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Finding value in 2020 Orioles season challenging and easy at same time

Posted on 23 July 2020 by Luke Jones

I love baseball.

I’ve really missed it.

One of my cathartic moments in the early months of this dystopian world in which we currently reside was dusting off my glove to play catch in the backyard for the first time in who knows how long. Such an experience was therapy at a time when the only live baseball being played was half a world away

Like so many, my feelings are mixed and my fingers crossed about navigating an unprecedented season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. I respect those individuals who’ve elected not to participate and the many players, coaches, and team personnel trying to push through the bizarre circumstances and risks to complete a 2020 season and provide an outlet of temporary escape. I’m hoping for the best while recognizing the undesirable outcomes that could again bring baseball to an abrupt halt.

That paramount acknowledgement aside, finding value in this abbreviated season for the Orioles is challenging

A 60-game sprint of a schedule dares even the worst clubs to dream about a small-sample-size run to the postseason — especially with the playoff field expanding from 10 to 16 teams — but we’re talking about an outfit that hasn’t had as much as a winning month of baseball since August of 2017. Last year’s world champion Washington Nationals and their 19-31 start are the popular citation for the unpredictability of a short season, but 60 games is much more often than not an accurate barometer to distinguish legitimate contenders and teams with a fighting chance from the ones having no shot.

The Orioles lost 108 games last year and won’t have the services of team MVP Trey Mancini (recovering from colorectal cancer), positional player WAR leader Jonathan Villar (traded to Miami), and innings pitched leader Dylan Bundy (traded to the Los Angeles Angels). Making short-term feelings worse, the club placed starting ace John Means (left shoulder) and promising reliever Hunter Harvey (right forearm strain) on the 10-day injured list to begin the season even though manager Brandon Hyde says both should be back sooner than later. Frankly, none of these developments are encouraging beyond the Orioles’ chances of securing the top overall pick in the 2021 draft.

With Means temporarily sidelined, the Baltimore rotation currently consists of 30-somethings with little upside or trade value. Perhaps a healthy Alex Cobb will look more like the pitcher he was in Tampa Bay, but the four-year, $57 million deal a playoff-hopeful Orioles club invested in him 2 1/2 years ago simply isn’t going to bring real value for the future.

Of course, there’s Chris Davis, entering the fifth season of a seven-year, $161 million contract that’s been nothing short of disastrous. Even if his surprising Grapefruit League performance was the harbinger for a modest renaissance, it just won’t mean much beyond the short-term surprise.

Worst of all, the minor league season isn’t taking place with top organizational prospects like catcher Adley Rutschman and pitcher DL Hall restricted to working out at the secondary camp in Bowie. So many of the young players critical to Baltimore’s long-term success simply aren’t getting the desired seasoning to expedite a multiyear rebuilding effort, a cold reality from a baseball perspective.

But all isn’t lost.

Austin Hays will man center field and hit at the top of the order on Opening Day in Boston. It’s easy to forget after two injury-plagued years that the 25-year-old was the first player selected in the 2016 draft to make the majors, but Hays should have every opportunity to prove he belongs if he can stay healthy.

Outfielders still in their mid-20s such as Anthony Santander, DJ Stewart, and Cedric Mullins present varying degrees of intrigue and can improve their standing for the future over these next two months.

Veteran reliever Mychal Givens could become general manager Mike Elias’ most appealing chip for the Aug. 31 trade deadline, but the 30-year-old will have just over five weeks to regain his pre-2019 form.

The most anticipated development of the summer will be the debut of Ryan Mountcastle, who is expected to arrive in Baltimore sooner than later. His latest defensive endeavor is learning left field and a problematic strikeout-to-walk ratio should temper expectations, but the 2019 International League MVP’s 61 extra-base hits last year provide more than enough reason for excitement.

There’s also the potential promotions of young starting pitchers such as Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, who seem like decent bets to pitch for the Orioles by season’s end. Outfield prospect and Manny Machado trade centerpiece Yusniel Diaz appears less likely to be promoted after failing to progress to Triple-A Norfolk last year, but his progress in the Bowie camp will be monitored closely.

