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Four Orioles second half storylines to watch

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We still have one half of the 2019 season to go and there are reasons to follow the Orioles. These storylines could impact the club for years to come.

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MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles open the second half of their season tonight with a record of 27-62. The race is on for the first pick in the 2020 draft! Despite that, there will be some interesting storylines to follow as the 2019 season mercifully draws to a close. Here are four things I’m looking forward to monitoring.

Who will be traded?

As part of his stated desire to restock the organization’s talent base, Mike Elias will surely discuss a trade of any veteran on the 25 man roster. He probably wishes he had more trade chips at his disposal. As it stands, Andrew Cashner is the most likely trade candidate given his solid performance this season (2.7 WAR) and expiring contract. His 3.83 ERA and 1.19 WHIP would provide a rotation boost to many clubs’ rotation (or bullpen). Our Drew Bonifant did a good job of breaking down the Orioles’ decision when it comes to trading Cashner last week.

If Cashner is the most likely Oriole to be traded, fans will be most interested in what happens to Trey Mancini on July 31. Mancini rebounded from a subpar 2018 season to put up All-Star caliber numbers in the first half. The 27-year old is under team control through the 2022 season. Should they trade him while his value is high or build around him? Mike Elias is handing this the right way, saying on June 11 that he “feels that (if) what we’re getting back is better for the organization than what we’re giving up, then we’re going to listen on it, but he’s an integral part of this team and I hope he’s around for a while.”

Other potential players to be traded are Mychal Givens (club control through 2021), Dylan Bundy (club control through 2021), and Jonathan Villar (club control through 2020). Each could add something to a contending team, but none have had a spectacular 2019 campaign to date.

Which top farmhands will get called up?

Tracking the progress of top prospects is nearly all Orioles fans have to keep their baseball fandom going at this point. That will become more fun when those prospects get called up and we can watch them continue to grow at the major league level. The Birds do have some prospects that could get the call later this season. The obvious one is Ryan Mountcastle. The 22 year old has slashed .307/.329/.505 with 15 home runs in his first season of AAA ball. His defense and plate discipline are question marks, but his bat is mostly ready to play at the highest level.

If Cashner and/or Bundy are traded, the starting rotation will have a hole. Keegan Akin is a player I was hoping to see in Baltimore in 2019, but his first season at Norfolk hasn’t been smooth. He’s struck out 89 batters in 75 innings, but has an ERA of 4.44 and WHIP of an unsightly 1.53. If he strings a few good starts together, he could earn himself a shot. When Dan Connolly recently asked Mike Elias specifically about Mountcastle and Akin, he said that it is possible that both see the majors in 2019 while acknowledging both have work to do yet at AAA.

Austin Hays is another player that O’s fans surely want to see in Baltimore. He’s battled injuries again and is currently wrapping up a rehab assignment. Unfortunately, his .230/.281/.453 combined slash line doesn’t bode well for a call up. DJ Stewart is also rehabbing an injury, one that he suffered during his seven-game stint with the Orioles. The former first-round draft selection could get another look in Baltimore this summer.

This could be a stretch, but Hunter Harvey is on a roll right now. In five appearances since moving to a relief role, he has given up no earned runs and two hits in twelve innings. His fastball has flirted with 100 MPH. Harvey has made only two appearances at Norfolk, but he’s healthy and has never lacked talent.

Which current players on the 25 man roster will establish themselves?

Or, in the words of Buck Showalter, which players are nuggets? In The Athletic Q&A linked previously, Elias reiterates that Baltimore provides a great opportunity for players right now. John Means grasped that opportunity in the first half and became an All-Star.

Players I’m specifically watching in the second half include Chance Sisco. He’s been a 0.9 WAR player in only 60 at bats and his 16 combined home runs this season are far more than his previous career high. His .283/.394/.667 line in the majors this season screams regression, but I’m intrigued by his newfound power stroke. Is it here to stay? Will his defense improve, making him a solid catching option?

Richie Martin also intrigues me, despite his very poor performance thus far. His offense has been abysmal, and it can’t be blamed on bad luck; his average exit velocity is in the bottom 2% of the league. He came to the Orioles with a reputation as being a plus defender and he’s made some impressive plays with the glove. But overall, he’s missed on several ball in play that should have been recorded as outs.

Fangraphs

Martin has clearly been in over his head thus far. I hope that his half season of MLB experience allows him to relax in the second half and improve his game. He is another former first-round pick and the shortstop job in 2020 can be grasped if he earns it.

Will the team finish the season playing hard?

Managers can be evaluated in a variety of ways: how well they handle bullpens, their feel for in-game tactics, putting players in the best situation to succeed, etc. But one of the most important duties of a manager is getting his players to play hard throughout the grind that is a 162 game baseball season. It is what separates the good managers from the greats.

One of the great things about sports is that even in the current analytic age, there is still a human element to the game. It is impossible for us to quantify attributes such as effort and intensity. Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal can’t create a system or formula to motivate players. That task falls to Brandon Hyde.

We can’t fully evaluate Hyde as a manager at this point; he hasn’t had the best roster to work with this season. But it will be interesting to monitor the club’s play down the stretch. If they are playing hard for their manager while approaching (and perhaps eclipsing) 100 losses, then it bodes well for Hyde’s managerial future.

What storylines are you looking forward to watching play out in the remainder of the 2019 Orioles season?