Everyone knew this season was going to be a struggle for the Orioles at the big league level. The squad has been gutted of talent over the last year, and the new front office regime came to town with a clear vision on how to build a perennial winner. That vision included fielding a woefully bad team in 2019.
Sunday’s 10-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians leaves the O’s with a 15-31 win-loss record, ahead of only the Miami Marlins in all of Major League Baseball. The O’s have won just one series since they took two out of three from both the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays in the season’s first week of action.
Things are bad, which was not unexpected. But the Orioles do need to maintain some level of competitiveness at the major league level regardless of their long-term goals. There are a few ways they could do that with ease.
Option Joey Rickard
There was a time when it made sense for Joey Rickard to have a place on this roster. He was a logical fourth outfielder on the opening day team, and then transitioned into the center fielder role following the demotion of Cedric Mullins.
Rickard now finds himself back in a reserve role, earning scraps of playing time ever since Stevie Wilkerson affixed himself in the outfield. This reduction in his playing time now means that Rickard has to take advantage of the moments he is on the field. Instead, he has flopped.
The soon-to-be-28-year-old owns a 72 wRC+ and a .204/.291/.354 batting line this season. The lack of offense would be somewhat acceptable if Rickard also played exceptional defense, but he doesn’t. According to Roster Resource, the former Rule 5 pick has two options left. The Orioles should use one and promote a player with a better chance to contribute.
Promote D.J. Stewart
There is no reason to rush prospects to the big leagues, but D.J. Stewart has done everything he can in the minors. It’s time for him to get an extended look in Baltimore. The success of Dwight Smith Jr. has made this more difficult to pull off, but there should be enough at-bats between the two corner outfield spots and DH to get Stewart regular looks.
The former first-round pick is hitting .291/.404/.575 with eight home runs and a 146 wRC+ with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. Over the last two weeks alone, Stewart is hitting .400 with five home runs and a ridiculous 19 RBI. Through 37 games, this has been Stewart’s best professional season by far. He deserves the promotion.
Designate Renato Nunez for assignment
All of Renato Nunez’s value exists in his bat. The Orioles understand this, which is why he has only played four games in the field this season. Unfortunately for Nunez, his bat has disappeared this month.
Since the end of April, Nunez is 5-for-52 with one double and one home run. He has struck out 16 times and walked once. These struggles have dropped his season wRC+ to 64, the worst of any qualified hitter on the Orioles.
The discussion back in spring training revolving around the third base competition was that Nunez was the better hitter while Rio Ruiz excelled in the field. As it stands, Ruiz is actually better on both sides of the ball. That’s a problem for Nunez. There are enough intriguing hitters in the O’s minors (Stewart, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle) that the team shouldn’t hold onto a one-dimensional player with little upside at the expense of others.
Send Miguel Castro to the minors
It’s been a tough season for the Orioles bullpen, especially Miguel Castro. The tall right-hander has a 7.48 ERA, 59 ERA+ and a 1.754 WHIP. As always, Castro’s struggles are confounding given his pure talent on the mound. And, according to FanGraphs, he is actually throwing harder this season by more than one mile per hour. It’s a real head-scratcher.
Castro is still just 24 years old, and he has one minor league option remaining. His increased velocity is an encouraging sign, but how often he has been getting hit is a concern. It’s the type of thing that may be easier to remedy against lower-level hitters.
Replacing Castro with one of the Norfolk arms (Evan Phillips, Tanner Scott, Matt Wotherspoon, Sean Gilmartin, etc.) will not do much to improve the O’s relief staff right now, but if it allows Castro to rebound from his early season woes then it could be worth it going forward.
Give Ryan Mountcastle his debut
The Orioles top prospect, Ryan Mountcastle, is getting close to knocking down the major league door. He owns a .325/.353/.519 batting line through 39 games with Norfolk. And he’s fresh off of a five-RBI performance over the weekend. It’s safe to say that he is one of the 25 best players in the entire organization. Adding him into the Baltimore lineup would provide a much-needed jolt.
However, Mountcastle has not quite “graduated” the International League just yet. He is supposed to be working on his plate discipline, and yet he has walked just seven times while striking out 38 times. He is almost exclusively playing first base, a position that is brand new to him this season. And this is only his first go around at Triple-A. A hot first month does not mean he is ready to move up.
On top of that, where his playing time would come from is not clear. Chris Davis has started to look like a professional baseball player again this season. Trey Mancini is still the team’s best hitter. And Mark Trumbo’s return is looming. There just aren’t a ton of first base/DH at-bats to go around, especially if Stewart gets thrown into that mix as well. Mountcastle will get his turn, but it may take a few more months before he gets there.