Yes, you’ll need to look closely for those signs of promise while hiding your eyes from what’s likely to be plenty of losing, but we’re all looking for signs of hope — in the Orioles, baseball, and beyond. A 60-game baseball “season” — perhaps it’s better described as an event — with empty ballparks, COVID-19 testing, fake crowd noise, and social distancing is so far from ideal, but so is the rest of life these days.

Weird baseball — even bad baseball — is better than none at all. It’s a difficult reminder of where we are as a country right now and the normalcy for which we long. If the game can safely — a colossal caveat — bring a few hours of smiles, laughs, or even some groans over something trivial, yet important every night, it’s worth it to try, even if that hot dog and cold beer at Camden Yards will have to wait.

In that regard, finding value in this season — even one likely to be forgettable for the Orioles — is easy.

With fingers crossed, let’s play ball.

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Tommy Milone to start on Opening Day for Orioles in place of Means

Posted on 21 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With 2019 All-Star pitcher John Means unable to start on Opening Day due to recent left arm fatigue, the Orioles will turn to a new face, but one that’s been around baseball for quite some time.

Prior to Tuesday’s exhibition finale in Washington, manager Brandon Hyde announced veteran left-hander Tommy Milone would start the season opener in Boston on Friday night. The other candidate to start in Means’ place had been fellow lefty Wade LeBlanc, who instead threw a simulated game Tuesday afternoon and remains on schedule to start the third game of the season against the Red Sox.

Milone, 33, signed with Baltimore as a non-roster invitee in mid-February and owns a 4.47 ERA in 174 career major league appearances, 136 of them starts. He pitched to a 4-10 record and 4.76 ERA in 111 2/3 innings for Seattle last season.

“The bottom line with Tommy is that he would just be getting one extra day rest, so we really keep everybody on regular rest,” Hyde said. “I didn’t want to bring anybody back short. In this kind of unusual space and time where we only had a short time to get these guys ready, they’ve done an amazing job to get ready. We just didn’t want to take the chance of bringing somebody back on short rest.”

Despite Means not being able to start the opener, Hyde provided an encouraging update on the 27-year-old who finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting and emerged as the staff ace with a 3.60 ERA last season. Both Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have emphasized that Means’ recent bout of “dead arm” is not being classified as an injury.

It remains unclear whether Means will begin the season on the 10-day injured list, but he isn’t expected to miss much time in what’s already an abbreviated 60-game schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s really more of a little bit of fatigue like we’ve talked about that he kind of experienced last year at this time,” Hyde said. “We’re just being cautious with him. He played catch today. He threw the ball well. He felt great, so it’s not going to be long before you see him on the mound. He’s just probably going to miss a few days and then be back out there.”

Hyde said he savored the opportunity to deliver the news to Milone, who is entering his 10th major league season and has never started on Opening Day after previously pitching for the Nationals, Oakland, Minnesota, Milwaukee, the New York Mets, and the Mariners.

Milone pitched well in his most recent outing in an intrasquad game on Saturday.

“That’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for these guys,” said Hyde about getting to start the opener. “It’s somebody that’s had a pretty long career up until this point. He’s been with quite a few clubs, seen a lot of different things. He’s hung in there; he’s grinded. He’s had some good years; he’s had some tough years.

“To make an Opening Day start, that’s a special achievement for somebody, and he’s not taking that lightly.”

Means isn’t the only promising young Baltimore pitcher who won’t be ready for the start of the season as right-handed reliever Hunter Harvey is also dealing with arm fatigue. The former first-round pick’s long injury history is extra reason for caution after a healthy 2019 campaign that led him to the majors in mid-August.

“I think Harvey’s going to need a little bit of time,” Hyde said. “We’re obviously going to be conservative with Hunter as well with his past. We’re going to try to get him as healthy as possible and make sure that he’s healthy before he gets out on the mound.”

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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering abbreviated 2020 season

Posted on 20 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With an unprecedented Opening Day set to take place later this week amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With Major League Baseball’s most recent testing report revealing a 0.05 percent positive rate from more than 10,000 samples, the 2020 season will indeed begin later this week. The impact of travel will further reveal the viability of navigating the 60-game season. Fingers crossed.

