Stewart's buoying Bowie; Scott reaches innings high; Is Orioles' system improving? - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dean Jones Report

Stewart’s buoying Bowie; Scott reaches innings high; Is Orioles’ system improving?

Photo credit: Patrick Cavey/Bowie Baysox

Right now, the Orioles’ minor-league system is “the best it has been in several years.”

Don’t take my word for it.

That’s what Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper said last Friday in his “Prospect Hot Sheet.”

It’s an interesting take from a national writer about the current state of the organization. While it’s a good sign that the system appears to be turning a corner, it’s not necessarily a signal that the national media outlets believe the organization’s worst days are in the past

You see, to start the year, Baseball America ranked the system 27th out of 30 teams. The publication moved the Orioles up to No. 22 after the nonwaiver trade deadline last month. Sure, that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s still in the bottom third of the league.

As Adam Pohl and I have discussed several times on the “Minor League Podcast” over the past couple of years, though, the way to improve in these rankings is to churn out some big names. The Orioles appear to be doing that with the players at the top of their rankings (like catcher Chance Sisco, outfielder Austin Hays and infielder Ryan Mountcastle), as well as some “surprises” (like outfielder Cedric Mullins and left-hander Alex Wells).

However, the recent injuries to – and struggles of – some of the top pitching prospects (such as right-handers Hunter Harvey and Cody Sedlock and left-hander Keegan Akin) also limit the growth of the organization in the views of national publications like Baseball America.

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At the end of the day, it’s about developing players who will help at the major-league level. It might not seem like it, but the Orioles have done that in recent years. These players are a big part of why the club has remained competitive since the “dark days” ended in 2012.

A third of the regular starting lineup – third baseman Manny Machado, second baseman Jonathan Schoop and outfielder Trey Mancini – came through the minor-league system. On days when catcher Caleb Joseph starts, almost half of the lineup is completely homegrown. And you can’t forget that the club’s best two starters – right-handers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman – and several relievers (including closer Zach Britton and set-up man Mychal Givens) were drafted and developed within the organization.

So, I guess my point is this: Yes, it’s always nice to receive some love from the national writers – like the Orioles got late last week from Baseball America – but the organizational rankings don’t matter in the long run. The Orioles might lack the depth that other clubs possess, but it’s all about setting the major-league team up for the long run.

Plain and simple: Don’t worry about the rankings if your major-league team is winning.

Now, if Machado and Schoop leave as free agents in the coming years and the Orioles aren’t able to replace them (either with other prospects rising through the ranks or externally via trades or free agency), it could be a different story. But for now, it’s not as bad as it seems.

Before we get into the current state of the organization, a quick note: On Tuesday, the Orioles announced five of the seven players they’re sending to the Arizona Fall League.

Making the trip to play for the Salt River Rafters will be: Akin, left-handed pitchers Tanner Scott and Andrew Faulkner, Mountcastle and infielder Stevie Wilkerson. The club will also send an outfielder and another pitcher who haven’t been announced yet.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed his excitement about the quality of players that will go to the AFL this year, and specifically mentioned how much Wilkerson has improved.

If you’re new to BaltimoreBaseball.com, let me explain the “Dean Jones Report” updates. Every Tuesday, I offer a glimpse into what’s going on in the Orioles’ minor-league system.

First, I discuss the Top 12 players in the organization (according to my “Dean’s Dozen”). Then, I mention a handful of players who are either “surging” or “falling” recently. And finally, I wrap things up with the remaining schedule for the Orioles’ highest affiliates.

DEAN’S DOZEN

No. 1: Chance Sisco, C, Norfolk
BEARISH
Statistics: .268, 7 HRs, 47 RBIs, 23 2Bs, 99 Ks in 96 games
MILB.com Player Page

You might have noticed that the 2013 second-round pick hit two of his seven home runs since my last update. Sisco, 22, hit a two-run blast off former Orioles right-hander Steve Johnson (St. Paul’s) on Aug. 22 in the Tides’ 8-7 loss to Charlotte. Then, on Friday, he connected for a solo shot and added another RBI in Norfolk’s 12-0 rout at Durham. Sisco has hit more than half his 2017 home runs – four – in August. So, with his recent power surge, why am I still “bearish” this week? Well, Sisco is only batting .215 (14-for-65) this month after he hit over .300 in June and July (.321 and .317, respectively).

