The Orioles 2019 season is going about as well as any of us could have expected. There have been some fun moments. A few players have surprised us. But many others have been just as bad as anticipated.
This campaign was billed as an exploratory period. The new GM, manager and players were all going to get to know one another, and then decisions would be made on who would stick on the roster and who would move on.
With a month and a half remaining in the season, if feels safe to say that a number of players who were viewed as fringe-y roster options coming into the year have officially staked their claim to a spot on the roster in 2020. Hanser Alberto and Anthony Santander fit firmly into this category.
There are also a few others who still need more time on the field before any real decisions can be made. This would include players like D.J. Stewart, Dillon Tate and a number of others that have still only had a cup of major league coffee.
However, there are a handful of players that have been given ample opportunities to show they are ready to stay in the show long term, and yet they just have not gotten it done. Their struggles are not due to a lack of innings, but rather a lack of performance. It doesn’t mean that they will have absolutely no role with the Orioles in the future, but they have a lot of work to do before that can happen.
Richie Martin, shortstop
The only thing that has kept Martin in the majors this season is his Rule 5 status. The rookie has been atrocious at the plate. No matter how you look at it, it’s bad. He is slashing .191/.247/.290 and boasts a pitiful 43 OPS+. What’s worse is that his defense, which was meant to be his calling card, has been poor as well. He has been worth -9 DRS and owns a -5.4 UZR. He seems destined to start next season in Bowie or Norfolk rather than Baltimore.
David Hess, right-handed pitcher
It feels like we’ve seen this film before. The struggles of Hess have been reminiscent of what happened with Mike Wright Jr. Both pitchers have had career highlights. Remember Hess’s no-hit performance against the Blue Jays back in April? It seems like a lifetime ago now. The righty’s -0.8 fWAR is the second-worst mark on the team, in front of only the now-departed Dan Straily. Perhaps turning the 26-year-old into a full-time reliever could produce better results.
Chris Davis, first baseman
The Orioles have really tried to give Davis as many chances as possible to turn his career around. It hasn’t worked. The “slugger” has a 53 wRC+, which is an improvement over 2018 (46 wRC+), but it’s still a woeful performance. Davis is unlikely to get released over the winter, but he could easily be pushed out in the spring by Trey Mancini and top prospect Ryan Mountcastle.
Dwight Smith Jr., outfielder
This is a tough one. Smith started the season so well, hitting .276/.325/.486 in March and April. But he has been pretty terrible since then, owns an 83 wRC+ for the season and has battled injuries all summer. Smith will almost certainly remain on the Orioles 40-man roster in 2020 as he still has one minor league option. But he faces stiff competition to make the 25-man squad out of the spring.
Tom Eshelman, right-handed pitcher
Like Smith, Eshelman will likely be around next year and maybe beyond. He has options remaining and is a talent that GM Mike Elias is familiar with from his Astros days. But the righty’s mid-80s velocity is worrying, and his stats reflect that. His 6.50 ERA, 5.94 xFIP and 5.50 K/9 all indicate he isn’t fooling many hitters. A pitcher with his physical skills will always have to be perfect in order to yield positive results. It remains to be seen if he can do that with any regularity in the big leagues.
As the Orioles improve, they will hope to improve their high minors depth. Once that happens, they will be able to avoid giving significant at-bats to hitters with wRC+’s below 50 or a huge chunk of innings to pitchers with ERA’s over six. For now, though, these are the best major league ready talents that the organization can produce.
That doesn’t mean that the players listed above can’t improve to the point where they are viable major league options. Martin and Hess have shown enough promise that the O’s won’t want to give up on them just yet. Smith may just need to get healthy. Eshelman could just need more seasoning. And Davis...well, that’s a different story.