In a season full of terrible months, September is quite likely to be the absolute worst for the Baltimore Orioles. This group has just three wins since August ended and, with a gauntlet of some of the league’s toughest teams ahead of them, it wouldn’t be overly surprising to see them lose nearly all of their remaining games. Even still, there has been some modicum of value in this awful brand of baseball on display every night.
Adam Jones’s time with the Orioles is nearly over
The Orioles are under no legal obligation to play Adam Jones every night. His 10-and-5 rights gave him the option of denying any trade he was presented, but they did not guarantee a place in the lineup. With a young team undergoing a drastic facelift, it’s not surprising to see a veteran lose playing time.
However, Jones is not your average journeyman that’s spent a decade in the league bouncing from club to club. He has been a Oriole since 2008, been the face of the franchise almost that entire time and showed his dedication to the team and the city by signing an extension and doing notable work in the community.
On top of that, the Orioles roster is not exactly bursting with outfield talent. Joey Rickard is a known commodity who is fine as a fourth outfielder. John Andreoli was a 28-year-old with limited MLB experience for a reason. D.J. Stewart is a fringe prospect that deserves a look, but the timing of his promotion was delayed for no clear reason.
The move of Jones from center to right was viewed as passing of the torch to Cedric Mullins. Perhaps Jones would stick around and provide guidance from the corner spot. Maybe he would move on in free agency with the chance to tell teams “Yes, I can play right field.” It can work out for both sides, but the strange handling of the 33-year-old’s playing time shows that the O’s aren’t overly concerned about what the future holds for Jones.
Cedric Mullins can handle the centerfield job
Mullins is, at the very least, a lot of fun to watch. He has a skillset that has become foreign to fans of Baltimore baseball. He’s more pesky that he is powerful. The .354 on-base percentage he is currently sporting may not be a true reflection of his abilities, but it points to a future at the top of the order. With the bat, it’s all been positive. Few could complain about a .276/.354/.431 batting line for a 23-year-old with the pressure of replacing a club legend.
It hasn’t been a perfect debut for Mullins, however. His base running has graded out just fine, but he’s been thrown out on two of his three stolen base attempts after swiping 21 bags in the minors this year and only being caught once. Additionally, he is getting killed for his defense early on with FanGraphs giving him a -4.6 UZR.
But this is all coming out of small sample size, which means it should matter much less than the four seasons he spent in the minors, impressing scouts every step of the way. No doubt, there is room to improve for Mullins, but he has proven capable of the job. Watching him continue to develop in 2019 will be one of the main reasons to tune in.
The rest of the outfield is a disaster...for now
So, Mullins starts in center (most of the time), but who’s around him? Jones looks to be headed out the door. Andreoli and Rickard can technically play in the corners, but it’s not an ideal scenario. Stewart deserves an extended look, but he is unlikely to be the everyday stud needed in left field. Trey Mancini has the bat for the position, but absolutely nothing else.
The unfortunate reality is that, despite none of the above options sounding great, they are probably the most favorable outcomes. The Orioles know they won’t be good in 2019, but it’s too early to bring up some of their top hitting prospects, nearly all of which play the outfield. They may be able to nab a reliable veteran on a one-year deal who is an improvement over Rickard or Andreoli, but what’s the point? Losing isn’t fun, but it should be expected for this team next year. Bringing on another Craig Gentry type wouldn’t serve much of a purpose.
Have you enjoyed a month of the Andreoli-Mullins-Rickard outfield? Well, too bad! You might be getting it, or something quite similar to it, 162 more times next year.
The Orioles best prospects aren’t ready yet
This batch of late-season promotions wasn’t too exciting. Mullins was the most interesting addition, but as an August call-up, it now feels as though he has been around longer than half of the players on the roster.
We never got to see Hunter Harvey due to yet another injury. Bowie’s trio of outfielders, Yusniel Diaz, Ryan McKenna and Austin Hays, need some more time. Ryan Mountcastle had a nice summer, but missed some games on the shelf as well. For whatever reason, it just didn’t work out to have the top young guns make their way to Baltimore in 2018.
All of these guys are getting close, though. If Hays is able to have a fully healthy offseason, he may challenge for the right field job in the spring. McKenna tore it up in Frederick and then came back to earth in Bowie; expect a rebound in 2019. Diaz struggled to adjust to the Eastern League, but his tools are universally lauded. Mountcastle will likely be banging down in the down next season, and with nothing but question marks at third base, he could earn an early call-up.
The 2018 season hasn’t worked out the way the Orioles planned. The win-loss record speaks for itself. The lack of impactful prospects making it to the bigs is disappointing. An era is ending in Birdland. The foundation of the next winning O’s team may not have been built this season, but the organization has still learned some important, but difficult, lessons.