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Stewart, Diaz headline second wave of Orioles’ spring cuts

Posted on 10 March 2019 by Luke Jones

Former first-round pick and outfielder DJ Stewart headlined the Orioles’ second round of spring cuts with the start of the 2019 season just 2 1/2 weeks away.

Despite making his major league debut and performing well enough last September to put himself in the conversation for a starting job entering spring training, Stewart was optioned to Triple-A Norfolk Sunday while other young outfielders such as Austin Hays, Anthony Santander, Joey Rickard, and the recently-acquired Dwight Smith Jr. remain in major league camp. The 25-year-old Stewart batted .250 with three home runs and an .890 on-base plus slugging percentage in 47 plate appearances for Baltimore last season, but his .267 average and .767 OPS in 33 plate appearances this spring didn’t distinguish him from the candidates vying for major league jobs. There are also concerns about Stewart’s throwing arm in right as he’s spent most of his professional career as a left fielder.

Stewart wasn’t the only outfielder cut on Sunday as top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz was reassigned to minor-league camp. Despite an impressive .333 average and .839 OPS in his first spring training with Baltimore, the 22-year-old Diaz was always expected to begin the 2019 season in the minors and was in camp as a non-roster invitee. The centerpiece acquisition of last July’s Manny Machado trade could make his major league debut at some point later this season, but Diaz has yet to play above the Double-A level and a rebuilding organization was in no rush to begin his service clock this quickly.

The Orioles also reassigned top infield prospect Ryan Mountcastle to minor-league camp. The 22-year-old saw extensive time at first base this spring after beginning his professional career as a shortstop and moving to third base two years ago. Mountcastle batted .286 with a homer and a .784 OPS in 31 Grapefruit League plate appearances.

Right-handed pitcher Dillon Tate was optioned to Double-A Bowie while right-hander Luis Ortiz was optioned to Norfolk on Sunday. Tate was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Zack Britton trade while Ortiz came from Milwaukee in the Jonathan Schoop trade.

Catcher Martin Cervenka, left-hander Sean Gilmartin, and right-hander Bo Schultz were also reassigned to minor-league camp.

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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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Three Orioles prospects named to Baseball America’s top 100 list

Posted on 24 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Orioles remain in the early stages of what’s expected to be a long rebuild, but the farm system isn’t completely bare for new general manager Mike Elias.

Outfielder Yusniel Diaz, left-handed pitcher DL Hall, and third baseman Ryan Mountcastle were named to Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list released Wednesday. It was the second straight year in which three Baltimore prospects were included in the publication’s preseason list.

Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers as the centerpiece of the Manny Machado trade last July, Diaz ranked 37th on the list after batting .285 with 11 home runs, 15 doubles, 45 runs batted in, and 12 stolen bases in 416 plate appearances at the Double-A level last season. The 22-year-old Cuban outfielder also posted a .392 on-base percentage and .449 slugging percentage.

Diaz homered twice in the MLB All-Star Futures Game just days before being traded to the Orioles, but he struggled with his new organization, hitting just .239 with a .732 on-base plus slugging percentage in 152 plate appearances for Bowie. His speed and arm give him the ability to play all three outfield spots, and the organization hopes his uptick in power during his age-21 season will continue into 2019.

Ranked 54th in Baseball America’s top 100, the 20-year-old Hall was Baltimore’s first-round pick in the 2017 draft and thrived in his first full professional season, posting a 2.10 ERA in 94 1/3 innings at low Single-A Delmarva. The lefty averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings and allowed only 1.17 walks and hits per nine innings. His mid-to-low 90s fastball and curveball are considered plus pitches while Hall continues to refine his changeup, giving him a high ceiling in an organization long criticized for its inability to produce quality starting pitching.

Mountcastle is on the preseason list for the second straight year, dropping from No. 71 in 2018 to 90th this year. That drop is no reflection of what the 21-year-old did at the plate for Double-A Bowie, batting .297 with 13 homers, 19 doubles, 59 RBIs, and an .806 OPS in 428 plate appearances. Few doubt the 2015 first-round pick’s ability to hit at any level, but questions remains about where he’ll fit defensively after he was already moved from shortstop to third base in 2017. An organization source predicted last fall that Mountcastle would end up at first base, but Elias and the new regime will have the chance to make their own assessments.

The trio also appeared on the Baseball Prospectus top 101 prospect list released earlier this week with Diaz at No. 44, Mountcastle ranking 51st, and Hall coming in at No. 92

Despite ranking 21st on last January’s Baseball America top 100 list, outfielder Austin Hays was left off after an injury-plagued season that limited him to just 327 plate appearances. The 23-year-old batted only .242 with 12 home runs and a .703 OPS in 288 plate appearances at Bowie before undergoing ankle surgery in September.

