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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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Baltimore Orioles' David Hess, right, reacts as New York Yankees' Gleyber Torres, left, runs the bases after hitting a home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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All bets off on Orioles’ potential path toward infamy

Posted on 24 June 2019 by Luke Jones

We knew this season would be bad for the Orioles.

When the most optimistic of forecasts suggest a club might find a way to avoid 100 losses, you know you’re nowhere close to being in a good place. But general manager Mike Elias and the new Orioles regime made no false promises after a 115-loss season, easily the worst campaign in club history.

There were never going to be shortsighted moves made in the name of a quick fix, nor should there have been. The goal is to build a championship-caliber organization in the years to come — not to exhaust enough resources to lose 92 games instead of the number with which the Orioles will ultimately finish. Signing Manny Machado and Bryce Harper wouldn’t have transformed this year’s team into anything close to being a contender, let alone spending money on lesser players to try to grab a few extra wins that no one would have cared about in the big picture.

In other words, no one should be surprised Baltimore owns the worst record in baseball as the season nears its midpoint. But that hasn’t made it any easier to watch on a nightly basis — if you still have the stomach for it in late June. Those suggesting it couldn’t get worse or citing historical examples as a reason to anticipate some slight improvement in the win-loss department were clearly wrong.

After a 1-6 road trip that included three losses to a Seattle team that had gone 19-44 since a 13-2 start to begin the season, the Orioles are now on pace to lose more games than they did last year. Brandon Hyde’s club has gone 9-34 since last winning back-to-back games to improve to 13-22 on May 6. Over that seven-week stretch without consecutive victories, the Orioles went a combined 4-9 against the Mariners, Detroit, San Francisco, and Toronto, four of the seven worst teams in the majors right now.

Baltimore hasn’t won a series since April 24, the day before the start of the NFL draft. A month from Tuesday, the Ravens will hold their first full-squad training camp practice, and there’s little confidence the Orioles will have won a series by then either.

The other phases of the game have been bad, of course, but the pitching has been the biggest culprit as the Orioles entered Monday with the worst ERA (5.85) in the majors, a half-run worse than the 29th-place Mariners. They’re on pace to obliterate the 2016 Reds’ major league record for home runs allowed by 66, but it’s at least fair to note three other clubs are on pace to break Cincinnati’s mark in this homer-crazy 2019. The Orioles rank last in starter ERA (5.59) and next to last in bullpen ERA (6.16) with only Washington to thank for being slightly worse in relief.

The hope was the Orioles would find another pitcher or two in a mold somewhat similar to John Means, who’s been the most pleasant surprise of the season with his 2.67 ERA. You’d like to see more young hurlers take advantage of these generous opportunities to at least perform at a semi-respectable level, but that hasn’t happened beyond a fleeting week or two for any given name, a frustrating reality becoming more audible in Hyde’s post-game comments. He knew what he was getting into taking this job last December, but it can’t be easy managing this on a nightly basis.

Evident by the “Norfolk Shuttle” working overtime in recent weeks, this club just doesn’t have the pitching to even approach being competitive on too many nights. In games in which Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, or Means have started, the Orioles are 17-25, which is still bad but far from historically poor. But they’re an unthinkable 5-31 when anyone else starts, which is 1899 Cleveland Spiders kind of terrible. Alex Cobb making only three starts before undergoing season-ending hip surgery doomed a rotation that was already far too thin.

What happens if Cashner, Bundy, or both are traded by next month’s deadline? What if Means’ shoulder issue becomes a bigger problem than anticipated? Other than prospect Keegan Akin, we’ve already seen most of what Triple-A Norfolk has to offer in the pitching department, and the answer isn’t pretty.

Nearly halfway through a season from which many fans have already tuned out, it’s time to ask if the 2019 Orioles could be the worst team we’ve seen in the major leagues since at least World War II. Yes, that includes the 1962 New York Mets, who went 40-120 in their inaugural season and are viewed as the Unholy Grail of modern baseball ineptitude.

