It’s been a long summer for the Orioles and their fans. The team has been terrible since April, they have traded away nearly all of their recognizable faces and there is a ton of uncertainty in their future. One month remains in this nightmare season, and yet it has the chance to be the most interesting stretch of the entire year.
September is different than every other month on the MLB calendar. Half the teams are doing everything they can to put the best team on the field in search of a playoff spot. The other half have basically thrown in the towel and pivoted to planning for next season. Both trade deadlines have passed. Rosters have expanded from 25 to 40 spots. The strategy and goals are different throughout the league. Many clubs want to win no matter what. Others want to “get a look” at a couple of their players.
As the worst team in baseball, the wins and losses don’t really matter anymore for the Orioles. This time of year is more about individual performances and unanswered questions. “Can ‘Player A’ make a difference in the 2019 bullpen?” “Does ‘Player B’ have what it takes to be in the lineup every day?” That sort of thing.
The O’s have more questions than most other teams. Due to a combination of trades already made, possible deals to be made over the winter and a handful of pending free agents, there are a lot of holes on this baseball team. Common thinking tells us that September could go a long way towards explaining who may fill those holes going forward.
Last year, when the Orioles were trying to compete in the season’s final month, they brought up a batch of five players right away on September 1: Chance Sisco, Joey Rickard, Pedro Alvarez, Jimmy Yacabonis and Richard Rodriguez. They didn’t all pan out, but the intent was clear.
Things have started slower in 2018 as infielder Breyvic Valera is the lone promotion so far. The minor league season ends later this week, and it appears unlikely that any of the Orioles affiliates will be continuing on to the playoffs. Once the curtain has officially fallen on MiLB for the year, there should be a fresh batch of faces in the O’s clubhouse.
According to MASN’s Roch Kubatko, Valera will soon be joined by Sisco, Cody Carroll, Steve Wilkerson and Austin Hays in Baltimore. All four of them have already played in the majors, but the Orioles will be hoping their better days are ahead of them as they each disappointed in brief cameos.
“What about Ryan Mountcastle? Where are the big pitching prospects from the July trades? Yusniel Diaz must show his face!”
Jon Meoli from the Baltimore Sun did a great job of explaining, player by player, why they may or may not be with the Orioles in September. Basically, the O’s being bad makes roster management a little easier. They don’t have to win at all costs. That allows them to keep talented players in the minors longer while protecting slightly less-tempting players from this winter’s Rule Five draft. It’s a boring explanation, but it’s the reality.
You should go read Meoli’s explanations, but I will save you a click if need be. Mountcastle and Diaz are in no danger of being selected in the Rule Five draft until next year, so the O’s have no reason to add them to the 40-man roster unless they feel that they absolutely need them in Baltimore right now.
The same can be said for players like Ryan McKenna, Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin, who are in the high minors and have performed, but still have plenty of time to develop before the Orioles need to make any big decisions.
Conversely, Luis Ortiz, Dillon Tate, DJ Stewart, Branden Kline and Luis Gonzalez are Rule Five-eligible after this season if they don’t find a spot on the 40-man. The Orioles may be willing to take a chance on some of them, but likely not all of them. Even still, that doesn’t mean they will be called up to the bigs in September. Buck Showalter has mentioned this before, but it’s worth reiterating. The manager doesn’t like having a crowded clubhouse for no reason. He’s not going to bring up 15 additional players this month just because it’s fun for the fan base.
For a very similar reason, the Orioles cannot just call up whoever they want from Triple-A Norfolk. By my count, the team currently has 39 players on their 40-man roster. That leaves room for one guy to be added. Stewart is not on that roster. Neither is Mike Yastrzemski, Drew Dosch, Garabez Rosa or John Means. They could all come up, but that would mean at least four other players being removed to make room. Some players are in the organization strictly for depth, nothing more. The more likely outcome for those just mentioned is that the O’s make trades in the offseason that may (or may not) open up a spot for them.
Another factor in all of these decisions is the physical condition of these young guys. Akin has had a fantastic season for the Bowie Baysox. So good, in fact, that he was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year on Sunday. The lefty has also tossed 137.2 innings this year. His previous career high was 100 innings. His two most recent starts were not good. He’s getting tired. A promotion to Baltimore would be a bad decision.
It is the exact same situation with Kremer. He has played for two different organizations, pitched in three leagues at two levels and has amassed 131.1 innings after throwing just 80 the season before. Kline has collected 65.2 innings after missing two full seasons with injuries. Zach Pop is in just his second pro season. McKenna struggled a bit in Bowie after a hot first half with Frederick. The list goes on and on.
For the first time in a few years, the Orioles have talent up and down the minors that is well-regarded throughout professional baseball. The team is not in a position where they have to push their prospects. Winning is not around the corner at the major league level. This process takes time, and that’s OK.
In case you haven’t already figured it out, Cedric Mullins is going to be the most exciting promotion of the entire season. So far, he has not disappointed, flashing a little power, showing off his speed and bringing some much needed excitement to the table. He forced the Orioles hand by his performance with Norfolk as well as his timing. The time will come for his fellow “top prospects” to join him in the Birds lineup, but 2018 isn’t it.