No. 2: Austin Hays, OF, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: .333, 15 HRs, 49 RBIs, 16 2Bs in 58 games at Bowie; .328, 16 HRs, 41 RBIs, 15 2Bs in 64 games at Frederick
MILB.com Player Page

Believe it or not, the 2016 third-round selection hasn’t driven in a run for the Baysox since last Wednesday – a span of six games. If you’re keeping track at home, that’s the longest stretch of RBI-less contests for Hays, 22, since he was promoted to Bowie on June 22. However, you don’t need to panic. Hays is batting .333 (11-for-33) with a home run, two doubles, four RBIs and four runs in eight games since last week’s update. The Baysox will need Hays to knock in more runs as they fight for the division title over the final week. One small note on his recent at-bats: He has struck out 10 times in the past seven games after having only eight strikeouts through the first 19 games in August.

No. 3: Ryan Mountcastle, 3B/SS, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: .213, 3 HRs, 15 RBIs, 10 2Bs in 33 games at Bowie; .314, 15 HRs, 47 RBIs, 35 2Bs, 63 runs in 88 games
MILB.com Player Page

Mountcastle, 20, finally returned to above the Mendoza Line earlier this week. Currently riding a six-game hitting streak, the 2015 first-round pick (36th overall) has raised his average through 33 Double-A games to .213. In 10 games since his average dropped to .169 on Aug. 18, Mountcastle is hitting .316 (12-for-38) with five doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs. The two home runs came Sunday and Tuesday – both in victories for Bowie. Overall, Mountcastle is batting .287 with 18 home runs, 45 doubles and 62 RBIs. So, as his Double-A numbers keep improving, remember the full body of work in 2017.

No. 4: Keegan Akin, LHP, Frederick
BEARISH
Statistics: 7-8, 4.14 ERA, 111 Ks, 46 BBs in 100 innings
MILB.com Player Page

Not much to report with the 2016 second-round selection this week. Akin, 22, is still on the disabled list because of a right oblique injury that he suffered earlier this month. As I mentioned last week, he hasn’t dominated the Carolina League as I hoped he would. Heading into the 2018 season, Akin will look to pitch more like he did in June (3-1, 0.90 ERA) than he did in the other three full months this year (4-7, 5.53 ERA).

No. 5: Cody Sedlock, RHP, Frederick
BEARISH
Statistics: 4-5, 5.90 ERA, 69 Ks, 36 BBs in 90 innings
MILB.com Player Page

Like Akin, the 2016 first-round pick (27th overall) won’t pitch again this season after he landed on the disabled list once again Friday because of a strained right forearm. It is the second DL trip for Sedlock, 22, due to arm trouble in the past two months. He also missed almost a month from June 26 to July 23 with a right elbow flexor strain. In his final start, Sedlock gave up four runs and seven hits – including two home runs – during Frederick’s 5-4 win over Wilmington last Wednesday. His last win came on May 5 at Carolina. The Orioles reportedly hope Sedlock can take part in games during the fall instructional league. After a lost season, it’s crucial that the club gets him on the right path heading into 2018.

No. 6: Cedric Mullins, OF, Bowie
BEARISH
Statistics: .277, 13 HRs, 36 RBIs, 19 2Bs, 51 runs in 70 games
MILB.com Player Page

The slide in batting average for the 2015 13th-round selection continued over the past week. Mullins, 22, is only hitting .175 (17-for-97) in 21 games this month. Because of that, his average has crashed from .330 on Aug. 1 down to its current level at .277. Despite those struggles, I considered flipping Mullins back to “bullish” before an 0-for-5 game Tuesday. Ultimately, I left him as “bearish” due to the recent slump. On Saturday, Mullins hit a two-run shot in the ninth inning as the Baysox fell, 4-3, at Altoona. It was his 13th home run in 2017. The Baysox will need him to get his bat going for the stretch run.

No. 7: Tanner Scott, LHP, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: 0-2, 2.28 ERA, 83 Ks, 44 BBs in 67 innings
MILB.com Player Page

The 2014 sixth-round pick just eclipsed his career high in innings pitched. Scott, 23, has now thrown 67 innings after he pitched 64 1/3 innings between Frederick and Bowie in 2016. Other than ERA, the biggest difference between the two seasons: He has walked 44 batters in 2017, compared with 57 last year. It’s not a drastic change, but it’s enough to lower his WHIP from 1.51 in 2016 to 1.31. This month, Scott is 0-1 with a 5.63 ERA in three starts. However, he pitched better Monday. Scott struck out five batters and only gave up one hit in three scoreless innings as the Baysox lost, 3-2, in 13 innings to Trenton.

No. 8: Chris Lee, LHP, Norfolk
BEARISH
Statistics: 4-6, 5.17 ERA, 76 Ks, 52 BBs in 111 1/3 innings
MILB.com Player Page

Lee, 25, gave up three runs, seven hits and three walks in seven innings across two appearances out of the bullpen over the past week. That furthers Lee’s recent stretch of success in relief. In seven appearances since he moved to the bullpen at the end of last month, Lee is 1-1 with a 1.48 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. As a starter, he went 3-5 with a 6.21 ERA. Although Lee is pitching out of the bullpen, the organization continues to maintain his regular rest between outings. If nothing else, he’s building confidence for 2018.