Currently on pace to finish 45-117, the Orioles own a minus-181 run differential through 78 games. Only six teams over the last decade have finished an entire season with a run differential of minus-200 or worse. The last major league team to finish with a minus-300 run differential was the 2003 Detroit Tigers, who went 43-119 and scored 337 fewer runs than they allowed.

The Orioles’ current run differential translates to just short of minus-376 for an entire season, which is dramatically worse than last year’s club (minus-270) and the 1988 team (minus-239). The 1962 Mets finished at minus-331, so that tells you what kind of pace the Orioles are keeping as they sport just four June wins entering the final week of the month.

If you buy into the value of run differential to predict future wins and losses, you might want to take a trip or two to Camden Yards to witness history before the season’s over. The Orioles have played like a 128-loss team over their last 43 games, more than a quarter of the season. And the numbers say they haven’t been particularly unlucky either.

This could be the worst major league team of the modern era. All bets are off trying to argue otherwise at this point.

It’s worse than most of us even thought it would be.

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Orioles continue bullpen shuffle by recalling Scott, Kline

Posted on 21 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles continue to seek fresh arms and palatable answers in the American League’s worst bullpen.

After optioning relievers Paul Fry and Evan Phillips to Triple-A Norfolk early Friday morning, Baltimore recalled left-hander Tanner Scott from the Tides and right-hander pitcher Branden Kline from Double-A Bowie for the second contest of a four-game set in Seattle. With starting pitcher John Means going to the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain a day earlier, manager Brandon Hyde was forced into a bullpen game for the second time in three days with lefty Sean Gilmartin opening Friday’s tilt against the Mariners.

The hard-throwing Scott had gotten on a role for the Tides in recent weeks, pitching to a 1.96 ERA and striking out 22 batters over his last 18 1/3 innings. The 24-year-old has struck out a very impressive 13.1 batters per nine innings over 61 2/3 frames in the majors, but control problems and extreme inconsistency prompted demotions both at the end of spring training and after a 2 1/2-week stint with Baltimore in April.

Scott had a 3.57 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 10 walks in 22 2/3 innings with Norfolk this season, but he will need to improve upon his career 5.69 mark in the majors to stick with the Orioles this time around.

Kline, 27, making his major league debut two months ago was an uplifting story after his well-chronicled injury history in the minors, but his initial success in the majors was fleeting as he had been scored upon in five straight appearances with the Orioles before being optioned to the Baysox earlier this month. The right-hander has a 5.89 ERA in 18 1/3 innings with Baltimore this season.

Fry had been one of Hyde’s few trusted relievers all season until he’d surrendered six earned runs in his last five appearances covering 2 1/3 innings. The 26-year-old lefty owns a 4.75 ERA in 30 1/3 innings this season and wouldn’t figure to be in the minors for long.

Phillips had been recalled for his fifth stint with the Orioles Thursday before once again being sent out. He has a 7.79 ERA in 17 1/3 innings for Baltimore in 2019.

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Orioles designate Straily for assignment, place Means on injured list

Posted on 20 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles made a roster move that felt inevitable and another that came as a surprise prior to the start of their four-game set in Seattle.

Struggling right-hander Dan Straily was designated for assignment Thursday while lefty starter John Means was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left shoulder strain. The Orioles activated outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. from the IL and recalled right-handed reliever Evan Phillips to take their spots on the 25-man roster.

Means last pitched Sunday and told reporters in Seattle he’d felt some tightness in his shoulder at the end of the outing against Boston, but he downplayed the severity and didn’t undergo an MRI, describing it as a muscular issue. The rookie expects to come off the IL when eligible next Thursday, the day before the start of a three-game series against Cleveland. Means has easily been the most pleasant surprise in a very difficult season for the last-place Orioles, pitching to a 6-4 record and a 2.67 ERA in 70 2/3 innings.

With Means originally scheduled to start Friday, the Orioles will now conduct a bullpen game against the Mariners.

