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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 following 2020 amateur draft

Posted on 15 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 amateur draft completed and baseball trying to navigate the resumption of the 2020 season, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Some had issues with the Andrew Cashner trade or the Jonathan Villar salary dump, but selecting Heston Kjerstad second overall is the first questionable decision of major consequence in the Mike Elias era. If nothing else, Elias and his staff showed their conviction going against outsider consensus.

2. It’s easy — and sometimes valid — to equate an under-slot pick with being cheap, but the better comparison is trading back in the NFL draft to be able to add more later. Of course, that doesn’t mean Coby Mayo or Carter Baumler will succeed as over-slot picks out of high school.

3. Second-guessing is part of the sports conversation, but I struggle enough with criticism of picks in the NFL and NBA drafts without pretending to have a strong opinion on talents coming from a college sport that’s showcased nationally for all of a couple weeks every year. Time will tell.

4. Strikeout concerns and his left-handed power profile are enough to make Kjerstad remind you a bit of Chris Davis, but the Orioles loved his white-hot start to 2020. The popular Driveline Baseball also likes his makeup, a strong endorsement in the player development world. The shortened season definitely complicated evaluations.

5. The second overall pick was a special moment for scout Ken Guthrie, one of the holdovers from the Dan Duquette era. Guthrie has known Kjerstad since he was a kid and tracked his progress for years, which would make this a memorable story if the University of Arkansas product pans out.

6. How many Orioles fans had thoughts of Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin being a thorn in their side when Toronto selected the widely anticipated Baltimore choice at fifth overall? You can almost hear that annoying horn at Rogers Centre after a walk-off hit for the Blue Jays. But again, no one knows.

7. After passing on all pitching until the fifth and final round with Baumler, the organization showed an early preference for college position players as well as its great faith in director of pitching Chris Holt for a second straight year. The Orioles believe in their pitching development process.

8. I’ll have more on the 2020 season when we see a definitive resolution, but is it any surprise owners in a sport that’s widely embraced “tanking” in recent years seem content to do something similar with an entire season? Their exclusive focus on the short-term bottom line is shameful.

9. Empathizing with owners over the “economic feasibility” of prorated pay for players — who are taking on health risk during a pandemic — sure is tough in the wake of a reported new television deal with Turner Sports worth $1 billion. If they’re not opening their books, spare us the tears.

10. From an on-field baseball standpoint in the big picture, how much more valuable would a normal minor league season be to the Orioles than an abbreviated major league one? Beyond Austin Hays, Ryan Mountcastle, and a couple others, further development on the farm would be the easy choice.

11. Ole Miss shortstop Anthony Servideo being the grandson of former Oriole and 1965 AL Rookie of the Year Curt Blefary is a good story. Traded for Mike Cuellar in 1968, Blefary died in 2001 and had his ashes spread over what remained of Memorial Stadium at the time.

12. On a lighter note subdued by Monday’s news, a 50-game season sure could lead to some crazy happenings. The 2005 Orioles started 31-19 and were in first place before finishing 74-88. The woeful 2010 club that lost 96 games finished 34-23 under new manager Buck Showalter. One can dream, right?

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Orioles draft Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad with second overall pick

Posted on 10 June 2020 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Baltimore Orioles tonight announced that they have selected outfielder HESTON KJERSTAD (KERR-stad) from the University of Arkansas with the second overall selection of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Kjerstad, 21, hit .448/.513/.791 (30-for-67) with five doubles, six home runs, 19 runs, and 20 RBI in 16 games during his junior season, which was shortened due to COVID-19. He led the Razorbacks in batting average, hits, home runs, RBI, total bases (53), on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He started all 16 games in right field and recorded at least one hit in each game. He was named to the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, as well as being named a First-Team Preseason All-American by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, D1Baseball.com, and Perfect Game. He was ranked as the No. 10 overall draft prospect by MLB.com and the No. 13 prospect by Baseball America.

As a sophomore in 2019, Kjerstad helped lead Arkansas to their second-straight College World Series. Kjerstad homered in each of the Fayetteville Regional, Fayetteville Super Regional, and College World Series. For the season, Kjerstad hit .327/.400/.575 (87-for-266) with 13 doubles, one triple, 17 home runs, 53 runs, and 51 RBI in 65 games. His 17 home runs were a career-best and were tied for the second-most in the SEC. He became the first Razorback since Rodney Nye in 1998-99 to have 50-or-more RBI in his first two seasons. He was named to the All-SEC Second-Team.

