Given an opportunity to re-examine the list of players assigned to the fall instructional league, I was bound to come across a few names that prompted me to say something like, “Oh, yeah, that guy.”
The judges also would have accepted, “I totally forgot about that guy.”
Pitcher Dan Hammer struck me first.
The Orioles selected Hammer in the 13th round of the 2019 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. The name alone made him a good pick. It’s the first thing we noticed. And the second.
Then came his statistics in three seasons at Pittsburgh. Hammer was 8-19 with a 6.15 ERA and 1.671 WHIP in 50 appearances, including 36 starts, but he averaged 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
And that name ...
Hammer raised his draft stock in the Cape Cod League in 2018 by registering a 2.16 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in 25 innings. The Orioles also were drawn to a three-pitch mix, including a low-90s fastball, and the room to grow under their tutelage.
In his first and only professional season, Hammer allowed five earned runs and 18 hits in 35 innings at short-season Single-A Aberdeen. He struck out 41 batters and surrendered only one home run.
Right-handed batters posted a .139 average and left-handers hit .174.
And that name ...
Hammer, 23, wasn’t dropped into the alternate camp site at Bowie, but he’s counted among the 55 players in the instructional league. And if you need a really cool private investigator, he’s your man.
The Orioles wanted to get rid of Jonathan Villar’s salary. They weren’t going to arbitration with him. So they placed him on outright waivers on Nov. 27, 2019 and sent him to the Marlins less than a week later in exchange for Lucas, a 14th-round draft pick in 2019 out of Pepperdine University.
Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias remarked in his conference call that the Orioles had “a pretty good file” on Lucas and thought about selecting him within the first 10 rounds. He profiled as a back-of-the-rotation starter if he developed.
“We like his stuff,” Elias said after the trade. “He’s 89-92 (mph) with a fastball that has some hopping life to it. He’s got two distinct breaking balls, a slider and a curveball that have a chance to be average pitches and I think that our pitching program, in particular, can help him with that. He’s also got a really nice changeup that plays well to right-handed hitters. It’s a starter’s profile.”
And then we returned our focus to the top pitching prospects in the system while Lucas, now 24, stayed home due to the cancelation of the minor league season and his exclusion from the 60-man player pool.
The fall instructional league is made for guys like Lucas. The Orioles need to figure out exactly what they’ve got and how they can make him better.
Or if they can make him better.
I swear, the 2019 draft strategy also had to include signing the best names on the board.
The Orioles chose Handley in the sixth round out of Stanford University and sent a stagecoach to transport him to Baltimore for his physical.
OK, not really, but that’s how I imagine it.
Handley didn’t hit at Aberdeen, slashing .202/.298/.237 in 131 plate appearances. He registered a .383 on-base percentage in three years at Stanford, but didn’t display much power with seven home runs in 596 plate appearances.
Here’s the stat that makes your eyes bulge: Handley threw out 63 percent of runners attempting to steal last summer with Aberdeen, nailing 19 of 30 in 34 games.
Rutschman and Handley were the Pac 12’s co-Defensive Players of the Year prior to the draft.
Maybe they’ll be linked again one day in Baltimore, this time sharing clubhouse space. Every team likes a good catch-and-throw guy as the backup catcher.
There’s also Johnny Rizer, an outfielder who sounds more like the lead singer of a ’50s rock band. But that’s a blog entry for another time.