MLB Network talks Orioles, plus notes on prospects and outfield defense

The ongoing discussion of the Orioles being the subject of preseason projections and predictions for low win totals is ... ongoing.

The latest discussion was on MLB Network on Monday where the analysts on “MLB Now” debated why the O’s are so often the subject of predictions to fare poorly. Analyst Ron Darling pointed to the dugout as one reason they anually beat the projections.

Showalter-Ejection-Sidebar.jpg“Buck (Showalter) is one of those factors,” Darling said. “Yes, catching the ball (defense has been important), but also knowing when to take out starting pitching, how to use your relievers from day to day. All of those things, Buck has been about as good as anyone.”

When a panelist mentioned the Orioles lead the American League in wins since 2012, host Brian Kenny was surprised. “Is that true? Wow, you just shocked me. I did not know that,” he said.

Darling was asked if a manager can make that much difference.

“I think we must also undervalue some of their players,” Darling said. “In the postseason, I seem to always get the Orioles in that first round. I look at their players - Adam Jones, a really good player. Chris Davis, a very dangerous player, and you just go on and on. And Manny Machado might be one of the best - well, he is one of the top three players in all of baseball.”

Analyst Tom Verducci added: “Think about the teams that PECOTA annually seems to underrate. It’s Baltimore and it’s Kansas City. What do they have in common? Very good defensively and very good bullpens. You look at their starting pitching and you go ‘Well, maybe not so much.’

“It is what is important in today’s game. And I think those two teams especially have proved, you can win with a great bullpen. It better be great, if you have mediocre starting pitching. And they have a great bullpen.”

More minor league rankings: The latest list of the top minor league players in the sport was released Monday by minorleagueball.com. It ranks the top 200 players, going deeper than other lists.

While no Orioles prospects made the top 100, three made it after that. Catcher Chance Sisco was ranked No. 111, pitcher Cody Sedlock was at No. 119 and first baseman Trey Mancini was rated No. 179.

Earlier, Sisco was ranked No. 57 by Baseball America, No. 69 by ESPN and No. 99 by MLBPipeline.com.

Minorleagueball.com’s O’s top 20 looks like this - Sisco, Sedlock, Ryan Mountcastle, Mancini and Anthony Santander is fifth. The next five are Keegan Akin, Ofelky Peralta, Garrett Cleavinger, Tanner Scott and Jomar Reyes. The second 10 is Hunter Harvey, Auneury Tavárez, Chris Lee, Austin Hays, Alexander Wells, Matthias Dietz, Cedric Mullins, D.J. Stewart, Brian Gonzalez and Christian Walker.

Harvey update: Speaking of Harvey, he could be pitching in a minor league game by this July, according to Orioles director of player development Brian Graham during an interview yesterday on MLB Network.

Harvey, who has pitched just 12 2/3 innings since late July 2014, underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on July 26, 2016. Some pitchers make it back to a game as soon as about 12 months beyond the surgery and the O’s are hoping Harvey does just that.

“He’s doing great,” Graham said on “MLB Now.” “I expect him to be in a game activity by July. Throwing program is (going) tremendous. And Buck is right, this is a guy (that can help us). He should pitch some this summer. We’ve seen what we drafted as a No. 1 (when he was healthy). I think July, maybe mid to late July, you’ll see him on the mound.”

Dylan Bundy returned to pitch in a game in just less than a year from his Tommy John surgery. He underwent the procedure on June 27, 2013 and returned to pitch for short-season Single-A Aberdeen on June 15, 2014. That season, he threw 41 1/3 innings between Aberdeen and Single-A Frederick.

For more on Harvey, there is this article from December. It was his first one-on-one interview since his surgery.

Outfield defense banter: Jones has voiced an opinion that the Orioles could improve and get more athletic on defense in the corner outfield spots. That opinion came up at FanFest. Yesterday, O’s executive vice president Dan Duquette cited an ESPN analyst’s opinion that Jones could help his own defense by playing deeper in center field.

The analyst is former MLB outfielder Doug Glanville, who in this story from last June wrote about how the Cubs had center fielder Dexter Fowler play deeper and it had a positive impact on his defensive metrics. The thinking is that the deeper balls you don’t get to turn into extra-base hits, while those that fall in front are singles. Play deeper, get to more balls that can do damage.

Showalter said the club does look at the analytics for outfield defense positioning and that Jones is “very approachable” about making any changes that may be needed.

“Adam’s very approachable about that stuff,” Showalter said. “But I also can show you a bunch of balls that he catches in front of him that no other center fielder does. The analytics is that balls over your head are doubles and triples and balls in front of you are singles. I got the math of it. But there’s an add and subtract to that, too.”

There is. Even though the deeper balls can obviously do more damage, making plays on the lesser-hit balls in front of you still count as outs. Get those outs and maybe a hitter that can do the extra-base damage never gets up in a specific inning.

If you believe in defensive metrics, than you believe the Orioles’ outfield defense is not good. The Orioles ranked last in the majors last year in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating according to FanGraphs. In looking at DRS at each specific outfield positon for the 2016 season, the O’s ranked 25th for center field and 29th for both left and right fields.

So improvements are needed, according to those numbers, and it seems all are in agreement on that opinion, from the front office to the field.

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