Most of MLB’s rule changes from last year’s COVID-19 shortened season have remained in effect this year. On the downside, the powers-that-be nixed the universal DH in 2021. Too bad. Also too bad they didn’t cut that rule that puts a runner on second base to start each extra inning.
Moving along to roster construction, the rules used to be quite different. Up until two years ago, MLB teams could drastically increase the size of their active roster towards the end of the year. Remember when teams were allowed as many as 15 extra players for the final month of the season?
Former Orioles manager Buck Showalter was never a fan of bumping rosters from 25 to 40 players in September. He explained as much in a Peter Schmuck piece that appeared in the Baltimore Sun years ago:
“It brings a lot more versatility to a [struggling] club,” he said. “Instead of having 13 position players, a lot of those teams have to carry 12 position players and 13 pitchers, because their pitching has been a bit of a struggle. So now, you go from having three guys on the bench to having nine guys on the bench. And you can have 11 guys in the bullpen instead of having six or seven. It’s just a different dynamic. It levels the playing field.”
Beginning last year, though, rosters can expand only to 28 players in September. As far as the Orioles are concerned, they’ve got 13 healthy minor league players on the 40-man roster who could be recalled easily. That includes seven pitchers, three infielders, and three outfielders.
First, let’s go over the players who are unlikely to get a promotion next month.
It’s been a tough season for outfielder Yusniel Diaz, once considered the gem of the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers. In 100 at-bats with the Tides this year, he’s slashing .180/.245/.280 at the plate. It’s not looking good for him.
Third baseman Rylan Bannon, another part of the Machado package, is slashing just .168/.280/.395 at Triple-A. There was hope in the beginning of the year that he would make his MLB debut this year and lock down either second or third base for the O’s. That doesn’t seem likely now.
A couple of other longshots include corner infielders Tyler Nevin and Kelvin Gutierrez. Gutierrez was acquired this summer from the Royals and went 4-for-23 in during an eight-game stretch with the O’s in July. He’s batting .208 for Norfolk right now. Nevin is having an underwhelming season himself, slashing .226/.295/.395 for the Tides.
The Orioles have a pair of young starting pitchers down below who have struggled to find consistency in the bigs this year. Alexander Wells has produced a 7.71 ERA in six games with the O’s, and a 3.78 ERA in 11 games with the Tides. Dean Kremer, on the other hand, has struggled at multiple levels. He’s got an ERA over seven with the Birds and his Norfolk ERA is approaching six.
Starter Zac Lowther is currently on a rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League. He’s been out since July 20 with a strained shoulder.
Hunter Harvey, who’s been on the IL with a strained lat, could easily slip back onto the roster and into the bullpen in September. But that’s assuming his rehab progression goes smoothly and he returns to full health before the season ends.
Outfielder Ryan McKenna wins the award this year for most trips between Norfolk and the big league club this year. His speed and defense alone make him an obvious contender for roster expansion next month.
A strong starting candidate in September is Michael Baumann, who is still waiting to make his big league debut. He’s got a 3.92 ERA across three different levels of the minors, and has really turned it at Triple-A recently, aside from an abbreviated one-inning start last night. In four starts with Norfolk, which includes a complete game, he’s got a 2.81 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and .167 BAA.
Maybe the team will give newly-claimed pitcher Zack Burdi a chance in Baltimore soon. He happens to be a former 1st round draft pick of the White Sox in 2016 who was claimed off waivers from Chicago yesterday and immediately optioned to the Norfolk Tides. Burdi’s major league experience includes 16.1 innings over the past two years and an 8.27 ERA.
A couple of potential bullpen reinforcement include Isaac Mattson and Dusten Knight, who have both had brief exposure in the bigs. Mattson has given up three runs in three innings pitched for the O’s this year, and Knight has given up six earned runs in 7.1 innings in the majors. At Norfolk, Mattson is carrying an ERA over eight, while Knight’s mark in that department is under two.
Jahmai Jones is an intriguing position player candidate if the O’s think his defense at second base is ready. Jones’ was on fire at the plate earlier this year, but his bat has cooled considerably in the latter part of the summer. He’s currently slashing .237/.327/.411 with the Tides.
Most likely, the O’s will keep rotating players on and off the roster throughout September. And they’ll probably use that opportunity to try and maintain the freshness of their pitching staff. But if we’re lucky, maybe we’ll get a look at someone like Jahmai Jones or Michael Baumann for an extended stretch. We’ll have to wait and see. At least September is not too far away.