Coolbaugh on homer reliance, Cortes on rotation shot (updated)

In three of the last six seasons, the Orioles have led the major leagues in home runs. They topped every club by hitting 212 in 2013, 211 in 2014 and 253 in 2016.

The 2017 Orioles hit 232 home runs, but that ranked only fifth both in the American League and the major leagues behind the Yankees (241), Astros (238), Rangers (237) and Athletics (234).

The Orioles had seven players hit 20 or more homers last season for just the second time in club history. The 1996 team also had seven. Tim Beckham hit 22, but 12 were with Tampa Bay.

sidebar-Chris-Davis-Hr-grey.jpgBeing a homer-laden team can be great when the longballs are coming and frustrating when they are not. At FanFest, Orioles hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh was asked if the 2018 Orioles will also live and die by the home run.

“I don’t want it to be that way,” Coolbaugh responded. “It shouldn’t be our motto to live and die by the home run. All clubs want the ability to score with one swing of the bat. But we are capable of a lot more. I think the guys realize that. We got away from some things.

“We can put a lot of spin on things we did well last year with hitting with runners in scoring position and guys getting in from third base percentage-wise. But the bottom line is we’ve got to be more consistent. We are putting too many zeros on the board and it is something we have to rectify, and it’s my job to bring it to their attention this spring so we can be more consistent.”

While the Orioles were among the top teams in the majors in homers, the lack of variety on offense distanced them from some other teams in runs scored. The Yankees, for instance, ranked second to the Astros with 858 runs while the Orioles were ninth in the league with 743. The American League team average was 763 for last season.

Can he go Rule 5 to starting five?: A 23-year-old left-hander that the Orioles took from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft, Nestor Cortes Jr. now chases a spot in the starting five. The pitcher with big stats that come without a big fastball made a strong impressive during the recent pitching minicamp in Florida.

Now he wants to break north in late March with a spot in the O’s rotation. The opportunity is certainly available.

“There is a great opportunity here, obviously,” Cortes said at FanFest. “I do want to start. I think I have a shot to start. There are only two guys that have competed at the big league level (in the current rotation). But it’s going to be a competition. There are guys that want the same job as me and it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be hopefully a good atmosphere to be around and a good competition.”

Cortes might be used to overcoming the odds. New York selected him in the 36th round with the 1,094th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Hialeah High School in Florida. That is the same school that produced the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez, who has become a friend, mentor and workout partner for Cortes.

In the 2016 season, Cortes went 11-4 with a 1.53 ERA over 106 innings with 24 walks, 115 strikeouts and a .167 average against. Last season, mostly at Double-A and Triple-A, he was 7-4 with a 2.06 ERA. Over 104 2/3 innings, he walked 32, fanned 105 and yielded a .211 average. Yeah, pretty nice numbers.

For his five-season minor league career, Cortes has an ERA of 2.08, a walk rate of 2.11 per nine innings and strikeout rate of 9.55 batters per nine innings with a WHIP of 1.00.

These great stats come with a fastball that some reports say often tops out at 89 or 90 mph. But an assortment of pitches and the ability to often vary his arm slot have helped Cortes get this far. Now we find out if he can succeed as either a starter or long reliever in the big leagues.

I asked him to project during a typical seven-inning start about how many times he would vary his arm slot.

“I go from all the way up top to all the way down under,” he said. “Maybe like 15-20 times. It does depend on what pitch I’m throwing. It also depends on the count, who is hitting, the situation of the game. Many, many variables.”

So this soft-tosser with a solid breaking ball has already caught manager Buck Showalter’s eye. Now we find out if his combination of an assortment of pitches with some deception can overcome a lack of big-time stuff to get major league hitters out.

“I’m a pitcher that is not going to throw 95 or 97,” he said. “I can’t expect things to happen. I’m going to keep on locating my fastball and keep on spinning my ball. Keep hitters off-balance and that is basically how I roll. It’s unique and something that has helped me along the way. And I’ll keep doing it.

“When the time comes, obviously I will have to throw strikes. Keep the same plan. What has gotten me here has worked. Can’t do anything different.”

Minor to Frederick: Former Oriole Ryan Minor is going to manage the Single-A Frederick Keys this season. An official announcement could come later this week.

After last week’s announcement that Buck Britton is going to manage at Single-A Delmarva this year, some wondered what that meant for Minor. He had managed the Shorebirds for seven of the last eight seasons, including the past four.

This will be a return to Frederick for Minor, who managed the Keys to a record of 61-78 in the 2013 season. Keith Bodie, the Keys manager the past two seasons and a very highly-regarded batting coach, is expected to stay with the Orioles as a hitting coach at an affiliate to be announced. The Orioles have not yet announced their full minor league staff for the 2018 season.

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