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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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Nine questions on the 2019 Orioles entering the season

Posted on 27 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With a new season upon us, here are nine questions on the rebuilding Orioles entering the 2019 campaign:

Will the Orioles be even worse than last year?

Their 115 losses last season set a club record and were the fourth most in the majors since 1900, but the Orioles now begin 2019 without Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zack Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day, and Brad Brach, who all began 2018 with the organization and made meaningful contributions to previous playoff runs. Of the four other clubs to lose 115 games in a season since 1900, all won at least 11 more games the following year and only the 1962 Mets suffered triple-digit losses again. In other words, the probability of the Orioles plummeting to the same level of ineptitude remains low with many projection models forecasting somewhere between 98 and 105 losses. Still, looking at that Opening Day roster reminds you of those early scenes in Major League, doesn’t it?

How will manager Brandon Hyde handle his first season?

The former Chicago Cubs bench coach received positive reviews in his first spring camp for creating an upbeat and efficient working environment, but now the games count and the dark shadow of losing lingers. No one expects Hyde to be a miracle worker with a club that wasn’t constructed with any intention to contend, but how he handles a young clubhouse and how hard players compete on a nightly basis will reflect on his managing acumen more so than the AL East standings. The 45-year-old knew what he was getting into when he accepted this job in December and understands the organization’s focus on the big picture, but the reality of a long season is upon him. No matter how ugly it might get, the Orioles still have to show up and play the games.

Who will begin — or continue to — establish himself as a piece for the long run?

The late-spring demotions of catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Austin Hays, and lefty reliever Tanner Scott took much of the air out of this balloon for fans desperate to at least watch interesting prospects in what’s expected to be a losing season, but Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins certainly stand out on a 25-man roster consisting mostly of fringe placeholders and veterans likely to be long gone before Baltimore’s next competitive window opens. With so many changes over the last year, we forget Mancini has just two full seasons under his belt as he tries to find more consistency after a rough first half in 2018. Meanwhile, Mullins opens 2019 as the starting center fielder, but Hyde and general manager Mike Elias have shared the potential they see in Hays as an eventual center fielder, which should serve as motivation for the incumbent. There are fair questions about his throwing arm and ability to hit from the right side, but the switch-hitting Mullins will have his opportunities to establish himself as an everyday player this season. Though not exactly prospects, Miguel Castro, David Hess, and Jimmy Yacabonis are under-the-radar pitchers who could benefit from the analytical advances introduced by the new regime.

Which veterans will play well enough to become trade chips?

The reward for guys like Jonathan Villar, Andrew Cashner, Nate Karns, and Mark Trumbo having good seasons is a likely ticket out of Baltimore as Elias aims to add more talent in the farm system. That’s just reality in the early stages of a rebuild, regardless of how much an organization might say it values veteran leadership. The cases of Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens will be more interesting to monitor as they’re both under club control through 2021 and would carry more trade value than the aforementioned names if they can rebound from their underwhelming 2018 performance levels. Some might add Alex Cobb to the list of potential trade chips, but the 31-year-old would have to pitch exceptionally well for another club to be willing to commit to the additional $29 million he’s owed beyond 2019.

What will happen with Chris Davis?

We’re all aware of the historic nightmare that was last season for the 33-year-old first baseman, but where does the new Orioles regime go from here with a player who is still owed $92 million over the next four seasons and will be collecting deferred money long after that? Davis fared a little better late in the spring, but he still batted .189 with 19 strikeouts in 44 plate appearances in the Grapefruit League. It will be interesting to see where Hyde uses him in the batting order – Davis batted third or fourth for much of the spring before dropping to sixth in Monday’s finale – or how long he sticks with him as a starter if he looks like the same guy from last year. Everyone hopes a new front office and coaching staff can salvage some semblance of value, but the Angelos brothers will be the ones to make the ultimate call on Davis’ status if he’s no better this year. It’s one thing to talk about Davis as a sunk cost on a losing club, but Mancini has already been pushed to left field and a strong 2019 from Mountcastle — who worked extensively at first base this spring — will have him knocking on the major-league door. You don’t want Davis blocking other young players ready for the majors.

