2019 Baltimore Orioles: Things I’m Interested In (Part 2)
Pitchers & Catchers report Wednesday to launch Spring Training for the 2019 Baltimore Orioles. As this year approaches, we are discussing some things which specifically interest us.
In Part 1 of this 5 Part series we looked at the Younger Players on the Likely Opening Day roster.
Here in Part 2, we will give some thoughts on the players on the verge of joining.
To be clear, joining and helping can be different things. Even helping can have multiple connotations. Some players you will need to become solid regulars. Others can help as solid relievers or spot-starters. We’re defining verge of joining as capable of (or expected to) be part of the O’s at some point during ’19.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
There are multiple things to consider with any player we list here.
What is their path to opportunity?
Do they have the requisite talent to command an opportunity?
Will the Orioles be worried about service time?
Hays: Austin Hays is on the existing 40 man. It should be expected that he begins 2019 at AAA. Last year was a struggle for the young OF, as he dealt with injuries which culminated in September ankle surgery. That said, as camp arrives, he’s healthy and it wouldn’t be completely shocking if he forced his way onto the Opening Day roster. Assuming he doesn’t, his path to opportunity is simply going back to AAA and producing. He can do a bit of everything, he just needs to stay on a field, and produce. The scenario I picture is the O’s beginning ’19 with Stewart and Mancini on the corners, Davis at 1st, and Trumbo at DH. There are multiple ways Hays can find himself in the Majors at some point this year. The most obvious would be injuries. After that, a trade could great opportunity. If Trumbo gets off to a good start, and the O’s eat some salary; he’s movable. If Trumbo struggles, the O’s might just consider releasing him. The Orioles don’t figure to have an extremely tight leash with Davis (they need to see if he can rebound, and can afford to give him an extended run in a year they can’t contend); but 1/2 a season is enough in my opinion. If Davis has rebounded, great. If not, you limit his time and adjust. If you get to a point where Trumbo has been traded / released, and Davis has been benched; you could have Hays in LF, Stewart at DH, Mancini at 1st, and an available spot in RF for….
Diaz: Acquired last year in the Machado trade, Yunsiel is not yet on the O’s 40 man, but finding room for him won’t be an issue. Diaz joining the O’s at some point in ’19 will be determined by his MiL production, and if the O’s want to start his service clock. He won’t be up before the O’s gain an additional year of team control. I outlined above how I envision opportunity could find the young OF. Some will say, “What’s the rush?,” but I’m hoping to see Hays and Diaz manning the corners for at-least the last two months of this year. I say that with the caveat they have to earn those chances by controlling what they can control; and that means taking care of business in the Minors. Like Hays, I don’t expect Diaz to become a ‘superstar’, but he should be a guy that can become a very productive ML regular. I know many O’s fans are concerned that his numbers fell off a cliff in the Eastern League compared to the Texas League; but I’ve yet to see a scouting report on Diaz that doesn’t like him. Strong arm, some pop, runs well, a .359 career OBP in the Minors. He enters this season with 1,123 career MiL ab’s. After another 100 games, and 300 abs, I expect him to be ready for the show. If he’s producing in the Minors, and the O’s have already gained that additional year of control; I’ll have no issue with seeing him promoted.
Mountcastle: Renato Nunez looks like a serviceable place-holder at 3rd, with a minimal chance of being more than that. Rio Ruiz also looks usable. Nunez and Ruiz could hold down 3rd all of ’19. Mountcastle replacing them at some point is also plausible. Mountcastle has every talent evaluator convinced his bat is going to play, and unsure where he best fits defensively. My long-term belief has been he probably best belongs at 2nd. That said, he’s starting ’19 back at 3rd. There are questions about his consistency at the hot-corner, and lots of questions about his arm. We’ll see. The key for him defensively is not being a liability. It will be interesting to hear the reports on him defensively this Spring. Does he look more comfortable? There will be new eyes on him. What do they see? Mountcastle is 8 days away from turning 22. He had a very solid offensive season at Bowie. Him having another full year in the Minors would not be the worst thing. Clearly the O’s need to gain the additional year of control. Clearly he has to show he can adequately handle the position. (Whatever position.) Once he has done that (and again with the caveat he has to be producing); I’m considering bringing him up. Ohh, and if Nunez takes off, and looks like a legitimate longer-term option at 3rd? Then maybe the O’s give Mountcastle some time in the Minors at 2nd, and if he looks okay there – maybe the O’s trade Villar at some point? The more likely outcome is that Nunez looks okay, but replaceable. I’m picturing August and September with Hays in LF, Diaz in RF, Mountcastle at 3rd, Mancini at 1st, Sisco at C, Martin at SS, Mullins in CF, and Stewart at DH. Watching that group would be entertaining to me, and I think help answer some questions heading into the ’19 off-season.