No. 9: Jesus Liranzo, RHP, Bowie
BEARISH
Statistics: 2-4, 5.16 ERA, 74 Ks, 43 BBs in 61 innings
MILB.com Player Page

After starting games for the past two months, the Dominican Republic native shifted back to the bullpen for his last two appearances for the Baysox. But Liranzo, 22, still continues to pitch three-inning stints. On Monday, he took over for Scott in the fourth inning and matched a career high with six strikeouts in Bowie’s 3-2 loss in 13 innings to Trenton. Overall, Liranzo went 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in 15 innings in August. After a breakthrough season in 2016, Liranzo hasn’t been able to get things going at all for the Baysox this year.

No. 10: DJ Stewart, OF, Bowie
BULLISH
Statistics: .272, 19 HRs, 76 RBIs, 25 2Bs, 75 runs, 19 SBs in 120 games
MILB.com Player Page

With Mullins slumping, the 2015 first-round pick (25th overall) has stepped up to keep the Baysox in the thick of the Eastern League playoff race. Stewart, 23, is hitting .330 (31-for-94) with six home runs, nine doubles and 20 RBIs in 25 games this month. With four doubles over the past week, Stewart surpassed his career high in that category. On Aug. 22, he hit two home runs and knocked in four runs during Bowie’s 12-9 loss to Reading in 12 innings. On Monday, Stewart went 2-for-5 with an RBI and his 19th stolen base in 23 attempts. I’m looking forward to seeing the Orioles’ plans for Stewart in 2018.

No. 11: Ofelky Peralta, RHP, Frederick
BEARISH
Statistics: 2-10, 5.51 ERA, 89 Ks, 84 BBs in 98 innings
MILB.com Player Page

For the fourth straight start – and eighth time in his last 11 outings – the Dominican Republic native walked at least four batters Saturday in Frederick’s 4-2 loss to Potomac during the first game of a doubleheader. Peralta, 20, also gave up two runs (one earned) and three hits in 4 1/3 innings during the outing. He has now walked 200 batters in 270 1/3 career innings over four minor-league seasons, including 84 in 98 innings this year. To put that in perspective, left-handers Brian Gonzalez and Akin are second and third on the Keys in walks this season. They’ve combined for 97 in 201 2/3 innings.

No. 12: Alex Wells, LHP, Delmarva
BULLISH
Statistics: 11-5, 2.38 ERA, 113 Ks, 10 BBs in 140 innings
MILB.com Player Page

On the opposite end of the control spectrum from Peralta is the Australia native. Wells, 20, has only walked 10 batters all season – and none since June 25. In that span, Peralta has issued an incredible 39 free passes. In his most recent start, Wells tossed four scoreless innings for the Shorebirds against Charleston on Sunday. He struck out four batters and scattered three hits in Delmarva’s 3-1 loss to the RiverDogs. Wells finished August with a 2-1 record and 2.77 ERA. That’s horrendous compared to his 3-0 record and 0.00 ERA in July. Yes, I’m being sarcastic. No, you don’t need to send me an e-mail to point that out.

SURGING

Cristian Alvarado, RHP, Frederick: The Carolina League named the Venezuela native as its Pitcher of the Week after he tossed seven shutout innings Friday at Potomac in the first game of a doubleheader. Alvarado, 22, had four strikeouts and allowed four hits to pick up his first win since July 26. In four starts this month, Alvarado had a 2.19 ERA.

David Hess, RHP, Bowie: On Friday, the 2014 fifth-round pick pitched eight scoreless innings as the Baysox won, 2-0, at Altoona. Hess, 24, struck out five batters and gave up only one single. He went 3-1 with a 2.18 ERA in August. With the Orioles’ rotation in flux heading into 2018, Hess could be a dark horse to consider at some point.

T.J. Nichting, OF, Aberdeen: The 2017 ninth-round selection has hit safely in eight straight games. Nichting, 22, is hitting .353 (12-for-34) with two home runs, three doubles, two triples and seven RBIs in that span. Because of that, he earned the New York-Penn League’s Player of the Week award on Monday. He’s hitting .314 (32-for-102) with 17 RBIs in August.

Jake Ring, OF, Delmarva: You’ll recall that the 2016 31st-round pick had 38 RBIs in the first 46 games for the Shorebirds. Ring, 23, only has 27 RBIs in 71 games since then. Over that span, his average has also continued to drop to its current .272. However, he gets a mention here because he was named a South Atlantic League Postseason All-Star.

