It’s premature, sure, but with the Orioles in the midst of a rough August stretch we need something to get excited about. In just a few weeks, major league rosters will expand from 25 players up to 40 for the final ever, possibly ever. MLB is instituting a new rule starting next season that limits roster sizes in the season’s final month to just 28 players. That, paired with with the increase of daily rosters to 26 means that, at any one time, the Orioles will only be able to add two new faces for the stretch run. We are witnessing history here, folks. For now, though, we could see 40 players in the Camden Yards dugout a few weeks from now.
It’s always interesting to see how a manager and GM maneuver around this unique time of year. The previous duo of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette preferred to keep things relatively intimate, usually limiting their call-ups to four or five additional guys at any one time. It remains to be seen how the rookie combo or Brandon Hyde and Mike Elias handle it.
In 2018, the O’s brought up Breyvic Valera, Jimmy Yacabonis, Chance Sisco, Stevie Wilkerson, Corban Joseph, D.J. Stewart, Donnie Hart, Evan Phillips and John Means. According to the team’s transaction log, they also added Austin Hays, who was injured at the time, but he obviously did not play in any MLB games last year. None of these names were especially surprising. Most of them were in Norfolk and had been with the big league squad in some capacity earlier in the season. Means and Stewart were the only big league debutantes in the bunch.
It could be more of the same in 2019. The biggest names in the O’s minors won’t be making any late-season appearances. While their farm system has improved in the one season under Elias’s watch, much of that added talent is in the low minors, still several years away from Baltimore.
So, who will be promoted to the big leagues next month, and who will just miss out? These are some of the names that could make the leap:
Keegan Akin, LHP
Akin is the best pitching prospect on the Orioles highest-level affiliate. The lefty was named to the International League all-star team, and he has been racking up strikeouts (111 in 97 innings. But it’s been an uneven performance as he also owns a 4.65 ERA and 5.33 xFIP. The Western Michigan product has only tossed 97 innings, so he should have enough gas left in the tank for a start or two with the O’s. However, he is not currently on the 40-man roster, which could mean the Orioles wait until next season to call him up.
Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/OF
The O’s top hitting prospect has had a nice year with the stick in Norfolk. Through 107 games, he is slashing .314/.341/.516 with 20 home runs and a 113 wRC+. Those aren’t other-worldly numbers, but they will certainly play. His 23.1% strikeout rate and 3.7% walk rate are both a bit discouraging, and it’s possible that the front office wants to see further improvement there prior to issuing a promotion. Just like Akin, he would need to be added to the 40-man.
Austin Hays, OF
It’s been a nightmare season for Hays from a health perspective. He has only played in 39 games for the Tides, plus 28 games for various other affiliates. When he is on the field, he isn’t exactly lighting up the box score (.244/.288/.475, 83 wRC+ with Norfolk). But he is already on the 40-man and may simply need the innings towards the end of the season to put himself in a position to compete for a big league spot next season.
Hunter Harvey, RHP
For the former first-round pick, the 2019 season has been more about getting on the field rather than the numbers he has been able to put up. The 5.13 ERA and 1.37 WHIP he has between Bowie and Norfolk this season won’t wow anyone. But his triple-digit fastball will. Harvey will be a candidate for the Orioles bullpen next season, so why not take a look at him for a few innings this September for a preview of things to come?
Dillon Tate, RHP
Tate is the only name on this list that has already played for the Orioles this season. In three appearances he struggled, allowing seven runs in six innings. But the 25-year-old has had such a quality season for the Baysox that he deserves to finish out the season in the big leagues. Like Harvey, Tate is in a prime position to begin the 2019 season with the Orioles bullpen. A quality showing this September could make that even more likely.
There are, of course, other players with a chance to be called up. David Hess, Evan Phillips, Tanner Scott and Jimmy Yacabonis are familiar names that could take one last shuttle ride up from Norfolk this season. Austin Wynns may be brought up to spell Sisco or Pedro Severino. Cedric Mullins may even re-emerge. You get the idea.
Something the Orioles will not do is push prospects beyond a level with which they may be comfortable. Don’t expect to see the likes of Yusniel Diaz, Dean Kremer or Michael Baumann to leap from Bowie to Baltimore just because they are exciting to watch play. Fun Septembers are mostly reserved for competitive teams. The Orioles are still a couple of years away from that.