Ortiz: The big RHP will be 23 nearly all of the 2019 season. He might never be more than a back of the rotation starter, but that has value. The former 1st round pick was competitive at both the AA, and AAA levels last year. When I say upside, I’m not saying he has the profile of a future ace. I’m saying he could potentially be a 3rd or 4th starter at some point vs. just a fringe 5th. Like all of these guys, we’ll see. Even with addition of Nate Karns, there are lots of questions about who will be the 4th and 5th starters when the season begins. The ’19 O’s have plenty of questions overall, but they have more rotational depth (guys 6 to 10) than they’ve had in sometime. Ortiz will get ML starts this year, what does he do when he gets those opportunities? Ortiz is one of a handful of guys I think the O’s could use to build a creative staff. Maybe he’ll never be someone you want as a traditional starter. Someone you hand the ball to every 5th day, and want providing 170+ innings. But he might be someone who could give you a very usable 120 innings, as part of a non-traditional staff. Someone you might not want seeing hitters a 3rd time through a lineup, but who could go through twice. Put it this way, with a new Baseball Operations staff, my optimism is increased that the O’s will find ways to maximize the talent Ortiz does have.
Kline: The RHP is 27 years old. He’s been part of the O’s system since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2012. He’s got less than 300 innings of MiL experience after all this time. By any measure, he isn’t a ‘prospect’, but…. I like him. After missing all of the ’16 and ’17 seasons, he had a very productive ’18 at Frederick and Bowie. I expect him to get extended opportunities in the Majors during ’19, and my prediction is he ends the year being utilized in higher-leverage situations. He could be a piece of the O’s pen for several years at minimal cost. If I’m wrong, and he flames out; no harm done. I think a roster crunch has him off the Opening Day roster, but he should be up fairly quick. He only has so many bullets in his arm, use them.
Tate: One of the arms Britton brought back from NY was Dillon Tate. Like Ortiz, Tate is a former 1st round pick. This May, Tate turns 25. He has the reputation of having a big arm, but the k’s have never been there. The peripherals as a whole are just meh. As with most of the players obtained during last Summer’s purge, his productivity took a plunge as part of the O’s organization. He didn’t leave the Eastern League, but his numbers were better across the board with Trenton than with Bowie. Was that the result of coaching? Either way, he ended ’18 having made 22 AA starts, and having pitched 123.1 innings. I see slightly less upside than with Ortiz. He looks like a fringe starter. He does give the O’s some rotation depth, and I’m curious as to what he could be as a reliever. As with Ortiz, I’m also curious to see what the O’s could do with him in a non-traditional staff.
Rogers: It’s possible the lefty begins ’19 as part of the O’s rotation, but I’m not expecting it. Another arm obtained for Britton, Rogers had 27 starts in ’18 across AAA, and the Majors. He’s never going to wow with his stuff, but he seems to be a guy with some pitchability. Meaning he looks like a guy that goes to the mound with a plan. Would think he starts ’19 back at AAA, and is one of the first options the O’s consider when a starter is needed. Maybe he becomes a swing starter. Maybe he becomes a long-reliever.
Carroll: The third arm back in the Britton trade was Cody Carroll. Big velocity, limited movement. My initial impression on seeing him last Fall was that he might be better served by dialing things down a bit velocity wise, if he could pick up some additional movement. The arm will give him multiple looks. Prior to joining the O’s organization, he was having a very productive year with AAA Scranton. In his 41.2 innings with Scranton, he allowed 18 walks. In 17 innings with the O’s, he allowed 13. Even scarier than that lack of control, was the nearly unfathomable 6 homers allowed. He’ll be up at some point this year.
Phillips: Was part of the return in the Gausman trade with Atlanta. The Salilsbury native will be 24 most of ’19. His 11.2 ML innings were a mess, but it’s 11.2 innings. If they were great, it wouldn’t be enough of a sample size for real thoughts. They were horrible, but it’s not enough of a sample to write him off. Over 39 games and 51.1 innings at AAA in ’18, he had a 2.28 era, and allowed just 34 hits, while striking out 72. That’s worth another look. For the record though, his ’18 AAA innings look like an aberration compared to everything on his resume prior. First thing on his ’19 agenda is going to Norfolk and replicating his ’18 AAA success. Once he does that, he’ll earn another chance at the bigs.
Kremer: The scouting reports on Kremer have some variance. Some don’t show a lot of optimism. Others see a guy that could eventually be a 3rd starter. He had a 131.1 ip over 25 starts at the High A and AA levels in ’18. He might begin ’19 at AAA, but I expect he’s likely to begin back at Bowie. There are some arms ahead of him (some mentioned above), and he’s not on the 40 man; so he’s not going to be the 1st or 2nd call when a starter is needed at the ML level. That said, his productively will determine how quick he moves overall. He just turned 23. He’s coming off a season where he had 178 k’s, and allowed just 108 hits in those 131.1 innings. He got a non-roster invite to Spring Training, and should have the chance to open some eyes there.
Akin: The 2018 Eastern League Pitcher of the Year was lefty Keegan Akin. The 2016 2nd round pick turns 24 April 1st. Last year was impressive. 25 AA starts. 142 k’s, and 114 hits over 137.2 innings. Like Kremer, he’s not on the 40 man. As such, he’s not getting the first call up to the Majors, but he’s still close. Figures to begin ’19 at AAA. Like Akin, I think he’s got mid-rotation upside.
Pop: One more arm not currently on the 40 man that I think gets ML time this year – Zach Pop. The 22 year old Canadian was part of the Machado return. Big ground ball numbers. I think he moves quick.