2. From masks and dugout overflow tents to the absence of fans, the ballpark experience is strange, but artificial crowd noise is preferable to an almost distracting silence otherwise. “Reactions” to in-game events are awkward, but the normal ambience of a “crowd” can help the suspension of disbelief for TV viewers.

3. The Orioles are playing a 7:30 p.m. Opening Day game at Fenway Park on Friday and a 7:35 p.m. home opener a week from Wednesday. That lack of weekday baseball makes perfect sense in the absence of fans, of course, but add it to the lengthy list of weird.

4. Not counting potential promotions later this summer, Austin Hays tops my list of interesting youngsters to watch on a rebuilding club still with many more placeholders than prospects. A strong defender in center field with pop emerging as a long-term piece would be quite valuable.

5. A rotation with four projected starters over age 30 lacks upside, but you hope Alex Cobb, Wade LeBlanc, Tommy Milone, and Asher Wojciechowski are functional enough to keep Brandon Hyde from burning through relievers at an alarming rate, especially with the limitations created by the cancellation of the minor leagues.

6. Remember that spring hype over Chris Davis adding weight and going 7-for-15 with three home runs and nine walks in the Grapefruit League? That was such a simpler time, but we’ll see what the veteran with two more years remaining on his contract after 2020 can do.

7. After missing large chunks of five straight professional seasons, Hunter Harvey was finally healthy last season, but the former first-round pick transitioned from a starting role to relief. Can we get this talented 25-year-old both sustained health and a normal season eventually?

8. Let’s hope the Orioles won’t wait long to promote Ryan Mountcastle as the 2019 International League MVP will work at the alternate camp in Bowie for now. Mountcastle, 23, isn’t a slam dunk, but let’s see the bat and whether he can find a defensive home in left field.

9. It was a surreal Friday night intrasquad game in mid-July, but seeing top prospect Adley Rutschman bat at Camden Yards was still a pretty cool scene. Sorry the outcome below wasn’t a little more exciting.

10. Dwight Smith Jr. hasn’t been ruled out for the opener yet, but the Orioles placed him on the 10-day injured list. With left field seemingly wide open, it’s quite the contrast in fortunes for Smith and DJ Stewart, who wouldn’t have been ready in late March due to ankle surgery.

11. Dilson Herrera may still find himself on the wrong side of the roster bubble, but the former top 100 prospect in the Mets system offers some positional versatility and has shown power in intrasquad games. The July restart has been kind to the 26-year-old vying for a job.

12. The absence of Jim Palmer and Gary Thorne — both over 70 — from regular telecasts is understandable, but MASN still not providing in-market subscribers the ability to watch games on their phones or computers is inexcusable. The network remains absent from all streaming services. This isn’t OK in 2020.

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Four long-term story lines for start of 2020 Orioles season

Posted on 16 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With the start of an unprecedented and abbreviated 2020 season now only a week away, the Orioles are in an undesirable place from a baseball perspective.

That a rebuilding club has no reasonable shot to contend in even a 60-game schedule conducive to statistical noise isn’t the problem as no one envisioned the AL East standings being of consequence for the Orioles after a combined 223 losses in the previous two seasons. But the cancellation of the entire minor league season leaves general manager Mike Elias and the goal of fostering “an elite talent pipeline” with limited avenues to develop the young prospects vital to Baltimore’s future.

Like last season, the number of veteran placeholders and overmatched players on the major league roster will greatly outweigh the interesting talents fighting to become long-term pieces for the Orioles’ next contending club, a contrast exacerbated by 2019 Most Valuable Oriole Trey Mancini’s season-long absence due to colon cancer and the offseason trade of productive infielder Jonathan Villar. But that doesn’t mean a pleasant surprise or two can’t emerge as baseball attempts to navigate a strange season through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Below are four story lines with long-term ramifications at the start of 2020:

1. The encore for John Means

There was no bigger surprise for the Orioles last year than the 27-year-old Means, who went from an organizational lefty on the Opening Day roster bubble to the 2019 All-Star Game and second place in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Means used a superb changeup and improved fastball velocity to pitch to a 3.60 ERA in 155 innings that included 27 starts, 7.03 strikeouts per nine innings, 2.21 walks per nine, a 1.135 WHIP, and 23 home runs allowed. However, he struggled to a 4.85 ERA and a 6.5 per nine strikeout rate after the All-Star break and doesn’t have the stuff to overwhelm hitters who will now be more familiar with his repertoire. Keys to Means not being a one-year wonder are the continued development of his slider and a growth mindset to stay ahead of the curve, something he attempted to do for a second straight offseason. He’ll have his first chance to show his progress when he starts the opener at Fenway Park, the place where he made his unceremonious major league debut at the end of 2018. With the rest of the projected rotation to begin the season — Alex Cobb, Asher Wojciechowski, Wade LeBlanc, and Tommy Milone — all over age 30, Means remains the most intriguing starter by a wide margin.

