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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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Twelve Orioles thoughts on record-setting 2018 club

Posted on 19 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 Orioles officially having suffered the most losses in 65 seasons in Baltimore, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. “Inconsistent” is a euphemism frequently used to describe a player or team that’s bad. There’s nothing inconsistent about a club that’s won three or more in a row just three times all season. The 2018 Orioles are as consistent as any team I’ve ever seen.

2. I’d like to think somewhere the 1988 Orioles cracked open skunked beers to celebrate on Tuesday night. Move over, Jay Tibbs and Pete Stanicek.

3. Some say the Orioles could be worse next year, but I doubt it. Ten teams have lost 110 or more in a season since 1900. The Orioles will become the 11th, but the probability of losing that many again is ridiculously small. That said, avoiding triple-digit losses will be difficult.

4. I’m glad common sense prevailed with Adam Jones playing the final six games of the homestand. The few still coming to games know they’re likely watching Jones’ final days as an Oriole and have responded with appropriate ovations. Non-prospect outfielders shouldn’t be starting over him, especially at home.

5. Caleb Joseph’s comments about the state of the Orioles had to be cathartic for both him and fans, but it’d sure be nice to hear something — anything — from ownership along these lines, even if worded more delicately. What about the status of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter? Hello?

6. Dylan Bundy has alleviated some concerns with his last two starts, but a 5.37 ERA in late September says all you need to know about how his last three months have gone. It’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever be much more than a league-average starter at this point.

7. Since raising his average to .180 on Sept. 5, Chris Davis has one hit in his last 30 plate appearances. He is batting .171 and owns a .548 on-base plus slugging percentage. I hope there’s a better plan than hoping for the best when he arrives in Sarasota next February.

8. With Hunter Harvey shut down again, it’s probably time for the organization to write him out of their long-term vision. That’s not to say you give up on him, but the 2013 first-round pick has only 63 2/3 professional innings to his name since his health problems began in 2014.

9. Nearly two months later, I still believe the Orioles sold too low on Jonathan Schoop and especially Kevin Gausman. Wouldn’t those two have been attractive trade chips for a new general manager to use this offseason to start remaking the roster with his own vision?

10. We’re still months away, but I can’t imagine how the organization is going to sell the 2019 team at FanFest this winter. The Orioles at least had the likes of Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis to hype when they were bad a decade ago.

11. If nothing else is accomplished this winter, can the Orioles and MASN at least start offering in-market streaming of games next season? They’re begging fans under the age of 30 to turn their backs on them by continuing this antiquated policy. It’s not 2005 anymore.

12. Sunday marked the four-year anniversary of the Orioles clinching the AL East title. It’s a reminder of how much can change in four years, but this organization will need to make far better decisions in the next four years than it did these last four to get back on top.

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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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Twelve Orioles thoughts following Toronto series

Posted on 12 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles enjoying a day off after a series loss against Toronto, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles lineup scoring five runs in Wednesday’s win hardly qualifies as an offensive explosion, but that came after plating only seven runs in the first five games at Camden Yards and opponents twice taking no-hitters into the eighth inning. The bats have been colder than the weather.

2. Thirteen games isn’t a big sample, so how much can the offensive struggles be attributed to tough luck? The Orioles rank 23rd in batting average on balls in play (.280), but they lead the majors in strikeouts, are 25th in hard-contact percentage, and rank 27th in line-drive percentage. Discouraging signs.

3. Chris Davis collecting two hits on Wednesday was encouraging, but the thought of him trying to bunt on a 1-2 pitch in the eighth inning of a one-run game like he did Monday night would have been lunacy a few years ago. He looks so lost at the plate.

4. Coming off a career season, Jonathan Schoop figured to break out eventually, but his start had been brutal aside from a 7-for-13 series against Houston. Before his two-hit performance on Wednesday, Schoop had gone 3-for-40 with no extra-base hits against non-Astros opponents.