As a true freshman in 2018, Kjerstad was named the SEC Freshman of the Year, along with being named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and the All-SEC Second Team, after helping lead Arkansas to the College World Series. He made 69 starts for the Razorbacks, all of which came in the outfield, and hit .332/.419/.553 (87-for-262) with 16 doubles, 14 home runs, 65 runs, and 58 RBI. Kjerstad’s 14 home runs set an Arkansas freshman single-season record, and his 87 hits tied the freshman single-season record. He was named a NCBWA First-Team Freshman All-American as well as a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American.

A native of Amarillo, Texas, Kjerstad attended Canyon Randall (Texas) High School. He was named the District 3-5A Newcomer of the Year in 2015 and the District 3-5A MVP and First Team 5A All-State Player in 2016. He was a member of the Amarillo Glove-News 2016 Baseball Super Team and attended the 2016 Perfect Game National Showcase. Kjerstad was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 36th round of the 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft following his senior year of high school but did not sign in order to attend the University of Arkansas.

The 2020 First-Year Player Draft marks the first time in Orioles history that the club has had the second overall selection in the MLB Draft. The Orioles have had the number one overall selection twice: in 2019, when they selected C ADLEY RUTSCHMAN out of Oregon State University, and in 1989, when they selected RHP BEN McDONALD out of Louisiana State University. It is the first time they have had picks in the top five in consecutive years since 2011-12.

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Elias says Orioles still mulling over options for second overall pick

Posted on 08 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Even though the on-field aspect of a lengthy rebuilding effort was halted in March, general manager Mike Elias and the Orioles have remained busy preparing for this week’s unprecedented amateur draft.

With the 2020 draft shortened to just five rounds and the Orioles having only six picks at their disposal in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Elias said Monday that no decision has been made on the second overall pick with the organization still “actively discussing” five candidates. Detroit is almost universally expected to draft Arizona State first baseman Spencer Torkelson with the first overall pick while many mock drafts have projected the Orioles to select Vanderbilt infielder Austin Martin at No. 2.

Other players regarded as potential top five picks include Texas A&M left-handed pitcher Asa Lacy, Florida high school outfielder Zac Veen, Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock, and New Mexico State infielder Nick Gonzales.

Evaluators love Martin’s exit velocity and contact rates and view him as a polished hitting prospect and a good athlete, but there are some questions about where he’ll end up defensively. After not taking a pitcher until the eighth round in his first draft as Orioles general manager last year, Elias downplayed any thoughts of prioritizing positional need early.

“We have not made up our mind about our top two players on the board in preparation for the second pick,” said Elias, who continues to collect medical information and to gain a better sense of prospects’ financial demands. “We have choices that we like, and we’re trying to pick between players that we like. That’s a good thing and the most important thing, but we have not made a decision as to how we’re going to finalize that grouping, and we may not until the day of the draft.”

Baltimore also holds the first competitive balance pick at the conclusion of the first round, which has prompted speculation about Elias drafting under slot with the second pick and using those bonus savings for that 30th overall selection as well as the club’s second-round choice at 39th. It’s all about “trying to make the best investment that we can” in the second-year general manager’s words.

The Orioles selected catcher Adley Rutschman first overall last season, only the second time the club has owned the top selection in the amateur draft. Their draft pool is $13,894,300, the most among all teams this year.

“I think the short draft will constrain your ability to spread bonus pool money around — or at least the opportunity to do so,” Elias said. “If a team does sign their first pick for less than slot, they’re going to be under more pressure to apply that savings in the first few rounds. Whereas in a normal draft, you could sign one player with all of that money with an early pick, [and] you can kind of spread it out through the rest of the draft.

“We feel it’s important if you’re taking a guy with a high pick that he’s your favorite guy.”

Despite the remainder of the college baseball season being canceled in March and many high school seasons never taking place this spring, Elias has no major complaints about a unique pre-draft process that’s still gone “very smoothly” for the Orioles. Of course, scouts have been forced to rely heavily on past video with no games to attend, but technology has eased concerns that would have been a much bigger reality even 10 years ago.

The challenges stemming from the pandemic are expected to slant this draft more toward college talent, especially after the opening round. The absence of in-person work has been challenging, but it’s prompted the organization to innovate.

“Our analytics team did a great job of building a virtual draft board very quickly, and it’s really nice,” Elias said. “We can drag magnets around. Everyone can see it on their computer screen. It’s really easy to use. You can click through and have all of the player info and video that you want right there. Honestly, I think it’s something that we’re going to keep using. We may be done with physical magnets even when we get back to normal.