Garabez Rosa, UTIL, Bowie: For the second straight year, the Dominican Republic native earned a spot on the Eastern League Postseason All-Star team. Rosa, 27, has cooled off in the second half, but he’s still hitting .297 (46-for-155) with 23 RBIs in 36 games. Whether it’s with the Orioles or not, I’d love to see him get a shot as a super-utility player one day.

Jimmy Yacabonis, RHP, Norfolk: In 22 2/3 innings over 14 appearances since the 2013 13th-round pick returned to the Tides in early July, he has a 1.99 ERA and four saves. Yacabonis, 25, has a 1.32 ERA in 61 1/3 innings overall at Norfolk. Opponents are batting .144 against him. He’s a good candidate to rejoin the Orioles’ bullpen for September.

FALLING

Ben Breazeale, C, Aberdeen: After hitting over .400 for the first month-plus of the season, the 2017 seventh-round selection has fallen off a cliff in August. Breazeale, 22, is batting .158 (9-for-57) with 23 strikeouts and only two extra-base hits in 18 games this month. The club’s Minor League Player of the Month in July is 2-for-20 in his past six games.

DL Hall, LHP, GCL Orioles: The club’s top pick in this year’s draft (21st overall) failed to make it out of the first inning in the second game of a doubleheader Tuesday. Hall, 18, struck out the leadoff batter. But then he allowed three singles, a double and three walks while only getting one other out. Through his first five starts, Hall has a 6.97 ERA.

Zac Lowther, LHP, Aberdeen: OK, so the 2017 competitive balance round B pick isn’t truly “falling” at all. Lowther, 21, is 2-1 with a 1.62 ERA in 10 starts for the IronBirds during an impressive debut season. However, he gave up three runs and walked four batters in his latest start Sunday. That’s the first time that he has allowed more than one earned run.

Joey Rickard, OF, Norfolk: The Orioles optioned Rickard, 26, to the Tides on Aug. 17 to make room for fellow Rule 5 pick Anthony Santander. He’ll likely be back in the major leagues later this week. But in the meantime, Rickard isn’t dominating the Triple-A level. He’s only batting .216 (8-for-37) with seven singles and one double in 10 games.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Norfolk (63-72)
August 31 – vs. Gwinnett, 7:05 p.m.
September 1 – at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m.
September 2 – at Charlotte, 8:35 p.m.
September 3 – at Charlotte, 7:05 p.m.
September 4 – at Charlotte, 2:05 p.m.

Bowie (70-64)
August 31 – vs. Trenton, 7:05 p.m.
September 1 – at Richmond, 7:05 p.m.
September 2 – at Richmond, 6:05 p.m.
September 3 – at Richmond, 6:05 p.m.
September 4 – at Richmond, 12:05 p.m.

Frederick (63-70)
August 31 – vs. Salem, 7 p.m.
September 1 – vs. Potomac, 7 p.m.
September 2 – vs. Potomac, 6 p.m.
September 3 – vs. Potomac, 6 p.m.
September 4 – vs. Potomac, 2 p.m.

Delmarva (57-74)
August 31 – at Hagerstown, 7:05 p.m.
September 1 – vs. West Virginia, 7:05 p.m.
September 2 – vs. West Virginia, 7:05 p.m.
September 3 – vs. West Virginia, 5:05 p.m.
September 4 – vs. West Virginia, 2:05 p.m.

Aberdeen (36-30)
August 31 – at Tri-City, 7 p.m.
September 1 – at Tri-City, 7 p.m.
September 2 – at Tri-City, 7 p.m.
September 3 – vs. Staten Island, 5:35 p.m.
September 4 – vs. Staten Island, 1:05 p.m.
September 5 – vs. Staten Island, 7:05 p.m.
September 6 – at Hudson Valley, 6:35 p.m.
September 7 – at Hudson Valley, 6:35 p.m.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jerry Hairston Jr.

    August 30, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Hi Dean, thanks for the great report. After the horrendous start to his career, do you think the progress this year from DJ Stewart has made him back into a legitimate major league prospect? What’s his upside?

    • Dean Jones

      August 30, 2017 at 9:49 pm

      Jerry, glad to see you’re doing well after all these years. Yes, I think Stewart is absolutely doing a lot this year to get himself back on the radar. To be honest, I don’t know that he ever fell off the radar of the “people in the know” in the organization. Sure, his struggles at Delmarva to start last year likely frustrated fans. But he rebounded nicely at Frederick and has really turned it on at Bowie lately. I’m excited to see what 2018 brings. I don’t know that he’ll ever be a major league superstar, but he’s back in the conversation of a potential contributor down the road for sure.

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