2. Austin Hays and a wide-open outfield

The outfield remains in flux with Mancini’s absence, Anthony Santander just returning this week from testing positive for the coronavirus, Dwight Smith Jr. still absent for undisclosed reasons, and DJ Stewart returning from offseason ankle surgery, leaving Hays — and his 75 plate appearances last September — as the ironic best bet to be in the Opening Day outfield. A consensus top 100 prospect in baseball entering 2018 after an outstanding first full season of professional ball, Hays struggled to stay healthy for the better part of two years until his late-season promotion resulted in some highlight defensive plays in center field and a .309/.373/.574 slash line that included 10 extra-base hits and 13 RBIs in 21 games. To say Hays can cement his place as the center fielder of the future in only a 60-game sample would be premature, but the 25-year-old has the opportunity to make a lasting impression. Meanwhile, Santander, 25, will try to show his 20-homer campaign last year was no fluke, and the 26-year-old Stewart could have his last best chance to live up to his former first-round billing.

3. Hunter Harvey’s place in the bullpen

After missing significant parts of the previous four seasons with various injuries, the 2013 first-round pick was one of the better stories in the organization last season as he remained healthy and settled into a new role pitching in relief. Harvey, 25, posted a 4.32 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings in 16 2/3 innings for Triple-A Norfolk before being promoted to the majors in mid-August. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 11 batters, walked four, and allowed only one run in seven appearances before reaching his innings limit and being shut down with minor arm soreness in mid-September. Manager Brandon Hyde didn’t hesitate to throw Harvey into some high-leverage situations last year, so that should continue, regardless of whether he settles into a traditional closer role. As for the rest of the bullpen, the Orioles hope late-inning right-hander Mychal Givens rebounds from an underwhelming 2019 to reestablish some trade value before the Aug. 31 deadline and that 25-year-old right-hander Miguel Castro can build upon his second-half improvement from a year ago.

4. Graduations from the alternate camp in Bowie

If we’re being honest, the happenings at the Orioles’ secondary training site will be of far greater interest and consequence to the big picture with prospects like catcher Adley Rutschman, lefty pitcher DL Hall, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, and right-hander Michael Baumann taking part, but which talents there will have the best chance of playing in the majors in 2020? Plate discipline concerns (24 walks in 553 plate appearances) and the lack of a position should make one take pause about 23-year-old Ryan Mountcastle’s upside, but the 2019 International League MVP has little to prove down below after 61 extra-base hits and an .871 OPS at Norfolk last year. Especially with Mancini out of the 2020 picture, there’s no logical reason not to give Mountcastle major league at-bats and looks in left field and at first base sooner than later. On the pitching side, lefty Keegan Akin’s 4.73 ERA and 4.9 walks per nine innings in 112 1/3 innings at Norfolk last season didn’t scream promotion, but his 10.5 strikeouts per nine still make him a viable prospect if the 25-year-old can hone his control. Right-hander Dean Kremer, 24, is another promotion candidate, but his injury-delayed 2019 season consisted of only four starts at the Triple-A level, making it unlikely the Orioles will rush him to Baltimore. The 23-year-old Diaz shouldn’t be completely ruled out, but he’s yet to log a professional at-bat above the Double-A level and Elias has been pretty firm about prospects not skipping steps. Outfielder Cedric Mullins could also play his way back to the majors, but he has much to prove after a nightmare 2019.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts with 2020 season training resuming

Posted on 01 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With players and coaches returning to Camden Yards this week to resume training for the 2020 season amidst the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Mike Elias said the organization had been “remarkably lucky” not to have any positive COVID-19 tests (as of Monday) while acknowledging the Orioles are “going to have cases.” It’s a realistic assessment and a reminder of just how uncertain this all is from even the most optimistic viewpoints.

