O’s add local product Greg Ross on minors deal, plus other notes

The Orioles have added a local product to their farm system, signing 26-year-old right-handed pitcher Greg Ross to a minor league contract. Ross projects to begin the 2016 season on the Double-A Bowie roster.

A native of Baltimore and current Towson resident, Ross is a 2007 graduate of Loch Raven High School and was drafted by Atlanta in Round 18 in 2011 out of Frostburg State in western Maryland.

At Frostburg in 2011, Ross was named to the American Baseball Coaches Association First Team All-America squad. He was also the ABCA Mid-Atlantic Pitcher of the Year and was named Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Year. Ross pitched two seasons at the Community College of Baltimore County-Essex before playing at Frostburg.

Last year for the Braves’ Double-A Mississippi club, Ross went 7-9 with an ERA of 3.99. Over 137 2/3 innings, he allowed 146 hits with 47 walks and 80 strikeouts. In his last 11 starts, Ross went 5-2 with an ERA of 1.99.

Ross’ best year was 2014, when he went 12-6 with a 2.80 ERA between Single-A and Double-A. He led all Braves farmhands in wins and innings (158), and sat in the top 10 in the Braves system in starters ERA (third, 2.80), starters average against (fourth, .236), starters WHIP (fifth, 1.14) and strikeouts (tied for fifth, 110).

Elsewhere around Birdland:

* It was a great sight to see the Orioles’ top two pitching prospects, Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey, throwing side by side in Sarasota, Fla., yesterday. The good news here is that both are back on a mound and healthy. Now the challenge is for them to remain healthy.

Hunter Harvey throws orange.pngAnd that has been quite a challenge. The two O’s first-round picks have combined to throw just 151 innings over the last two years and Harvey has not pitched in a minor league game since July 25, 2014. Harvey threw 87 2/3 innings that season and Bundy pitched 63 1/3 innings over the past two seasons.

Will they continue to be healthy? No one has a crystal ball, and I’m sure even the players and team doctors don’t have such answers. We simply have to wait to see if they continue to be healthy when the season starts and if it stays that way.

But we can’t forget how good these two have been and might be again. Bundy has been ranked in the top 15 of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects list three times. He was No. 2 after his dynamic 2012 season. After the 2014 season, Harvey was rated No. 16 by ESPN, No. 20 by Baseball Prospectus and No. 68 by Baseball America.

If this duo stays healthy, the O’s outlook on the farm takes a nice leap forward. Those rankings that concern the fans and seem to irritate team officials will change for the better. With this pair, fingers are crossed from the fanbase to the dugout to the Warehouse.

* Former Oriole Wei-Yin Chen got an opt-out clause after two years in his new contract with Miami. Scott Kazmir got an opt-out after one year from the Dodgers. I can understand when the highest-dollar and elite free agents get such clauses, but when it filters down to Kazmir’s level, that seems crazy to me.

The Orioles are against negotiating such clauses into contracts. Will that ever change? Will that change soon? We’ll see on that.

While player agents have been critical of the qualifying offer system, I haven’t heard a peep out of them about opt-out clauses. Why would we? The team takes all the risk here. The players’ long-term dollars are guaranteed, whether he gets hurt or performs lousy. Those dollars will be there. If he performs well, he can leave the team that took the long-term risk for more money elsewhere.

Count me among those decidedly against these opt-out clauses. But now they seem to be used in more and more contracts. How about a team opt-out? If you stink after the first year of the deal, we void it and you lose the remaining dollars, but you become a free agent. Yeah, that won’t go over well.

This system is rather slanted in the players’ direction. But it doesn’t seem to be going away. It is simply part of the price now of doing business.

* Do you want the good news or the bad first? Well, let’s say that the good news is that a FanGraphs.com prediction of how many games each team will win next year has the Orioles just three wins shy of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

Now the not-so-good part. FanGraphs.com predicts only 79 wins for the Royals and 76 for the Orioles. Kansas City won 95 games last year and the O’s won 81.

The FanGraphs.com projection has the Orioles at a minus-65 run differential after a plus-20 last year. The O’s averaged 4.4 runs per game in 2015 and the prediction is 4.37 for 2016. But the drop-off is in runs allowed, which would go from 4.28 to 4.65 if this proves accurate.

The top teams in wins are:

95 - Chicago Cubs
92 - Boston Red Sox
90 - Los Angeles Dodgers
88 - Washington Nationals
86 - New York Yankees, Houston Astros, San Francisco Giants

This projection would leave the Orioles in last place with Toronto projected to win 84 games and Tampa Bay at 82.

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