How will the Rule 5 picks fare?

The Orioles will enter a season with three Rule 5 picks on the roster for a second straight year as reliever Pedro Araujo has a couple more weeks to go to fulfill his requirement in the majors and new Rule 5 infielders Richie Martin and Drew Jackson both made the team. It appears Martin will begin the year as the starting shortstop despite a difficult finish to spring training while Jackson was used in a super utility role this spring. A rebuilding club desperate for more talent is smart to carry promising Rule 5 picks, but let’s hope the practice brings more value than it did for Dan Duquette. For all the roster headaches and shorthanded situations the Orioles endured carrying Rule 5 players while trying to contend from 2012-18, those players netted a total of 1.1 wins above replacement in their time with the organization.

When will more interesting prospects be arriving in Baltimore?

Aside from Sisco and Scott, Hays appeared to be the next prospect on the cusp of the majors before spraining his thumb over the weekend. Beyond that trio, many fans will follow how Yusniel Diaz and Ryan Mountcastle fare at Triple-A Norfolk with hopes of them making their major league debut later this season. Of course, how Elias handled Sisco, Scott, and Hays – three prospects already having major league experience – should make everyone take pause about the development timeline for any prospects at this point. The Orioles are prioritizing player development over attempts to squeeze out a couple more wins at the major league level or to appease fans hoping to watch more exciting young players. That said, other names acquired in last year’s deadline deals – many of whom already made cameos in Baltimore — appear likely to show up at some point this season. Lefty Keegan Akin, a 2016 second-round pick, and 23-year-old right-hander Dean Kremer, acquired in the Manny Machado trade, are two starting pitchers to monitor in the high minor leagues.

How much innovation and experimentation will we see from a club with nothing to lose?

Entering a season with expectations lower than they’ve been at any point in the history of the franchise, the rebuilding Orioles should embrace the opportunity to innovate and experiment, making it refreshing to hear Hyde reveal plans to use an opener in the second game of the season against the New York Yankees. Why not dive even deeper into infield and outfield positioning and explore new ideas for pitch sequencing, bullpen usage, and batting orders? Why lose with conventional practices when you can at least explore some new ideas and theories contenders might be afraid to try? Perhaps the Orioles even discover an edge or two that might help in the future when they’re ready to contend again. Much of this work with technology and analytics will remain behind the scenes, of course, but any new ideas making their way to the field will be interesting.

What will attendance look like at Camden Yards?

Asked to give his pitch for why fans should still come to the ballpark this season, Elias offered the following on Tuesday:

“We’re doing things the right way, the way that they need to be done. The end goal here is not to try to cobble together a one-year-wonder .500 club that could be a disaster if it doesn’t work out right and then we spend a few years digging out of that hole. We want to put together a perennial contending organization. And we’re initiating that process. We know how to do it. We’re going about it the way that we need to go about it. In the meantime, there’s going to be young talent on the field. These guys are going to be hustling, playing hard. There are going to be ‘tools’ as we say in the scouting world — big talent out there — that we can watch. And we’re in a wonderful baseball environment here in Camden Yards and here in the Inner Harbor. You come appreciate the sport and see some good baseball and watch this team grow.”

While I agree with those sentiments, expecting fans to pay major-league prices to watch a rebuilding team is a lot to ask, especially with attendance having already fallen annually since 2014 when the club was coming off a 96-win season and still in the midst of its competitive window. The Orioles ranked 26th in the majors in average attendance (20,053 per game) last year despite there being some hope of contending entering 2018. To be clear, no one should be crying the blues for an organization that’s cut its payroll in half over the last 18 months, but an empty Camden Yards hurts nearby businesses and seasonal stadium workers. The “Kids Cheer Free” initiative is a positive step that will be continued this year, but more ticket deals, promotions, and imagination are required if the Orioles hope to draw people to watch an inferior on-field product.

