Baseball is a business in which success is based on wins. Loyalty and courtesy are nice, but mean little if they aren’t accompanied by playoff berths and titles. No team, not even one rebuilding like the Baltimore Orioles, has the ability to give playing time to individuals that are incapable of producing at the major league level simply because they work hard.
Perhaps you are familiar with the term “Four-A” or “Quadruple-A.” It’s reserved for players that are good enough to be professionals and provide depth in affiliated ball, but are still missing something that keeps them from being MLB-quality. The O’s, like every other club, has a handful of these guys among their ranks.
The most high-profile of these players in the Baltimore system is outfielder Mike Yastrzemski. He is the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. The O’s selected the younger Yaz as a senior sign out of Vanderbilt in the 14th round of the 2013 amateur draft. Since then, he has appeared in 663 games between five affiliates across six seasons.
Yastrzemski’s performance in those games has been fine. He is a career .260/.337/.428 minor league hitter with 61 home runs and 152 doubles. If advanced stats are more your speed, then he has registered a meager 84 wRC+ in that same time, but finished strong last season with a 126 wRC+ in 94 games at Triple-A Norfolk.
It’s not a mystery as to why he is yet to get an opportunity with the Orioles. He hasn’t been good enough to force a decision. Meanwhile, the organization has added a ton of talented players at his position that are significantly younger than the 28-year-old Yastrzemski. Maybe he will make it to the majors eventually, but the path would seem to be difficult in this organization.
Drew Dosch, a fellow member of the Orioles 2013 draft class, faces similar problems. Dosch is a 26-year-old third baseman that doesn’t really hit well enough to be a big league third baseman. His career .278/.337/.398 slash line has a glaring hole in the slugging department. Dosch has never hit more than nine home runs in a season. He did smack 39 doubles in 2017 and finished that year with a .425 slugging percentage, but that hasn’t been the norm.
It’s easier to see a way for Dosch to reach the majors than it would be for Yastrzemski. Renato Núñez is the current starter at third base for the Orioles, and that is unlikely to change given his age (24) and how well he started to hit down the stretch in 2018. However, injuries happen and Núñez has no obvious backup. Dosch would have to be added to the 40-man roster prior to being called up, which likely prevents him from joining the Orioles for anything less than a 60-day DL stint for Núñez.
Even then, it’s possible the O’s prefer to start Steve Wilkerson or even venture out into free agency or the trade market to find another option. Depending on the time of year, it may even be time for the front office to get a look at Ryan Mountcastle in Baltimore. Third base will probably not be Mountcastle’s long-term home, but the organization has seemed dedicated to it up til now, and it’s not clear what Mike Elias’s thoughts are on the prospect’s future.
One final name to bring up is one that is not currently in the organization, and that’s infielder Garabez Rosa. The 29-year-old Rosa is the longest-tenured player throughout the Orioles system (longer than Adam Jones, even). He signed with the Birds back in November of 2006. Since then, he has played for seven affiliates across 12 seasons and 1280 games. He was even named the Eastern League MVP back in 2017.
Rosa has always done whatever it takes to make it in the professional ranks. The Orioles signed him as a 17-year-old shortstop, but he has registered innings at every position on the field except for pitcher and catcher. In 2018, he spent most of his time at first base.
Rosa elected free agency last month, so he may not return to the only MLB organization he has ever known for 2019. However, he did the same thing last year, and the year before that, signing a new one-year deal both times. Of course, the new regime may not be interested in retaining him, and although that would have no real consequence on the Orioles it would be a bummer to see Rosa leave.
The Dominican’s only outstanding season with the bat came during his 2017 MVP campaign in which he hit .310/.333/.444 with 14 home runs and 112 wRC+. Rosa came back to earth with Norfolk last season (.277/.297/.391, 91 wRC+). Again, these numbers are not atrocious or anything like that, but they are coming from a player in his late-20s that predominantly plays first base. The Orioles already have enough problems at first base, and unfortunately Rosa would not seem to be a fix for them.
When Elias was hired as the Orioles general manager last month, he said that members of the franchise’s next winning team are already here. It’s unlikely he was talking about Yastrzemski, Dosch or Rosa. However, it’s possible that one or all three will make it to Baltimore at some point soon and they may even grow into valuable role players. That won’t get the Orioles back to the playoffs, but it would at least be a feel good story and that’s something.