5. It’s a shame Dylan Bundy has received such poor run support early. From his sparkling 1.35 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings to a .283 opposing BABIP that’s actually higher than last year’s, everything about the start of his season beyond the empty win column has been Cy Young-like.

6. Kevin Gausman turned in a solid performance against Toronto, but his average fastball velocity this season is 92.3 miles per hour, virtually identical to Bundy’s (92.2). For someone who’s consistently averaged 95 mph and frequently reached the high 90s, that’s a potential red flag.

7. The bullpen pitched to an impressive 2.42 ERA over 26 innings in the New York series, but the group sports a 6.21 ERA against everyone else. Wednesday marked the first game in which the bullpen didn’t allow a run, but no one said it would be easy without Zach Britton.

8. Mark Trumbo’s setback that Buck Showalter wouldn’t call a setback isn’t good news, but Pedro Alvarez is currently sporting a .462 on-base percentage. Alvarez isn’t known for his consistency, but the Orioles could have an eventual problem since you don’t want either slugger playing defense regularly.

9. Chance Sisco has had trouble hitting breaking balls, but his throwing has been solid and he’s shown ability to drive the ball the other way. I expect Caleb Joseph to pick it up offensively, but Sisco will push for more playing time sooner than later if he keeps this up.

10. Andrew Cashner has posted a 2.50 ERA, his strikeout rate is up, and he’s missing more bats than he has in a couple years. A few young pitchers have also gravitated to him in the clubhouse, which is a perk as long as he’s getting the job done on the mound.

11. Acknowledging the circumstances that left the bullpen in poor shape at the start of the week, I still didn’t like the Orioles disrupting the start of Hunter Harvey’s season at Double-A Bowie. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed about him not making an appearance this week.

12. The offense has been poor, the defense isn’t what it used to be, the bullpen has been inconsistent, and the starting rotation remains a sustantial concern despite having more upside than recent seasons. Beyond singling out Bundy or Manny Machado, what exactly is this club’s strength?

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Orioles halt Trumbo’s rehab assignment, option Harvey back to Bowie

Posted on 11 April 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles have hit the pause button on Mark Trumbo’s rehab assignment just a day after it began at Double-A Bowie.

The right-handed slugger went 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts serving as the Baysox designated hitter on Tuesday, but he didn’t feel fully confident with the quadriceps he strained last month, prompting the training staff to shut him down for the time being. Trumbo returned to Camden Yards on Wednesday and will travel with the major league club to Boston this weekend, but it remains unclear when he’ll resume his rehab assignment and be activated from the 10-day disabled list.

 

“He just felt like last night, he just didn’t feel like pushing it,” said manager Buck Showalter, who didn’t want to classify the shutdown as a setback. “He thought he still wasn’t comfortable with that. I’m proud that he felt comfortable telling us that because you don’t want that setback that pushes it way back.”

The Baltimore lineup has struggled mightily to open the season, but Pedro Alvarez has been very effective as the designated hitter, the job primarily occupied by Trumbo last season.

The Orioles recalled infielder Engelb Vielma from Triple-A Norfolk and optioned right-handed pitcher Hunter Harvey back to Bowie. The move once again gives Showalter a full bench after the Orioles had carried an extra pitcher in the bullpen over the last few days, a result of some short starts and two extra-inning affairs at Yankee Stadium last weekend.

Harvey, the organization’s top pitching prospect, was called up to the majors on Monday, but he did not appear in a game. He will now make his Double-A debut for the Baysox at Harrisburg on Saturday and is expected to pitch two or three innings.

According to Showalter, the results of the magnetic resonance imaging exam on outfielder Colby Rasmus’ left hip were favorable with no surprises, but it remains unclear when he’ll return from the DL.

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Orioles call up top pitching prospect Harvey, set Cobb’s season debut

Posted on 09 April 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day the Orioles announced when Alex Cobb would make his much-awaited 2018 debut, they surprisingly promoted their top pitching prospect to lend a hand to a tired bullpen.