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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 with Grapefruit League action underway

Posted on 25 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Grapefruit League action beginning over the weekend, I’ve offered a dozen Orioles thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The early reviews of the culture being created by Brandon Hyde have been very positive. That probably won’t mean much in the standings this season, but it will matter for players continuing to buy into the process and to play hard as losses likely mount.

2. Top outfield prospect Yusniel Diaz is unlikely to break camp with the Orioles, but his two-run home run in the first spring game was a glimpse of the power the organization believes is still ascending. General manager Mike Elias offered a glowing review on Saturday.

3. It’s no secret the Houston Astros emphasized slider usage with much success, a philosophy that figures to be applied in Baltimore. Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, Miguel Castro, Tanner Scott, and Jimmy Yacabonis are a few pitchers to watch in this regard.

4. Alcides Escobar has been Baltimore’s most notable signing — even on a minor-league deal — despite registering a .593 on-base plus slugging percentage and minus-0.7 wins above replacement last season. Rule 5 pick Richie Martin is still preferable if he at least proves he can play quality major league defense.

5. I’m excited to watch Cedric Mullins in his first full major league season, but he’s produced no better than a .662 OPS against left-handed pitching at any level of his professional career. That did come at Triple-A Norfolk last year, so you hope the development of his right-handed swing continues.

6. Branden Kline struck out the side to earn Sunday’s save. The Frederick native missed two full seasons due to elbow surgeries, but he posted a 1.80 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings for Bowie last year and features a mid-90s fastball and plus slider. Keep an eye on him.

7. Aside from Diaz, it’s been a rough start to the spring for two others acquired in the Manny Machado trade as starting pitching prospect Dean Kremer recovers from an oblique injury and hard-throwing reliever Zach Pop showed substantially diminished velocity on Saturday, which is always concerning.

8. Chris Davis striking out in his first two spring at-bats wouldn’t be noteworthy if he weren’t coming off one of the worst seasons in major league history from an everyday player. As it stands, every trip to the plate will be under a microscope. I’m curious to see his adjustments.

9. I’ll miss the retiring Joe Angel, but more Ben McDonald on Orioles broadcasts would be a great development. He has an engaging personality and was very enlightening discussing spin rate and other pitching-related topics during Saturday’s broadcast.

10. MASN is televising seven Orioles spring games. NESN shows 18 Boston games, YES has 12 Yankees games, and the Rays are televised 11 times. Rogers is televising two Toronto games from Florida and carrying the opponent’s feed for eight others. The Pirates are televised 10 times and the Phillies 16.

11. Machado going to the National League West was probably the best-case scenario for the Orioles, but anyone mocking him for signing with San Diego — I would too for $300 million — is overlooking a loaded farm system. The Padres could be very interesting in the not-too-distant future.

12. One of the more vivid memories of my early childhood was chanting “Edd-ie! Edd-ie!” at Memorial Stadium. Orioles legend and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray turned 63 on Sunday. Where have the years gone?

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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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Checking in on recent trade acquisitions and former Orioles

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s been exactly three weeks since the Orioles traded four-time All-Star infielder Manny Machado to jump-start the organization’s biggest sell-off in nearly two decades.

With the major league club continuing to flounder in last place and not exactly providing a compelling product, below is an early look at how the former Orioles have performed for their new clubs as well as how the 15 acquired players are faring at various levels of the organization:

SS/3B Manny Machado
Numbers with Los Angeles Dodgers: 84 PA, .274/.369/.425, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 11 BB, 21 K
Skinny: Machado’s production has been fine to this point and he’s played some third base due to a Justin Turner injury, but he’ll have the chance to come up big for a National League favorite down the stretch.

