The Orioles are making roster moves like they are going out of style. I’ll refrain from discussing Anthony Bemboom today when he could be gone tomorrow. Backup catchers last about as long as a Cartwright girlfriend these days, so let’s focus on some guys that should be here when this article posts.
Baltimore has pieced together a winning record over the last two weeks without Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, and James McCann. The Orioles scratched Gunnar Henderson on Sunday with the stomach flu, and they have played nearly the duration of the season without Mychal Givens or Dillon Tate.
Ryan O’Hearn and Aaron Hicks have both lifted the Orioles over this difficult stretch. Both players went deep last night, and Hicks drove in half of Baltimore’s eight runs. Winning teams need unexpected contributions over the course of 162 games, but will either of the pair stick around beyond this season?
Camden Chat’s John Beers wrote yesterday about some uncertainty at first base. Ryan Mountcastle has failed to take a necessary step with plate discipline, and his recent IL trip with vertigo leaves little room for speculation. Mountcastle has quickly become one of the biggest question marks on a team hoping to continue its ascent toward the peak of the AL East.
Ryan O’Hearn has stepped in and emerged as a middle-of-the-order bat capable of sparking the offense on a nightly basis. He entered last night’s game in Tampa with a .349 average and a 1.003 OPS. His exit velocity ranks in the top half of the league, and his ability to play corner outfield in a pinch only increases his value.
The Orioles can maintain control of O’Hearn through next season if he remains in their plans. Baltimore has yet to signal that it would permanently shift Anthony Santander to first base, and the same can be said for Heston Kjerstad. O’Hearn, even with a drop off, would likely still nudge Josh Lester or a lesser outside candidate for an opportunity to battle Mountcastle next spring.
Baltimore inked Hicks to a major league deal when Mullins went down and the former Yankee has exceeded even optimistic expectations. Hicks hit .327 with a .992 OPS over his first 16 games with the Orioles. He has consistently looked capable in center field and has the position locked up until Mullins returns.
The 33-year-old is capable of bringing veteran leadership to the dugout, but that feels less significant this year. He’s here to do a job, and he’s done just that. The Orioles have yet to put a specific timeline on Mullins’ return, but both he and Mountcastle joined Norfolk last night to begin rehab assignments. Even with Mullins on the mend, Hicks appears to have played his way into an extended stay on the roster.
Speculating on Hicks and O’Hearn are two completely different ball games. Hicks has demonstrated an ability to perform in this league—he slashed .266/.372/.475 with New York in 2017—before significantly losing his touch. Some players struggle in the spotlight, and the lights get pretty bright at Yankee Stadium.
Hicks fits a change-of-scenery mold, while O’Hearn has capitalized on the shift ban. O’Hearn continues to spray the ball to the right side, but plenty of balls are reaching right field. The shift isn’t coming back anytime soon, so O’Hearn picked the right time to catch on with the Birds.
The Orioles recalled O’Hearn before Mountcastle’s injury and they will keep him when Mountcastle returns. Lester should face the chopping block when Mountcastle recovers, but it’s less clear in the outfield. Would Baltimore stick with Hicks over Ryan McKenna? McKenna still has an option remaining.
Of course, Hicks faces the added competition of a looming Colton Cowser. The Orioles have not hustled to promote prospects—just ask Jordan Westburg—with big leaguers performing at an adequate level. Cowser, the Orioles second highest prospect, should make his debut at some point this season, but that date remains a mystery.
There’s definitely a world where both Hicks and O’Hearn last the remained of the season with the Orioles, but is it this world? Baltimore’s positional flexibility removes the need for a certain number of outfielders or first baseman on the roster. Mike Elias and Co. may just ride it out with both big leaguers until either gives him a reason to make a move.