For the Baltimore Orioles, the 2019 season will end up being a lost one. Playing 4-8 in their last 12 games, the O’s (13-24) occupy the cellar of the American League East, 10.5 games behind the first-place Tampa Bay Rays (23-13).
To put this in perspective, on April 22 the Orioles’ chances of winning the division stood at 0.847%, and as of three days ago it’s dwindled further, to 0.266%. Barely a quarter of a percent!
There’s no easy way to put it, the rest of the 2019 season will be tough to watch for Orioles fans. The team is not a year into their rebuild yet, and the farm system doesn’t rank among baseball’s elite. Taking all of this into account, there’s still several reasons for Baltimore baseball diehards to go to bed encouraged and excited about the future of the Orioles. Here’s three of those reasons.
1. Trey Mancini and Dwight Smith Jr. have been exceptional
One of the lines recently tossed around in conversation amongst Birdland has been “well how many of these guys will actually be on the roster when the team is competitive again?” We can’t answer that question right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate what some young talent has been accomplishing.
The Orioles best offensive weapon this season has been Trey Mancini. As of May 9 Mancini ranks seventh in the AL in batting average (.328) and fifth in hits (44). Mancini is tied with Dwight Smith Jr. and Renato Nunez for the team lead in home runs with six. While he’s yet to be given an opportunity in an everyday first baseman role, Mancini is hitting second in the lineup almost every night and doing more than enough to stay there.
A recent hand injury has stalled Mancini’s hot streak for now, but it’s not something that should linger into the summer.
Smith Jr. leads the Orioles with 23 RBI, and he’s hitting .284 overall. Watching him hit and run in the outfield, it’s hard to understand how the Toronto Blue Jays sent Smith Jr. to Baltimore in March after just 92 at-bats with the team over the last two years. The Orioles certainly aren’t complaining.
As the weeks go by, trade rumors around MLB will start to swirl and eventually sports talk show hosts around the country will spend lots of time gossiping over them. Looking at the Orioles roster, Mancini and Smith Jr. are the top two names that stick out as potential trade bait. Smith Jr. can provide an upgrade in left field for a contender, and Mancini is versatile defensively with a great bat.
2. John Means has been a Godsend to a thin pitching staff
Oftentimes, watching the Orioles 2019 pitching staff has not been a pleasant experience. The Birds shattered the record for most home runs allowed before May with 73 dingers given up. The 1996 Detroit Tigers previously held that honor with 50 long balls surrendered early in the 1996 season.
Only a 23-run difference, no big deal.
Needless to say, it’s been a taxing month-and-a-half for this heavily inexperienced pitching staff. But it only took three times watching John Means in relief for Brandon Hyde to decide that the left-hander was effective enough to be inserted into the starting rotation.
Means has taken this opportunity and run with it. On the season he’s 4-3 with a 2.48 ERA, making five starts with nine total appearances. With a nasty change-up recently added to his pitch arsenal, he’s struck out 29 hitters with 26 hits and only seven walks granted. Means has given up nine earned runs in 32.2 innings, but four of those came in his rough five-inning start against the White Sox on April 29.
Means deserves all the credit in the world for his stellar first month in the majors. It will be intriguing to see how long the Orioles can keep Means in their rotation. Who knows what will happen once teams get more at-bats versus Means, but if he can keep this going he won’t be ushered out of the rotation anytime soon.
At the beginning of the season both the Orioles and their fans had no expectations for Means to even make the majors. Not two months later, they may have a slot in their rotation filled through 2019 and perhaps beyond.
3. Chance Sisco wasn’t ready, but Pedro Severino was
Many Orioles fans couldn’t wrap their heads around why the front office placed Chance Sisco at Triple-A Norfolk after he hit .382 during Spring Training. But with Sisco’s defense still a question mark, the team felt it best to let the young catcher continue his development at Norfolk while Pedro Severino and Jesus Sucre (two solid major league catchers) hold down home plate up north.
Because the Orioles didn’t sign Severino until March 26, Sucre got the bigger bulk of playing time over the first few weeks of the season. But when Austin Wynns‘ return from an oblique injury approached, Severino had already received a few more opportunities to start. Not long after when Wynns’ contract was selected, Sucre was designated for assignment and later brought back to the organization.
Now that Severino has had almost as much playing time that Sucre did this season, it’s fair to say “enough said” when noticing that Severino’s batting average is .250 (56 at-bats), while Sucre’s was .210 (62 at-bats). Not only that, but Severino’s played some outstanding defense. His blocking, pitch framing, and throw- downs have all been well above average.
Severino doesn’t need to come across as the catcher of the future, but he’s a solid placeholder while Sisco works on his craft in Norfolk. Having Sucre as a mentor will only benefit him. And who knows, Sisco’s status may not even matter if Baltimore drafts Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the first pick of the June Amateur Draft.
Additionally…Keep an eye on the Delmarva Shorebirds
With the Aberdeen IronBirds season yet to begin, the Delmarva Shorebirds are the lowest active level of the Orioles minor league system. The guys on this team might be a few years away from reaching the big leagues, but they’re dominating the South Atlantic League. Their 25-5 record is the best in the entire league and 4.5 games in front of both the Hickory Crawdads (TEX) in the Northern division.
Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, the 11th-overall pick in the 2018 Draft, is 4-0 with a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings. 2018 third-rounder Blaine Knight (3-0) owns a 0.68 ERA in 26.2 frames. Ofelky Peralta is 2-0 with a 1.07 ERA in 25.1 innings. This isn’t just pitching well, it’s absolute domination.
Developing respectable starting pitching is something that the Orioles have failed to do for such a long period of time. Hopefully at least one of these young arms successfully develops and resembles something close to an ace.
Image Credit: USA Today