LHP Zach Britton
Numbers with New York Yankees: 4 2/3 IP, 5.79 ERA, 4 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Skinny: It’s been a rough start for the former All-Star closer in the Bronx as he continues to deal with shaky command and blew a 10th-inning save on Tuesday night.

RHP Brad Brach
Numbers with Atlanta: 3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 H, 1 BB, 4 K
Skinny: The 32-year-old has looked more like his old self since joining the Braves and has been trusted to pitch in the late innings of close games.

RHP Kevin Gausman
Numbers with Atlanta: 5 IP, 5.40 ERA, 6 H, 2 BB, 2 K
Skinny: Gausman was mediocre in his Braves debut, but he surprisingly was asked to pinch-hit in Tuesday’s game and even drew a walk.

2B Jonathan Schoop
Numbers with Milwaukee: 25 PA, .120/.120/.120, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 BB, 11 K
Skinny: The 26-year-old is clearly much better than he’s shown in his first week with a new club, but the Brewers have to be wondering what happened to one of baseball’s hottest hitters in the month of July.

2B Jonathan Villar
Numbers with Baltimore: 22 PA, .429/.455/.667, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 BB, 3 K
Skinny: The only established major leaguer of the 15 players acquired, the 27-year-old had a big series in Texas and is two years removed from posting an .826 OPS and 3.9 WAR season for the Brewers.

OF Yusniel Diaz
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 60 PA, .192/.300/.288, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 8 BB, 14 K
Skinny: The centerpiece of the Machado deal is off to a slow start and not making a great case for a September call-up, but the 21-year-old is hardly the first standout prospect to struggle after being traded.

RHP Dillon Tate
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 11 1/3 IP, 7.15 ERA, 17 H, 2 BB, 6 K
Skinny: The fourth overall pick of the 2015 draft and focal point of the Britton trade was efffective in his last start until a five-run sixth inning and is searching for consistency after two starts with the Baysox.

RHP Luis Ortiz
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 5 IP, 5.40 ERA, 8 H, 4 BB, 1 K
Skinny: A top 100 prospect entering 2017, the 22-year-old has the stuff to be an effective major league starter despite concerns about his injury history and conditioning as he’s listed at 230 pounds.

RHP Dean Kremer
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 16 IP, 2.25 ERA, 14 H, 8 BB, 17 K
Skinny: The 22-year-old has pitched well in three starts since being traded and continues to rack up strikeouts, a good sign after he averaged 13.0 per nine innings at the high Single-A level this year.

2B/3B Rylan Bannon
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 44 PA, .154/.250/.333, 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 10 K
Skinny: Bannon homered in his second game with the Baysox, but he’s struggled at the plate and has mostly played second base after seeing more action at third base in the Dodgers organization.

RHP Zach Pop
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 7 IP, 3.86 ERA, 4 H, 2 BB, 8 K
Skinny: Since a disastrous debut outing for the Baysox, the 21-year-old has tossed seven scoreless frames with eight strikeouts and no walks and is consistently inducing ground balls with his sinker.

INF/OF Breyvic Valera
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 61 PA, .226/.311/.415, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 7 BB, 5 K
Skinny: The 26-year-old is back with the Tides after a brief stay with the Orioles and has already started games at four different positions as he attempts to carve out a major league role as a utility player.

RHP Cody Carroll
Numbers with Baltimore: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1 H, 0 BB, 0 K
Skinny: The 25-year-old’s fastball has averaged 96.6 miles per hour since being called up to the majors as the Orioles hope he will morph into an effective late-inning reliever at some point.

LHP Josh Rogers
Numbers with Triple-A Norfolk: 13 IP, 2.08 ERA, 10 H, 4 BB, 6 K
Skinny: The final results have been there, but the question is whether Rogers has the stuff to miss enough bats to consistently get major league hitters out, which makes him project as a long reliever.

