time. You expect offense from Trey Mancini and Jonathan Villar — who led off the first with a home run — but Smith has contributed nicely.

8. Renato Nunez entered Thursday just 2-for-15 before collecting two hits and a run batted in. He sports an average exit velocity of 95.5 miles per hour so far this season, so it’s not as though he hasn’t been making good contact.

9. Yankees starter James Paxton regrouped enough to receive the win, but I don’t recall too many times seeing a pitcher give up two runs on a balk and a wild pitch in a matter of seconds.

10. Much was made about the empty seats, but the lower deck was mostly full except for the right-center bleachers and the overall crowd looked more respectable by the fourth inning. The many complaints about entry lines and ballpark amenities on Twitter were a different story, however.

11. Brandon Hyde managed to run down the orange carpet without incident and received a loud ovation from the home crowd during introductions. Despite the tough loss, a post-game question about that response brought a warm smile to the manager’s face.

12. With the Orioles remembering the late Frank Robinson with a video tribute and a moment of silence, seeing Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, and Boog Powell at the ballpark was comforting. Those men and the memories attached mean even more when you lose one.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following series win over Yankees

Posted on 31 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles recording back-to-back wins over the New York Yankees to register their first series victory of the season and move over .500 for the first time since Opening Day last year, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Expectations should never change one series into a new season for any club, but the young Orioles responded admirably after Opening Day when so many were piling on over a pretty run-of-the-mill 7-2 loss. The overreaction certainly shifted to the Bronx by Sunday night.

2. After throwing 182 pitches and walking six in Saturday’s 5-3 win, Baltimore walked eight and hurled a whopping 226 pitches on Sunday. The Orioles threw more in a game only once all last season, which was a 15-inning win at Atlanta (248). Win or lose, that’s just crazy.

3. The surprise of Sunday’s win was John Means, who picked up Dylan Bundy by allowing only one run over 3 1/3 innings to earn his first major league win. Twelve of an impressive 17 swinging strikes came on his changeup, which Jim Palmer labeled “exceptional” during the MASN broadcast.

4. Four of his first five hits were of the infield variety before Trey Mancini clobbered one 419 feet with an exit velocity of 110.8 miles per hour for a homer on Sunday. For someone who experienced some tough luck last year, a fast start was good to see.

5. Brandon Hyde was very liberal with his use of Mychal Givens, who threw a career-high 49 pitches in the finale after 16 on Saturday. The new manager did express some regret in his post-game remarks, which was good to hear. That was still a major stretch, especially in late March.

6. Dwight Smith Jr. took advantage of his three early starts by going 5-for-11 just three weeks after being acquired from Toronto for international bonus slots. The 26-year-old is an example of someone with a golden opportunity to stick in the majors on a rebuilding club right now.

7. Nate Karns being deployed as an opener turned out to be more of a straight bullpen game with him going through the entire order once, but I like the break from convention. No one could have predicted Mike Wright nailing down the first save of the season, right?

8. A career .572 on-base plus slugging percentage isn’t the reason why the 30-year-old Jesus Sucre has played seven major league seasons, but his three RBIs were the difference on Saturday. Go figure.

9. Richard Bleier struggled in his first action since his season-ending lat injury sustained last June, allowing two earned runs and retiring only one batter on Saturday. He didn’t allow his second run last season until May 11. Patience is in order for the crafty lefty.

10. His command definitely needs to improve, but Jimmy Yacabonis has stuff that should play well in a relief role with a mid-90s fastball and a slider with great bite. I could see him in an opener role at some point this season.

11. Cedric Mullins not playing against the first two left-handed starters certainly reflects his pronounced struggles from the right side going back multiple levels in the minors. I’d still like to see him receive more chances before declaring him a platoon outfielder, however.

12. Many will mock the Orioles’ clubhouse celebrations at Yankee Stadium, but these players heard all winter and spring how bad they’re going to be this season and beyond. Let them enjoy the highs when they come. The weekend was fun without having to read more into it.

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