The Orioles aren’t playing tonight. They have an off-day in New York. We should all be so lucky.
“Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Broadway?”
“Practice, practice, practice.”
I’ve already mastered the art of the mailbag. How to gather questions, provide answers - or at least make the attempt - and exhibit tremendous patience while repeating myself. And also how to make it conversational at times, which ain’t easy with the mail.
I implore everyone to be as expansive as you’d like with your inquiries. Again folks, it’s the internet. My newspaper days are behind me. I’m the editor now and, well, I don’t plan on doing much of it.
No more, “Roch, we have an 18-inch hole in the paper and you just gave us 30.” Which happened a lot, by the way. I must have been a nightmare for the desk. But my copy was clean, so I’d like to think of it as a fair tradeoff.
Before we begin, just know that my mailbag doesn’t let your mailbag merge in traffic.
It seems like some of our pitching problems might be related to our catchers. The pitch selection should be smarter. Don’t you agree?
Nice job turning this into a question. Manager Brandon Hyde mentioned poor selection Monday night during the Teoscar Hernández at-bat that ended with a two-run double off Dillon Tate. And there have been other examples cited this season. But let’s provide a reminder here that the pitcher’s head also moves side to side, not just up and down. He can shake off the catcher and throw whatever the heck he wants. You’d certainly hope that your catcher can be trusted to put down the right fingers ... but again, the pitcher is in control. He’s holding the ball.
Will Trey Mancini play in the outfield next season?
It’s looking more and more unlikely. Hasn’t happened in 2021, including spring training. The Orioles like him at first base and as the designated hitter. They want to go mainly with outfielders in their outfield. Mancini did an admirable job after making the conversion, but I certainly get the sense that the preference is to keep him at his natural position. Hyde especially likes having Austin Hays in left, Cedric Mullins in center and Anthony Santander in right, with Ryan McKenna able to play all three spots when he isn’t in Triple-A.
Is Ryan Mountcastle strictly a first baseman and DH now?
Mountcastle has made only 18 starts in left field, the last on June 20. I’m not suggesting that he’ll never play in the outfield again, but Hyde also prefers having him at first base and as the DH. Again, the Orioles really like the idea of having outfielders in their outfield after past experimentation.
Will the Orioles finally call up Adley Rutschman?
Oh, you meant in 2021. I don’t think so, but no one has told me it’s absolutely not happening.
Can Rutschman be the Orioles’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr.?
Guerrero isn’t a catcher, but Rutschman does play a little first base.
That’s not what I meant.
I know, I know. Yes, he can be the mega-prospect who becomes a mega-star in the majors. It’s been a big source of frustration with fans and others that the Orioles don’t seem to get that guy. OK, they had Manny Machado, which made the trade that much more painful. Wrap him up early or lose him. Where is their Guerrero now? Their Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr., etc? Why don’t the Orioles bring up players before their legal drinking age? Too late for that with Rutschman, but he is that special talent. There are plenty of folks in baseball who think he’s ready now. That he’d be a beast at the plate and a plus defender behind it. That he’s a can’t-miss. But we also know that plenty of guys miss. I’d be floored if he does. So would a whole lot of other people. But hey, no pressure.
The Jays also have another young standout, Bo Bichette. If Rutschman is Guerrero, who’s going to be the Orioles’ version of Bichette?
Mountcastle could be that guy, unless you’re limiting me to players in the minors. Obvious candidates are Colton Cowser, based on his first-round status, and someone from the shortstop pool - Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg, etc. Kyle Stowers is having a breakthrough season and currently ranks as the No. 11 prospect in the system, per MBLPipeline.com.
What if Mountcastle is Guerrero and Rutschman is Bichette?
Stop messing with my head.
Any updates on Heston Kjerstad?
Nothing beyond how he’s been working out again in Sarasota, Fla. Light baseball activities eventually allowed. Gauging what he can handle. No longer thinking that maybe he could join an affiliate this summer. It’s about making certain that he’s fully recovered from myocarditis and hopefully able to be full-go in spring training.
What is the Orioles’ draft model, and how did they come up with it?
Mike Elias was hired from the Astros, so that’s a good place to start your research. They’ve used the underslot strategy to pay extra in the later rounds and entice high school players to walk away from their college commitments. They stock up on advanced college bats. They consume batted-ball data, such as exit velocities, like they’re potato chips.
Has there been any consideration given to reducing the number of games played against division rivals? Seventy-six games is 46.9 percent of a season.
I was told there would be no math. Let’s see what the next Collective Bargaining Agreement has in store for us. The regional travel certainly has its appeal during a pandemic. But division games aren’t making life any easier for the Orioles.
When is the appropriate time to officially be in football mode as an Orioles fan?
I never leave football mode. There’s room for both of them in my life. But the Ravens can provide a nice distraction for frustrated baseball fans. Rediscovering the thrill of the playoff chase. But admit it, you’re also counting down to pitchers and catchers reporting.