RHP Evan Phillips
Numbers with Baltimore: 2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0 H, 3 BB, 3 K
Skinny: After a sharp debut in Texas, Phillips walked three and threw a wild pitch without recording an out against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, but he wasn’t helped by Chris Davis’ critical throwing error.

C Brett Cumberland
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: 4 PA, .000/.250/.000, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K
Skinny: Opinions are mixed on Cumberland’s ceiling, but his bat is considered his strength as he hit 11 home runs and posted a .774 OPS at Single-A Florida this season.

LHP Bruce Zimmermann
Numbers with Double-A Bowie: n/a
Skinny: The Loyola Blakefield graduate and former Towson Tiger has yet to make his first start for the Baysox, but his stuff is described as average with some pitchability, according to FanGraphs.

3B Jean Carlos Encarnacion
Numbers with Single-A Delmarva: 18 PA, .444/.444/.667, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0 BB, 5 K
Skinny: The 20-year-old Dominican is a contrast to most of the higher-floor prospects acquired, but he’s already collected three extra-base hits and should be fun to track over the next few years.

SS Jean Carmona
Numbers with short-season Single-A Aberdeen: 14 PA, .154/.214/.154, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 BB, 4 K
Skinny: The 18-year-old Dominican is listed at 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds, a frame into which he can grow in the next couple years and potentially develop into a major league regular one day.

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Machado’s departure leaves behind numb feeling, concerning future for Orioles

Posted on 18 July 2018 by Luke Jones

The Orioles have finally traded Manny Machado, who became a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday.

It’s a sad day bidding farewell to one of the most talented players in franchise history, but this outcome had been clear for a long time. Even if the organization had shown the forward thinking and necessary aggressiveness a few seasons ago to sign the four-time All-Star infielder to an extension and buy out his first two or three years of free agency – along the lines of the six-year contract the Los Angeles Angels did with Mike Trout in 2014 – the last-place Orioles might still be in a position where dealing their most valuable player would have been the best move for the future. Only in that scenario, they would have fetched much more in a trade.

As two last-place seasons have now shown, having Machado alone doesn’t make up for other missteps, ranging from the annual refusal to play ball in the international market and the inability to develop impact starting pitching to the disastrous Chris Davis contract that runs through the 2022 season.

It’s ironic to note that the two best seasons of the Dan Duquette-Buck Showalter era occurred in 2012 and 2014 when Machado appeared in a total of just 133 games and accounted for only 3.9 wins above replacement. That speaks to how much else the Orioles had going for them at that point and how little they do now as they try to outrun their 115-loss pace over the final 2 ½ months of 2018.

Machado’s arrival in Baltimore on Aug. 9, 2012 helped fortify an unexpected contender in which many were still reluctant to believe at that advanced stage of the season. His superb defense at third base transformed a weakness into a strength as the Orioles went 33-18 the rest of the way to make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. It’s a shame that his only playoff appearances with the Orioles came as a 20-year-old that October and in the infamous 2016 AL Wild Card Game in which Zach Britton is still waiting for the bullpen call from Showalter. We’ll never know if Baltimore’s fortunes would have been different in the 2014 postseason had Machado been healthy.

His departure comes at the franchise’s lowest point in 30 years – possibly ever – and only tightens the lock on the competitive window that slammed shut last September. Frankly, it brings more of a numb feeling than sadness with the Orioles an unthinkable 41 games below .500 in a season that was all but over in April. Many entered the year fearing the Orioles might be just mediocre enough to keep Machado past the deadline with unrealistic hopes of contending, but this club left no doubt that trading its best player for a quintet of prospects was the only play remaining with him set to hit the open market in a few months.

Perhaps trade centerpiece Yusniel Diaz eventually blossoms into an All-Star outfielder — maybe even taking part in an exhibition being held at Oriole Park at Camden Yards one day – or Dean Kremer develops into a top-half-of-the-rotation starter for Baltimore’s next contending club in a few years. Even so, Orioles fans will still reminisce about a 20-year-old Machado’s ninth-inning deke in a critical September tilt against Tampa Bay, his impossible throw from foul ground in the Bronx a year later, or any number of other defensive gems or heroics at the plate over these last six years.

