Roster moves, draft pick updates, Kjerstad, Diaz and Rutschman

The painful blow delivered to the Orioles yesterday with a walk-off loss to the Rays concluded a trip that made them settle for .500 and kept them busy with roster activity.

The Orioles dropped their 11th series in a row at Tropicana Field dating back to July 24-26, 2017. They’re 2-14 in their last 16 games against the Rays. Their 29 losses in day games lead the majors.

And then there’s the roster activity.

They had to put pitcher Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander on the COVID-19 injured list, alter their starter plans and wonder how long it’s going to last.

They got John Means back into their rotation, stamping “handle with care” across his next few starts. They assigned third baseman Maikel Franco to the Florida Complex League on Tuesday to begin an injury rehab assignment. They placed Triple-A Norfolk’s Zac Lowther on the injured list with a left shoulder strain, the latest setback for a pitching prospect.

The Orioles aren’t far removed from the All-Star break but they’ll gladly take this off-day to regroup and enjoy the comforts of home. And the nightlife, baby.

On the draft side of the operation, the club has signed four of its top five selections - first-rounder Colton Cowser, second-rounder Connor Norby, Competitive Balance B pick Reed Trimble (as reported by MLB.com’s Jim Callis) and fourth-rounder Donta’ Williams.

The Orioles are going to assign their picks to the FCL, where they have two entries. College players could move up a level as performance and skills dictate but must begin at a lower rung because the organization no longer has a short-season entry in Aberdeen.

Players need to get back into game shape and get acclimated to professional life.

Cowser, the outfielder from Sam Houston State, is expected to stay in Florida for a few weeks and report to low Single-A Delmarva.

The Orioles signed all four players at underslot value. They’ll go overslot with four or five players later in the draft, including prep catcher Creed Willems, the eighth-rounder who’s bypassing his commitment to Texas Christian University.

Willems might be the only selection who’s going to be paid significantly beyond his slot.

Some first-round talent didn’t fall to the Orioles as they hoped, but the allotted money can be spent later and most of it will be gone by the deadline.

While Cowser readies for his trip to Florida, which could come this weekend or early next week, last year’s first pick remains shut down.

Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall selection out of the University of Arkansas, had a recurrence of the symptoms related to myocarditis and couldn’t work out at the minor league complex. He hasn’t played in games, but the Orioles aren’t resigned to him staying inactive in 2021.

There’s optimism, however cautious, that he can begin baseball activities again later in the summer.

Stowers-Outfield-White-ST-sidebar.jpgThe outfield remains a fairly deep position for the Orioles, and more people should be talking about Double-A Bowie’s Kyle Stowers, chosen in the second round out of Stanford University in 2019. However, Yusniel Diaz remains unavailable at Norfolk because of turf toe, an injury involving the stretching or tearing of ligaments, tendons and soft tissues in the joint that’s more common with football players.

They’d like to get him fully back. Not just a quarter back.

The Orioles haven’t put Diaz on the injured list, but it remains a possible outcome. They’re going day-by-day with him.

He’s already missed more than a month with a quadriceps injury and is batting .167/.228/.274 with three doubles and two home runs in 92 plate appearances with Norfolk.

Minor league promotions come in waves, but catcher Adley Rutschman remains at Double-A Bowie, where he began yesterday batting .268/.394/.472 with 11 doubles, 12 home runs, 37 RBIs, 45 walks and 46 strikeouts in 283 plate appearances. He threw out 31 percent of runners attempting to steal.

Rutschman had five hits in 32 at-bats in his last nine games before yesterday. And then he doubled, homered from both sides of the plate and drove in seven runs against the Hartford Yard Goats.

You can’t keep a great catcher down. Or one who’s starting at first base.

As soon as the Orioles decide that Rutschman’s development would benefit from a bump to Norfolk, his bags will be packed and a higher league will embrace him. I’ve heard that those conversations are gaining steam since the Futures Game.

In the meantime, his approach at the plate, his work behind it, including his handling of the pitching staff, and his maturity are impressing a lot of people in the organization and the industry. The way he’s controlling the strike zone, hitting for power and playing consistent defense is exactly what the Orioles wanted to see.

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