It’s challenging for all Major League Baseball organizations. First, to properly develop their prospects and second, to know when the right time is to call them up. Too soon and a player can struggle, lose confidence and start their career maybe questioning whether they belong and can play in the majors.
But with left fielder Ryan Mountcastle, pitcher Keegan Akin and yesterday, another pitcher in Dean Kremer, the Orioles’ prospects proved to be ready for their moment. When their respective chances came, each of them ran with it.
All three are just starting out. No one is saying they are finished products, but all three clearly have developed, grown and improved as players. All three seemed ready when the call came and look very much like they belong. If there were nerves or any lack of confidence, we haven’t seen it.
They simply have looked ready.
Akin has a 2.08 ERA in his first four big league games. In his first two starts the Orioles have beaten the Blue Jays and Yankees. He has thrown 9 2/3 innings, allowing two unearned runs. His average against is .176 in those starts and he’s thrown 65 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Mountcastle is batting .333/.398/.549 through his first 15 games with two doubles, three homers, 11 RBIs and a .946 OPS. He has hit well to all fields and hit well against breaking balls. Plenty of good signs here.
Kremer’s debut Sunday produced six innings, over which he allowed the Yankees just one hit and one run. They went 1-for-19 batting against him. He got strikeouts with his fastball, curveball and slider. He was poised in pitching out of a big jam in the second inning.
So the O’s youngsters showed not only talent, but that they were prepared when the time came. And that they polished up some of the rough spots in their games in the last year or two.
The player development aspect of this has to be very encouraging for all Orioles fans. If these three have made such nice strides and were ready and properly developed, what could that mean for the prospects still to come?
I asked manager Brandon Hyde on Sunday about the challenge for an organization to pick the right time to call up a young talent.
“I think that you never know exactly when is the right time and how players will respond in getting to the big leagues,” said Hyde. “You take into account a lot of things. We felt like there were areas with Ryan, Keegan, and now Dean in their game where they needed to improve. And wanted to see them work on some things before they got to the big leagues. And all three of those guys have done that.
“You see with Keegan, the aggressiveness in the strike zone and the off-speed stuff he is landing for strikes. That was something he took into account after spring training and really improved. Ryan with his defense as well as his strike-zone management that has come into play, big-time. That is marked improvement over the past year.
“So I’m excited about all three of these guys. I think that, you know, it’s hard to be patient but sometimes you have to be a little bit. You want to see youth and you want to see the prospects play. It’s never an easy decision when the right time is. But I feel like we did a nice job in picking the timing on our prospects.”
Sure looks like it.
The young pitchers will have a lot to say about how well the Orioles’ rebuild is going. What Akin and Kremer have done should provide the entire organization a real lift. Maybe the O’s have turned a corner with their pitching development under the Mike Elias regime. The positives we saw on the farm last year are now starting to translate to the big leagues.
Kremer gave the O’s just their fourth outing of 2020 of six innings or more, and just their third quality start. The since-traded Tommy Milone had the first two.
Over the past seven games, the O’s starting pitchers have worked to a 2.70 ERA. The Orioles bullpen allowed just two earned runs in 15 1/3 innings in the Yankees series for a 1.17 ERA. The bullpen ERA is 2.52 over the last 12 games.
Beating the Yankees the last three games provided a big lift for all of Birdland. Yes, the Yankees are a team without several key players right now. But the Orioles played Sunday without José Iglesias, Renato Núñez, Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Austin Hays and Trey Mancini, to name a few.
A record of 19-21 through 40 games is solid for a team that lost 223 games combined the past two years. Some felt they wouldn’t win even 20 games during this shortened season.
But beyond wins and losses, the strong play of the prospects is the most encouraging aspect right now. Fans can enjoy the present where the team is playing better and dream on a prospect-filled future of contending in Baltimore.