Straily was signed in early April to provide a veteran presence in the starting rotation, but the 30-year-old never found any semblance of footing with Baltimore and had allowed an incredible 22 home runs in just 47 2/3 innings. His intense struggles led to a demotion to the bullpen in late May, but Straily had allowed 13 earned runs and seven homers in his last two appearances covering only 3 2/3 innings to elevate his season ERA to 9.82, leading to his removal from the 40-man roster.

Manager Brandon Hyde expressed hope that Straily would remain with the organization and try to get himself straightened out in the minor leagues. Entering 2019 with a career 4.23 ERA in seven major league seasons, Straily signed a one-year, $575,000 deal that included a $250,000 bonus if he were to be traded. He was released by Miami at the end of spring training and posted a 4.12 ERA with the Marlins last season.

Right fielder and first baseman Trey Mancini was not in Thursday’s lineup after being hit by a pitch on the left elbow in the first inning of Wednesday’s loss in Oakland, but he is only dealing with a contusion and could return to action in the next day or two.

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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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Orioles place left fielder Smith on seven-day concussion list

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

As if the mounting losses weren’t enough, the injuries are now piling up for the last-place Orioles as left fielder Dwight Smith Jr. was placed on the seven-day concussion injured list Friday afternoon.

Smith injured his head and shoulder crashing into the left-field wall in Thursday’s loss at Texas. The roster move comes just a day after recently-promoted outfielder DJ Stewart was sent to the 10-day injured list with a sprained right ankle sustained in a collision with infielder Hanser Alberto in Wednesday’s defeat, the same night in which infielder Jonathan Villar and catcher Pedro Severino also left with minor injuries. Manager Brandon Hyde was so shorthanded for the final game of the Rangers series that Chris Davis made his first start in right field in three years — and made a key error in the 4-3 defeat.

Former Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander was recalled Friday to take Smith’s place on the 25-man roster.

Acquired from Toronto for international signing bonus slots in early March, Smith has been one of the few bright spots for a club currently on pace for its second straight sub-50 win season. The 26-year-old leads the Orioles with 41 runs batted in and ranks third in home runs (11) behind only Renato Nunez (15) and Trey Mancini (13). In 243 plate appearances, Smith is batting .249 with a .759 on-base plus slugging percentage.

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Orioles’ first 10 rounds reflect new regime, reputation of 2019 draft

Posted on 05 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The first 10 rounds of the 2019 amateur draft have said plenty about the new Orioles regime and reinforced the prevailing reputation of this year’s class.

The selection of Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman first overall was an easy choice needing no interpretation, but general manager Mike Elias taking up-the-middle position players with his next seven picks is quite a shift from the pitching-heavy drafts of recent years under former executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and former director of amateur scouting Gary Rajsich. After drafting pitchers with 22 of their 32 total picks in the first 10 rounds of the previous three drafts, the Orioles didn’t take a pitcher until the eighth round Tuesday and took only two arms — both from college — with their first 11 picks.

Such a ratio would be more unusual if not for the overwhelming perception of this being one of the worst pitching drafts in recent memory as no pitcher was taken in the first six spots for the first time ever. Just 10 of the first 30 picks Monday were pitchers, a sharp departure from the last decade in which 14.5 pitchers were taken with the first 30 choices on average.

No one would describe this farm system as being anywhere close to deep in the pitching department — especially at the advanced levels — but the previous regime’s last few drafts deserve some credit for adding enough talented pitchers to at least make Elias feel better about not reaching for inferior arms over the first two days of the draft. DL Hall, Grayson Rodriguez, Keegan Akin, Zac Lowther, Blaine Knight, Brenan Hanifee, Michael Baumann, and Drew Rom all currently appear on Baltimore’s MLB.com top 30 prospects list after being drafted from 2016-18 and virtually all are having good 2019 campaigns. Perhaps College of Charleston right-hander Griffin McLarty and VCU righty Connor Gillispie will join that collection of promising talents in the not-too-distant future after being drafted Tuesday.

The lack of pitcher selections doesn’t tell the whole story about the Orioles’ first 11 picks, however.