When do pitchers and catchers report to spring training?
See? Feb. 15 for the Orioles.
Who are the next outfielders not named Diaz? Who’s at Triple-A or Double-A that could force Deej or Dare off the roster next May or June?
I’ll admit that it took me a few seconds to figure out “Dare.” I was all over “Deej.” Keep an eye on Robert Neustrom, who’s reached Triple-A and began last night batting a combined .272/.358/.456 with 26 doubles, three triples, 11 home runs and 69 RBIs in 98 games at two levels. Solid pick in the fifth round in 2018 out of the University of Iowa. Stowers moved up to Double-A, leads the system in home runs - he hits everything hard - and has been an exceptional choice in the second round in 2019 out of Stanford University. It’s a little soon for Cowser, and Kjerstad first needs to start his professional career.
Why does it seem the O’s were resistant to try the opener/piggyback program for their young pitchers when they openly stated they wanted to limit innings for the likes of Akin, Kremer, Zimmermann, etc., while still giving them exposure and experience to major league hitting in 2021?
They’ve definitely used that strategy or technique or whatever we’re calling it in the upper minors. The construction of the major league staff, with guys like John Means, Matt Harvey and Jorge López, didn’t necessarily allow for it. Plus, the performances were lacking. Dean Kremer, for example, wasn’t able to stick due to his struggles. Keegan Akin didn’t break camp with the team because of his command issues in spring training. There was just a desperate need to cover nine innings every night.
Has anybody in the Orioles organization been taking notes on how the Rays handle their pitchers in terms of letting a guy start to cover an inning or two then switching to the next man up?
For sure. The Rays make it work because there’s always that bulk guy who plows through a large chunk of innings. The Orioles bullpen hasn’t provided that guy. It’s no longer an opener if the second reliever also goes an inning. Then, it’s simply a bullpen game and usually a disaster.
Who wanted Paul Fry?
Ouch. I know you’re only asking because he’s been sent to the minors. But ... ouch. Anyway, he was a popular trade target, but I don’t have a bunch of names to pass along. I know the Phillies were scouting him. I know the Reds really liked him and checked on his availability. Among others. And everyone learned that the asking price was steep for Fry and Tanner Scott. Funny how these things work out.
Yeah, I’m in stitches.
Will Cedric Mullins be a unanimous choice for Most Valuable Oriole, and what about second and third place?
Mullins would seem to be the runaway winner. And the man certainly can run. As for the last two spots, and the Orioles don’t announce those finishers, it appears that three players are in contention: Means, Mountcastle and Mancini. If your last name doesn’t begin with an M, get out of here. Sorry, Mateo, you’re late to this party.
What did the Orioles see in Creed Willems that made them pay so much overslot?
Besides the incredibly cool name? Big and strong with natural power. Doesn’t have to hunt for it. He took batting practice at Camden Yards and one-hopped the warehouse. Has 99.5 percentile exit velocity. Short to the ball. Belief is he’s going to hit. And he has a strong arm. He had a commitment to Texas Christian University. No guarantees that an eighth-rounder is going to jump at any offer to play professional baseball coming out of high school.
When will you be heading to Toronto again?
The next wild card game between the teams. I’d ask Zack Britton to pay for my flight, but I don’t want to use him.
Is there talk of expansion in baseball?
Commissioner Rob Manfred is on board with a 32-team league. Of course, there’s also talk that the Rays and A’s better get new ballparks. But as for expansion, there are cities tapping their feet and checking their watches. Really entertains the tourists. I’m talking Nashville, Las Vegas, Montreal, Charlotte and Portland. I’m not talking about the Orioles moving to any of them.
Who will be the next big music act to headline a show at OPACY like Billy Joel did in 2019?
The pandemic has messed with that idea. The Orioles are easing back into the music business. But I keep pushing for Pearl Jam. Brandon Hyde knows Eddie Vedder from his Cubs days. I hope to see it happen while ... wait for it ... I’m still alive.
Now that pretty much every contract is off the books, will the wallet open up at all, or does it remain glued shut?
There’s no glue, but also no motivation during this stage of the rebuild to begin spending big on the roster. We’ve been told multiple times that money will be available when the team is much closer to contention status. Just don’t expect record contracts, especially for pitching. Don’t get greedy.
What is the meaning of life?
I’m saving that one for the next mailbag, along with the secret to eternal happiness and my mother’s pie crust recipe.
What about internal happiness?
A large pizza with everything.
Are the O’s considering moving Chris Holt back to his old role as chief of organizational pitching development and hiring a separate MLB pitching coach?
He’s already the director of pitching, which is basically the same thing. And no. Certainly not that I’m aware of.
I see that the Rays have a “mental performance coach.” Do the O’s have this position or a sports psychologist on staff?
