The first minor roster move of the Mike Elias era is in the books. Facing a Tuesday evening player to add Rule 5 draft-eligible players to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from being drafted, the Orioles made one pair of moves. The team selected the contract of pitcher Dillon Tate. Since the 40-man roster had been full, they needed a corresponding move: Infielder Engelb Vielma was designated for assignment.
The Orioles had already added Maryland-born pitcher Branden Kline to their 40-man roster during the transition period between general managers. Players who needed to be added this year were essentially high school draftees from 2014 and college draftees from 2015. Tate, the #4 pick in that draft by the Rangers who’s been traded twice to end up here, was the highest-profile of the O’s remaining eligible players.
In his introductory press conference, Elias indicated that he would be relying heavily on the remaining front office staff in order to make the decisions about who to add and who not to add. The O’s 40-man roster still has some obvious dead weight, so if the front office had really wanted to add more players - lefty reliever Luis Gonzalez and Czech catching sensation Martin Cervenka had come up as possibles - they could have done so.
The 26-year-old Gonzalez has been in the O’s organization since 2013. He showed some quality as a reliever in Double-A, where he struck out 58 batters in 45.2 innings with a 0.920 WHIP. That’s not bad. It earned him a promotion to Norfolk, where he allowed a 1.720 WHIP in 25 innings. That is bad.
Cervenka, also 26, only joined the O’s for this past season after spending seven years in the Indians organization. He batted .258/.317/.457 across 97 games with the Baysox, throwing out 29% of would-be base-stealers. That might be enough to put him in the backup catching mix.
Tate was the centerpiece of the trade that sent Zach Britton to the Yankees. What made him the main part of that deal was chiefly the fact that he used to be a top prospect when he was still with the Rangers.
Because we’re not allowed to have nice things, Tate promptly gave up 27 runs in 40.2 innings with Double-A Bowie in seven starts after the trade, including just 21 strikeouts. The O’s might have turned to Tate in desperation for a September start or two if not for the fact that he had some shoulder soreness while throwing in Sarasota.
Injuries and performance problems have dimmed Tate’s star and he has yet to make it above the Double-A level in four professional seasons. That’s not great for a player who was drafted as a college junior. Perhaps he will be the kind of player who will benefit from whatever new player development regime will be brought in by Elias.
The most interesting thing about Vielma, 24, is his name. The switch-hitting utility infielder has never been able to hit his way out of a wet paper bag. That included a .229/.273/.280 batting line in 121 minor league games across two levels in the 2017 season, which presumably inspired former GM Dan Duquette to take a flier on Vielma given the lack of depth in the 2018 O’s infield.
Vielma had his own injury problem that kept him from being a part of the picture this year. He ran into a railing while chasing a foul ball for Triple-A Norfolk and didn’t play again in 2018. He will not be the last of Duquette’s strange experiments to be shuffled off the roster by the new regime.
The O’s would still need to clear a 40-man space if they want to continue Duquette’s tradition of making a Rule 5 pick at the winter meetings. That could be done if any players are not tendered a contract. Tim Beckham and Caleb Joseph have been speculated in this category. They could also designate somebody they don’t think will have any future use.