It’s no coincidence that Elias drafted three shortstops and three center fielders as he’s clearly trying to upgrade the organization’s athleticism. Too often in the past, Baltimore would select corner players lacking positional flexibility, which can lead to questionable team defense and logjams like the one we’ve witnessed at first base for years. You draft an abundance of shortstops having the ability to play other infield spots or even the outfield if necessary. Similarly, a surplus of center-field prospects should provide plenty of plus-defense corner outfielders along the way.

In other words, if you’re going to draft a player already at a corner spot in high school or college, you better believe his bat has a good chance of being special.

Elias also followed the selection of Rutschman by drafting catchers in the sixth and 10th rounds after the Orioles had taken only one backstop in the previous five drafts combined. That’s probably a reflection of the organization’s current minor-league catchers as much as anything else, but you can never have too much depth at such a physically demanding position.

To be clear, none of these ideas are revolutionary concepts among well-run organizations that excel in adding and developing young talent, but it’s refreshing seeing the Orioles value up-the-middle position talent. Of course, we won’t know how well these picks will fare for at least a few years.

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Orioles don’t overthink tabbing Rutschman as new face of their rebuild

Posted on 04 June 2019 by Luke Jones

A switch-hitting catcher with a tricky last name to spell and already used to wearing orange and black.

The Matt Wieters comparisons were made long before the Orioles officially made Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman the first overall pick of the 2019 amateur draft and the first selection of the Mike Elias era Monday. Wieters didn’t live up to the immense expectations — remember MattWietersFacts.com? — as the fifth overall pick of the 2007 draft despite still being a four-time All-Star selection and a two-time Gold Glove winner, but Rutschman being the consensus top pick throughout the pre-draft process and only the sixth catcher ever to be taken first overall speaks to how special the baseball world believes him to be with some going as far as calling him the best draft prospect since Bryce Harper nine years ago.

Not even Wieters’ legend at Georgia Tech included being walked with the bases loaded in an NCAA tournament game like Rutschman was last week. He was also the Most Outstanding Player of last year’s College World Series, giving him an advanced winning pedigree with a national championship under his belt.

Just days after acknowledging the risks of overthinking the No. 1 pick, Elias came to the same conclusion as the many pundits that Rutschman projects as a franchise catcher, an entity so rare in today’s game that it’s become devalued by some. And considering Houston selected a catcher no earlier than the third round in Elias’ tenure helping run its drafts from 2012-18, you can’t accuse the Baltimore executive of overvaluing the position. It’s worth noting, however, that Elias began his scouting career in St. Louis where Yadier Molina has anchored the Cardinals for 15 years and been a major part of two World Series titles and an additional National League championship.

In other words, he’s seen how special a catcher able to impact both sides of the ball can be and believes the 21-year-old Rutschman will be that caliber of player.

“He’s a team leader on and off the field,” said Elias in a statement. “He’s everything you want and he plays a premium defensive position with athleticism that gives him versatility to play elsewhere, as needed. Adley is a future fixture for this organization.

“The amount of work that goes into what he’s done and becoming the No. 1 pick is not something that’s ordinary. I met Adley this winter and was immediately struck by him and impressed by his maturity and leadership.”

Of course, there are no guarantees, especially at a position where careers are historically shorter than at other defensive spots. Perhaps time will prove Bobby Witt Jr. as the better long-term investment, but you must mention misses like Tim Beckham and Matt Bush if you’re going to cite Carlos Correa, Alex Rodriguez, and Chipper Jones as lucrative successes in support of drafting a high school shortstop first overall.

Some have argued Rutschman will develop too rapidly for the rebuilding Orioles to take full advantage of his prime catching years, but the value of having an already-established above-average defensive catcher nurturing young pitchers in the coming years shouldn’t be diminished. A rebuilding team doesn’t just go from really bad to really good overnight, so an asset like Rutschman could aid in the acclimation of young arms to the majors.

“They always talk about how he’s so good at hitting, but I don’t think they understand how good he is behind the plate dealing with pitchers, blocking balls, and throwing guys out,” Orioles infield prospect and former Oregon State teammate Cadyn Grenier said. “Just about everything you could want from a catcher, he does it phenomenally. He’s an amazing teammate. He’s a really hard worker, he’s a lot of fun to be around, he’s really easy to like.”

