All the way back in spring training, before the Orioles had lost a single game, everyone kind of expected this. Nobody knew exactly how they would get here, but any fan holding reasonable expectations knew Baltimore was in for another year in the basement of the AL East.
Fast forward to August 14th, and well, Baltimore is right where we expected them to be. To quote the late football coach Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were.” After dropping 15 straight to the Yankees, the Orioles sit at 39-81 this year. They are who we thought they were, but that’s not to say there hasn’t been a surprise or two along the way.
Back in March, a few things were certain. The Orioles starting rotation, which at that point included Andrew Cashner and a soon-to-be healthy Alex Cobb, was extremely thin. John Means broke camp in the bullpen, and really only ended up on the 25-man roster because of which hand he released the ball with. Baltimore was still holding out hope for David Hess to succeed at this level, and the now routine “breakout potential” narrative still followed Dylan Bundy.
That, to the surprise of no one, did not work out. There were questions at shortstop, many expected Chance Sisco to start behind the plate right away, and no one really knew what to expect from Mark Trumbo.
But there was one area that felt safe. The Orioles appeared to have legitimate depth in the outfield. As it turned out, that wasn’t the case either.
On opening day, the Orioles started Dwight Smith Jr. in left field, Cedric Mullins up the middle and Joey Rickard in right. Trey Mancini served as the designated hitter.
Fair or not, Mullins became an early face of the rebuild when he joined the club and bumped Adam Jones from center field last season. He became a fan favorite in this website’s minor league recaps, and was one of the only players worth getting excited about in a mostly barren farm system.
Mullins only slashed .235/.312/.359 over 45 games in 2018, but that was okay. The club didn’t need him to light the world on fire immediately after being called up, especially when he only hit .269 in 60 games at Norfolk. Still, fans held out hope for his first full pro season this year.
Simply put, Mullins didn’t have it. He hit safely only six times in 64 at bats before being relegated back to Triple-A. Mullins appeared legitimately over matched at the plate, and the Orioles had lost their starting centerfielder only 22 games into the season. Mullins was eventually demoted to Double-A Bowie after his struggles followed him to the minors, and it would be a surprise to see him again this year even after the rosters expand next month.
Joey Rickard hit just .203/.304/.347 before eventually being designated for assignment on June 17. Rickard played in 42 games for Baltimore this season before Mike Elias and the staff had seen enough. It was well understood that Rickard profiled, at best, as a fourth outfielder, and he couldn’t hack it as an everyday player on a last place team.
Dwight Smith Jr. turned around fastballs early and often, but eventually fell off from his hot start. As it stands, he’s hitting .238/.293/.415 through 84 games. Smith is still recovering from a left calf injury that’s caused him to miss time, and there’s a legitimate chance he could be passed up on the depth chart before the season ends.
Trey Mancini has posted All-Star caliber numbers this season, and continues to log time in the outfield. He’s hit .279/.343/.542 through 113 games, and his next homer will mark his 30th of the season. Mancini avoided being dealt at the trade deadline, and remains an anchor in the Orioles outfield (despite being a first baseman).
Anthony Santander’s breakout will go down as one of the better Baltimore stories in 2019. Andrea SK welcomed everyone onto the Anthony Santander hype train earlier this month, and he has yet to provide a reason to jump off.
Andrea broke down Santander’s history with the club as a Rule 5 pick, and his early struggles at the MLB level. She also focused on what Santander is doing differently this season, and mentioned that Brandon Hyde and Trey Mancini think the 24-year-old will be a fixture on the next winning team in Baltimore.
If you take Mancini out of the equation, the Orioles are extremely thin in the outfield right now. With Smith Jr. and DJ Stewart on the IL, Stevie Wilkerson has been forced into an everyday role. His situation, a fourth outfielder forced into a daily role, resembles Rickard’s, and he’ll likely stick around for the remainder of the season. He’s hit just .225/.270/.395 this year, but his .265 batting average through 11 August games would be his best in any month this season.
Tyler Young mentioned in his September call ups preview that Austin Hays could make his way to Baltimore at some point. The injury-prone Hays was once considered the top outfield prospect in the O’s system, and the 24-year-old will make his way back to Baltimore at some point. If he remains healthy, he’ll work his way into the outfield competition next spring.
Things rarely go as planned at the Major League level. Even when a team meets its expected performance, it doesn’t happen exactly how we all anticipated. As it turned out, the Orioles didn’t have as much depth in the outfield as we all thought. Santander’s recent upswing has balanced out the disappointment of Mullins, and Trey Mancini has performed at a high level at the plate. Next year’s Opening Day lineup is a long way away, and we’ve already witnessed how quickly things can change.