Originally scheduled to make his three-inning debut for Double-A Bowie on Monday, right-hander Hunter Harvey was summoned to Baltimore as manager Buck Showalter was dealing with the fallout of a four-game set against the New York Yankees that included two extra-inning affairs. The 23-year-old will be available to pitch in relief after Showalter said as many as five relievers wouldn’t be available in Monday’s series opener with Toronto. Six relievers combined to throw 186 pitches over 11 1/3 innings in Sunday’s 8-7 win over the Yankees.

To make room for Harvey on the 25-man roster, left-handed pitcher Tanner Scott was optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk after pitching 1 2/3 innings on Sunday. Showalter admitted he’d prefer not using Harvey, but the Orioles needed more coverage behind starter Dylan Bundy with Rule 5 lefty Nestor Cortes and right-hander Mychal Givens being the only relievers not to pitch Sunday.

Baltimore’s bullpen covered an incredible 26 innings over the four games at Yankee Stadium before calling on Harvey, who allowed three earned runs and nine hits over seven innings of Grapefruit League action and spent most of the spring in major league camp. The 2013 first-round pick is less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery, but he posted a 0.96 ERA in 18 2/3 minor-league innings late last season.

“Physically, he’s fine. If not him, then who?” said Showalter, citing his preference to have a fresh right-handed pitcher against Toronto’s right-heavy lineup. “We had some options, but if you bring up a non-roster [pitcher] who’s out of options, you’re going to lose him going back [to the minors]. There’s a lot of variables there, but we think Hunter can serve a need here and potentially help him and the organization.”

Harvey hasn’t pitched above Single-A Delmarva in the minors, but other right-handers on the 40-man roster such as David Hess and Yefry Ramirez started minor-league games over the weekend, leaving them unavailable for Monday. The son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey was apparently the last fresh man standing.

While the length of Harvey’s stay in the big leagues likely won’t be long, Cobb is set to make his Orioles debut against Boston at Fenway Park on Saturday. In his extended spring start in Sarasota on Monday, Cobb allowed one earned run and six hits while striking out eight and walking one over six innings. He threw 93 pitches, making it clear that he’s just about ready to go from a pitch count standpoint.

The organization’s top free-agent acquisition in the offseason, Cobb will complete a bullpen session with Bowie on Wednesday before joining the Orioles on the road trip.

Outfielder and designated hitter Mark Trumbo is scheduled to begin his minor-league rehab assignment with Bowie on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Orioles will determine the next step for him after those games as the slugger could receive more minor-league at-bats or be activated from the disabled list in time for the Red Sox series.

Trumbo has been sidelined with a quadriceps strain since mid-March.

“He feels good. He’s going from 80-something degrees [in Sarasota] to 40 degrees [coming north],” Showalter said. “I’m going to let him make the call. It could be all the way through the weekend for that matter. I don’t know. When he feels like he’s ready, we’ll bring him.”

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Orioles may move up Cobb’s 2018 debut date

Posted on 03 April 2018 by Luke Jones

Just a few days after saying Alex Cobb wouldn’t make his Orioles debut before April 14, Buck Showalter has apparently changed his tune about his new starting pitcher.

The manager is now leaving open the possibility of Cobb making his 2018 debut against Toronto on Monday if his five-inning simulated game goes well in Sarasota on Wednesday. It’s a moving target after the 30-year-old missed virtually all of spring training and didn’t sign his four-year, $57 million contract with Baltimore until March 21.

“Most of it’s going to come from what Alex is telling us,” Showalter told reporters prior to Tuesday’s game in Houston. “He’s very mature about it. It’s like I told him, regardless of how someobody else is doing it, we’re going to do what’s best for him, which is what’s best for the organization. If anything, we’ll err on the side of caution. We think we already have.”