2. To this point, the Orioles aren’t expecting any players to opt out of the 2020 season, but you wonder if the likes of Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond choosing not to play coupled with additional positive tests this week could change minds. It’s a personal decision that should be respected.

3. The inevitable became official Tuesday with the minor leagues canceling their season. The minors are critical to the game’s long-term health in not only developing prospects but also cultivating young fans around the country. I’m concerned with MLB’s inability — or cold refusal — to recognize that.

4. The Heston Kjerstad signing is official with the second overall pick from Arkansas receiving a $5.2 million bonus, which was $2.59 million below slot. Of course, no one will remember that if Kjerstad becomes a mainstay in right field and shows the potent left-handed bat the Orioles like so much.

5. The organization is telling Kjerstad and other 2020 draft picks to stay ready in hopes of being able to gather for instructional work at some point. Everyone’s in the same boat, but Baltimore losing so much development time in a season so inconsequential at the major league level is tough.

6. The first 44 players announced for the Orioles’ 60-man pool list made clear we’ll wait at least a little longer to see Ryan Mountcastle as well as Keegan Akin, Bruce Zimmermann, and Dean Kremer. Especially with Trey Mancini out, there’s no excuse not to give Mountcastle extensive at-bats.

7. With the potential statistical noise of a 60-game sprint of a season, Elias was asked how he’d handle the Orioles being a surprise contender at the trade deadline and replied that he’d “look at that very seriously.” Yeah, I’m not buying it either.

8. If a roster without its two best position players from 2019 — Mancini and Jonathan Villar — weren’t enough, a daunting schedule now including the entire NL East in addition to the usual AL East nightmares should halt any talk of the Orioles being Cinderella. There are much better sleeper picks.

9. In addition to the aforementioned prospects we could see at some point, Austin Hays, Hunter Harvey, John Means, and Anthony Santander provide incentives to watch a club still too short on talent expected to be in Baltimore for the long run. Another Means-like story or two would help.

10. Asked about his biggest prospect-related concerns, Elias noted the obvious long-term health of pitchers not accumulating innings and mentioned young hitters missing “key at-bats in their life cycle” as players. How many fringe talents who could have made it will never get a real chance now?

11. The labor war is exhausting and the pandemic concerns omnipresent, but I’m otherwise embracing the weirdness of a 60-game season as well as rule changes and quirks. Some of the best innovation comes through unusual circumstances. There’s been nothing traditional about 2020, so why start now?

12. Current frustrations with MLB aside, I appreciated the following video and wish the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues could have been celebrated in ballparks around the country. From Rube Foster’s vision to baseball royalty like Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Buck O’Neil, these men need to be remembered.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts in early days of March

Posted on 02 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Grapefruit League schedule underway in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With three home runs and a 2.460 OPS in 14 plate appearances, Chris Davis rebounding at age 34 after a historically poor two-year stretch would be a great story, but let’s slam on — not pump — the brakes. There’s a reason Jake Fox’s name is mentioned in these parts every spring.

2. Acquired for cash last July, Asher Wojciechowski being penciled in for one of the top three spots in the rotation says way more about the Orioles than his 4.92 ERA last year, but the 31-year-old averaged 5.1 innings per start. That’s not impressive, but it’s functional, something this staff needs.

3. After adding a couple ticks to his fastball and breaking through with his changeup last year, All-Star pitcher John Means is trying to improve his breaking ball. Is he closer to being a Dallas Keuchel story like Mike Elias saw in Houston or merely the next Jeff Ballard?

4. Yusniel Diaz was slowed by a sore left shoulder before seeing his first action over the weekend and collecting a triple and a walk Monday. It’s a big year for the centerpiece in the Manny Machado trade, who needs to stay healthy and will likely begin 2020 with Norfolk.

5. Making his spring debut Monday after dealing with an illness, Hunter Harvey threw fastballs from 95 to 97 miles per hour, exactly where you’d expect him to be for his first Grapefruit League outing. His mullet is in midseason form, however. He’ll be fun to watch this year.

