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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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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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Orioles receive mixed bag of pitching news

Posted on 09 June 2018 by Luke Jones

The start of the weekend brought good and bad news for the Orioles on the pitching front.

The organization came to terms with 2018 first-round pitcher Grayson Rodriguez on Friday, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Texas high school right-hander will receive a $4.3 million signing bonus, which is just under the slot value for the 11th overall pick of this year’s draft.

But that positive development was paired with the revelation that top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey has been shut down with right shoulder soreness. Manager Buck Showalter confirmed after Friday’s loss in Toronto that the injury did not occur from the 23-year-old pitching, lending credence to The Sun’s report that Harvey’s shoulder popped out of socket while he tried to avoid a line drive in the Double-A Bowie dugout. It’s unclear how much time the 2013 first-round pick will miss.

In 32 1/3 innings this season, Harvey is 1-2 with a 5.57 ERA and is striking out 8.4 and walking 2.5 batters per nine innings.

As expected, Baltimore has activated right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day from the disabled list. The 35-year-old had been on the DL with a hyperextended right elbow since May 9 and owns a 3.77 ERA in 14 1/3 innings in 2018.

To make room on the 25-man roster, the Orioles optioned hard-throwing lefty Tanner Scott to Triple-A Norfolk. The 23-year-old rookie sports an underwhelming 4.96 ERA in 16 1/3 innings for Baltimore this season, but he’s averaged 12.7 strikeouts compared to 3.3 walks per nine innings, representing a rare bright spot for the club this season.

Closer Zach Britton could be activated from the DL as soon as Monday after completing back-to-back outings for Norfolk. The two-time All-Star selection tore his right Achilles tendon in December, but he’s allowed one earned run and has struck out six in the first 5 1/3 innings of his minor-league rehab assignment.

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Orioles select Texas high school pitcher Grayson Rodriguez in first round

Posted on 04 June 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo credit: FutureStarsSeries.com)

Saddled with the worst record in baseball and possessing their earliest choice in six years, the Orioles tabbed high school pitcher Grayson Rodriguez with the 11th overall pick of the 2018 draft on Monday.

The right-hander from Central Heights High School in Nacogdoches, Texas was considered a late riser in this year’s draft class, becoming the third high school pitcher to come off the board after the much-anticipated run of position players early on. Rodriguez’s 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame stands out, but a rigorous offseason conditioning program helped the 18-year-old increase his velocity from the low 90s to the mid-to-upper 90s, prompting his stock to climb rapidly.

In addition to his heavy fastball, Rodriguez sports a slider, a curveball, and a changeup with scouts preferring his low-80s slider to his slower curve, according to MLB Pipeline. He becomes the sixth pitcher to be taken with Baltimore’s last seven first-round picks, joining Dylan Bundy (2011), Kevin Gausman (2012), Hunter Harvey (2013), Cody Sedlock (2016), and DL Hall (2017).

“Grayson Rodriguez is a future power pitcher with an advanced delivery and feel for all of his pitches.” Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich said in a statement. “He has command of four above-average pitches, can shape two distinct breaking balls, and attacks the strike zone.”

Despite Rodriguez’s climb up the draft board in recent weeks, the Orioles passed on other pitchers such as Florida’s Brady Singer and high schoolers Cole Winn and Matthew Liberatore, who were more highly regarded by many publications. Seven of the first 10 picks of the first round were position players, making it apparent that the Orioles would have their choice of several attractive pitching options.

Rodriguez committed to playing baseball at Texas A&M last fall, but he is now slotted a bonus value of just under $4.4 million and is expected to pursue professional baseball. He was ranked as the 24th-best prospect by Baseball America while ESPN’s Keith Law and MLB.com listed him 22nd overall.

With the 37th overall pick of the draft, the organization attempted to address its shortage of middle infield prospects by selecting Oregon State shortstop Cadyn Grenier. Described as one of the best defensive infielders in this year’s class, the 5-foot-11, 188-pound Grenier will need to answer questions about his bat at the professional level.

He was a three-year starter for the Beavers and is a graduate of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, the same high school that produced Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard and Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley. According to MLB.com, his floor projects as a defensive-minded utility man with the potential to be a glove-first starting shortstop if he continues the improvement shown at the plate during his junior campaign.

Grenier has posted a .328 average with 16 doubles, two triples, five home runs, and 44 RBIs this season and also had a 27-game hitting streak. He was the third Oregon State player to be selected on the first day of the draft, joining fourth overall pick and double-play partner Nick Madrigal (Chicago White Sox) and 20th pick and outfielder Trevor Larnach (Minnesota).

Baseball America ranked him as the No. 63 prospect while MLB.com listed him as 68th overall.

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