Catcher Chance Sisco was on Baseball America’s list in each of the previous two years before a frustrating 2018 campaign in which he bounced between the Orioles and Triple-A Norfolk. Questions have persisted about his defense behind the plate, but Sisco, 23, also struggled mightily at the plate in 2018, batting just .181 with 66 strikeouts in 184 plate appearances for Baltimore and even posting an unimpressive .696 OPS in 151 plate appearances with Norfolk.

Below are the Orioles who have appeared on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list since 2008:

2019: OF Yusniel Diaz (37th), LHP DL Hall (54th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (90th)
2018: OF Austin Hays (21st), C Chance Sisco (68th), 3B Ryan Mountcastle (71st)
2017: C Chance Sisco (57th)
2016: none
2015: RHP Dylan Bundy (48th), RHP Hunter Harvey (68th)
2014: RHP Dylan Bundy (15th), RHP Kevin Gausman (20th), LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (65th)
2013: RHP Dylan Bundy (2nd), RHP Kevin Gausman (26th)
2012: RHP Dylan Bundy (10th), SS Manny Machado (11th), 2B Jonathan Schoop (82nd)
2011: SS Manny Machado (14th), LHP Zach Britton (28th)
2010: LHP Brian Matusz (5th), 3B Josh Bell (37th), LHP Zach Britton (63rd), RHP Jake Arrieta (99th)
2009: C Matt Wieters (1st), RHP Chris Tillman (22nd), LHP Brian Matusz (25th), RHP Jake Arrieta (67th)
2008: C Matt Wieters (12th), RHP Chris Tillman (67th), RHP Radhames Liz (69th), LHP Troy Patton (78th), OF Nolan Reimold (91st)

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Three Orioles prospects make Baseball America’s top 100 list

Posted on 22 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Just two years after being completely shut out on Baseball America’s list of top 100 prospects, the Orioles have three entries for the first time since 2014.

Outfielder Austin Hays, catcher Chance Sisco, and third baseman Ryan Mountcastle all appeared on the 2018 list released Monday and reflect a farm system showing some improvement in terms of its positional talent. Of course, the absence of any pitching prospects doesn’t bode well for an Orioles club still needing to fill three spots in its starting rotation for the upcoming season.

Hays ranked 21st on the list after a sensational 2017 campaign in which he hit a combined .329 with 32 home runs, 32 doubles, 95 runs batted in, and a .958 on-base plus slugging percentage between Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. The third-round pick from Jacksonville University became the first player from the 2016 amateur draft to reach the majors last September, hitting .217 with one homer, three doubles, and a .555 OPS in 63 plate appearances for Baltimore. The 22-year-old is expected to compete for a major league job this spring.

Sisco made the top 100 list for the second straight year, but he dropped from No. 57 in 2017 to No. 68, which could be related to some of the doubts about his defensive skills and whether he’ll stick as a catcher at the major league level. The 2013 second-round pick will turn 23 next month and made his major league debut last September, hitting two home runs and two doubles in 22 plate appearances after batting .267 with seven homers, 22 doubles, and a .736 OPS at Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles may still add a veteran catcher, but Sisco could find himself in a timeshare behind the plate with veteran Caleb Joseph this coming season.

Mountcastle came in at No. 71 on the list after an impressive season at the plate split between Frederick and Bowie, batting a combined .287 with 18 homers, 48 doubles, and an .802 OPS in his age-20 season. His bat is quite intriguing, but major questions persist about what position the 2015 first-round pick will ultimately play as he moved from shortstop to third base upon being promoted to Bowie last July.

The Orioles did have five pitchers on their top 10 prospect list released by Baseball America earlier this offseason, but none are considered close to making the jump to the majors. Former first-round pick Hunter Harvey is still considered the most promising of the group, but the 23-year-old has pitched just 31 1/3 innings because of various ailments over the last four years. Others such as 2016 first-round pick Cody Sedlock and 25-year-old left-hander Chris Lee have also dealt with some health concerns.

Below are the Orioles who have appeared on Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list over the last decade:

2017: C Chance Sisco (57th)
2016: none
2015: RHP Dylan Bundy (48th), RHP Hunter Harvey (68th)
2014: RHP Dylan Bundy (15th), RHP Kevin Gausman (20th), LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (65th)
2013: RHP Dylan Bundy (2nd), RHP Kevin Gausman (26th)
2012: RHP Dylan Bundy (10th), SS Manny Machado (11th), 2B Jonathan Schoop (82nd)
2011: SS Manny Machado (14th), LHP Zach Britton (28th)
2010: LHP Brian Matusz (5th), 3B Josh Bell (37th), LHP Zach Britton (63rd), RHP Jake Arrieta (99th)
2009: C Matt Wieters (1st), RHP Chris Tillman (22nd), LHP Brian Matusz (25th), RHP Jake Arrieta (67th)
2008: C Matt Wieters (12th), RHP Chris Tillman (67th), RHP Radhames Liz (69th), LHP Troy Patton (78th), OF Nolan Reimold (91st)

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