We write here often about some of the top players in the O’s minors. Often they are players well-known because they were high draft picks and/or have played well for a long time.
Today let’s take a look at a few players flying under the radar. This is by no means a complete list but some of these players should start getting noticed more.
At Single-A Frederick, young outfielder Ademar Rifaela from Curacao has had a solid season. He is putting up better numbers than in his previous four seasons on the O’s farm. With the Keys he is batting .304/.352/.529 with 16 doubles, 14 homers, 41 RBIs and an OPS of .881. He has hit .300 versus lefties and .305 against right-handed pitchers through Saturday’s games.
“He’s just 22 and has a beautiful swing and the ball jumps off his bat,” Orioles director of player development Brian Graham said. “He’s having a really good year. He’s shown good bat speed and understands the strike zone. He’s shown much better patience this year. He’s a left-handed hitter that has always had a pure swing. His pitch recognition has gotten better.
“Plus he’s maturing as a person and as a player, and if you had to point to one thing, that maturity has really helped him perform so well this year. Young players develop at different times. (Outfielder Randolph) Gassaway and Rifaela are similar. It has taken some time and it’s part of the process. Development takes time and a lot of effort and you never know when players will show up. You just keep working and good players will show up.”
An Orioles minor leaguer from 2010-2015, left-handed pitcher Tim Berry was claimed on waivers by the Marlins before the 2016 season. But the Orioles re-signed him to a minor league contract in January and he’s pitched well enough at Double-A Bowie to get back on the O’s big league radar.
“Berry is throwing extremely well,” Graham said. “He has two major league pitches - fastball and curveball. If he could command them consistently, he could help in the big leagues.”
With a fastball that has touched 96 mph, Berry is 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 19 games for the Baysox with 16 walks and 31 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings.
Two young pitchers from the 2016 draft are doing very well so far in the rotation for short season Single-A Aberdeen. Right-hander Brenan Hanifee was drafted in round four out of Turner-Ashby (Va.) High School. Right-hander Tobias Myers was taken in round six out of Winter Haven (Fla.) High School.
In his first three starts, the 19-year-old Hanifee went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA. Over 18 innings, he allowed 13 hits with five walks and 13 strikeouts. In his fourth Aberdeen start last night, he allowed two runs over four innings. Hanifee did not pitch last season due to back issues. The 18-year-old Myers is 2-0 with an 0.60 ERA in three starts. Over 15 innings, he has given up just six hits and one run with three walks and 21 strikeouts.
“Hanifee throws a true sinker and is a big kid that throws from a high arm angle,” Graham said. “He’s been able to throw his breaking ball for a strike and his fastball (from 91 to 95 mph) is a plus sinker. Real good delivery for a big kid.
“Myers is a fastball, curveball, changeup pitcher with a live arm and plus fastball. Both of them have just got a real good feel for their deliveries now and both are really learning to pitch. It’s just been a really nice progression.
“Mark Hendrickson (Aberdeen pitching coach) has done a tremendous job with both Hanifee and Myers. Dave Schmidt (coordinator, Florida and Latin America pitching) and Mark Hendrickson have worked with both these kids between extended spring and Aberdeen and they’ve made great strides.”
Injury updates: Frederick right-hander Cody Sedlock went on the disabled list July 1 with a right elbow flexor strain. The Orioles’ 2016 first-round draft pick is 4-4 with a 6.46 ERA.
“Cody is doing well,” Graham said. “He is close to throwing a bullpen and he feels great, not one issue. There is no structural issue at all and he’s doing great. It should not be that long (before he gets back into a game).”
His Keys teammate, third baseman Jomar Reyes, has been out since early May after surgery to repair a broken right pinky finger. His cast is off and he’s doing range of motion work, but still no baseball activities. So no timetable has been set at this point for his return.
The Orioles still have not announced a date for right-hander Hunter Harvey to pitch in a game, but it should not be much longer. He recently threw a simulated game and all has gone well in his rehab for Harvey.
What about the top picks?: The O’s 2017 top draft pick, high school pitcher DL Hall, has begun a throwing program in Florida. Since he has not pitched in a game since his high school season in early May, his first pro game is not imminent. It is at least a week away, maybe more.
Meanwhile, the club’s second-round pick, Canadian native infielder Adam Hall (no relation to DL) still needs a work visa before he can start his career.
In the Futures Game: Triple-A Norfolk catcher Chance Sisco contributed an RBI triple to Team USA’s 7-6 win over the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday in Miami. Sisco has no triples in 66 Norfolk games this year, but drilled one to right-center in the last of the second to give Team USA a 2-0 lead. Sisco was the starting catcher and went 1-for-3.
Double-A Bowie lefty Tanner Scott pitched the fifth for Team USA. He struck out the first two hitters he faced showing 99 mph heat. But he allowed a single, wild pitch and RBI single in his inning. Josh Naylor singled in the run but then was cut down between first and second base to end the inning.
As for the big club: The Orioles hit the All-Star break with a record of 42-46 after Sunday’s 11-5 win over the Twins. They all get the next four days off - except for second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who made the American League squad for tomorrow night’s All-Star game at Miami.
When we consider what went wrong in the first half, a poor rotation and inconsistent offense stick out in a huge way. Three members of the rotation - Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jiménez and Chris Tillman - have ERAs of 5.85 or higher and the rotation’s ERA is 7.97 the past 32 games.
The O’s offense has scored three runs or less 43 times and the team is 10-33 in those games. They have not hit homers to the rate of the 2016 team. J.J. Hardy has an OPS of .556, Manny Machado has hit .230, Mark Trumbo has 14 homers, and Chris Davis has 26 RBIs and Adam Jones 40 after yesterday’s five-RBI day.
Among those thing that went right in the first half is the play of Schoop and Trey Mancini. They look like key pieces of the Orioles’ future, whatever it turns out to be.
Can the Orioles have a big second half? Of course they can but we’ve seen so few positive signs recently that the task to make the 2017 playoffs seems very daunting.