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It’s time for a change in the Orioles outfield

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With multiple outfielders struggling, it’s time for a fresh face or two in Baltimore. The Orioles need to give DJ Stewart, and eventually Austin Hays, another look this season.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Orioles have completed their first major trade of the year, they’ve officially transitioned from being just a last place team to a “seller.” Baltimore does not have a lot of assets, but they will certainly entertain any reasonable offer for any player on the roster. The Orioles no longer are who we thought they were; they’re about to be even less.

With Andrew Cashner now in Boston, and Dylan Bundy on the IL, the rotation has never been in worse shape. The bullpen has let the team down all season, and would be even worse off without a recently improved Mychal Givens. With little to no help waiting at Triple-A Norfolk, the Orioles pitching is what it is. There’s a chance the Birds promote Hunter Harvey to a bullpen role in September, and the club has been rightfully patient with Keegan Akin. Until then, Baltimore will make do with Asher Wojciechowski and Aaron Brooks.

Unlike the pitching, the Orioles have a little more freedom with position players. They could promote Austin Wynns or Jesus Sucre if they needed another catcher, although Pedro Severino is out of options. Top prospect Ryan Mountcastle has impressed at the plate all year for the Tides, and would likely be ready if and when the Orioles decided to give him a shot.

The Orioles new front office, led by executive vice president Mike Elias, has been very clear that they do not intend to rush players up to the big leagues. They sent Chance Sisco down to gain more seasoning at the beginning of the year, and there has not been much talk about Akin getting a call even with the state of the rotation. This certainly makes sense with certain players. The Orioles are not in a hurry to win ball games, and expediting the process, especially for a pitcher, can have extremely negative effects. All of that being said, it’s time for a change.

The Orioles outfield last night featured Dwight Smith Jr. in left, Anthony Santander up the middle and Trey Mancini played right field. Even with the state of this team, the Orioles can make immediate changes to the 7-9 spots.

Our own Nick Cicere had a nice write up on Tuesday covering Smith Jr.’s recent struggles. After an impressive start to the season, Cicere asked the question fans have been thinking for a while — What happened?

Smith Jr. has yet to record a hit in July, and is currently immersed in an 0-30 slump. Cicere touches on the launch angle of Smith Jr.’s swing, his poor defense, and his “non-existent” slugging percentage against off-speed pitches. I’d encourage all of you to give the article a read to gain a better understanding of a puzzling season by the 26-year-old.

Perhaps the most important thing regarding Smith is that he has one minor league option remaining. He would not have to clear waivers if the Orioles wanted to give someone else a look, and it’s time to do so.

DJ Stewart has recovered from a right ankle sprain, and should already be on his way to Baltimore. The Orioles activated Stewart on Sunday and optioned him to Norfolk. Stewart completed a rehab assignment at Bowie, and appears to be healthy with the Tides. Unlike Mountcastle or Akin, Stewart has enough MLB experience that he doesn’t need to be stashed at Norfolk until September.

The 25-year-old did not exactly light the world on fire in his seven games at Baltimore this year (he hit just .167), but he’s slashed .302/.410/.568 in 48 games for the Tides this season. Stewart doesn’t need to prove himself at Norfolk, he needs to demonstrate he can stick on a Major League roster. The Orioles would benefit from a longer look at Stewart as they gather where he fits into the team’s future. Even if the former first-rounder struggles, he can’t be much worse the Smith Jr. has played of late.

Center field has been a debacle in Baltimore from the start of the season. Cedric Mullins made Richie Martin look like a league average hitter, and he was recently optioned down to Bowie after his struggles continued at Triple-A. Stevie Wilkerson has played admirable at times, but he’s not an everyday center fielder at the Big League level.

The Orioles have tried out former Rule-5 pick Anthony Santander in center, and that’s exactly what they should be doing. Santander has impressed at times, and his .273/.331/.421 is enough to keep him around. On the other hand, Keon Broxton is hitting just .176 this year.

At age 29, Broxton does not appear to have a role in the future of this organization. The Orioles acquiring him out of necessity made sense at the time, but the Florida native has served his purpose in Baltimore. MASN’s Roch Kubatko noted on Tuesday that Broxton “has one hit this month and is in a 3-for-30 slump. He’s struck out 49 times in 99 at-bats with the Orioles.”

Austin Hays will likely stay at Norfolk for the foreseeable future after recovering from a hamstring injury, and that makes sense. Hays had only played 11 games at Norfolk before returning last week, and the organization likely wants to seem him excel at the plate before getting the call. Until Hays arrives, it makes sense to give the Santander the reigns in center field. If the Orioles do not want to option Smith Jr, they could release Broxton and allow Santander and Wilkerson to play up the middle.

Mancini’s recent slump has only further exposed the Orioles outfield woes. The Orioles All-Star snub has only one hit in his last seven games, and has yet to find his groove after the break. It’s often been mentioned that Mancini probably should not play the outfield at all, but we all know how that conversation goes.

The Orioles should not, and will not, make roster decisions based on winning games this season. However, taking a look at Stewart and eventually Hays are the best things for the future of the club. Dwight Smith Jr. could easily bounce back from his recent slump, but it’s time for a fresh face or two in Baltimore.