6. It’s a crucial time for guys like Rio Ruiz and Dwight Smith Jr. to make the case to be more than the placeholders they’re perceived to be. Ruiz faces less competition at third base, but Smith, who’s out of options, could be the odd man out in a crowded outfield.

7. Renato Nunez has made six spring starts at third after starting eight games there all last year. The designated hitter spot will be quite crowded once Ryan Mountcastle arrives in Baltimore, so Nunez would really benefit from showing defensive improvement. I’m interested to see how he follows his 31-homer campaign.

8. With Baltimore trying to improve a league-worst 5.79 bullpen ERA, Tanner Scott must show growth after walking 6.5 batters per nine innings last year. The fastball-slider combination is there and he’s struck out 12.7 per nine in his career, but finding a way to get right-handed bats out is crucial.

9. Bruce Zimmermann, a 25-year-old Loyola Blakefield graduate, gave up two homers on Monday, but he struck out six in 2 2/3 innings with a swing-and-miss slider and fastball touching the mid-90s. He’ll be a lefty to watch at Norfolk for a potential call-up later this season.

10. The Orioles made too many mistakes on the bases last year, but it’s interesting to hear how they’re exploring using speed in a power-hungry era in which steals have diminished to preserve outs. It’s a way a rebuilding club should be experimenting in search of a future edge.

11. J.J. Hardy is one of several guest instructors to be invited to camp this spring. Considering the positive influence he had on young infielders like Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop in his time as an Oriole, the former Gold Glove shortstop is a nice resource to have around.

12. This is an annual complaint, but 21 clubs will have more spring games televised locally than the Orioles’ seven on MASN. Other bottom-tier teams are streaming additional games. For an organization selling the future, not offering more looks at Adley Rutschman and other prospects in camp is a missed opportunity.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts at start of 2020 spring training

Posted on 18 February 2020 by Luke Jones

With full-squad spring workouts now underway in Sarasota, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The patience required for a multiyear rebuild was already agonizing enough for the fan base, but the model being the 2017 Houston Astros now carries much different connotations. That’s a tough pill to swallow when there is no guarantee of success.

2. That’s not to convict Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal of anything beyond association as neither has been named in any scandal reporting so far, but I can’t believe they weren’t aware of what was going on as longtime Jeff Luhnow lieutenants dating back to their St. Louis days. It’s uncomfortable.

3. Chris Davis adding 25 pounds to get stronger doesn’t carry much weight when he balked at overhauling his swing, citing age and past success that was an eternity ago. He still views himself as an everyday player “until it’s proven otherwise,” but shouldn’t that be the other way around?

4. Some are interpreting Davis’ admission of contemplating retirement as the end being near, but it could have the opposite effect. Ownership hasn’t been willing to walk away from this disastrous contract so far, so why wouldn’t they dig in their heels over the possibility of Davis forgoing millions?

5. On a more positive note, Adley Rutschman being in major league camp is the brightest sign of hope yet for the rebuild. You wouldn’t expect him to be there long, but the first overall pick seeing a little Grapefruit League action would be fun.

6. We’ll likely wait until summer for more prospects to debut in Baltimore, but Austin Hays and Hunter Harvey showed enough late last season to be excited for 2020. Health remains a sticking point, but both have a chance to be part of the next contender in Baltimore.

7. Ryan Mountcastle has worked in the outfield over the first couple days of camp as the organization’s search for his defensive position continues. I’m still a little more concerned about him walking only 24 times in 553 plate appearances at Norfolk last season. He just turned 23 Tuesday, however.

8. The minor-league signings of Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc aren’t moving the meter for a rotation projected to again be poor, but either veteran lefty eating innings and decreasing the need for position players to pitch as frequently would be welcome. Just be a little more functional.

9. At this time last year, no one was predicting John Means to make the club, let alone the All-Star team. It would be encouraging to see another Means-like story or two — David Hess took a cue from the lefty — on a roster still with more placeholders than players of interest.

10. The performances of Hays and Chance Sisco last spring serve as a reminder that Elias doesn’t put much stock in Grapefruit League numbers, but Mountcastle and pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer performing well would serve as promising harbingers for call-ups later this year.

