Lots of positive developments in losing 2020 season

The time for reflection begins today.

The Orioles are playing their final game of a wacky season. Some would call it “truncated.” Everyone would agree that it’s so far from the norm that proper evaluations are complicated.

A passing grade is earned by the promotions and successes of outfielder/first baseman Ryan Mountcastle - in that order - and pitchers Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann.

The rookies should comprise three-fifths of the rotation in spring training 2021, but Zimmermann’s name is written in pencil because of his limited exposure. One start, one outstanding relief appearance.

Mountcastle-w-Bag-ST-sidebar.jpgMountcastle is going to hit in the middle of the order, and not due to a lack of worthy candidates. He’s earned those at-bats. Every single one. Whether he’s third or fourth.

These revelations make 2020 a success, because the cancellation of the minor league season threatened to damage the development of some top and mid-tier prospects.

The Orioles wouldn’t allow it, which is a credit to the setup at the alternate camp site in Bowie and the work done by the staff. The instructors were an integral part of the process while working in relative anonymity, and it’s nice that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, manager Brandon Hyde and an assortment of players kept referencing them over the course of the summer.

Media wasn’t permitted at the site, but tried to keep fans attached to it from a distance, understanding the importance of those daily workouts and intrasquad games.

Austin Hays reminded us that he’s a special talent and, if able to avoid a freakish injury in 2021, able to impact a game in so many ways. The bat, the glove, the speed on the basepaths.

Put him in center, wedge him into one of the crowded corners. Bat him leadoff or lower. Just keep him healthy.

(I like him leading off, with Cedric Mullins ninth as the ol’ “second leadoff hitter” if they’re in the same lineup.)

Trey Mancini expects to be ready for opening day. This is brand new and frightening territory - the chemotherapy treatments and how his body is going to be impacted down the road. But he could get the bulk of the starts at first base, and just his mere presence is cause for celebration.

Let 2021 be normal again and allow Mancini to jog down the orange carpet on opening day. Can you even begin to image that scene? Goosebumps the size of baseballs.

Anthony Santander is a deserving Most Valuable Oriole who, like Hays, needs to demonstrate that he can produce a full season without an injury-related shutdown. He’s proven that he can play right field at more than just an acceptable level.

Would anyone object to a primary outfield alignment of Hays in left, Mullins in center and Santander in right? Mullins also could back up with Hays going to center if DJ Stewart is on the roster.

The Orioles will figure out later how to handle the Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna promotions. And how long is it going to take for Heston Kjerstad to accumulate the necessary minor league at-bats to convince the Orioles that he’s ready - and the whole team control thing isn’t a factor?

Tanner Scott should be done with the shuttle, which also is a positive development in 2020. No need to define a specific role. He’s a high-leverage lefty. And quite a weapon in the later innings despite last night’s struggles.

“I think you had young guys step up on our team, and that’s what you’re looking for in a situation like ours, is to look down the road to see what you could look like in a couple years, and so you want your young guys to come up and hopefully they have success just to see that they can handle the big leagues,” Hyde said yesterday in his Zoom conference call. “You just never know until they get here.

“I just think there have been a lot of really good things from our younger players and that’s the most important thing right now.”

The clearance of some space on the 40-man roster also is a notable achievement, and more is coming. And while trades can’t be judged in their entirety this early, moving the contracts of relievers Richard Bleier, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro and acquiring young talent in return is worthy of praise.

Same with getting two players to be named later for a half-season of veteran starter Tommy Milone.

Picking up the option on shortstop José Iglesias’ contract is as much a no-brainer as ordering fries with any McDonald’s run. (The runs also come later, but I digress ... )

Iglesias is the opening day shortstop in 2021 and a trade chip later.

Pat Valaika seems to have earned Hyde’s trust as a utility player and offers a lot more at the plate than Andrew Velazquez, though his work at shortstop isn’t on the same level. And now Ramón Urías has become an option next season if tiny sample sizes in late September can be trusted.

Changes to the coaching staff are pretty routine. Elias didn’t offer confirmation yesterday on whether replacements are on the offseason agenda.

“I think normal offseason business, even in these circumstances, presents itself and baseball is a dynamic, year-to-year thing and there are contracts, player and otherwise, that need to be reviewed when they elapse, so we’ll do that,” Elias said.

“This has been a really good group, worked well together, had a lot of success and we’re certainly mindful of that, but you always react to each year’s circumstances and think about the future. We’ll take a look at all that at the right time, but really, there’s so much uncertainty right now with the season and just everything that it’s a little different process and timing and all that than a normal year.”

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