If Rutschman approaches the territory of Joe Mauer, the last catcher drafted first overall in 2001, Elias and the Orioles will obviously be thrilled, even if he too moves to first base eventually. If the first decade of Rutschman’s career resembles former NL Most Valuable Player and three-time World Series champion Buster Posey, the pick will be a wild success no matter what happens after that.

Even if Rutschman doesn’t reach his ceiling and has a career more comparable to that of Wieters, Elias probably won’t be as devastated as you’d think considering the former Orioles catcher’s 18.3 career wins above replacement rank seventh in the 2007 draft, just two spots lower than where he was originally drafted. We so often evaluate players based only on our initial expectations without considering what the alternatives were at the time. There is no definitive crystal ball, no matter how refined predictive analytics are becoming.

Supporters of any pick will always imagine the best possible outcome while critics of a choice envision the worst-case scenario, but no one can know for sure — including Elias. The truth is even the first overall pick of a draft won’t make or break an entire rebuild, but the Orioles need Rutschman to help speed up the process at the very least.

A catcher going first overall is rare and comes with some risk, but Rutschman may prove special enough to carry the great responsibility of being the new face of the Orioles’ rebuild and a franchise player.

In the end, Elias didn’t overthink that consensus belief.

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Sisco recalled by Orioles to begin road trip in Texas

Posted on 03 June 2019 by Luke Jones

On the same day the Orioles took Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman as their catcher of the future with the first overall pick of the 2019 amateur draft, Chance Sisco will have his latest chance to stake his claim to that job in the present.

After optioning catcher Austin Wynns to Triple-A Norfolk after Sunday’s 8-1 loss to San Francisco, Baltimore has recalled Sisco for the start of a road trip to Texas and Houston. The 24-year-old was batting .289 with 20 extra-base hits and a .914 on-base plus slugging percentage in 193 plate appearances with the Tides this season. He joins corner outfielder DJ Stewart as the second Norfolk player to be promoted to the big leagues for strong performance in the last week.

Regarded as a top-100 prospect in baseball as recently as 2018, Sisco struggled mightily in 63 games with the Orioles last season, batting .181 with 66 strikeouts in 184 plate appearances. Those difficulties followed him back to Norfolk where he hit only .242 with a .696 OPS in 151 plate appearances. Most expected the lefty-hitting catcher to make this year’s rebuilding club out of spring training, but Sisco was demoted in late March despite posting a stout 1.298 OPS in the Grapefruit League, his second straight strong spring.

While some concerns remain about a perceived long swing that was seemingly exposed in the majors last season, Sisco’s defense remains his biggest question mark as many have speculated whether he’ll need to shift to another position. He has thrown out just six of 33 runners attempting to steal in the International League this season.

It remains to be seen how manager Brandon Hyde will distribute playing time as the 25-year-old Pedro Severino has been one of the bigger surprises on the team after being claimed off waivers from Washington at the end of spring training. Previously regarded as a defense-first catcher, Severino is batting .273 with 10 extra-base hits and an .834 OPS in 115 plate appearances and has thrown out nine of 15 runners attempting to steal.

In case it weren’t clear, there was no relationship between Sisco’s promotion and the Orioles’ decision to draft Rutschman, the consensus top player in this year’s draft.

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First overall pick begins real judgment of Orioles general manager Elias

Posted on 02 June 2019 by Luke Jones

The first six months of Mike Elias’ tenure as Orioles general manager represented the soft opening.

That’s not to say Elias hasn’t been hard at work building the infrastructure of a 21st-century baseball operations department, but the advances in technology and analytics as well as the foundation being laid internationally were prerequisites for his mid-November hiring. Brandon Hyde was a perfectly reasonable choice as manager, but the greatest skippers in baseball history wouldn’t win with this current group, making that decision difficult to evaluate and not all that critical in the present if we’re being honest. Elias’ earliest player acquisitions have brought a predictable mix of modest intrigue (Pedro Severino and Dwight Smith Jr.) and inconsequential failure (Nate Karns and Dan Straily).

