As the Orioles season winds down, few questions remain. Baltimore’s season turned out, for the most part, how we expected. The effects of a long-term rebuild can be absolutely brutal on a team, especially when it begins the season with hardly any talent on the Major League roster. The Orioles were not supposed to be good this season, and they lived up to the hype.
Sure, there were surprises. John Means, Anthony Santander, Hanser Alberto... You’ve heard the stories by now. There is some young talent that could have an impact on the next winning team in Baltimore—whenever that may be. In a season where the writing has been on the wall for several months, what’s left to be intrigued by?
For many rebuilding teams, September can be the most exciting month of the season. Roster expansions allow for struggling clubs to provide a peak behind the curtain and take a glance at some top prospects that will hopefully help turn the organization around. With a rule change coming in 2020, this will be the last year where teams can accomplish that on a major level. Starting in 2020, September rosters will be capped at 28 players per club.
Unfortunately, Mike Elias inherited a farm system so bereft of talent that the club will not have a lot to show next month. The Orioles’ top prospects like Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall will not sniff Baltimore this season, and it remains to be seen whether other high ranking prospects will make an appearance either.
The largest debate amongst fans has focused on Ryan Mountcastle. Mountcastle, the Orioles’ fourth best prospect according to MLB.com’s ranking of the Orioles farm system, has hit .308/.340/.528 across 121 games at Triple-A Norfolk. The 22-year-old has played a majority of games at first base, but has played 21 games in the outfield.
Simply put, there’s not a ton of room for Mountcastle right now. Even with Chris Davis taking a limited role down the stretch, Trey Mancini, Renato Núñez and a few young outfielders would make it difficult for Mountcastle to see at bats at a routine basis. There’s also the concern with his service time and the fact that he shows very little at the plate.
If Mountcastle does not arrive, the impact by position players will be small. Austin Hays could show up and show that he’s healthy and ready to contribute next season, but DJ Stewart and Anthony Santander have already began their auditions for playing time in 2020.
The real impact from roster expansion will come on the rubber. The Orioles bullpen will expand, allowing Brandon Hyde to have a shorter leash if he so chooses in any close ball games the Orioles find themselves in. Granted, the Birds aren’t exactly calling up top relievers, but the option to play matchups and manage fatigue could win the Orioles an extra game or two. After all, Baltimore’s 5.79 ERA jumps further off the page than a Gleyber Torres home run.
The Birds bullpen has already gotten younger with the promotions of former first-round pick Hunter Harvey and Dillon Tate. While both have flashed potential in limited opportunities, Hyde certainly has no interest in over working the young arms.
Dean Kremer, the O’s eighth ranked prospect, could also get an inning or two out of the bullpen. However, Kremer, who had his season debut delayed by an oblique injury, may not have enough high-minors experience to earn a cup of coffee in the show. Expect guys like Evan Phillips and Branden Kline, who are already on the 40-man roster, to soak up some of the surplus innings.
Those holding out hope for the number one pick should be relatively happy with the roster come September 1. The Orioles won’t be promoting an overwhelming amount of talented players, and the thought of a guy like David Hess starting another game for the Orioles should bode well for “tanking” purposes.
The Tigers, who entered Wednesday only two games “ahead” of Baltimore in the loss column, will also be promoting bullpen help and a prospect or two like Daz Cameron or Kyle Funkhouser. If Baltimore runs the “risk” of slightly improving next month, Detroit shares the same possibility.
No matter what, Baltimore still faces an uphill battle to gain the top selection in 2020. But if you’re still watching the Orioles in 2019, you probably have an optimistic bone or two in your body.