They hired Kathryn Rowe before the 2020 season as the organization’s first mental skills coordinator. She teaches confidence-building tactics. She was a high-level soccer player who later worked with the University of Rochester men’s soccer team as a mental skills coach for two seasons while practicing counseling on the outside.
Can you believe we’re just over five weeks away from the 30th anniversary of the Orioles’ final game at Memorial Stadium?
That’s crazy. I was there as a fan. Sitting next to Alan Trammell’s agent because I had Tigers tickets. (My ex-wife’s cousin was former pitcher Jeff Kaiser). He had no connection to the team or city, of course, but the ceremony was so moving that it got to him, too. His son leaned over and asked, “Why is my dad crying?” I was right there with him, pal. Paul Blair was always my favorite player. He couldn’t attend. If he had run out to center field during the Field of Dreams sequence, I would have blubbered.
What is the deal with the MASN app we heard about last winter?
It exists. Was this one stuck to the bottom of the mailbag?
Have the Orioles and Chris Davis discussed when he will be inducted into the O’s Hall of Fame?
It didn’t come up while they discussed the terms of his retirement. But his candidacy is a fascinating subject. Seems like a no-brainer considering how he twice led the majors in home runs and became a superhero to fans. Seems really complicated after he signed his record contract and began putting up historically bad numbers. Does a hard fall make it easy to exclude him?
Do baseball players have a favorite superhero?
Spider Tack. Except, unlike other heros, he gets into sticky situations. It’s weird.
Who do you see being protected for the Rule 5 draft?
I really wanted to say, “your mom,” but let’s be mature here. DL Hall, Kyle Bradish, Kevin Smith, Terrin Vavra, just to name four. There’s also Neustrom, Adam Hall, Cadyn Grenier and Blaine Knight to consider.
Who on the current roster has a good chance to be our bullpen pitchers in 2022, not counting Hunter Harvey?
Tyler Wells has gone from Rule 5 pick to a lock. Scott figures to stay as long as he isn’t traded over the winter, and that seems unlikely. The Orioles love Dillon Tate’s arm and just need consistent results. Cole Sulser probably stays. López could stay in the ‘pen. Chris Ellis has a shot at long relief if he isn’t starting. I assume you mean current active roster.
What are Hyder and the gang looking forward to this offseason? What’s the human side after this awful season? Who’s got a baby coming or a fiancé to wed, etc.?
The whole bunch is looking forward to resting and getting away from another difficult season. A mental cleansing. More time with family. Travis Lakins Sr. and wife are expecting their third child, joining daughter Brezzlynne and son Travis Jr. The Frys are expecting a girl to go with son Forrest. Austin Wynns is engaged. He’s expecting to get married.
Will Eddie Murray be at Camden Yards Monday for his 500th Home Run Anniversary T-shirt giveaway?
Not only that, he’s throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
What is Adam Heisler’s role with the Orioles? He announced on Twitter several weeks ago that he was hired by the Orioles as a hitting coach. However, I’ve seen no mention of him doing anything with the major league team or any affiliate.
Heisler wasn’t a full-time hire. He joined the organization for a few weeks in August to help out with the Rookie-level Florida Complex League teams while the new draft picks were there.
Who is the best TV mailman? Cliff Clavin, Newman, or Mr. McFeely?
They all hold special places in my heart. It’s like choosing your favorite kid. I refuse to do it. But I ask that we give some love to Reba the Mail Lady from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse. OK, how did we end up here?
Would September results similar to August be the end of Hyde? I get rebuilding, yadda, yadda, but eight wins in the last two months would be tough to take.
But wins aren’t supposed to really matter in the grand rebuild scheme. Remember? So why judge a manager on them? They keep playing hard for him. They universally endorse him. He’s lost games but not the clubhouse. The roster isn’t built for success. And as I pointed out Tuesday night, bullpen management, which he seems to get criticized for on social media, becomes a lot easier when the relievers do their jobs. Funny how that works. If Wells lost the lead, Hyde would have been ripped for bringing him in early. If Sulser blew the save, Hyde would have been ripped for using him to close instead of Wells. It worked and Hyde was praised for his strategy.
I read your piece on potential September call-ups. I know it wasn’t a complete list, but any other names you’d toss in there?
Definitely. You want a few more? There’s always a chance that we see César Valdez, Thomas Eshelman or Adam Plutko again. They’d have to go back on the 40-man.
How long does a rebuild last?
There is no official timeline. But I can tell you that it’s more than three seasons, with one of them consisting of only 60 games and no minor league competition, when there’s a total teardown and most of the early energy and money goes into building analytic and international scouting departments practically from scratch and a state-of-the-art academy in the Dominican Republic. When a franchise falls so far behind the others in key areas. But I won’t say again to remain patient because I don’t want to be punched in the throat.
How long have you been rebuilding?
Find a photo of me in my teens. You’ll get an idea.