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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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Orioles elevate Mountcastle, three others to 40-man roster

Posted on 20 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have protected 2019 International League MVP Ryan Mountcastle and three other prospects who were eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft by placing them on their 40-man roster.

The others were Triple-A Norfolk starting pitchers Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer and Double-A outfielder Ryan McKenna. Those additions leave Baltimore with one open spot on the 40-man roster, which could be used to make a selection in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 12.

The 2019 Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year winner, Mountcastle completed an impressive season with the Tides in which he batted .312 with 25 home runs, 35 doubles, 83 runs batted in, and an .871 on-base plus slugging percentage, making the decision to protect the 22-year-old a no-brainer. Some were surprised the first baseman and left fielder didn’t receive a September promotion, but general manager Mike Elias has remained steadfast in his desire to see Mountcastle improve his defense that’s prompted multiple position changes and refine his plate discipline after he walked just 24 times in 553 plate appearances last season.

Those developmental goals — as well as the manipulation of service time — will likely keep Mountcastle in Norfolk for the start of 2020.

Akin, 24, is coming off an uneven season in which he posted a 4.73 ERA and walked 4.9 batters per nine innings, but that came in a high run-scoring environment in the International League. The lefty struck out an impressive 10.5 batters per nine inning at Triple A and is likely to be promoted to the big leagues at some point in 2020.

A bright spot in the Manny Machado trade return, Kremer overcame an oblique injury in the spring to post a 2.98 ERA and strike out 9.2 batters per nine innings at Bowie. The 23-year-old right-hander struggled in four starts at Norfolk, but he cemented his status as a legitimate pitching prospect with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Kremer struck out an impressive 122 batters in 113 2/3 innings in the minors in 2019.

Unlike the aforementioned trio, McKenna wasn’t considered a sure thing to be protected after posting an underwhelming .232 average and .686 OPS with Bowie in 2019. However, his above-average defense in center field and the memory of his 2018 breakout first half with Single-A Frederick made the speedy 22-year-old a possibility to be selected by another major league club eyeing a defense-first reserve outfielder, especially with teams now allowed to carry a 26th player on the roster.

The biggest omission from the 40-man roster was 2016 first-round pick Cody Sedlock, who overcame consecutive injury-riddled seasons to post a 2.84 ERA and a 9.5 per nine strikeout rate split between Frederick and Bowie in 2019. Exposing the 24-year-old right-hander to the Rule 5 draft carries risk, but his bounce-back performance came at an advanced age for the Carolina League — where he spent most of the season — and his previous two years could prompt clubs to pass on him next month.

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