Former Orioles and Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta is in a similar position after only signing with Philadelphia on March 12 and is scheduled to make his season debut on Sunday.

Baltimore would prefer not rushing Cobb to a competitive environment before making sure he’s ready physically, but the early performance of the starting rotation hasn’t helped matters with Andrew Cashner, Kevin Gausman, and Chris Tillman all pitching poorly in their first outings of the season. Mike Wright was making his 2018 debut against the Astros on Tuesday and figures to be the odd man out of the rotation once Cobb is activated.

Showalter also confirmed top pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will begin the season at Double-A Bowie with the goal of completing three innings per outing and gradually increasing that workload as the year progresses. This leaves more innings available to him later in the season if he progresses rapidly enough to be promoted to the majors.

“That is where he is going to start so the innings are there,” Showalter told reporters in Houston. “I don’t think you’re going to see him make a seven-inning start anywhere except Baltimore.”

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Twelve Orioles thoughts winding down spring training

Posted on 19 March 2018 by Luke Jones

With Opening Day a little over a week away, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Despite not striking out a batter, Chris Tillman fared better in his second spring start than his disastrous debut by allowing one run and no walks over five innings against Detroit’s regulars. Whether he turns his career around remains to be seen, but Monday was a positive step.

2. I’m shocked Alex Cobb doesn’t have a job with the opener around the corner. Baltimore isn’t the ideal destination on a cheap one-year deal, but the organization’s lack of aggressiveness with major rotation needs and money to spend — based on last year’s payroll — is extremely disappointing. He’d help beyond 2018.

3. I touched on Mark Trumbo recently, but news of him missing the next few weeks with a quadriceps injury doesn’t bode well for a turnaround from 2017. He needs at-bats, and I wonder if the Orioles will prolong his rehab assignment as much as they can when the time comes.

4. Trumbo’s absence could create more chances for Anthony Santander, which is an interesting development. The Rule 5 pick was mostly an unknown last year because of an elbow injury the Orioles used to their advantage, but he has a .914 OPS with four homers and 16 RBIs this spring.

5. I’m not sounding the alarm as long as he’s healthy, but Dylan Bundy sporting a 9.00 spring ERA in 15 springs innings makes you a little more uneasy remembering he’s coming off a career-high 169 2/3 innings, 60 more than he pitched the year before.

6. On the bright side, early reviews on Andrew Cashner have been positive with how he’s fit in and his first two spring outings (1.00 ERA). It’s a good start, but he’ll need to miss more bats to have a chance to finish anywhere near his 3.40 ERA from 2017.

7. Austin Wynns’ demotion narrowed the backup catcher competition to Chance Sisco and Andrew Susac. If Sisco can benefit from catching more games at Norfolk, that’s fine. However, the backup needs to play frequently enough to keep Caleb Joseph fresh, which sounds like a decent role for the rookie.

8. Hunter Harvey will make another major league spring start on Wednesday. If the Orioles are truly considering having him begin the year in the rotation, the season slogan should read, “We really don’t care what happens after 2018.” Unfortunately, the club hasn’t used the same mindset in addressing the rotation.

9. If you haven’t read it, I recommend checking out the piece by MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince on the one-year anniversary of Adam Jones’ unforgettable catch in the World Baseball Classic. Seeing the Orioles center fielder make that play on that stage was truly special.

10. Jones had an eventful weekend on Twitter as he helped recruit Michael Crabtree to the Ravens, gave props to UMBC, and ribbed former teammate and Virginia alum Tyler Wilson about the Retrievers’ historic victory. Funny stuff.

11. Speaking of UMBC, a friend of mine suggested senior guard Jairus Lyles throwing out the first pitch at an Orioles game this season. I wholeheartedly agree, but why stop there?

12. I’m all for charitable causes and celebrating patriotic holidays, but does anyone honestly like how these caps look? Is there some middle ground Major League Baseball can find with these initiatives? Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go yell at a cloud.

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