A team that’s 30 games below .500 in the third week of June, with pending free agents spread across the clubhouse and some dramatic changes on the horizon, should be geared toward getting younger and filtering prospects onto the major league roster.
It makes sense on paper.
It’s a little more difficult in reality.
The pounding noise that you hear is probably due to the migraine that’s developed from 51 losses. No one in the system is beating down the door for a promotion. You may love the names, but the stats might leave you lukewarm to cold.
You want Cedric Mullins in the outfield? Me too. But he needed two hits yesterday with Triple-A Norfolk to raise his average to .206 with a .280 on-base percentage. The speed and defensive skills haven’t left him, but the International League is really challenging him.
I’m still anticipating a promotion for Mullins later in the summer, whether he’s playing in center field or in right. But you’d ideally like for him to heat up.
Teammate DJ Stewart, the first-round pick in 2015 out of Florida State University, continues to live up to his on-base reputation with a .366 OBP, but it comes with a .272 average and six home runs in 173 at-bats. That’s a light tapping on the door, but the Orioles are listening and he’s been discussed as an option.
You keep pressing for Austin Hays to come back from Double-A Bowie. He was hitting .224/.259/.374 before going on the disabled list with an ankle injury that still requires a walking boot.
Ryan Mountcastle is hitting .265/.329/.434 with six home runs in 38 games since coming off the disabled list. Hopping him over Triple-A and to the majors would be a giant leap of faith. He isn’t ready, if that matters in the big rebuild plan.
Hunter Harvey is shut down with a shoulder injury sustained while trying to avoid a line drive aimed at the Baysox’s dugout and he will be examined by Dr. James Andrews on June 27. He isn’t joining the rotation. No one is certain when he’ll be cleared to throw.
Outfielder Ryan McKenna, a fourth-round pick in the 2015 draft, is the first-half minor league Player of the Year in the organization, and it isn’t close, but he’s tearing up the Carolina League. Three levels below Baltimore.
“His approach at the plate has jumped leaps and bounds,” said director of player development Brian Graham. “And by that I mean pitch recognition, his understanding of the strike zone, working the count, ability to use the whole field. It’s a much calmer approach.
“What McKenna’s done this year, the strides he’s made this year are special and I give Buck Britton, his hitting coach last year and Kyle Moore and Ryan Minor this year, as well as Jeff Manto, a lot of credit for having a huge impact on him, on his hitting approach. I think last instructional league with Manto things really started to click in and McKenna has taken every bit of instruction and run with it. Plus, he’s very talented. Fast-twitch muscles, he’s a strong kid, he’s athletic, he can run.”
There’s organizational debate over the wisdom of promoting McKenna to Bowie: Challenge him at a higher level and push him closer to the majors or let him continue to dominate in the Carolina League while continuing his development.
“There’s merit to both approaches,” Graham said. “Leaving him there and letting him lock in and just have a great year is a thought, and moving him up is a thought.”
Just not to the majors. Not in 2018.
What’s more likely to happen in the present is giving more responsibilities to someone like Tanner Scott, and that’s out of necessity, with Richard Bleier lost for the season. Scott was used to protect a one-run lead in Tuesday’s series opener against the Nationals while Bleier was recovering from lat surgery and Darren O’Day was unavailable with tightness in his hamstring.
The Orioles won’t judge Scott too harshly for the loss, but he learned again that miles-per-hour on a fastball can be neutralized by poor location.
Scott’s education should continue at the highest level. Toss him in the deepest end of the pool. Chance Sisco will get more starts behind the plate, but he needs to work on his throwing and find some relaxation out from under the brightest spotlight. Jimmy Yacabonis has posted a 2.79 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 12 starts with Triple-A Norfolk and opponents are batting .194 against him. He’s allowed four earned runs in his last six starts over 28 1/3 innings as he eases into a new role.
It hasn’t been easy for Yacabonis to ride the shuttle and go from Triple-A rotation to major league bullpen and back again, but he knows that only results matter and attached excuses largely are ignored. He made two appearances with the Orioles earlier this year and allowed four runs and three hits with five walks in 2 1/3 innings.
His chances of returning, and staying, increase exponentially if the command issues don’t resurface. He could be back this afternoon with the Orioles needing a fresh arm and his turn in the Tides’ rotation coming today.