11. I believe in Elias, but I hoped to see more imagination this offseason in terms of signing a value free agent to flip or taking on a contract in a trade to buy a prospect. Having baseball’s lowest payroll is great for ownership, but that alone doesn’t expedite this process.

12. Rob Manfred stating his belief of “a good future for baseball in Baltimore” is fine, but the MASN resolution and a new stadium lease beyond the 2021 season are the real keys. The attendance for a team currently not trying to win has nothing to do with it.

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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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Former first-round pick Hunter Harvey called up by Orioles

Posted on 17 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles promoted 2013 first-round pick Hunter Harvey to the majors prior to Saturday’s game against the Boston Red Sox.

The 24-year-old pitcher was first promoted to the Orioles 16 months ago, but Harvey didn’t appear in a game before being optioned back to the minors two days later. The right-hander has dealt with a variety of injuries since his promising first full season of professional ball and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016, but he’s logged a total of 75 2/3 innings split between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this season, his most since 2014. Most importantly, he’s been free of the elbow and shoulder problems that have plagued him for years.

Once considered a consensus top 100 prospect in baseball, Harvey struggled as a starter for the Baysox earlier this year, pitching to a 6.12 ERA in 11 starts. That prompted a move to the bullpen in mid-June and a promotion to Norfolk where he’s posted a 4.32 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Harvey has struck out 11.9 batters and walked 2.7 batters per nine innings for the Tides.

Baltimore owns the worst bullpen ERA in the majors at 6.09.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts in first full week of March

Posted on 04 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the start of the 2019 regular season just over three weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We all know not to draw conclusions from a handful of spring games, but it’s impossible to ignore Chris Davis striking out seven times and registering only one hit — a homer — in his first 14 plate appearances. If he’s not going to show improvement in the Grapefruit League, then what?

2. Hopes of the new regime fixing Davis have been discussed plenty, but Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde have no prior ties to feel obligated to be patient. If he’s simply “finished” as a player, how long do you keep him in the lineup or even in the organization?

3. Trey Mancini playing left field a little longer probably isn’t hindering anyone’s development drastically, but Ryan Mountcastle taking to first base and tearing up Triple A would put Baltimore in position to improve by cutting Davis later this year if he shows no improvement. The money’s already been spent, folks.

4. Chance Sisco already has four home runs and four walks in 14 plate appearances. If nothing else, that should really help his confidence level, something that took a major hit in the midst of his difficult 2018 campaign.

5. Nate Karns being set to return to game action after experiencing arm soreness is good news, but it’s a reminder why he received only an $800,000 contract. Pitchers have returned from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, but it’s not a high-percentage outcome for someone with his injury history.

6. Kudos to the new regime for not wasting time in reassigning Hunter Harvey to minor-league camp. He’s pitched just 63 2/3 professional innings since being shut down the first time in July 2014. Leave the 24-year-old alone this year to — hopefully — stay healthy and log innings in the minors.

7. Reviews for Richie Martin at shortstop have been positive, and he’s gone 7-for-17 with two doubles and two walks. He isn’t the first Rule 5 pick with spring success, of course, but Alcides Escobar registered a combined 0.4 wins above replacement from 2015-18. The bar needn’t be very high

8. The acquisition of right-hander Xavier Moore from Minnesota marked the Orioles’ second spring trade of international signing bonus slots. I’ve said it before, but Kevin Gausman would have been a great piece for Mike Elias to trade instead of being included in a salary dump for unused slots.

9. Austin Hays is off to a strong start with two homers and a triple in his first 15 plate appearances, but it’s been interesting to note that four of his five starts have come in center field. He’s much healthier and moving better now after last fall’s ankle surgery.

10. Joey Rickard is easily forgotten with the collection of outfield prospects moving up the ladder, but he’s started spring games at all three outfield spots. He’ll be 28 in May, so this is probably his last chance to establish himself as more than a fringe reserve in Baltimore.

11. Jimmy Yacabonis has five strikeouts in four innings of one-hit ball so far. He remains one of my interesting names to watch knowing what Houston has done for pitchers possessing plus sliders.

12. Preston Palmeiro and Ryan Ripken each received a look as minor-league replacements in games this past week, which had to be pretty cool for their families. The 24-year-old Palmeiro remains a sleeper type to monitor.

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