The 18-41 start to 2019 has been miserable to watch on a nightly basis, but it was expected for an organization that was reduced to rubble last season. In the long run, the Orioles being on track to secure the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft — they own the majors’ worst record and worst run differential — is a better outcome than a big-league roster lacking meaningful future pieces playing above its capabilities and still being no more than a below-average team while worsening draft position.

The first meaningful judgment of the Elias era begins Monday when the Orioles will make the first overall selection in the amateur draft for just the second time in club history. The top pick is as much symbolic as it is critical for a fan base in need of some light at the end of a dark, cold tunnel of losing. Baltimore will have the first opportunity of the 30 major league clubs to secure a cornerstone player, but we know the volatility of the baseball draft doesn’t discriminate as even model organizations — like Elias’ former team in Houston, for example — are prone to significant misses.

Still, this top pick will undoubtedly begin shaping the 36-year-old executive’s resume away from Jeff Luhnow, whom he worked for in St. Louis and with the Astros.

“I don’t look at it that way at all. It’s a draft. There’s a menu of players at the top of the draft,” said Elias when asked if this first selection would define him. “It’s kind of different every year, so there’s only so much control that I have over who’s available and the type of player it is. But in terms of defining the player having gone first, I do think it’s a really dramatic thing for a player to be the first pick.”

In reality, the potential selection of Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., or even an under-slot curveball like Vanderbilt outfielder JJ Bleday won’t be the be-all and end-all for the rebuilding process or even for the 2019 draft. The Orioles were 28-69 last season before dealing Manny Machado at the All-Star break, which is the only reminder you need that one player — even a great one — means only so much to a team’s fate. It would be more fruitful for Elias to come away with a collection of legitimate prospects over the next few days rather than putting all hope in the chances of the first pick being a generational talent and coming away with nothing else of significance.

For perspective, the 1973 amateur draft brought Hall of Famer Eddie Murray (third round) and 1979 Cy Young Award winner Mike Flanagan (seventh round) despite first-round pick Mike Parrott appearing in only three games for the Orioles. In 1978, Baltimore drafted Hall of Famer Cal Ripken (second round) and future 20-game winner Mike Boddicker (sixth round) despite first-round pick Robert Boyce never advancing beyond Single A. In other words, as much as Elias and the Orioles want to nail the first pick, there are multiple paths to a fruitful draft with thorough scouting, savvy use of data, and some luck along the way.

It remains to be seen whether the top pick will indeed be Rutschman, the overwhelming consensus choice among draft pundits. Some pointing to the expected lengthy timeline of the Orioles’ rebuild have argued Witt as the better choice when factoring his age and the projected longevity of a shortstop compared to a catcher. Others wonder if Elias might try to duplicate the strategy of the 2012 draft in which the Astros surprisingly drafted future All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa, signed him well below slot, and used the savings in their bonus pool to sign a few more high-school talents who were otherwise prepared to go to college.

Viewed as one of the better young minds in the game long before coming to Baltimore, Elias was hired for this very moment, which is why his decision should be trusted. Naturally, it won’t take long for the second-guessing to begin if the player he selects struggles and the talent on which he passes pops quickly for other clubs, but that’s just the nature of the business.

Fans suffering through another miserable season will dream of the Orioles selecting their next Hall of Famer Monday night, but there are no guarantees. Plenty of “can’t miss” prospects turned out to be busts while some of the game’s greatest players were passed up multiple times by every team, making the rest of the draft that much more important.

But this first pick will be the first decision on which Elias is really judged, even if he doesn’t want to overstate its significance to the big picture.

“There’s different ways of looking at it, and you would be surprised when you get into a draft room and you have 30 people weighing in, the lack of consensus that can occur,” Elias said. “We hear all about how we think about things. We probably overthink about things too much, but it’s a big decision, so we’ll do the best we can.”

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