With so much turbulence striking the Orioles roster this summer, there was no reason to believe that the outfield would be unaffected. And that the depth so fiercely advertised throughout the winter and spring would protect it.
DJ Stewart is done for the last two weeks of the season and primed to undergo surgery on his right knee. A procedure to correct an “osteochondral defect,” which also is known as “osteochondritis dissecans,” which brings no clarity.
Basically, it’s damage to the cartilage surrounding the knee joint and the bone underneath the cartilage. He should be fine for spring training, unlike the surgery in October 2019 to repair a microfracture in his ankle.
Stewart wasn’t going to rescue his season with 11 games remaining, but he certainly didn’t want to spend the winter sitting on a .204/.324/.374 line in 318 plate appearances. The knee required treatments for about two months, according to manager Brandon Hyde. Hard to know just how much the injury impacted his numbers.
The former first-round pick out of Florida State University has a knack for getting on base and going on brief home run binges. He registered a .204 average in 63 games in the first half and a .202 average in 37 games in the second, but he also had a .349 OBP after the All-Star break. He hit .205/.367/.564 in 49 plate appearances in August.
Stewart isn’t arbitration-eligible until after the 2022 season and he made $577,000 this year. Yusniel Diaz’s failure to earn a promotion and claim a corner outfield spot improves Stewart’s chances of reporting to camp next spring. It’s a little early for a few of the rising outfield prospects to debut.
The Orioles could sign a veteran outfielder in free agency, but in the meantime, they’re expecting Stewart to be full-go when position players report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex.
Last night’s 28-man roster was short on outfielders, and Ryan McKenna pinch-hit in the second inning. A bold strategy, Cotton.
Anthony Santander wasn’t traded this year and spent most of the season trying to play through ankle pain, the sprain happening back in April. Austin Hays went on the injured list on April 5 with a strained right hamstring and returned to it in June with a strained left hamstring, but he’s producing another strong finish while no longer viewed as the center fielder of the future.
Left or right field works just fine for Hays.
Trey Mancini hasn’t played in the outfield all season, as expected in his return from Stage 3 colon cancer.
Ryan Mountcastle no longer plays the outfield, moving to first base earlier in the summer, and that’s a little more surprising. He’s back at his third position and it appears that the Orioles want to keep him there.
Mullins had two more hits last night, perhaps cheated out of his 30th home run on a ball that appeared to graze the bottom of the right field foul pole. He’s going to receive votes for American League Most Valuable Player - 10 players must appear on the ballot from members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America - and if he isn’t the unanimous choice for Most Valuable Oriole, I’m ordering an investigation.
No one really could be certain as the Orioles broke camp that he’d put together such a spectacular season, in every facet of the game.
Asked where it ranks among seasons he’s been part of, manager Brandon Hyde replied, “Well, it’s up there. There’s no doubt about it.”
“It’s been tough for him because we’ve lost a lot of games and we’re not top five, top 10 offenses, so for him, he’s coming up without runners on base a lot. A lot of times he’s facing high-leverage pitchers because we’re down late in games. For me, he’s had one of the better years, offensively, that I’ve been around.
“What Cedric’s done is special this year, what Ryan’s doing is special, and really excited about both of those guys going forward.”
They haven’t gone backward in 2021, with Mountcastle rebounding from a brutal April to warrant votes for AL Rookie of the Year.
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad’s professional career hasn’t moved outside the cages, but he posted video yesterday on Twitter taking swings in batting practice. A simple baseball task that represents a huge gain in his recovery from myocarditis and the lingering effects.
Kjerstad is seeking to be full-go for spring training 2022 and earn an assignment to one of the affiliates. Don’t waste energy trying to guess where. The Orioles will need to see him on the field and in exhibition games before making a decision.
The Rookie-level Florida Complex League is the launching pad for draft picks, but does it apply to a player selected in 2020? The low Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds also are a possibility. But I refuse to waste energy trying to guess.