“It has been a little more tiring for all of us to conduct these meetings over the phone and over video. Usually, a draft room is a really energetic, fun experience, and we’re not getting that this year, which is a shame. But it hasn’t stopped us from being productive at all.”

Pessimism persists about the resumption of the 2020 season with MLB’s latest financial proposal not being received favorably by players still expecting the full prorated pay agreed upon by the sides in late March, but Elias remained positive when asked about his current concern level. What happens with the players drafted later this week and the many minor-league prospects missing out on critical seasoning remains to be seen.

“I think we’re going to play,” said Elias about the 2020 major league season. “I don’t know what the length and structure is going to be. That’s really hard to predict right now with the discussions that are ongoing. But I’m very confident we’re going to play.”

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Mancini undergoing chemo treatments, unlikely to play in 2020

Posted on 28 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Breaking his silence for the first time since mid-March, Orioles star Trey Mancini revealed he’s undergoing chemotherapy for Stage 3 colon cancer and is unlikely to play even if baseball has a 2020 season.

General manager Mike Elias said Mancini’s recovery would take “months rather than weeks” earlier this month, but the 28-year-old provided more details about his health in an article he wrote at The Players’ Tribute on Tuesday. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that’s killed tens of thousands and halted professional sports and so many other aspects of everyday life, Mancini began chemo in Baltimore two weeks ago and will receive treatments every two weeks for the next six months.

“If baseball returns in 2020, it will probably be without me,” Mancini wrote. “But I want everybody to know that I’m OK. I know reading everything and seeing that I had a malignant tumor removed from my colon [on March 12], it’s a lot to absorb — believe me, I know.

“Whenever the time comes for me to come back to baseball, I’ll be ready. But I just want to make sure that I am physically fine before I go out there and start trying to perform again at a major league level.”

After his physical at the start of spring training revealed low iron levels and prompted further testing, Mancini was eventually diagnosed with colon cancer on March 13. Indicating there were no telltale signs associated with the disease, the 2019 Most Valuable Oriole only felt more fatigued than usual at the start of spring training, but he initially chalked it up to getting older and “didn’t think for even one second that anything was seriously wrong.”

The first baseman and outfielder offered praise for the Baltimore training staff, front office, and ownership for their support and went out of his way to thank fans for their support and recognize the many people currently being impacted by the pandemic. Praised for his charitable work in the community, Mancini is already planning to help those in need when he completes his cancer treatments.

“I know that this is a terrible time for everybody,” Mancini wrote. “So many people have lost jobs, so many people have lost loved ones. After my chemo is done and when I’m totally cancer-free, I’ve got a few different ideas of what I can do.

“I’m lucky enough to have a platform that I feel allows me to make a difference for some people — even if it’s just spreading awareness about the importance of getting a physical every year.”

In a career season last year, Mancini batted .291 with 35 home runs, 38 doubles, 97 runs batted in, and an .899 on-base plus slugging percentage. He has clubbed 86 homers since making his major league debut late in the 2016 campaign and finished third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2017.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts as baseball’s shutdown continues

Posted on 13 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With baseball’s shutdown continuing indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The family of Al Kaline took out a regular obituary in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press, reflecting how unassuming the Hall of Famer nicknamed “Mr. Tiger” was. The Southern High product never forgot his Baltimore roots and collected his 3,000th hit at Memorial Stadium in 1974. What a story and life.

2. If you’re yearning for some optimism regarding a 2020 season, watch this Newsday interview with Daniel Kim, who provided insight on what’s happening in South Korea with the KBO and its goal to open the season in early May. A former Mets interpreter, Kim is a good follow on Twitter.

3. ESPN has reportedly explored the possibility of securing KBO broadcasting rights. If you’re looking for a potential rooting interest, former Orioles Hyun Soo Kim and Tyler Wilson play for the LG Twins and had strong 2019 seasons.

4. So much needs to happen before even considering MLB’s return in any capacity, but the Grapefruit-Cactus league realignment idea sounds more plausible than the Arizona-only “quarantine” concept floated early last week. Going from the AL East to the Grapefruit South division sure wouldn’t offer the rebuilding Orioles any break.

5. As a pro wrestling fan who’s watched televised shows without fans in attendance for weeks, I’d say the experience is weird and far from ideal, but I’ve been entertained. If it can work for a product so dependent on crowd interaction, that particular condition for a return plan seems tolerable.

6. The retiring Mark Reynolds could be frustrating to watch, but his 2011 blast into the club level (3:35 mark) was one of the more impressive homers at Camden Yards. How frequently he’d leave his feet playing first base was amusing, but he was much better there than at third base.

