For the rebuilding Orioles, the outfield is a good place to start. There is some youth there that has shown promise, and four of the six players listed at outfield on the 40-man roster were drafted by the team.
It is a position of some depth in the organization, and late last year we began to see some of that make its way to the big league roster.
With Mark Trumbo listed as a designated hitter, the oldest player on the 40-man in the outfield is Joey Rickard at 27. The four home-grown outfielders on the 40-man are Austin Hays, the youngest at 23, along with Cedric Mullins at 24, DJ Stewart at 24 and Trey Mancini at 26. Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander is 24. Add to this group two of the club’s best prospects who are not yet on the 40 in Yusniel Díaz and Ryan McKenna.
Here is a quick look at this group with their 2019 outlook:
Mullins seems entrenched for now as the club’s everyday center fielder. He finished the year batting .235/.312/.359 in 45 games. He was batting .277 on Sept. 22, but went 2-for-33 over his last eight games. He had a few ups and downs. But he is exactly the kind of player the rebuilding Orioles need to look at. He brings needed speed and defense. Let’s see how he adjusts on offense over his first full season.
Mancini really struggled early on, but his solid second half salvaged his season. His .792 OPS after the break was more like it. For now, he’s a fixture in the middle of this order and he’s also the most experienced outfielder on the 40-man. And he has just over two years of service time, is not arbitration-eligible yet and is under team control at least through 2022. Moving forward, do the Orioles move Mancini out of the outfield, to first base or DH, to get more defense and speed out there?
Hays will be interesting to watch in 2019. After the injury-riddled season in 2018, he underwent surgery on Sept. 13 to repair a stress fracture and some cartilage defects in his left ankle. We can’t forget how good he was in 2017 and could be again. He was the Orioles’ Minor League Player of the Year and was a finalist for Baseball America’s national Player of the Year, won by Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. But here is the company Hays was keeping as a finalist for that award: Acuña, Bo Bichette, Jon Duplantier and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. When he shows he’s healthy and ready, Hays needs to get everyday playing time in Baltimore.
Stewart, the club’s first-round pick out of Florida State in 2015, made it to Baltimore in September and showed well. He didn’t exactly tear it up at Triple-A Norfolk, and started 0-for-13 with the Orioles. But he finished going 10-for-27 (.370) and posted a .890 OPS in his brief big league time. He’s got to be a strong candidate to break north on opening day. Once called by some fans a first-round bust, Stewart just kept advancing through the system. He features an intriguing mix of skills without a real standout tool, but with the ability to bring a little speed, defense and pop. We need to see more from him.
Santander had his own injury issues and spent most of the year in the minors after he began the 2018 season in Baltimore to satisfy his Rule 5 requirement. Now the Orioles have a 24-year-old Venezuelan with two more option years coming to see if he can force his way back to the big leagues.
Rickard, taken in the 2015 Rule 5 draft, already has nearly 800 big league plate appearances over parts of the last three seasons. Can he be a key player in 2019? Is he at most an extra outfielder? It is looking like that, but he has two options remaining and he’s another player in the mix for depth and maybe more.
Díaz was acquired in the Manny Machado trade. If he goes on to have a productive career, he can make that trade look good for the Orioles, who gave up just two months of Machado. The native of Havana, Cuba, just turned 22 on Oct. 7. Díaz is ranked No. 44 on Baseball America’s year-end top 100 prospects list and No. 1 on the Orioles list. He didn’t hit as well for Double-A Bowie after the trade. I would send him back to Bowie to start 2019 and see if he can play his way into major league time in the second half of the season. This time next year, he’ll need to be added to the 40-man in advance of the 2019 Rule 5 draft.
McKenna broke out this year at Single-A Frederick, where he was remarkable. After batting .256 in 2017 at Single-A Delmarva, he was batting .377 in 67 games with Frederick when the club promoted him to Bowie. He didn’t hit nearly as well there, but his bat has come back to life in the Arizona Fall League. He’s another home-grown product and is just 21. He’ll likely start next season back with the Baysox. With the outfield becoming a bit crowded, the Orioles had McKenna take some grounders at second base in instructional league.
The Orioles outfield will be young and should be fun to watch next season. One reason against re-signing Adam Jones is that these young kids need to get at-bats and need to play. The Orioles may be in the infancy stages of their rebuilding, but when it comes to the outfield, they are off to a good start.