Talents like him don’t come along often.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfect.

His knee injuries and subsequent surgeries in 2013 and 2014 likely killed any practical chance of an organization known for its rigorous medical reviews being as aggressive as it needed to be to extend him years ago. The bat-throwing incident against Oakland in 2014 was embarrassing, and his brawl with the late Yordano Ventura a couple years later didn’t help his reputation, which was likely a factor in Boston’s overreaction to his slide into Dustin Pedroia early last season. And he hasn’t always hustled as much as you’d want to see from a player of his magnitude.

To his credit, Machado has shown maturity and impressive patience answering questions about his future in numerous cities over the last several months, something that can’t be said about fellow free-agent-to-be Bryce Harper in Washington. And despite criticism he’s received about his desire to play shortstop this year and beyond, Machado was a professional deferring to veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy for years, even as the latter produced below-replacement-level offense in two of his final three seasons.

Whether Machado stuck around in the Charm City or not, no one should have ever expected him to be the next Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken, who created Hall of Fame standards on the field and impossible ones off it in different times. Even the best players rarely spend their entire careers with one team now, making one hope Machado isn’t treated the same way Mike Mussina was by some – even if he too signs with the New York Yankees this offseason.

It’s a business.

Many nine-figure investments over the years have proven to be ill advised, but 26-year-olds aren’t typically hitting the open market to fetch those kinds of lucrative commitments either. Time will tell whether Machado continues on a Hall of Fame path and validates that kind of lucrative payment elsewhere as Orioles fans will instead see what happens with Davis’ .158 batting average that remains under contract for the next four years.

With Machado off to Hollywood to try to win a World Series with the Dodgers, what’s next for the Orioles?

Zach Britton is expected to go along with the possible trade of Adam Jones, whose exit will bring more pain after being the heart of the club for years and being such a pillar in this community. If the Orioles are going to get this rebuild right, the deals shouldn’t stop there as the likes of Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Schoop, and Mychal Givens should all be on the table at the right price — now or in the near future.

Of course, there’s also the matter of determining what happens with Duquette and Showalter, whose contracts are set to expire at the end of the season.

Ownership establishing a clear vision and determining who will run baseball operations – while hopefully establishing a clear chain of command – are musts for a disgruntled fan base that just witnessed a generational talent being dealt away and will likely be watching losing baseball for quite some time. Wednesday’s trade was inevitable — even necessary at this broken stage — but that doesn’t make it less difficult with the future looking so bleak in Baltimore.

The Orioles have a mountain of work to do to create that same hope that accompanied Machado’s arrival in the midst of a surprising pennant race nearly six years ago. The last remnants of that feeling and one of the best players in baseball walked out the door Wednesday, leaving behind a last-place team and a fan base numb to the inevitable finally becoming reality.

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Orioles deal Machado to Dodgers for five prospects

Posted on 18 July 2018 by Luke Jones

The inevitable became official on Wednesday.

Manny Machado is no longer an Oriole as Baltimore traded the four-time All-Star infielder to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for five minor-league prospects, a group headlined by Cuban outfielder Yusniel Diaz. The move boosts the Dodgers’ chances of winning their second straight National League pennant and officially begins a rebuild for the last-place Orioles, who own the most losses in the majors at the All-Star break.

“Manny Machado provided Orioles fans with many great memories over his eight years in Birdland,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. “We will always appreciate his talent, and we wish him the best in the National League.”