7. Wednesday will mark the 73rd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s major league debut, but this year also brings the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, which is scheduled to be celebrated this summer. I highly recommend a visit to Kansas City’s Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to any fan.

8. Speaking of anniversaries, Cal Ripken registered his 3,000th career hit 20 years ago this Wednesday. Good for him to launch the Strike Out Hunger campaign in conjunction with his new Twitter account. His message to Whit Merrifield — the active streak leader at 247 consecutive games — was fun.

9. We’re all coping without baseball in different ways, but I just can’t get into the simulated 2020 seasons some websites are using to provide content. I did notice Austin Hays already having six home runs in Baseball-Reference.com’s simulation. That’d be fun.

10. Along those lines, it’s strange to think that the Orioles would have already been a tenth of the way through the scheduled 2020 season. They would have been starting their third interleague series of the season on Tuesday, which also would have been weird this early.

11. Having watched plenty of old baseball recently, I was reminded Rick Sutcliffe pitched his five-hit shutout in 2 hours, 2 minutes to open Camden Yards 28 years ago. That was quite the Orioles debut, but the 2-0 final didn’t exactly paint an accurate picture of the ballpark’s eventual reputation.

12. I’d be embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve watched the Ken Burns “Baseball” documentary in my life, but its original release coincided with the 1994 strike that canceled the World Series. My latest viewing of it has helped amidst uncertainty of when we’ll have live baseball again.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts ahead of an Opening Day not to be

Posted on 25 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With Major League Baseball remaining shuttered ahead of what was supposed to be Opening Day on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We all know there are much bigger problems in life right now, but it’s OK to miss baseball. I certainly do and have already thought about how great that first ballpark hot dog is going to be. As Buck Showalter often cited the adage, “This too shall pass.”

2. The timing of Trey Mancini being diagnosed with colon cancer coinciding with baseball’s shutdown made the news even more difficult to process. Thankfully, Orioles officials have been very upbeat about his health and prognosis since then. He’s a special individual.

3. Mike Elias has reiterated there being no shortcuts or fast-forward buttons for Baltimore’s lengthy rebuilding process. I guess we didn’t plan on there being a pause button of this degree. I feel for those minor league players who already face a very small window to really make it in baseball.

4. I wasn’t a believer in the spring renaissance of Chris Davis, but the interesting stat was only three strikeouts in 26 plate appearances, a stretch of contact that was rare in even his best seasons. I hope we get to see whether any of that was real sooner than later.

5. MLB’s #OpeningDayAtHome idea is a good one, but I enjoy older games in which I don’t recall many details. I’d prefer any decent Opening Day games from the past. As I write, I am watching a 1992 Mike Mussina start against Seattle on YouTube and haven’t a clue what happens.

6. With Noah Syndergaard becoming the latest star pitcher set for Tommy John surgery, I can’t help but wonder about the health of pitchers during and after this indefinite shutdown. Pitching arms can be so fragile even with regular routines and schedules.

7. The Orioles — and their fans — endured 108 losses last season to be slotted for the No. 2 pick in June’s amateur draft. It will be interesting to see how MLB adjusts if the draft is postponed or canceled altogether. Again, these are relative problems, but there are no good answers.

8. I haven’t had the chance to read Joe Posnanski’s entire “The Baseball 100” series yet, but this piece on Eddie Murray is just a sampling of his superb writing. “There was nothing artificial about him, nothing fake, nothing theatrical.” I never turn down a chance to read about Steady Eddie.

9. The Houston scandal fallout feels like an eternity ago, but credit to Richard Bleier for reminding us of the Astros’ shame in a lighthearted way.

10. One of the subplots stemming from Adam Jones signing with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan was his opportunity to potentially play in the Tokyo Olympics. I hope the former Orioles great has the chance in 2021, especially after his heroics in the World Baseball Classic a few years ago.

11. Younger Orioles fans know Earl Weaver was a Hall of Fame manager and undoubtedly have laughed at clips of his heated arguments with umpires, but this Moneyball-like look at him and his great clubs is really well done. Talk about someone ahead of his time.

12. I always remember the following Rogers Hornsby quote at the conclusion of the World Series, but it carries a different meaning right now. Here’s to a new spring arriving for baseball and in countless other ways before we know it.

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Mancini has malignant tumor removed; recovery timetable unknown

Posted on 12 March 2020 by Luke Jones

On a day needing no further reminder that there are bigger things than baseball, the Orioles announced Trey Mancini underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his colon.

