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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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Twelve Orioles thoughts entering late June

Posted on 18 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles falling 30 games below .500 with 90 games remaining in the 2019 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s been 37 games since Baltimore achieved even the pedestrian feat of winning back-to-back contests, a stretch easily exceeding last year’s longest drought (28). I believed it unlikely the Orioles would be mathematically worse than the 2018 team, but they’ve played like a 127-loss club since May 7. Just brutal.

2. Brandon Hyde recently expressed frustration that young players weren’t taking advantage of opportunities as lackadaisical and sloppy play has become more prevalent. No manager would win with this club, but the regression from even an eyeball-test standpoint has to frustrate the coaching staff.

3. Remember that renaissance for Chris Davis after his record hitless streak? He has eight hits and 36 strikeouts in his last 72 plate appearances while his peripherals have crashed. He’s batting eighth and teetering as a full-time starter. Drastic action taken beyond that is likely up to the Angelos family.

4. The demotion of David Hess was overdue after a 7.36 ERA in 66 innings, but he’ll remain in the bullpen with Triple-A Norfolk, a move that makes sense if he’s going to continue to be a two-pitch hurler throwing his fastball and slider a combined 84 percent of the time.

5. Former Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard was designated for assignment Monday, a move that felt inevitable after he batted .203 in 135 plate appearances. The 28-year-old was the Opening Day right fielder and had another chance to establish himself as a legitimate major league player and didn’t do it.

6. Speaking of outfielders not taking advantage of opportunities, Keon Broxton has struck out 29 times in 64 plate appearances as an Oriole and had an inexcusable concentration lapse minutes into Saturday’s game. That position is sitting there for Cedric Mullins if he didn’t have an ugly .624 OPS at Norfolk.

7. On the bright side, Yusniel Diaz was named Eastern League Player of the Week with three home runs, two doubles, 12 RBIs, and four walks in six games. It’s been a rough start to 2019 for the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade, so seeing him heat up is encouraging.

8. Understanding options are limited whenever you need someone for a spot start, the Orioles turning to Luis Ortiz and his 7.01 ERA last Friday was a reminder of both the shortage of even mediocre pitching at Norfolk and the number of 2018 deadline acquisitions not exactly thriving this season.

9. Dylan Bundy has posted a 3.09 ERA, struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings, and allowed six homers in his last 46 2/3 innings. He’s throwing fastballs a career-low 49 percent of the time and using changeups more frequently than he has since 2016. His secondary pitches have been key.

10. Hanser Alberto has a .432 batting average in 89 plate appearances against lefties, the best mark in the majors. He has only five walks in 214 plate appearances, but he puts the ball in play and has brought some positive energy to a club needing as much as possible.

11. Mike Elias said he’s “not looking to part” with Trey Mancini in the midst of a career year before acknowledging the Orioles are “open to anything.” There’s little urgency with the 27-year-old not becoming a free agent until after 2022, but Elias won’t be sentimental if a trade offer overwhelms.

12. A month ago, Mychal Givens looked like the most likely Oriole to be traded, but he’s blown four saves, allowed six homers, walked seven, and posted a 10.61 ERA in his last 9 1/3 innings dating back to May 20. His ERA is 5.28 only six weeks before the deadline.

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New York Mets' Keon Broxton takes a lead during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals, Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Orioles acquire veteran outfielder Keon Broxton from Mets

Posted on 22 May 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Having already given three different players 14 or more starts in center field this season, the Orioles added another option to the organizational mix Wednesday.

Baltimore acquired Keon Broxton from the New York Mets in exchange for international signing bonus slots after the 29-year-old was designated for assignment last week. He was batting just .143 with 22 strikeouts in 53 plate appearances for the Mets and had expressed disenchantment over his lack of playing time.

In parts of five major league seasons and 851 plate appearances, Broxton owns a career .216 average, but his best production came with Milwaukee when he batted .220 with 20 home runs and 21 stolen bases two years ago and posted a career-best .784 on-base plus slugging percentage in 244 plate appearances in 2016. He’s also registered 13 defensive runs saved playing center field in his career, but his career 36.9 percent strikeout rate is higher than Chris Davis’ (32.6 percent), a clear factor that’s prevented him from establishing himself as an everyday player.

“We had our eye on him,” general manager Mike Elias said. “Speed, excellent center-field ability, he’s got some raw power. He hasn’t gotten a lot of consistent playing time — certainly not this year and even in the past year. But two years ago, he put together a pretty good campaign for Milwaukee.

“We’re trying some different things in center field, and we wanted to give him a look and hopefully give him a little bit more extended time than he’s had. We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The Orioles have received surprising play from Stevie Wilkerson in center, who’s handled the position adequately in recent weeks despite having never played there before this season. Broxton’s arrival could allow Wilkerson to slide into more of a utility role, but his .783 OPS entering Wednesday’s game is among the best on the club and will make it difficult for manager Brandon Hyde to keep his name out of the everyday lineup.

Cedric Mullins began the season as the starting center fielder before a 6-for-64 start led to his demotion to Triple-A Norfolk where he has continued to struggle at the plate. Joey Rickard has also received 14 starts in center for Baltimore, but a .198 batting average hasn’t helped his case for regular playing time.

The acquisition of Broxton could impact the promotion timetable for Norfolk corner outfielder DJ Stewart, who has batted .435 with five home runs, 23 runs batted in, and a 1.439 OPS in May. The 25-year-old and 2015 first-round pick has caught the organization’s attention with his .962 OPS this season, but he may need to wait a little longer to be recalled.

“We have two corner outfielders up here with [Trey] Mancini and [Dwight] Smith who are doing great, so it’s just hard to find an easy way to get him here,” Elias said. “But we would love to have him join this team, and I’m hopeful that we can figure out a way to do that on the sooner side.”

It remains to be seen how the Orioles will make room for Broxton on the 25-man-roster, but Rickard does have minor-league options remaining. Baltimore moved right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb to the 60-day injured list and designated right-hander Yefry Ramirez for assignment Wednesday to clear spots on the 40-man roster for Broxton and right-hander Chandler Shepherd, who was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs and optioned to Norfolk.

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