Credit goes to Wilkerson for presenting himself as an attractive option. He’s become a super-utility player. He’s embraced the role. No one had to do a hard sell on him.
Cedric Mullins was mired in a lengthy slump and organizational concerns grew over the potential impact on his confidence and development. He needed to start over with Norfolk. Figure out a few things at the plate and, hopefully, get back to the majors.
Perhaps it became harder to carry Mullins with Rule 5 pick Richie Martin batting .167/.250/.222. The bottom of the order didn’t offer much in the way of offense. But it really goes back to what’s best for Mullins.
Martin can’t be optioned and his defense at shortstop makes it easier to carry him - the two errors last night an anomaly. Mullins was a simple demotion.
Joey Rickard basically has been handed the center field job, and he began last night batting .213/.294/.361. Wilkerson is lined up as the reserve when he isn’t starting at another position, and his experience in center mainly consists of two games with the Tides before rejoining the Orioles.
It isn’t a perfect arrangement, but the Orioles will give it a try.
A three-man bench screams for a versatile player like Wilkerson, which gives him the edge over other players in the upper levels of the system. It was about more than just replacing an outfielder.
Drew Jackson might have been able to offer similar tools in a super-utility role and he made sense for a rebuilding club trying to pump more talent into the system, but the Orioles designated him for assignment after only four plate appearances and the Dodgers took him back. He was 7-for-25 (.280) with a .419 on-base percentage in eight games with Triple-A Oklahoma City before last night.
Again, the Orioles would have been asking an infielder to play the outfield.
Austin Hays remains in Sarasota on a hitting progression and it’s going to take a while before he’s ready for another audition with the Orioles. The center field door opened yesterday, but he wasn’t able to walk through it.
Well, his legs are fine, but the inactivity while his sprained left thumb healed has set him back. He needs to take dry swings, hit off a tee and soft tosses, take batting practice and then begin playing in games. It isn’t a speedy process.
* Ryan Mountcastle is trying to press the Orioles into finding a spot for him on the roster. Trying to slug his way into the majors.
Mountcastle was chosen as the International League’s Batter of the Week after posting a .370 average and .889 slugging percentage with four home runs, 11 RBIs, eight runs scored and 24 total bases. He’s hitting .288/.319/.545 with three doubles, a triple, four homers and 17 RBIs in 18 games.
“Happy that he’s gotten off to a great start, the week that he’s had,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “It’s huge power and doesn’t come around all the time. I just like Ryan’s swing. Ryan’s got a real handsy swing, he can generate a lot of bat speed. Drives the ball in the air. He’s off to a great start there.
“We saw the raw power in spring training more toward the end. Saw it in BP. Started to drive the ball more later on in camp. He’s a great power prospect and happy to see he’s off to a good start.”
Mountcastle has made 15 starts at first base and two at third. How he’d fit on a club with a three-man bench that preaches the need for versatility could be complicated, and Renato Núñez has settled into the role of designated hitter.
If Mountcastle keeps hitting, though, the Orioles will figure it out.
* Besides Alex Cobb’s simulated game yesterday, the Orioles also worked on their bunting before the rest of the team took the field for batting practice.
Hanser Alberto reached on a bunt single last night after Núñez’s leadoff walk, but Wilkerson twice failed to lay down a sacrifice and Núñez was picked off third with the bases loaded after Pedro Severino showed bunt and pulled the bat back.
Are the Orioles playing enough small ball to satisfy the manager?
“I think we could do more,” Hyde said before the game. “In a safety squeeze situation, that’s personnel-driven, that’s score-driven a lot of times. We haven’t really had the opportunity. We’ve had a couple opportunities where it was on hold, we were going to possibly do it, but if you’re down three in the seventh that’s not obviously going to be the ideal time. So I think score and personnel dictate that.
“I think there’s times when we could definitely better execute drag bunts or bunting against the shift, those types of things to start rallies or to keep rallies going. So yeah, we’ve bunted quite a few times here early. We identify guys and there’s always something to work on.”
* I’ve become desensitized to position players pitching in games.
That’s not good.
“It’s tough, it’s tough,” Sucre said. “We’ve been having tough games in the last few days. I’m here to help my guys. I kind of picked my guys up a little bit. I’m here to help them out and they need me, and they want me to do that I’m going to be there.”
* Hyde indicated after the game that the Orioles wouldn’t make a roster move to bring up a fresh bullpen arm.
“We’re going with what we’ve got,” he said.
If Hyde and executive vice president Mike Elias change their minds, Yefry Ramirez has tossed 14 scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts in three starts at Norfolk. He certainly could provide length.
* Right-hander Taylor Grover, taken by the Orioles in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft, is headed to Double-A Bowie.
Grover recovered from an oblique injury suffered late in camp and was dominant in his outings at extended spring training. He didn’t allow a run in eight innings, walking three batters and striking out an astounding 22.
A slow-climber with his fastball velocity, Grover dialed it up earlier than usual this year. I’m told that his heater averaged 95 mph and topped out at 100 mph.
There’s room for more.
Director of minor league operations Kent Qualls flew down to Sarasota and watched Grover pitch. I’ll assume that Grover impressed.
The Orioles plucked Grover, who celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday, from the Reds organization after they signed him out of the international league two weeks earlier and left him exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Teams contacted the Orioles about trading the first overall pick, but they held onto it.
Grover, a 10th-round pick of the Red Sox in 2013 out of the University of South Carolina Aiken, gained lots of attention over the summer after a video posted on Twitter showed off his 102 mph fastball. Executives that turned away from Grover suddenly were intrigued by him.
A third baseman in college before moving to the mound, Grover is 9-22 with a 4.10 ERA and 1.277 WHIP in five minor league seasons, and has walked 117 batters and struck out 296 in 307 innings.
Here’s a link to the story I wrote about Grover back in December.