Is it too soon to talk about this? September is nearly two whole months away, but when the major league team is this bad, there needs to be something to look forward to. The Orioles are (hopefully) about to undergo a rebuild of some kind. That should include the trading away of established veterans and an influx of young talent in the minors. The late stages of this season will be the first opportunity for many fans to see what the O’s farm system has to offer in the near future and may indicate how quick of a turnaround can be expected from this group.
To recap for those that aren’t familiar, MLB teams carry 25 players (occasionally 26 if there is a double header) on their daily rosters from March through August. On September 1, they can have as many as 40 players on their active rosters through the end of the year. Traditionally, clubs use this time to promote a combination of fringe role players and exciting prospects.
Last season saw the O’s bring up, among others, Chance Sisco, Tanner Scott and Austin Hays, three of their most highly-rated youngsters. Sisco and Scott have since become regulars in Baltimore while Hays has struggled in Double-A and spent much of the season injured.
This year, Orioles fans appear more itchy than ever to see what the minor leaguers can do at the big league level. That’s fair enough. The O’s are tough to watch, and there is some sort of logic in the idea that “anyone has gotta be better than this.” But promoting players too soon can backfire. It’s not a perfect science, and the O’s aren’t in a position where they need to take any unnecessary risks.
-Cedric Mullins is showing off his talents in a big way. He dominated Double-A (.313/.362/.512) over the first 49 games of the year, and is heating up (.395 BA over last 10 games) in Triple-A after a slow start. Depending on what happens with Adam Jones by this year’s trade deadline, Mullins could be up to Baltimore prior to September.
-It is getting to the point in DJ Stewart’s career where the Orioles cannot reasonably expect him to produce much more in the minors. The outfielder is not setting the International League ablaze, but his .362 on-base percentage is an impressive mark given his .260 batting average, and he leads the Tides with a 124 wRC+. His plate discipline and strike zone awareness appear to be advanced tools that are ready for Baltimore.
-Drew Dosch is on his second go-around at Norfolk, and he has made this one count. Through 60 games, the Tides third baseman is hitting .290/.352/.439 with 18 doubles and four home runs. More power at the corner positions would be nice, but he would a logical promotion if and when Manny Machado and Danny Valencia leave town by July 31.
-Ryan Mountcastle has a very similar batting line (.313/.363/.498) for the Baysox that Mullins did prior to his promotion. The difference is that Mountcastle’s defense still needs a lot of work. Is he an infielder? It’s not clear. It’s probably worth holding him back for another year to work out the kinks with the leather.
-Keegan Akin has made swift work of the competition in the Eastern League this year. Over 85.2 innings, the southpaw has struck out 92 batters, walked 36 and has a .199 batting average against. He is doing exactly what is envisioned when drafting a college pitcher early, moving quickly through the minors. If he gets some time at Norfolk under his belt in July and August the O’s may feel comfortable enough to bring him to Baltimore for a spot start or two, or perhaps a relief appearance.
-Mike Yastrzemski will turn 28 in August. He has been in the O’s farm system since 2013. The former 14th-round draft pick has never been a highly-touted prospect, but his bump up to Norfolk back in May seemed to galvanize him. He’s batting .266/.360/.448 since then. If he can’t get a September call up in a season like this, it may never happen.
-Another aging prospect is Luis Gonzalez, a left-handed reliever currently with Bowie. He has appeared in 26 games out of the bullpen for the Baysox and currently sports a 2.41 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, .171 batting average against and has struck out 50 batters in 41 innings. The 26-year-old has reverse splits. Righties are currently hitting .133 against him.
-It has been a long road for Branden Kline. The Frederick native has pitched to a 1.71 ERA over two levels (High-A, Double-A) this year. The righty has had a number of issues with his pitching elbow during his career. Perhaps they are finally behind him and the 2012 draft pick can move forward in his career.
-Ryan McKenna may be on his way to being named the Orioles minor league player of the year. The 21-year-old outfielder crushed the competition with Frederick (.377/.467/.556), and he will almost certainly rocket up the prospect charts this off-season. His season was taking a similar path to that of Hays in 2017. But Double-A has slowed McKenna a bit, which is totally fine. He’s young for the level and would do well to spend some time there and adjust to better competition.
-Hays has had a nightmare season himself. Prior to his injury, the now-23-year-old was hitting .224/.259/.374 with six home runs, four doubles, nine walks and 43 strikeouts. He was told in spring training that he needed to cut down on the K’s to get back to Baltimore. He has not done that and now needs to get back into the everyday lineup. An especially impressive month or two, however, could see him return to the bigs, but that is far from a guarantee.
-It was a surprise to see Hunter Harvey be summoned to Baltimore back in early April. It’s clear the coaching staff was enamored with his ability during the spring. Harvey never made it into a game, but the organization seems intent on fast tracking him. Unfortunately, he has had more injury woes this season, and he just began throwing again. If all goes well, he has an outside shot at a September call up, but may again just sit on the bench to take in the atmosphere.
There are plenty of other names strewn about the O’s minor league system that could get the call later this summer, but the list above covers most of the big ones. Austin Wynns, Jimmy Yacabonis and Pedro Alvarez may reappear in Baltimore. Renato Nunez has MLB experience and the bat to prove it, but he has known defensive deficiencies. We could be here all day if we mention every Norfolk Tide with a shot at the show.
If all of the players expected to be traded away (Machado, Valencia, Jones, Brad Brach, Zach Britton) actually are dealt, there will be plenty of spots for prospects to get playing time. It is the end of an era in Birdland, which is sad, but there is a lot to like about some of these prospects. The idea of watching Mullins track down fly balls in center and Mountcastle hitting doubles to the gap is enough to get me excited about this team again. Just maybe, we will get to see both sometime soon.