The tumor was discovered during a colonoscopy last week, which prompted the 27-year-old outfielder and first baseman to leave the team last weekend in preparation for “a non-baseball-related medical procedure.” The surgery was described as “successful” in a statement released by the organization, but lab results and the timetable for his recovery won’t be known until next week.

“The outpouring of love and support I have received has made an extremely tough week so much better,” Mancini said in a statement. “I have the best family, friends, fans, and teammates imaginable. I am also eternally thankful for the Orioles front office, our athletic trainers, and the entire medical staff for everything they have done to help me during this time.

“Finally, I would like to thank everyone for their prayers and kind words, which have furthered my excitement to get back to playing the game I love.”

Mancini felt ill during the early stages of spring training and last appeared in a Grapefruit League game on March 2, but the organization remained tight-lipped on details out of respect to its star player after he left Sarasota last weekend. Players expressed their concern and support for an unspecified ailment, raising outside concern for Mancini’s health.

Turning 28 next week, Mancini was voted the 2019 Most Valuable Oriole after hitting .291 and setting career highs with 35 home runs, 38 doubles, 97 runs batted in, and an .899 on-base plus slugging percentage last season. Finishing third in American League Rookie of the Year voting in 2017, the right-handed slugger has clubbed 86 home runs since making his major league debut late in 2016, becoming the leader of a rebuilding club short on name recognition.

Highly respected by teammates and coaches as a player and person, Mancini is active in the community and even took over former Orioles star Adam Jones’ charity tailgate event last year.

“We are doing everything in our power to ensure Trey recovers fully, and we can’t wait to see him back on the field as soon as possible,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said in a statement.

The news came just two hours after Major League Baseball announced the cancellation of the remainder of spring training games as well as the decision to delay the start of the regular season for at least two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Baltimore had been scheduled to host the New York Yankees for Opening Day at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on March 26.

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Orioles return Rule 5 pitchers, reassign Rutschman to minor-league camp

Posted on 06 March 2020 by Luke Jones

On the same day the Orioles reassigned 2019 first overall pick Adley Rutschman to minor-league camp, general manager Mike Elias announced two Rule 5 pitchers would be returned to their former clubs.

Despite faring well in limited Grapefruit League action, right-handers Michael Rucker and Brandon Bailey were waived with Opening Day still nearly three weeks away. Elias cited the challenge of keeping Rule 5 pitchers with 2020’s new roster rules as the reason Rucker and Bailey wouldn’t be retained. With the 25-year-old pitchers clearing waivers, Rucker has been returned to the Chicago Cubs organization while Bailey goes back to Houston.

After posting a 4.28 ERA in 75 2/3 innings at Double-A Tennessee last season, Rucker pitched five scoreless innings this spring, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out three. Bailey pitched to a 3.30 ERA in 92 2/3 innings for Double-A Corpus Christi last season and allowed one run and three hits in four innings of Grapefruit League action.

Last year, the Orioles retained Rule 5 shortstop Richie Martin for the entire season and kept him in the organization, but Elias returned Rule 5 utility player Drew Jackson to the Los Angeles Dodgers in early April.

The decision to part with Rucker and Bailey so early in the spring is quite the contrast from Dan Duquette’s contending Orioles clubs of several years ago that frequently played shorthanded just to keep marginal Rule 5 talent in the organization. In the midst of a multiyear rebuilding effort, Elias apparently didn’t see the long-term value to justify carrying overmatched pitchers in the majors, especially as part of a bullpen likely to be very busy once again in 2020.

Reassigning Rutschman was hardly a surprise as the Orioles merely wanted to give the 22-year-old catcher a taste of major league camp before his first full professional season. The organization’s No. 1 prospect collected a single and a walk while striking out five times in 10 plate appearances. Rutschman is likely to begin 2020 at Single-A Frederick after finishing last season with Single-A Delmarva.

The Orioles also optioned right-handed pitcher Dean Kremer and outfielder Ryan McKenna to Triple-A Norfolk. Part of the Manny Machado trade and a candidate to be promoted to the majors later this year, the 24-year-old Kremer tossed 5 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out five in three appearances this spring. McKenna, 23, went 2-for-14 with two runs batted in, a walk, and two stolen bases in the Grapefruit League. Both Kremer and McKenna were moved to the 40-man roster last November to be protected from the Rule 5 draft.

Baltimore also reassigned catcher Martin Cervenka and pitchers Cristian Alvarado, Marcos Diplán, Hunter Cervenka, and Brady Rogers to minor-league camp on Friday. The Orioles now have 54 players remaining in major league camp.

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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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