The lefty who didn’t get prospect attention is being noticed now

We have pointed it out before, but it still holds true: John Means was never ranked once among the Orioles’ top 30 prospects by Baseball America and barely made it onto the MLBPipeline.com list.

But not being ranked doesn’t mean you can’t make the majors, be good when you get there and be a Rookie of the Year contender. For Means, check, check and check. It doesn’t mean you can’t pitch a no-hitter. Check.

MLBPipeline.com ranked him No. 29 on its O’s preseason top 30 in 2015 and 2017, and also on their end-of-season list in 2017. He was not completely overlooked.

And in fairness to the prospect-ranking evaluators, Means got better over the years. He was pitching at Double-A over parts of three seasons, when he was 23 and 24, with a 4.34 ERA and 1.365 WHIP. He didn’t have a blazing fastball or stats to get himself much in the way of notice or rankings.

But in 2018, he took a leap forward at Triple-A, pitching to an ERA of 3.48, and he finally made the majors for one outing late that year. By 2019, he had completely turned a corner and he would make the All-Star team and finish second in the Rookie of the Year vote.

After he pitched well last Friday night in the first game of the road trip at Oakland, Means told us he was in a good place mentally right now.

Means-Celebrates-No-Hitter-Sidebar.jpg“I think I’m pretty comfortable with my mentality,” he said during a Zoom interview. “I think last year I would get really frustrated when things weren’t going well. I’ve done a good job of just staying within myself and letting the game come to me. I’m just not making any moment too big, even with guys on base. Just trying to keep my cool and stay relaxed.”

Yesterday he would admit it was not easy to relax in the ninth inning. But when J.P. Crawford lined out to end the game for Seattle, Means had pitched the sixth no-hitter in Orioles history, the fourth individual no-hitter and the first of those since Jim Palmer in 1969.

“I just think he’s completely matured as a major league pitcher, and he’s still continuing to get better,” skipper Brandon Hyde had said after the Oakland start. “He’s got one full year in, and last year was a shortened year. I mean, he doesn’t have a whole lot of major league experience and he’s just improving. He’s improving.

“You’re seeing a pitcher develop at the big league level, and every time out. Last year, he was overthrowing, made the adjustment. This year, he’s really executing pitches. When he needs to elevate, he elevates. When he needs to dump in a breaking ball, he can dump in a breaking ball. He’s still got a changeup. He’s turning into a complete pitcher.”

That pitcher, now very much looking like an ace, was on full display at Seattle. He’s now 4-0 with an ERA of 1.37 after his 113-pitch outing. Means pitched the first O’s complete-game since Alex Cobb on Aug. 18, 2018 at Cleveland. It was the first complete-game shutout since Dylan Bundy on Aug. 29, 2017 at Seattle.

The guy who never got much prospect attention is getting a lot of notice now. But in spring training, Means told us that not getting that attention earlier in his career helped motivate him to become the pitcher he is now.

“Yeah. Yeah, it definitely did,” he said. “But it was also kind of nice too, to be honest. You’re not the face. You’re not getting interviewed from Low-A all the way to the big leagues, like some of these high (ranked) prospects do. So I was able to kind of stay in the shadows a little bit and develop. Really focus on myself and not have to worry about the outside noise. I think that really prepared me for this time now that I am in the spotlight, to be able to handle it.”

And now he’s a complete four-pitch pitcher with a great changeup, yes, but also two breaking balls he trusts too.

Look at Means’ two starts on the road trip. At Oakland, in allowing two runs in seven innings, he used his fastball 43 percent and his secondary pitches 57 percent. Yesterday, it was 53 percent fastballs and 47 percent secondaries. He’s got a lot of weapons and knows how to use them.

In both games, his changeup was outstanding. He got 11 swings and misses on it in 25 swings at Oakland. Yesterday, it was better. The Mariners swung at the pitch 24 times and whiffed on 14 of them. His changeup had a strong 37.4 percent whiff rate before the no-hitter so that will look even better now. Means’ Wins Above Replacement for pitchers was 1.7 and tied for the American League lead, according to Baseball-Reference.com, before his history-making outing.

Means has recorded four consecutive quality starts with an ERA of 0.92 in that span and his road ERA is now 0.78. Over his last 11 games, dating to the end of last year, he is 6-1 with a 1.42 ERA.

He didn’t pitch a no-hitter to get attention, but he’ll get it now and he deserves all of it. He’s clearly the Orioles ace and pitching like an ace on any team.

If you are doing an early projection of AL Cy Young contenders and don’t include Means, you’re doing it wrong.

On the farm: Triple-A Norfolk (0-2) lost at Jacksonville 10-7 despite a huge game from Jahmai Jones, who went 3-for-5 with two triples and a two-run homer. Tyler Nevin hit his second homer in two games. Josh Rogers allowed seven runs in four innings.

Double-A Bowie (2-0) beat Altoona 8-4. Righty Kyle Bradish pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. Robert Neustrom had three hits and is 5-for-8 with a pair of doubles in two games. Catcher Adley Rutschman had an RBI single for his first Double-A hit and is 1-for-9 to date.

High Single-A Aberdeen (2-0) beat Wilmington 4-2 as Garrett Stallings allowed one run and six hits over five innings.

Low Single-A Delmarva beat Salem 7-4 in the completion of Tuesday’s suspended game. Jordan Cannon went 3-for-3 with two runs and an RBI and Jordan Westburg went 2-for-5 with an RBI. But Delmarva (1-1) lost the regularly scheduled game 6-1. Jake Lyons took the loss. But in relief, right-hander Leonardo Rodriguez pitched three scoreless innings with seven strikeouts.

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