Diaz, a 21-year-old Cuban outfielder, ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 prospect in the Dodgers system and is the No. 47 prospect in Baseball America’s top 100 list. He hit two home runs in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game and has seen his stock rise in 2018 with a .314 batting average, 20 extra-base hits, 30 runs batted in, eight stolen bases, and a .905 on-base plus slugging percentage in 264 plate appearance at Double-A Tulsa. Diaz has played all three outfield spots in the minor leagues, but he projects as a major league corner outfielder and could serve as a future leadoff hitter with a .428 on-base percentage this season.

Baltimore also received third baseman Rylan Bannon, right-handed starting pitcher Dean Kremer, right-handed reliever Zach Pop, and infielder Breyvic Valera.

The 22-year-old Bannon has batted .296 with 20 homers, 61 RBIs, and a .961 OPS in 403 plate appearances for Rancho Cucamonga. He was an eighth-round pick out of Xavier in last year’s draft and ranked as MLB Pipeline’s No. 27 prospect in the Dodgers system.

Kremer, 22, could be the most intriguing talent of that secondary group despite ranking as MLB Pipeline’s No. 28 Dodgers prospect. The 14th-round pick of the 2016 draft was recently promoted to the Double-A level and posted a 3.30 ERA and struck out 13.0 per nine innings in 79 innings at high Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

Pop, 21, was a seventh-round pick out of Kentucky in last year’s draft and has posted a combined 1.04 ERA with a 9.8 per nine strikeout rate in 43 1/3 innings split between two Single-A levels.

The 26-year-old Valera is the only one of the group with major league experience, but he projects as no better than a utility infielder. He’s a career .154 hitter in 45 career plate appearances split between the Dodgers and St. Louis. He owns a career .748 OPS in nine minor-league seasons.

“As we begin the task of rebuilding our roster to compete in the AL East, we look forward to the contributions of the five players we added to the organization [Thursday],” Duquette stated. “Diaz is a young and gifted hitter. Valera and Bannon are versatile fielders with excellent on-base skills, and Kremer and Pop’s excellent seasons are indicative of their bright futures.”

Upon announcing the deal Wednesday night, the Orioles optioned Valera to Triple-A Norfolk while Diaz, Bannon, Kremer, and Pop were all assigned to Double-A Bowie.

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Machado goes hitless in likely final game wearing Orioles uniform

Posted on 17 July 2018 by Luke Jones

Manny Machado’s likely final night with the Orioles was an uneventful one on the diamond.

The starting American League shortstop went hitless in two at-bats in Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Washington, flying out to left in the second inning and popping out to third in the fourth. He handled his only fielding chance flawlessly in the bottom of the fifth before being replaced by Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor an inning later.

However, the four-time All-Star infielder left social media abuzz when he took a selfie with Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp in the second inning, a fun and cryptic moment during the exhibition. Multiple outlets are reporting the 26-year-old Machado is expected to be traded to the Dodgers before the regular season resumes on Friday.

In an interview with FOX Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal in the dugout upon leaving the game, Machado was asked about this likely being his final night playing for the Orioles.

“It was a tremendous honor to wear this uniform,” said Machado, who didn’t comment on his expected destination. “They gave me the opportunity to come up and play in the big leagues. That’s everyone’s dream. They gave me that. They gave me the opportunity to play shortstop again. The organization has done everything.

“If this is the last time, hopefully I treated them well and did everything I [could] for the organization.”

Minor-league outfielder outfielder Yusniel Diaz is expected to be the centerpiece of the deal with other players and details unknown, according to Rosenthal. The 21-year-old Cuba native is batting .314 with 20 extra-base hits, 30 runs batted in, eight stolen bases, and a .905 on-base plus slugging percentage for Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League this season. He was Baseball Prospectus’ No. 73 overall prospect entering the 2018 season and hit two home runs in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game at Nationals Park.

Former Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis went 0-for-1 with a walk in his first career All-Star Game representing the Atlanta Braves. Milwaukee reliever and former Orioles prospect Josh Hader (Old Mill) gave up a three-run home run to Seattle’s Jean Segura in the eighth inning of the AL’s 8-6 victory.

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